Oral History Spotlight: Mike Lawson

Elizabeth Dale

In July, four major music trade publications welcomed new owner, Mike Lawson. The change in ownership of School Band & Orchestra (SBO), Musical Merchandise Review (MMR), JAZZed, and Choral Director became effective with the August 2021 issue of each publication.

For over 30 years, Lawson has served the music industry by publishing numerous books, videos, periodicals, directory, and software works, working with publishers like Alfred Music Publishing, artistpro.com, Hal Leonard, MIXBooks, Thomson Learning, and Thomas Nelson. Despite his lifelong desire to become a musician, it wasn’t an easy road. As a child, his family could not afford an instrument for him, so Lawson worked at an early age cutting grass and performing odd jobs to save up enough cash to purchase a guitar. As he grew, he studied music magazines and books to learn as much as he could about gear and the art of musicianship.

Lawson honed his skills and spent years performing in clubs, colleges, frat houses, and other venues around the southeast of America. In 1991, he relocated to Nashville and opened an office on the famed “Music Row” and was intent on applying his unique history studying music publications as a child to try to break into music publishing.

Mike Lawson

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By 1992, Lawson introduced “The Entertainment Source Library,” an industry legal contract software, and founded the “Music Industry Forum,” the first digital promotional downloads of 30-second sound bites of music releases from top record labels. During this time, Lawson worked alongside icons like Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen (Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane), Thomas Dolby, Robbie Kreiger (The Doors), Lou Reed, and Bob Welch. In late 1993, he sold the rights to his software product to Act III Media, the publisher of MIX magazine, transitioning to product marketing for Gibson.

In 1996, Lawson was recruited to MIX magazine and its related entities to help establish MIXBooks. While working for MIX Lawson found success outside of the office, serving on the Board of Governors of The Recording Academy, rising to serve as a trustee for the national organization. He also had the opportunity to continue performing, playing with local legends Merl Saunders and members of the Grateful Dead, Tower of Power, Jerry Garcia Band, and Legion of Mary.

In the late 90s and early 2000s, Lawson acquired book imprints and a catalog of works by partnering with CMG, Recoding Industry Sourcebook, and Publicitas to launch artistpro.com. The website became the first to host community forums hosted by GRAMMY® winners who advised members on audio production. Before his June 2021 purchase of School Band & Orchestra (SBO), Musical Merchandise Review (MMR), JAZZed, and Choral Director, Lawson was part of the editorial staff.

Lawson has also shown substantial achievement in his philanthropic endeavors. In 1997, he became involved in Technology in Music Education (TI:ME), a non-profit funded with a grant from The NAMM Foundation. While on the organization's advisory board, Lawson published books by educators which addressed how to modernize how music was taught in schools. He also volunteered with The Recording Academy as part of the A&N Committee until 2009 and served on the Board of Directors for The TEC Foundation before it joined The NAMM Foundation. In 2011, Lawson joined TI:ME as its executive director and helped the organization grow its professional development opportunities, a position he still holds.

For additional Oral Histories, please visit www.namm.com/library, and to learn more about artistpro.com Publishing, please visit https://artistpro.com/.