Passionate with an ear for top musical talent, Nicole George-Middleton is the woman behind the music who is also fluent in legalese. As the Senior Vice President of ASCAP, American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers she is instrumental in the careers of some of our favorite musicians such as Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Kehlani and others. Her team is credited as being the first to discover these among many.
Today, Nicole is one of the most influential women in music, serving as an inspiration to work hard to actualize your dreams.
Nicole began her early career as a lawyer. During law school, she interned at a record label in their business and legal affairs department for three years and went to work at an entertainment law firm; Nicole knew she wanted to practice law with an entertainment focus. Now, she does just that, whether it’s overseeing contracts and memberships or supporting new artists.
During our discussion, Nicole shares the importance of putting in the time and staying consistent to reach your dreams.
Her Agenda: Did you have a clear career path from the beginning?
Nicole George-Middleton: Absolutely, I figured out in college I wanted to study law. I knew I wanted to go to law school to be the first lawyer in my family, but I was focused on merging that with something that would keep me interested and motivated, and the music was that.
Her Agenda: Can you explain what your job as the entails and what you enjoy most?
Nicole George-Middleton: ASCAP is a performance rights organization with over 600,000 songwriters and composers, authors, music publishers. I work in the membership department, it’s basically our job to maintain relationships with our songwriters. With this many members, they’re at every stage of their career we have budding songwriters all the way up to established songwriters. So we do everything from creating workshops, and panel discussions to teach them about the business of songwriting, to our more established songwriters who are more accomplished and we celebrate them through awards. It really is about figuring out what the songwriter needs and supporting them at that level of their career.
Her Agenda: Would you say that being instrumental in a songwriter’s career is what you enjoy most about your job?
Nicole George-Middleton: When I was practicing law at the record label right before I came to ASCAP, there wasn’t much talent interaction. So I do, really enjoy working hands on with our songwriters and really feeling a part of the process, it’s the most important and the most rewarding.
Her Agenda: The music industry is very male dominated, even a lot of music for women is written by men. How can women break through in this field and grow despite the culture/environment?
Nicole George-Middleton: You’re right. The music industry is still male dominated, but there are females that have broken through. You have to be persistent and stay the course. We have talented female songwriters at ASCAP, so it isn’t impossible. But it’s challenging. I’d love to see more females break into the industry. It’s frustrating but if you’re persistent and stay the course, you can be successful at it. Priscilla Renea, Kehlani, and Bibi Bourelly are all ASCAP writers, all females, and all examples that it isn’t impossible.
Her Agenda: Could you tell me more about what led you to create ASCAP’s Women Behind the Music series, did you see this as a need within the industry?
Nicole George-Middleton: Knowing how heavily male dominated the entertainment industry is, I wanted to create a space for women to be celebrated. Women in the industry need to be celebrated, including songwriters, executives, lawyers, and managers. I feel it doesn’t happen enough. This was my way of trying to change that and Women Behind the Music has grown exceptionally. It’s important to celebrate women who are able to overcome the hurdle of breaking into this industry.
Her Agenda: Did you have any mentors?
Nicole George-Middleton: My first role model was my mother, but I was blessed enough to find supportive women around me. I try my very best to be open to another young woman who is aspiring to work in this industry, to offer any advice I can. That’s another the reason I wanted to create Women Behind the Music, it’s hard and sometimes women just need someone to talk to who can relate. I was lucky enough to not have to search too far and had a lot of support.
Her Agenda: What’s your #1 piece of advice for people who want to get into the entertainment/music industry?
Nicole George-Middleton: Networking is very important. This industry is small, you never know where your opportunity is going to come from so you have to put yourself in the space and around the people who work in the space you want to work in. It’s important to leave positive impressions on people, as you never know where your next opportunity will come from. By leaving a positive impression on people so they think of you when something comes to mind. A part of networking is the follow-up; you want to stay on top of people’s minds. You want to stay top of mind.
Her Agenda: How about songwriting specifically?
Nicole George-Middleton: My number one advice for an aspiring songwriter is practicing your craft. For a songwriter, it can be frustrating when you’re writing songs constantly and you’re not experiencing that break quick enough. You want to be able to feed your family, make a living, but songwriting takes time. But once you get that break, that one song that catches on, it grows from there. You have to have patience, persistence and stay the course.It’s a marathon not a race. Just continue to work on your craft and network and find the right partnerships, know that it doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen and it can be amazing. It takes time. If you talk to any successful songwriter they’ll tell you they have been working on their craft for years, you can’t think it will happen overnight, success can happen but you have to be patient and persistent.
Her Agenda: What advice do you have for young professionals who want to work in the music industry on the executive level?
Nicole George-Middleton: The same, networking, go out there and meet people. You have to go out and constantly treat it like a job. Treat networking like a full-time job, you might be tired but still go to that networking event, still reach out and go out with people. Do your research, by doing research it’s showing people what you really want and it goes a long way.
Her Agenda: Do you feel is it harder or easier to identify or recruit top talent because of the Internet noise online?
Nicole George-Middleton: The Internet is another tool to identify talent. My team still does the basics to form relationships and go to the studio to meet with talent, or comb the charts and read the charts to find talent. The Internet is a tool but it’s also about being at showcases and performances and shows. The Internet has given a little more access to talent; it’s more direct to find talent that way. I would say it has made it a little easier.
Her Agenda: What keeps you motivated in life?
Nicole George-Middleton: My family, my children, I can’t slack in any way shape or form. I have these two little lives I am responsible for so that alone is motivation for me every single day. I’m making sure that I am creating the right legacy for them. My everyday life goal is to make my babies proud, they’re my motivation.
Her Agenda: What would you say is your personal mantra/life motto?
Nicole George-Middleton: “Nothing comes to a sleeper but a dream,” that’s something I got from my husband. It’s something I’ve grown to adopt and live by. You can’t rest on your laurels. You have to stay busy, stay active, you have to hone your craft. Don’t stop learning, educate yourself. If you’re not out there working, or hustling someone else will get the opportunity and you won’t.