Some people can’t hide how much they love their job; Emilee Warner, the voice of Country Music Television’s radio network is one of those people.
At 21, Emilee has graduated college, bought a house and found her way deep into the Nashville music scene, all because she is a charming extrovert and, more importantly, a diehard fan of bluegrass. At 21, Emilee has accomplished a great deal of things. Her freshman year in college, where she studied marketing, Emilee founded a bluegrass radio show. By the time she graduated three years later, Emilee had already had two internships and three
jobs in the music business. The youngest to audition for her current position, Emilee won the job through sheer confidence and will power.
“If I could hug and kiss Nashville,” Emilee says, “I would. I love this town.”
Emilee has placed herself in the epicenter of the bluegrass world, an obvious choice for a fan and banjo player such as herself. The lesson that Emilee has to teach everyone, even those many years her senior, is that extroversion is an incredibly powerful tool. “If you love music and you’re outside,” says Emilee, “You’re going to meet a lot of people.” And a lot of people Emilee has met, taking the Pursue the Passion crew to numerous concerts, parties and events within the bluegrass community. Emilee’s passion is for music, and could see herself doing just about anything in the music world.
“I’d love plain old marketing,” she says, with a grin. “As long as I’d be marketing good music.”
If you could just say…
Your name, what you do, who you do it for, and how old you are?
You know the drill. You’re a stud.
My name is Emilee Warner. I am the voice of CMT Radio Networks. I am 21 years old.
And you’re from Crossville?
I am from Crossville, Tennessee.
So your family are all the most important people in Crossville, right?
That’s why I had to move away (laughs). My dad is the general sessions judge. My uncle is the sheriff. My cousin is the chief of police. And I have another cousin who is the county clerk (laughs).
That’s crazy. So we’re in Nashville at Country Music…
This is Country Music Television. This is it! This is the headquarters.
Z: This is the epicenter of the country music movement.
Pretty much. You are in country music city.
So have you always liked country music? Or did you fall in love with bluegrass awhile back. What was that like? When did you start getting your interest in this type of music?
When I was in high school, the best radio station in my hometown was a country station. WOWF- Crossville. When I graduated high school I worked part time for them for the summer. I was their intern. I just fell in love with the music.
It was really catchy and I liked it. And it was the best radio station around.
I went to college. I got really into bluegrass music. A lot of my friends were into that. I started to play banjo. And I started a bluegrass radio show my freshman year of college. That’s the first time I really found something that I loved and could stick with.
So you’re 21 years old. Not a lot of people our age have a badass job like this. How many friends are envious of you?
Well, I was the youngest person who auditioned for this job, which was pretty crazy. When I actually started here, I was younger than our intern. Which was pretty crazy. Our intern was a year older than me.
It’s kind of weird. My boss didn’t know that I was only 21 when he hired. He just assumed I was older because I came in really confident and it worked for me. So it’s pretty weird.
I think all of my friends have really cool jobs, whether they’re a musician or whatever. I don’t know anyone who has a really terrible job. I just think mine’s really cool. Other than waking up early in the morning.
Zach: Why do you think people think you’re older than you are? Have you always been more mature?
I’ve always had friends who are older. I always dated older. My cousin told me the other day that when I was a baby he always thought that I had old eyes. But I don’t know. I think I still have a lot more wisdom to gain. But so far, so good.
What about your personal journey? Has there been anything special that has gotten you here? What separates you from other people who are working accounting jobs or something like that?
I fell in love in music. During that year in school I was studying production, radio, and TV. I just thought it was so fascinating and really cool.
I’m someone, I mean, I can admit that I like attention. And I really like good music and I really like exposing people to great music. And I’m a really hard worker. I’m a go getter. I’m not very patient. I have to get stuff done fast.
So the timeline was, I got into bluegrass music my freshman year of college. My school is about 45 minutes from Nashville. I was living there.
Within six months, I had moved to Nashville. I got a job at a booking agency, one of the best booking agency in bluegrass music. I was working for the artists that I was a huge fan of. That all happened in six months. From one of the first big bluegrass shows that I gone to, which was the Del McCurry Band at the Ryman on New Year’s Eve, to working for Alison Krauss’s booking agency.
I was just persistent. And it was luck. I met a man in a bookstore and told him to listen to my bluegrass radio show, and he turned out to be Alison Krauss’s booking agent. It was pretty crazy. I just kept hounding him. I was like, ‘Hey, I’d love to have lunch. I’d love to be an intern. I don’t know if you have interns.’
One day he called me, during my radio show, he had been listening, and they had a receptionist position that came open. I already had plans to move to Nashville, and I ended up getting the job. And I moved to Nashville within three days. It was pretty crazy. It’s been crazy cosmic luck.
But it’s more than luck. You’re setting yourself up for it with your persistence and getting involved that early.
My school is really known for the degree of music business. You go to college and get a degree in music business. I didn’t do that. I majored in marketing. I have a bachelors in business. I know so many kids who take the five year plan and major in music business and if you don’t do the music business, you don’t have anything to fall back on. With that degree. You have nothing.
The way the music business changes, it’s not worth getting a degree in. It changes every single day! Look at MySpace, Facebook and iTunes are just changing the whole industry. You can’t rely on a degree like that, you just have to have a business sense. So I’m hoping that’s working out for me (laughs).
A lot of my peers majored in that. They’d live in Murphysboro and if they were lucky, maybe they had one internship by the time they graduated. When I graduated, I had already had two internships and three part time jobs. All in music or radio. Just in those three years of college.
And you started your own show.
And I started my own radio show at the college station. It’s just a matter of finding it. And a lot of people don’t ever think to find it. Or don’t have that persistence mechanism to network all the time. I mean, I went to Kinko’s and made business cards. I spent forty bucks, made business cards, and every concert I went to, if I met anyone I gave them my card. I just handed out the card and got there’s. I have a huge Rolodex. I don’t know who half these people are, but those three or four where I actually handed it to the right person got me to where I am today. And it’s so worth it.
Zach: Did your specific degree ever help or hurt you? Did you feel like you needed a music degree?
It probably would have helped on some things. As far as music legal things. But, overall I think I made the right decision. I don’t regret not majoring in music business. It would have taken me another year to graduate. I wouldn’t have been able to have this job, for sure. It would have cost more in school. My marketing degree I ended up graduating in three years.
With the Tennessee Lottery Scholoarship, I got to go to school for free. Which rocked!
The Tennessee Lottery Scholoarship?
Yeah. We have a state lottery. You go to the gas station, you buy a lottery ticket. All that money goes to education for college. So it’s a great cause. Georgia does that. There’s several states that do it.
Cool. So is this job enough to pay the bills? Is it sustainable?
It could pay the bills if I wanted to eat Ramen every day. Well, I take that back. I like to go out. I like to go out to eat. I like to go out to music. I decided a couple of months ago when I got out of school what I was working for. Yeah, you have to work for money, but where do you want your money to go? What’s the whole point?
I decided music was a huge priority. I’m never going to regret paying a lot to go to a show or a festival. I just decided I’m not going to let myself feel guilty, because that’s something I love. I’m not going to regret going out to eat once in awhile, because I love to do that too. I love to be with people. I love to have a beer once in awhile, or more than that sometimes (laughs).
And I just bought a house. I work three jobs right now. CMT is technically a full time job. I’m a freelancer here, and I’m on a weekly stipend. I could live off it, but I like to have a little extra to go to shows, to pay bills easier, and try to save. Since I’m young and energetic, now’s the best time for me to have three jobs. Rather than if I was married or if I had a kid. Or if I had a dog. Or a plant that needed a lot of maintenance or something. While I’m able to do that, I want to.
So I work for a publicist and a local rock radio station.
Zach: So what were some of the things that weren’t so important to you when you thought about that? What you didn’t want to spend your money on.
That’s a good question. What I didn’t want to spend my money on? I don’t care about having a nice car. That’s one thing. I really wanted to own a house. I was tired of renting, because I didn’t see the point. And the way rent prices were in Nashville, it’s within $300 of a mortgage. I know $300 is a lot per month, but I also work two extra jobs. So I’m able to come up with it. If I don’t eat out for a whole week, I save probably a lot of money for myself.
Things like that weren’t very important. I was going to buy a new computer this fall. I’ve had mine since freshman year of college and it’s missing some keys. But instead of buying that, I decided I was going to put that towards a house.
Zach: So you’ve invested in lifestyle things like friends and making connections and doing that type of stuff.
I much rather not have the nicest clothes and shop at a thrift store and be able to go see Bob Dylan at the Ryman with great seats. Any day.
What makes Nashville so special? You seem to love it.
I love this town. If I could just hug Nashville and kiss it I would. This town has been so good to me! I have great job. I love it. I have great friends. I’m really thankful. I never have ever regretted moving here. Ever.
I grew up two hours away, so I always knew Nashville. But I had never been to the Grand Bell Opry until sometime in the past two years.
Nashville is one of the most welcoming cities. It’s so easy to move here. It’s so easy to visit. It’s so easy to make friends. All you need to be is just not inside. If you just get out and go to one show, you’re going to meet somebody. If you love music, you’re going to meet a lot of people. If you play music, you’re going to meet even more people. More than you want. It’s just a great place. I love it.
Z: So you could say you’re an extrovert. Clearly. But we’ve talked to a lot of people about managing your state and a lot of people are introverts and have trouble with a lot of that stuff. It’s kind of the most important thing. Talking with people on a real level. Is it something that’s always come easy to you? Or do you ever find yourself not wanting to do that stuff where you have to consciously tell yourself to make sure to do it because you know it’s important.
I’ve always been an extrovert since I was a kid. I’m the baby of my family, if you haven’t noticed. My sister is a couple years older than me. She is an introvert. She is a high school teacher married to a dairy farmer. She likes the very simple, very structured lifestyle.
Me on the other hand, I’m a little crazy! And I like it that way. I like talking to a lot of people. I like talking all the time. And I don’t like being quiet and sitting in a room alone. Not that I’m unstable, but it’s just that I love having people around.
Sometimes I get nervous. There are some social situations since I’ve gotten into the country music scene, where I’m surrounded by stars that I see on TV, that is a different situation that I’m still getting used to. It’s really hard to go up to people and joke around. Or bring up something to talk about because I don’t know those people very well yet. But in the bluegrass world I know everybody.
So going into the Station Inn, and having my hair messed up with no makeup on is not a big deal. But if I were to go to Big & Rich’s #1 party, I couldn’t do that. Not yet. But one day I will.
So is Billy Ray Sirius the biggest star you’ve talked to?
So far, I’ve met a lot of different artists. But as far as doing a straight up interview, I’ve only done a couple. Billy Ray was pretty cool. Billy Ray Sirius was fun. It was right when all the Hannah Montana stuff has been going on. Which has been bigger than I knew. At the time, I didn’t have cable. So I didn’t know how big it was.
Z: But that’s a kid’s show.
It’s a kid’s show, but hey, I still love the Disney channel. But I remember Billy Ray Sirius from when I was a kid. Achy Breaky Heart was the cool thing. My family had a cardboard stand up of him with his mullet. I interviewed him in this very room. I got really nervous. I kind of locked up a little bit. But it’s just practice. You have to keep doing it. The second interview I did was Recee Palmer, a new country artist. We did a great show. It was just crazy having a good time. Her single is called ‘Country Girl’ and we just had so much fun. So that was cool.
The day I started my job I went to a #1 party for the band Sugarland. The duo. I met them and it was pretty cool. It was my first day. I went to Azcap, which is a music row. You’ll probably drive by there at some point. That’s where they have the #1 parties for their artists. I met Sugarland because I knew their VP, Dan Keane, and Dan brought me in. He was like, ‘Congrats! You just got the job at CMT. Here, you have to meet the band.’ I’m like, ‘What?’ He’s like, ‘Jennifer, Christian, this is Emilee Warner. She does the scoop at CMT radio!’ They were super cool and super nice, so that was pretty neat.
So one of the questions we get all the time is ‘Who is the most passionate?’ Not a question I like, but as far as professions go, where do musicians here in Nashville stack up in that lineup of people passionate about their job?
I don’t think anyone is more passionate than I am. Other than waking up early. That part of my job is not fun. I think musicians are some of the most passionate people you’ll ever meet. They don’t care to be poor. They don’t care to only own a mattress and a couple of shirts and maybe a pair of underwear if they’re lucky. Which is the case with a lot of people I know. They don’t care to be poor, but they want to play music for a living. They’ll be poor to do so because that’s what’s important to them. They want to do what’s making them happy. It’s not the paycheck. That’s a big thing for a lot of people, to decide that. And to accept it.
It’s not really about money, it’s about lifestyle.
Yeah. You never get rich in radio. Anyone will tell you that. Unless you’re in sales. I mean, I’m in this knowing that for the rest of my life I’m never going to live in a huge house with a swimming pool. I may or may not have kids. I’m probably never going to own a brand new car. But I’m going to see a lot of great music.
And that’s why you do what you do.
Yeah. I’m going to see more great music than a lot of people. That’s all I want. And maybe a hot tub (laughs).
Z: Kind of indulge us. You were saying last night that the Del McCurry show changed your life. What was that realization like? Why’d you have that realization at that night at that show?
That was the New Year’s show at the Ryman. Del McCurry used to play there every New Year’s at the Ryman for a good string of years. Well I found out that they were playing there. I was starting my bluegrass radio show that following January at WMTS. My college radio station.
So I found tickets on eBay. It was front row seats. Seats 1 and 2 at the Ryman. I don’t even remember what I ended up charging on my dad’s credit card (laughs). But it was probably close to $200 bucks for those tickets. Me and one of my very close friends, Emily Cavender went and drove up. It was our freshman year, so you get kicked out of the dorms, which totally stinks. I always hated that.
So we got kicked out of the dorms and came up that night to Nashville. There were like four or five opening bands. They were all young artists that were playing bluegrass. I didn’t know there were young people who were good looking and not old men missing teeth. That was what I thought of bluegrass. These were good looking guys you could see in any magazine. They were pickin’ their tails off. They were so good.
So in between some of the shows, we would go out and meet the bands. We’d get their autographs or whatever. We were superfans. One of the bands actually, this is kind of embarrassing, found them on MySpace a month later, and ended up being buddies with them. They were in Nashville a lot, but not from here. We ended up hanging out with them, going to shows when they were in town. That band, they had the same booking agency I ended up working at. So that kind of handy. I met them as a fan, and I was working for them within five months. Handling their itenariries. That was kind of crazy.
I think of you as a person is a testament to what being positive all the time can do for you. So many doors have opened up and you’re definitely bubbly and energetic. Just to go out and meet every person with that same enthusiasm, I think that’s why you’re sitting here.
Yeah! It’s great. The reason I even knew this job was open was a girl that we both did shows at the college radio station. She graduated before me, interned here, got a job here as a production assistant, and she called me when the position became available. She said I better overnight a package. Because I listen to your show every week, and you would be the voice of CMT Radio. I love your show Bum Diddy. It’s fun. We listen to it in the office. You better send something in. I thought, ‘Well I’ll never get that.’ So I didn’t even send it for a couple days. She calls me back, and she’s like, did you send it yet? She said you better overnight that.
I did, and I ended up getting that. Pretty crazy. Because I didn’t even know this girl that well in college. She just listened to my show and liked it.
So do you want to do this forever or what’s your deal?
What’s my deal? I don’t know what I want to do forever. There’s a lot of things I want to do. But this is great. I think I’m going to be here for several years. I’m on a year contract is how it works. So next June we’ll go through negotiations again and hopefully I’ll still be around. My boss and I already talk and act as if I’ll still be here. I have no reason to leave. I love it here.
Z: Do you get hung up on thinking about that stuff at all? Like what’s a long time for you to be thinking about in the future? Is two years a long time? Or would you generally go into a job thinking that you’d work there for three years?
I like to think very long term. In my mind I’ve already been married and divorced and had a kid and I’m retired (laughs). But I’m really forty-five trapped in this twenty-one year old body! So I do think about things really long term. There are a lot of great places I would love to work at some point. Or just a lot of great people I’d love to work with or work for.
I mean, were here at Country Music Television, but we’re here in their radio studio. So there’s even a whole television part of this. I don’t know if that’s something in my future or not, but I’d be cool either way. I love radio. I love TV. I love plain ol’ marketing. If I’m marketing good music. I can do a lot of different things.
So when did you graduate? May of 2007?
I graduated a couple months ago.
That screws up our interview format. The way we end every interview is asking people if they could go back to 21 and give themselves one piece of advice, what they would say. But is there anything you would say to yourself?
Well, since I’m 45.
Yeah, since you’re 45 you can go back to 21. But when you were just about to graduate, or maybe even before that, if you had to give yourself one piece of advice, what would you say?
I would say to invest in one of those companies where you could buy bulk gas at a lower price. Because I commuted from Murphysboro to Nashville for two years. That wasn’t cheap (laughs). That would have been some great advice! Nobody makes a lot of money in the music business. They’re all fooling you.
Z: You’re working in a really cool niche in the music business. Bluegrass, I don’t want to say it’s marginalized, but it’s such a close knit culture that’s a bit smaller. Do you think you could be as happy working in a different area? It’s got to be an advantage to meet these artists face to face and be embraced by the people you look up to.
Yeah. It’s pretty crazy that I’m now friends with people I was once a huge fan of. There’s a guy who’s a friend of mine now who is a great banjo player. One of the world’s best, named Nome Pickelne. He once played with Leftover Salmon. He is currently playing with the Chris Thely Solo Band. I think their current name is Punch Brothers. Who knows what it’ll be by the time people see this.
But Nome Pickelne, great banjo player. I met him once here and I called his record label to get his CD to play on my show. Now, he’s like roommates with my buddy Tony. He doesn’t even know that, but I called and got his album for free from his label so I could play it on the radio.
It’s just that I love bluegrass music. I love a lot of Americana. I like Blues. I like some jazz. I mean I like a lot of really good music. A lot of it kind of goes together. Heck, I go to Bonaroo every year, but I also go to Murlfest and Crystal Rhythm Roots and Reunion and IBMA. So I could be happy in things somewhat similar. I work at a rock radio station. So I like it all.
Thanks for taking the time. You’re off the hot seat.
Z: You want to say anything else?
These boys, they’re crazy. But they are a lot fun. Come back to Nashville guys.
Z: Brett’s a really good kisser, right?
Brett! I wouldn’t know (Laughs)! Noah though. That’s the one all the ladies need to watch out for. He’s a polygamist (laughs).
Do you want, like, a walk around the building?