She grew up in the piney woods of South Mississippi on a cattle farm, making her way to Nashville for holidays and summers to visit her dad, Christie Hauck, of Christie Cookies fame. But it wasn’t until Tatum Hauck Allsep enrolled at Vanderbilt University that she became an official Nashvillian. The assumption was that she would follow in her grandfather’s footsteps and carve out a career in medicine, but an internship at MCA Records turned into a job where, she says, she found her tribe, the “industry of gifted misfits.” She went on to launch the first-ever Office of Music Industry Relations for Vanderbilt Medical Center, a position created to build a link between the music industry and Vanderbilt Medical Center and Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt. It was in that position that she found her true calling. She honed in on how to marry both industries — music and medicine — and founded Music Health Alliance, a nonprofit that provides health care access to the music industry across the nation from birth to end of life. Today, we’re beyond thrilled to introduce you to Tatum Hauck Allsep, the founder and executive director of Music Health Alliance and today’s FACE of Nashville!
Tell me about Music Health Alliance. Where did the idea originate?
I have had a lifelong interest in medicine. Even though I chose the music industry for my career, I was first able to bring together my two passions when I went to work for Vanderbilt in 2006. That job opened my eyes even wider to the deficit in health care access for the music industry, a need that was initially driven home to me through personal experience.
A decade ago, I found myself facing a six-figure bill after giving birth to twin boys, despite having what I thought was a good health insurance plan. I had worked in the music industry for over a decade at that point, running my own artist management company and working for MCA Records. I had done everything I was supposed to do, and I was still almost bankrupted by medical bills. I quickly learned that I was not alone. Over 76 percent of the music industry is self-employed or part of a small business. There are no HR departments or group benefits available because many musicians work part-time jobs to make ends meet, and even the most successful artists and musicians are paid as contractors, so health insurance is an enormous problem for those at both ends of the spectrum. I realized that my mission was to find a solution to these problems. I learned the business side of health insurance, worked with Vanderbilt Medical Center and learned to navigate the hospital system, trained in health care navigation and advocacy at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, studied the Affordable Care Act inside and out and cashed in my 401K (with my husband’s support and blessing) to launch Music Health Alliance. I began to realize that my whole life had been leading me in this direction. My Granddaddy’s framed Hippocratic Oath hangs behind my desk as a daily reminder of the journey that led me here, and the duty of care I owe to our clients.
What has been the biggest challenge you have encountered since launching MHA?
Creating from scratch a nonprofit for which there was no template to follow. One of the most interesting challenges was merging expertise from the music and health care industries, two industries who rarely intersect and speak completely different languages. Blazing this new trail with an incredible staff and board of directors has been incredibly exhilarating and rewarding as well.
Tell me about “The First and The Worst.” What is it, and where did the idea come from?
The First and The Worst is MHA’s annual fundraiser now in the planning stages of its third year. Go ahead and mark your your calendars for March 1, 2017, at City Winery. It will be a night not to be missed! Singer-songwriter and MHA board member Sandy Knox, who wrote such Reba McEntire hits as “Does He Love You” and “Why Haven’t I Heard From You,” came up with the idea when she was teaching a songwriting class at the University of Texas. On the first day of class, Sandy would play the early songs she wrote as a teenager just starting out (“Mr. Phone,” “Up-Chuck” and “We’re Gonna Be Gettin’ Some,” to name a few). This made her students feel more at ease, and they could see no one starts out writing hit songs. The First and the Worst kicks the traditional songwriters’ rounds into reverse by offering songwriters a chance to publicly perform the first and worst songs they ever created in hopes of winning the now-coveted Crappy Award. And then the hysterically bad songs are followed by the mega hits.
Describe for me the most memorable moment since launching MHA that has validated all of your hard work.
For the first two years of MHA we were on what I call the coffee shop tour. We did not have enough funding for salaries, much less an office, so our staff met clients in coffee shops all over the city. There is not a plug socket in a coffee shop from Nashville to Franklin that we have not used. We had to prove that our new and unique model of health care support would work. Now, three-and-a-half years later, one of the most amazing things about this experience has been the extent to which members of the music community have stepped up to help. The greatest of these occurred in March when Garth Brooks joined Jesse Alexander, Lee Brice and the songwriting great, Bobby Braddock, to headline The First & The Worst. We raised $230,000, over half of our annual budget, in one night. Without this financial support, none of the remarkable moments — I call these our bread crumbs from Heaven — would be possible.
How many musicians and music industry folks have you been able to steer towards health care since launching MHA?
By the end of 2015, we had served 4,100 music industry professionals and their families, and secured over $10.8 million in health care cost reductions to Heal the Music.
What is the biggest misconception about the music business?
Fame equals fortune
When you’re not working, how do you unwind?
I absolutely love estate sale treasure hunting. My husband calls this dumpster diving and suggests that an intervention may be in my future. I absolutely love to find vinyl records, Nashville relics and great jewelry that can be repurposed. As the mother of three, this has also been a very effective and fun way to teach financial responsibility in our house. We have spent many Saturday mornings at estate sales with the goal of seeing how creative we can be with $10. Every one of these Saturdays over the years has yielded a treasure, either a keeper or great eBay resale.
Where is your favorite place to grab a bite to eat, and what do you order there?
City House is my absolute favorite place in Nashville. Anything Tandy Wilson creates to eat and his wife, Stephanie, creates to drink is incredible. They make me feel like an honest-to-goodness foodie. Goozy in Green Hills Mall is a great stop with our kids for a grilled cheese sandwich and homemade artisan gelato.
Who has been your biggest inspiration/mentor as you’ve journeyed down your professional path?
The legendary women of the Nashville music industry who poured the foundation for us in what has traditionally been a good ol’ boys’ club are immense inspirations for me. Women like Jo Walker-Meador, Frances Preston, Judy Harris, Donna Hilley, Pat Rolfe, the founders of SOURCE, and now women like Cindy Mabe, Sarah Trahern, Beverly Keel, Linda Edell Howard, Anastasia Brown and Chandra LaPlume are carrying the torch for the next generation of women in the music industry. But my greatest music industry mentor is someone that I’m fortunate enough to work with every single day, Shelia Shipley Biddy. Shelia was the first female head of a record label in Nashville in the late ‘90s, and I was her intern. She should have fired me several times during my stint at Decca Records, but she did not. Instead she used each of my offenses as teaching opportunities to learn life lessons like think before you speak, the value of paying your dues and work harder and work smarter to name a few. She is the yin to my chaotic yang in the MHA office. I am grateful for her patience, wisdom and perseverance more than words, but most of all, I am honored to call her my friend.
What is the best piece advice you’ve ever been given?
There have been some great nuggets of wisdom passed down over the years from my parents. From my mother who is a free spirit, “Ride the river, hold on, laugh loud and enjoy the moment.” And my Dad, who is more cautious, “Hire slow, fire fast.” But it’s an old Polish proverb that my husband said in passing several years ago that I think of daily, “Not my circus, not my monkeys.” This has been a great reminder for all of us at MHA, especially when we have an urge to venture away from our core mission.
What are three things you can’t live without, excluding faith, family and friends?
Music, caffeine and an open mind
Thank you to Tatum and her team of wonder women for making a difference in the lives of so many. Learn more about Music Health Alliance here.
Thank you to Ashley Hylbert for today’s beautiful photographs. See more of Ashley’s work on her website — click here.
There are so many inspiring women in Nashville. Read all about them in our FACES section — click here.