Over the span of three decades, musician Mike Lawson has served the professional music industry and music educator community by publishing hundreds of books, video, periodical, directory, and software works with leading publishing houses such as Alfred Music Publishing, Hal Leonard Corp, Thomas Nelson, artistpro, MixBooks, Thomson Learning and others. After years performing in clubs, colleges, frat houses, and other venues throughout the southeast, Lawson relocated to Nashville and opened an office on Music Row at 30 Music Square West in 1991 to try to break into music publishing. He simultaneously did a one-year front of house tour on the road with now-shamed actor Tom Wopat from “The Dukes of Hazard”, and while the music publishing business proved nearly-impossible to profit from then, other publishing ventures did not.
Since beginning with an industry legal contract software library application, “The Entertainment Source Library” in 1992, published by his Cumberland Music Group, Lawson has maintained a consistent presence in the music publications world.He founded the “Music Industry Forum” on CompuServe in 1992, creating the first digital promotional downloads of 30-second sound bites of music releases from Warner Bros, RCA/BMG, and other labels, while conducting live online chat interviews with Lou Reed (transcript link), Thomas Dolby (who got his first email address from Mike), Robbie Krieger (The Doors), and friends Bob Welch, Hot Tuna (Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady, also of Jefferson Airplane). CompuServe Magazine distributed a CD-ROM with the music industry’s first digital mass delivered guitar lesson, by solo artist Bob Welch, providing a MIDI file to teach the intro lick to his platinum hit, “Ebony Eyes.” Mike’s work with CompuServe paved the way for the first ever CD-quality download of a commercially released track, by Aerosmith, in 1994, after he left the CompuServe project.
Lawson sold the rights to his software product in late 1993 to Act III Media, publishers of MIX magazine, whose catalog reseller operation, MIX Bookshelf, was its biggest retailer. He then went to work in product marketing for Gibson Guitar Corp, and put the company on CompuServe (GO GIBSON), establishing the first online presence for a guitar maker, before leading a team of college students in building the company’s first website with the release of the Netscape browser, and abandoning the CompuServe forum. In 1995, this expansive and innovative site for Gibson hosted Kris Kristofferson to promote his indie-released album “A Moment of Forever” (Justice Records) in an online live interview with Lawson, using CU-SeeMe video, a beta version of RealAudio for streaming, and IRC chat to interact with viewers.
He was recruited by Cardinal Business Media, who’d then purchased MIX Magazine, MIX Bookshelf, and Electronic Music magazine, and relocated to San Francisco, California in February 1996, to make their idea for a book imprint, MixBooks, into a viable operation.
All this was happening while he was continuing to perform, write, and record music. Mike Lawson was elected to the Board of Governors for the San Francisco Chapter of The Recording Academy for multiple terms, serving as an officer of the chapter and eventually as a Trustee for the national organization, where he also served for several years on the Finance Committee, and the Awards and Nominations Committee.
He frequently performed with San Francisco legend Merl Saunders, along with former members of Grateful Dead, Tower of Power, Jerry Garcia Band, Legion of Mary, and other San Francisco area musicians introduced to him by Merl, while also recording/releasing songs with fiddle player Vassar Clements, Vince Welnick (The Tubes/Grateful Dead), Merl Saunders, Jorma Kaukonen, Bob Welch, Joe Louis Walker, Dennis Robbins, and other friends.
During this era, in 1997, he took interest in the mission of a newly formed non-profit, Technology in Music Education, funded by the first-ever grant from the NAMM Foundation, and began serving on their advisory board, publishing books by their educators who were working to modernize how traditional music was taught in schools at all grade levels. That year, his young daughter Kelly was diagnosed with PPD-NOS/Autism Spectrum Disorder. This caused him to pull back from performing outside of the San Francisco Bay Area while he stayed closer to home to focus on the music industry publishing business and learn how to become an advocate for his “princess.” He continued songwriting and participated in some performing and recording projects, but his primary focus was now his family, and music industry print publishing.
Over the next four years with MIX, he divested of the “Bookshelf” reseller catalog business to MusicBooksPlus, and focused on the book, video, and the “Recording Industry Sourcebook” directory lines, signing up publishing partner Hal Leonard to distribute exclusively to the book and music trades. Together they built a powerful business and innovated the placement of recording and music technology books into the music retail trade, with displays in pro audio departments.
Cardinal Business Media was purchased by Intertec Publishing, soon to be renamed Primedia, which then merged with About.com the end of 1999. Lawson was offered the chance to acquire his book imprints and catalog of works, partnering with “Recording Industry Sourcebook” founder Brad Burkhart, plus publisher partners George Mackin (CMG) and Swiss company Publicitas, launching the “artistpro.com” and “artistpro publishing” brands in early 2000, establishing offices in Vallejo, California.
The artistpro website created industry-firsts, including an online community of forums hosted by Al Schmitt, Alan Parsons, Joe Ciccarelli, Glenn Meadows, and other Grammy-winning hosts who freely advised site members on audio production, and used contents from artistpro’s bestselling three-volume series by Bill Gibson, The AudioPro Home Recording Course, to create an online study course for site members. Site membership was free and was advertiser supported.
The imprints published bestsellers on recording, mixing, production, music technology, live sound, music business topics, and all things related for the end users of the pro and emerging home studio market, and music educators.
Leading titles by Bobby Owsinski (The Mixing Engineer’s Handbook), who was Lawson’s first “break-out” author, Bill Gibson (The AudioPro Home Recording Course), Scott Hunter Starke (Live Sound Reinforcement), David Gibson (The Art of Mixing) led the charge for dozens of other writers to publish over 100 titles under the various artistpro imprints.
In 2002, “artistpro Magazine” was created and distributed for two years to the membership of the Grammy organization, and featured cover stories on Al Schmitt, Michael Nesmith, Joe Ciccarelli, Chad Smith, Tony Visconti, Dweezil Zappa, and others. The company soon ventured into producing songbooks for Nesmith, and Peter Rowan.
In 2004, artistpro was made an offer of acquisition by publicly traded publisher Thomson, through its Thomson Learning division, publishing professional, trade, and reference books as CoursePTR.
The magazine folded, as Thomson was not in the periodical business, and Lawson gave the rights to the “The Best of Michael Nesmith Songbook” back to Nez, and the rights to “The Peter Rowan Songbook” to Happy Traum at Homespun Publishing to make sure both were published. At the time of the sale, artistpro Publishing was Hal Leonard’s largest independently distributed outside line.
Lawson was contracted to produce over two dozen new titles over the next two years for Thomson CoursePTR following the sale. He hated it.
In 2006, he relocated from California back to the Nashville, Tennessee area, and began working for Hal Leonard for two years, creating their MusicPro Guides series, ending his time there leading the signing of Quincy Jones to publish “Q on Producing”, to be co-written by Lawson’s longtime and prolific author Bill Gibson.
After his departure from Thomson, in 2006 they soon abandoned the artistpro brand, imprint, trademark and URL, leaving them freely available for Lawson to reclaim (which he did).
In 2009, he produced eight titles for Thomas Nelson Publishing focused on integrating tech into houses of worship. Also in 2009, he began a seven-year relationship with Alfred Publishing, creating over 40 new titles for them, prior to their acquisition by PeakWare/MakeMusic in 2016. Among the many Alfred titles was his signing of former Beatles/Bowie engineer Ken Scott, to publish his memoir, “Abbey Road to Ziggy Stardust.”
That same year, Lawson’s volunteer work with The Recording Academy on the A&N Committee concluded, as he focused on his new publishing ventures. He also served on the Board of Directors for The TEC Foundation, until its acquisition by the NAMM Foundation in 2009.
In 2011, Lawson was asked by the board of directors of TI:ME to become its executive director, helping to rebuild the 501-c3 into today’s organization that annually provides over 6000 attendees hours of professional development training for music educators, online courses and college curriculum, and hosts an annual leadership academy produced by TI:ME’s grant committee and funded by the NAMM Foundation. He continues to lead TI:ME and their partnerships with TMEA, OMEA, NYSSMA, TNMEA, NAfME, and others.
In 2014, his longtime friend and fellow publishing colleague Terry Lowe, founder of Timeless Communications (Front of House Magazine (FOH), Projection, Staging and Lighting News (PLSN) approached him to join his editorial staff for the educational magazines he had acquired the year before, School Band and Orchestra, and Choral Director, along with JazzEd and more than a century-old MI trade publication, Musical Merchandise Review (MMR). With his longtime love of music gear, and commitment to music educators, Lawson jumped at the chance and became editor of School Band and Orchestra, plus Choral Director in September of that year, while serving as associate editor of MMR, and JazzEd magazines. Lawson ended his book publishing career in 2016, continuing to focus solely on his work with the magazines, and leading the TI:ME organization.
In June of 2021, he acquired Musical Merchandise Review (MMR), School Band & Orchestra, Choral Director, and JazzEd magazines, under his company artistpro, LLC, founded this time in Tennessee, in 2016. Choral Director and JAZZed were folded into SBO Magazine, to create SBO+, in October, 2022.
Lawson continues to be a recording and performing musician, performing bi-weekly since 2015 at Acme Feed & Seed in Nashville, TN and at festivals with his tribute to Merl Saunders and Jerry Garcia, “Hooteroll?” He released four albums between 2020 and 2022, working with musicians from around the world, including Jack Casady (Jefferson Airplane), Pete Sears (Jefferson Startship/Zero/Rod Stewart), John McEuen (Nitty Gritty Dirt Band), Phil Keaggy, Bobby Cochran (Bobby and the Midnites/Steppenwolf), Gary Talley (The Boxtops), Phil Madeira and Will Kimbrough, (Emmylou Harris’s Red Dirt Boys), Dianne Davidson, and myriad others.
He is a longtime voting member of The Recording Academy, associate member and education committee member of The Audio Engineering Society, an associate member of the American Bandmasters Association. He is married, has a labradoodle named “Sugaree,” and a fierce advocate for autism parents while serves his own daughter on the spectrum, Princess Kelly.