2024 Impact 50 Honoree: Martha Earls

Neon Coast

FIRST JOB IN THE BIZ: Receptionist at Warner Chappell Music
BIZ PHILOSOPHY: Allowing artists to be who they are.


Authenticity has driven Martha Earls’ journey in the music biz, from her decision to give up a full music scholarship playing piano to transfer to Middle Tennessee State University, where she “got the best education on the music industry,” as well as how she’s helped guide country superstar Kane Brown’s career. During her 25 years in the industry, Earls, who says she “always kind of had this more independent entrepreneurial spirit,” first worked as a receptionist at Warner Chappell Music while attending MTSU and went on to start a publishing company with her friend Mike Molinar that became Big Machine Music before launching her own management company, Neon Coast, in 2015. Here, Earls discusses her love for Nashville’s music community, her highlights of the year including Brown becoming the first Black solo headliner at Boston’s Fenway Park, and country music’s ascendance.

Pollstar: How many years have you been in the industry?
Martha Earls: I started working in the music industry when I was 20. I’ve literally done this my whole adult life — I think basically 25 years. That’s crazy!

You should do something to celebrate — that’s a milestone.
Honestly, it is. I feel like one year in entertainment — it’s like dog years. It’s like seven years of working at the bank.

Who is your most important mentor and what’s something you learned from them?
I really admire Kerri Edwards who manages Luke Bryan and Cole Swindell because she forged this path of female publisher turned manager/artist developer. She really was so impactful, on so many managers. I don’t even think she realizes it sometimes.

What inspired the name of your company?
People were always asking me, “Are you in New York or in LA? Are you on the East Coast or the West Coast?” I was like “No. I’m in Nashville!” And so then I was like, we’re our own coast – we’re the Neon Coast.

Do you think Nashville still has that community feel even though it is growing so much?
Definitely. Nashville is the best because it still feels like a small town. The music industry in particular is growing and lots of people are moving to Nashville and companies are expanding, all of that, but I will say the thing I love about it is people who I met when I very first started when I was 20 years old [who] are still in the business, and they still root for each other. We all still see each other out at events and it’s definitely its own little community within the city of Nashville.

What are the biggest stand-out moments for your clients over the past year?
For Kane, I would say him headlining Fenway. He’s the first Black artist to headline Fenway, which is crazy. To be the first Black artist and then to sell it out was really special. That was a really big deal and I think that that show gave us the confidence to go do the soccer stadium in Los Angeles [BMO Stadium on Aug. 24] and the baseball stadium in Denver [at Coors Field on Sept. 6 ]. We just released a track that is gonna be one of his biggest tracks ever with Marshmello.

For everybody across the board [at Neon Coast], international has been doing really well for us. Kane headlined in Europe, Restless Road headlined and sold out in Europe. I like the fact that we’re taking all of our people beyond the expected places in the States.

How have you helped guide Kane’s career to get it to this point?
He was underestimated when he first started. He definitely looked different. He’s biracial. He came through on social media before that was the thing. He was a progressive trendsetter and I love things like that — that shift and move culture along. My main thing was never trying to course-correct Kane to fit into some Nashville mold, but rather let’s just try everything and go into it all like just arms wide open; let’s just see what happens. Allowing artists to be who they are, for me, is the most important thing a manager can do.

Any predictions for the music business in 2024 or the years ahead?
Country is definitely going to continue to grow and stay hot. … I’ve always loved country music and as much as I love Kane, him pushing the boundaries, I also love showing the world, “Hey, country music isn’t just dumb redneck people in overalls.” It’s important to me, too, that people see what a wide tent of music it is and it’s only going to continue to expand. I feel like the country genre is just ultimately America’s music, which I love, and because I’m so proud of the music we put out here.

We were just talking in our editorial meeting that the genres doing really well are Latin and country. Even country-adjacent artists.
I think it’s great. I see more artists probably doing what Beyoncé did, where they’re kind of dabbling in the country format. It’s healthy for our format and if it brings fans to explore more country music, then that’s amazing.