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Michael McDonald On His Amazing Journey From MusiCares Client To Chair
If anyone can testify to the powerful transformative nature of MusiCares, it's Mick Management founder Michael McDonald. After all, he's not only witnessed the positive energy as the organization's Board Chair but as someone with first-hand experience.
"I was introduced to MusiCares as a client. About 18 years ago, I decided I needed to get sober," says McDonald. "[I was] referred to someone at MusiCares, Neil Lasher. He connected me with free group therapy [and addiction counseling] twice a week here in New York City. ... There was no paperwork, no nothing (laughs). It was that simple."
As McDonald's career path has progressed from selling T-shirts and tour managing Dave Matthews Band to an artist manager, his relationship with MusiCares graduated to an opportunity to serve the organization in an official capacity.
"Three years ago, I was asked to interview to be on the board. And I was honored and flattered and at that point saw the full-circle nature of my relationship with MusiCares," he says. "There's no better gift that you can give than help to somebody who needs it."
Elected Chair this past August, McDonald is fortunate to build on some strong organizational momentum. In 2017 MusiCares projected helping more than 7,500 people this year with at least $5.5 million in aid. The annual Person of the Year gala honoring the late Tom Petty raised a record $8.5 million. However, McDonald is looking to find new ways to raise awareness for MusiCares' programs and services.
"One of my goals is to bring MusiCares to more markets and to younger people in the business," he says "For a lot of younger people in the industry, MusiCares is that thing that they organize for their bosses to go to around the GRAMMYs."
As a result, McDonald has cultivated ambassador programs in New York, Los Angeles and Nashville with affordable events focusing on engaging younger music professionals. He hopes the concept will serve as a grass-roots catalyst to grow the next generation of MusiCares supporters and spread the organization's mission.
"In addition to the ambassadors, there’s a strong, strong network to go to when we want to have an event," says McDonald. "They may not have the bandwidth to get involved in the planning of the event, but are happy to spread the word and have their companies support it. If all anyone does is send an invitation to 30 new contacts and half of those people come, that's a success.
"I really want MusiCares to be more at the forefront of people's minds because it's such a beautiful program and such a simple concept. ... If someone breaks their arm or slips and falls or has laryngitis and can't sing, or for instrument replacement from all the hurricane damage in Texas and Florida and Puerto Rico, we can do so many things and impact so many people. The more people in the business that know about it, that have the means to help, the better."
Helping others — artists, in the case of his day job — is a big part of McDonald's livelihood. He founded Mick Management in 2000 and today oversees a stable of artists that includes the likes of Ray LaMontagne, Leon Bridges, John Batiste, Maggie Rogers, Walk The Moon, and Of Monsters And Men.
Through managing artists such as John Mayer and his experience on the road with Dave Matthews Band, McDonald earned a "Ph.D." in artist development, which serves him and his clientele well in the face of today's fast-paced industry.
"The most challenging aspect is really keeping up with innovation and trying to separate the signal from the noise. There's a ton of digital noise out there," says McDonald. "The number of things that change from month to month is remarkable. It's a really exciting time to be in the business. It's just a challenge to stay up with innovation and that's where it's incumbent on us as artist managers to do that, and lead the way."
As the 60th GRAMMY Awards approach, it's also an exciting time for the Recording Academy. And McDonald is particularly looking forward to GRAMMY Week in the Big Apple, including Fleetwood Mac's impending 2018 MusiCares Person of the Year honor.
"We are gonna make it tough to bring the GRAMMYs back to L.A. (laughs)," jokes the New York-based McDonald. "Everyone from the mayor's office to the ambassadors to all the members of the Board that are New York-based could not be happier and are pushing to make it a huge success. I think Fleetwood Mac is going to be fantastic and Radio City is going to be an exciting venue to have the event at."
And when McDonald takes the podium at Person of the Year, he will represent the leadership of the organization and the thousands of clients who have been served by MusiCares.
"I can tell the story from a personal perspective that's real simple: I was an alcohol and cocaine addict and I needed help. I didn't have the money to pay for therapy and MusiCares paid for my therapy. MusiCares got me sober and helped keep me sober. And now I have the good fortune to be the Chairman of the organization. That's oftentimes more helpful than statistics and PowerPoints."