The Come Up is a collaborative editorial series between Femme It Forward and Splice, focused on highlighting non-male industry executives and innovators.
For our second entry, we had the opportunity to speak with Jeanine McLean-Williams, who is the president and managing partner of MBK Entertainment, Inc., a multimedia company dedicated to artist development. Across her many years on MBK’s management team, Jeanine has discovered, nurtured, and represented a wide array of artists spanning everyone from Alicia Keys to Elle Varner. Read on to get a firsthand look into her journey, advice to other female professionals, and more.
Tell us about your ‘come up’ – how did you start your career in the music industry?
I started my career as a gofer for my uncle, Bernie McLean, who was a big concert promoter in the Midwest. I eventually started my own international concert touring company with my best friend / partner, Onie Rivers.
What inspired you to pursue a career in the music industry?
Music was always at the center of my household, and all genres were played and enjoyed from R&B to rock. Then, I was exposed to the business side by watching my grandfather work as professional stand-up bass player and my uncle as concert promoter. At a young age, I would also go to the studio with my stepfather as he recorded with a number of big names. The exposure at such a young age led me to dream of one day finding my own lane in the music industry.
What was the first big career risk you took?
The first big risk I took was quitting my cushy job and leaving the comforts of corporate America and going to work full-time at MBK Entertainment, Inc., because Jeff Robinson had a new artist coming out named Alicia Keys.
Tell us about one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career. How did you overcome it?
One of the biggest challenges was juggling family life and the long, long work hours and extended time spent traveling. My son was super young in elementary school, and I still had to be there for him with homework, after-school activities, etc. The solution to overcoming trying to juggle it all was that I would have him travel with me whenever possible. He would get his homework in advance and do it on the road. The low-key benefit is that he would end up traveling all over the world and having experiences that broadened his view of the world, other cultures, food, music, etc.
Is there a mentor who supported you in your career? If not, how did you navigate the industry?
I did have my uncle as a mentor. He would always take the time to listen when I had questions and ideas, and he introduced me to a few entertainment lawyers that he may not have realized truly helped shape my success. Through those various lawyers, I would learn the true art of the deal and how important it is to read all contracts and understand what an artist or your client is signing, because it could be the difference of your business venture being lucrative or indentured servitude.
To this day, I do a lot of the negotiation of our deals, and then we bring in the lawyers to make sure that all of the details and terms are super tight. I do wish that I had a female mentor coming up though, which is why I’m involved in so many mentorship programs: Power 2 Inspire, GRAMMY U, She Is The Music, and others. I like to share what I’ve learned with younger females looking to enter the music space.
Have you had to manage being the only female professional in a business meeting? How do you command the room?
I have been the only female in the room many times. I command the room by being prepared, having my facts together, and having something positive or lucrative to present. I talk when I have something to say, rather than just talking without offering anything to benefit the meeting or conversation.
What would be your advice to female professionals looking to make it in a male-dominated industry?
I would say be smart, stay focused, and learn all there is to learn in your desired field and make yourself valuable. If you’re bringing the big ideas or big bucks to the table, you become valuable and non-expendable. Don’t let anyone have total power over you, because given the opportunity they will use it. And lastly, yes, we are more emotional by nature and that’s okay, but there’s no reason for everyone to know that you can’t keep your emotions in check when necessary.
What do you think the future of music looks like?
Music will continue to be created, released, and consumed at a rapid pace. The digital streaming world will continue to get bigger, and I think there will be even more streaming platforms that will emerge. Hopefully we will see these platforms improve their artist royalty rates! I also think the genre lines will continue to be blurred.
What do you want your legacy to be?
That I helped as many artists as possible bring their talents and dreams to fruition.
If there were one job in the industry you’d love to have, other than your current job, what would it be?
My dream job would be A&R. I would use my powers for good and veto some of the sexist and derogatory lyrics that currently hit the airwaves. You can deliver a banging beat and current content without it being harmful to the culture – we have to do better.
Keep an eye out for more exclusive The Come Up interviews in the coming weeks.
December 17, 2020