When we first sat down with Kelli Turner, she held the titles of Executive Vice-President, Operations, Corporate Development and Chief Financial Officer of SESAC Holdings, Inc. One week later, she was named President and Chief Operating Officer of this Nashville-based performance rights organization. Kelli’s previous roles as President and Chief Financial Officer of RSL Management Corporation, Executive Vice-President and Chief Financial Officer at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc., and Vice-President and Senior Vice-President at Time Warner Inc., coupled with her four years of experience within SESAC, primed her for her newest role. Kelli moved to Nashville to contribute her expertise to the music industry, and since then, she’s been acknowledged as a woman of influence by numerous entities, including the T.J. Martell Foundation, Billboard magazine and Nashville Business Journal. Today, we are glad to join others in recognizing her as an impactful member of our community. Learn more about this dynamic woman, how she earned her seat at the table, and the important role SESAC plays within the music industry. Welcome Kelli Turner as our newest FACE of Nashville!
Tell us about your background.
I am originally from the suburbs of Detroit. I went to the University of Michigan for both undergrad and law school, then moved to New York after law school, where I spent 18 years working for different companies. I joined SESAC a little over four years ago in New York with no intention of ever leaving New York.
My whole team was based in Nashville, so I came here once a month. I fell in love with it. I like the people, the quality of life and no taxes. It seemed like a nice, easy place to live. The food is good and the music is fun.
Frankly, I thought we were going to sell SESAC, so I viewed the transition to Nashville as a two- or three-year move. We did sell the company to Blackstone, but they bought the company to back the current team. I had an option to move back to New York or to Los Angeles, but I decided to stay in Nashville.
Walk us through your responsibilities as President and Chief Operating Officer.
CEO John Josephson and I joined the company together. We worked together about 10 years before joining SESAC and stayed friends in between. We decided to divide and conquer as partners. I oversee most everything in Nashville — the music licensing and royalty operations, finance, corporate development and human resources.
Can you give us a quick understanding of SESAC’s role in the industry?
SESAC is a performing rights organization representing songwriters and licensing the public performance rights to media companies and businesses that use music.
What do you bring to SESAC, and how did you earn your seat at the table?
I have always worked in finance and mostly in the creative space. If you are going to work in finance, it is more interesting to do it in a creative industry. I was CFO at Martha Stewart and have worked with movies and media properties, and my time as an investment banker was focused on the media industry. SESAC is made up of a lot of different transactions. It is a series of contracts and negotiations, and that is what I have done my whole career. Prior to SESAC, I didn’t have music experience, but I love music and believe in the company, and it has been a seamless transition. Therefore, I bring negotiating skills, finance and operations knowledge, along with a lot of media experience to the table. In the past, staff at SESAC knew the performance space but didn’t really know the people they licensed to. John and I both have spent our careers advising the people we license to, so we understand their businesses.
What has been your greatest achievement since joining SESAC in 2014?
In the four years since we’ve been here, we have bought two companies: The Harry Fox Agency (HFA), a mechanical rights agency, and Christian Copyright Licensing International (CCLI). On the publishing side, there is performance licensing and mechanical licensing, and we bought HFA with the hope of bringing those rights together. CCLI offers copyright licensing of songs and other resource materials for use in Christian worship and now services more than 250,000 churches worldwide. CCLI has a similar business model to SESAC’s general licensing, which targets restaurants, nightclubs, gyms, bowling alleys and whoever else plays music.
Buying the companies, along with integrating HFA, was a big accomplishment, as was selling the company to Blackstone. Since we sold to Blackstone, we have been moving forward with the strategy we developed prior to the sale. And we continue to execute on our mission to drive better value for our songwriters and publishers.
What are SESAC’s top goals at the moment and how are you working to achieve them?
Continuing to grow our core domestic PRO, signing notable affiliates [songwriters and composers] and achieving the best licensing values for those affiliates. In addition, we’re continuing to integrate HFA and the SESAC database, making it the most comprehensive music rights database of record. Data is the future.
In 2017, SESAC entered into a partnership with the Swiss Collecting Society, SUISA, to do pan-European digital licensing. The ultimate goal, which is several years out, is to build a multi-rights, multi-territory platform.
How can modern music listeners best support the artists they love?
Buying subscriptions to streaming music services such as Spotify and Apple Music help offset the decline in CDs and downloads. We are at a point where the music industry is growing again because of subscriptions and advertising revenue. It’s also important to buy tickets and go to live shows, which is a huge advantage of living in Nashville.
When you aren’t working, where can we find you?
My kids are first and foremost. Between work and kids, there is not a tremendous amount of time. That said, I found a way to bring together exercise and friendship by walking or hiking with friends on the weekends. I enjoy Percy Warner, Edwin Warner and the White Bridge Greenway. It is a good way to catch up with friends and a great way to get in exercise.
I do like nice restaurants, so you can probably find me at one of the new establishments or original favorites in Nashville. I also like to listen to live music, and I visit New York a lot — both professionally and personally.
What songs are on your playlist?
Before I moved here, I didn’t really listen to country music, and now I am the biggest fan of SiriusXM’s The Highway. So I love the hits on The Highway as well as my kids’ music. My playlist songs can range from Brett Young and Jesse Lee’s (a SESAC affiliate) “Like I Love You” to the popular hits of Drake and Ed Sheeran — for my kids.
What books are on your bedside table?
There is not much time for reading, but I do enjoy business books such as Michael Lewis’ Moneyball and The Big Short. I am a TV girl, and some of the good shows I’m currently watching are “Breaking Bad,” “Fauda” and “Homeland.”
What is the best piece of advice you have received, and from whom?
Embrace your team by listening and don’t be afraid to let them manage up. At the end of the day, it’s the collective team who achieves the success, and I owe my accomplishments to them. And don’t forget to say thank you. These are true words of wisdom spoken by a dear friend and mentor Dick Parsons, former Chairman and CEO of Time Warner Inc.
What are three things you cannot live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Dark chocolate, the elliptical machine/hiking and Michigan football
Thank you to Kelli for answering all of our questions and congratulations to her!
With 23 years of nursing experience and 16 years as a lactation consultant (not to mention her firsthand experience as a mother and now grandmother), Noreen Webb is not only passionate about working at TriStar StoneCrest, she’s also well-versed in the benefits, challenges and myths associated with breastfeeding. CLICK HERE to meet our newest FACE of TriStar!