Nine former Middle Tennessee State University students and alums have earned nominations for the upcoming 66th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles.
MTSU will return to the Grammys for the ninth straight year to celebrate not only its nine alumni with nominations, but also the 50th anniversary of its storied Recording Industry program.
MTSU College of Media and Entertainment’s traditional pre-Grammy event, set for Saturday, Feb. 3, at the Mama Shelter Hotel’s rooftop restaurant in Los Angeles, will also recognize the appointment of a new Recording Industry chair, associate professor Michelle Conceison, who assumed leadership of the department in January.
“We are honored every year to travel to the Grammys to celebrate the nominations of our former students, but also reconnect with our alumni and friends in the music industry,” said MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee. “We love painting LA with True Blue.”
Nominees with MTSU ties up for honors at this year’s ceremony, set for Feb. 4 in Los Angeles, include:
• Julien Baker, a 2019 English graduate, is up for five nominations as a member of boygenius, an indie supergroup with Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. The group was nominated for Album of the Year, Best Alternative Music Album, Record of the Year, Best Rock Performance and Best Alternative Music Performance.
• Two-time winner Brandon Bell, a 2004 Recording Industry graduate, is part of three Grammy-nominated efforts this year for his engineering work: Brandy Clark’s self-titled album up for Best Americana Album; Allison Russell’s “The Returner,” also up for Best Americana Album; and Billy Strings’ “Me/And/Dad,” nominated for Best Bluegrass Album. He has five previous nominations.
• Three-time winner Tony Castle, a 1995 Recording Industry graduate, is nominated for his engineering work as part of the team on Willie Nelson’s “Bluegrass,” up for Best Bluegrass Album. He has won three Grammys for engineering Nelson’s projects featuring the songs of George Gershwin and Frank Sinatra, respectively. He was also among the 64th annual Grammys’ best traditional pop vocal album nominees with “That’s Life,” Nelson’s second tribute collection of Frank Sinatra’s music, and in the traditional blues album category that same year for engineering Blues Traveler’s release “Traveler’s Blues.”
• Jason Hall, a 2000 Recording Industry graduate, and Jimmy Mansfield, a 2014 audio production graduate, are nominated for engineering, mixing and vocals work for Lainey Wilson’s “Bell Bottom Country,” which is up for Best Country Album. Hall and Mansfield have been part of past Grammy nominations for their work on albums for various artists.
• Tay Keith, who as Brytavious Chambers graduated MTSU in 2018 with a degree in integrated studies and media management, is nominated among the songwriters for “Rich Flex” by Drake and 21 Savage, which was nominated for Best Rap Song. Keith, an honorary professor in MTSU’s Recording Industry program, was nominated previously in 2019.
• Two-time winner Lecrae, who, as Lecrae Devaughn Moore, attended MTSU through 2000, is up for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song for “Your Power,” as well as Best Contemporary Christian Music Album for “Church Clothes 4.” His win in 2013 for Best Gospel Album was the first such for a hip-hop artist and he won in 2015 for Best Contemporary Christian Music Performance/Song for “Messengers.” He has received eight prior nominations.
• Joining Lecrae in the Grammy nomination for best album is first-time nominee Connor Back, a 2018 audio production graduate who is nominated for his engineering work on “Church Clothes 4.”
• Randy LeRoy, who attended MTSU through 1991, is nominated for Best Historical Album as part of the team that produced “Playing for the Man at the Door: Field Recordings from The Collection of Mack McCormick, 1958-1971.”
• Phillip Smith, a 2016 Recording Industry graduate, was honored for engineering work for Brandy Clark’s self-titled album, up for Best Americana Album.
While not singled out for a nomination, Josh Kear, a 1996 History graduate with a Recording Industry minor, was part of Wilson’s Best Country Album nominated project “Bell Bottom Country” for his composing work for the song “Watermelon Moonshine.”
Under Grammy rules, awards for best album and record of the year go to the winning artist, producers and/or engineers. The song of the year award goes to the songwriter, and performance awards go to the artist.
New chair takes over on anniversary year
Conceison, who joined the Recording Industry faculty in 2018, now leads the storied department, which recently marked its eighth year on Billboard’s latest international list of top music business schools, once again earning acclaim for the program’s diversity, depth and longevity. Conceison replaces 2008 Grammy nominee and professor John Merchant, who remains on the faculty.
“It is my great honor to lead such an incredible team of experts who inspire and educate students and conduct cutting edge research that furthers the field,” Conceison said. “Our undergraduate and graduate programs are unparalleled, and ever evolving to meet a rapidly changing industry. MTSU students and graduates have incredible passion combined with practical understanding of what it really takes to craft long game careers in music.
“It is no wonder you can find multiple MTSU alums at any music industry event you attend — whether on stage or behind the scenes. Where there is music, MTSU is there.”
Founded in 1973 and awarding its first degree in 1974, the department trains song creators and performers in its Commercial Songwriting Program, experts in recording live music and audio in its Audio Production Program, and music entrepreneurs, including managers and publishers, in its Music Business Program.
Conceison founded artist management and marketing firm Mmgt in 2004 — representing international singer-songwriters and bands in folk, Americana, bluegrass, gospel and American roots music. She is global chair of mentorship for Women in Music and has run professional development programs for many music organizations.
Prior to music, she worked in digital media, leading teams at multiple leading global advertising agencies representing major brand clients including General Motors, AT&T and Bank of America. She has served on the boards of Folk Alliance International (former president), International Bluegrass Music Association (former secretary), and Women In Music (founding Nashville chapter chair). She is a member of Leadership Music (2024) and Leadership Bluegrass (2019).
Artists she represented have been nominated for Grammys and have been nominated and/or won JUNO Awards, ECMA, IBMA, Americana UK, and International Folk Awards, and the Polaris Prize.
MTSU Recording Industry’s dedicated alumni are active throughout the industry in both visible and behind-the-scenes roles and are likely to be found each year at the Grammys, as well as any music industry event.
“MTSU is truly a unique place where students are nurtured, inspired and challenged,” said Beverly Keel, dean of the college and former Recording Industry chair. “Quite simply, there is no other program like MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry, which is why we have attracted students from all over the world.”
(This story was updated Feb. 5 and 6 with additional nominees.)
Julien Baker part of Indie supergroup boygenius
Baker began her songwriting career while a freshman at MTSU. Majoring in English with a minor in secondary education and Spanish, Baker wrote songs while attending MTSU that were later released on her self-titled debut album “Sprained Ankle” in 2015.
She has opened for artists like Death Cab for Cutie, Paramore and others before co-founding boygenius with her bandmates. She also appeared at Nissan Stadium during Taylor Swift’s Nashville shows in May 2023. Her bandmate, Phoebe Bridgers, was one of the opening acts for the superstar. Bridgers played MTSU’s historic Murphy Center for students, faculty, staff, and alumni last April for the university’s annual spring concert, where she called Baker “her favorite alumna.”
Watch the official boygenius’ music video for “Not Strong Enough” below.
Brandon Bell earns three Grammy nominations
Bell, a 2004 College of Media and Entertainment graduate, had engineered projects for artists like Amythyst Kiah, The Lonely Island and The Zac Brown Band.
He has also worked on projects with Miranda Lambert, Jack Ingram and Jon Randall. This year, he has been nominated for three awards for his work with Brandy Clark, Allison Russell
and Billy Strings. He is a five-time Grammy nominee, with two wins, including last year when he won the Best Americana Album Grammy award for engineering Brandi Carlile’s “In Silent Days.”
He was presented with a special certificate during MTSU’s traditional pre-Grammy event for recording industry executives and music business alums last February in Los Angeles.
Watch the official music video of “Dear Insecurity” by Brandy Clark below.
Multiple winner Lecrae nominated again; engineer Connor Back gets 1st
Former student and multi-Grammy winner Lecrae Moore, known professionally as Lecrae, attended MTSU in 2000 as a Media Arts major. He now has had a total of nine Grammy nominations with two wins.
His 2012 album “Gravity” Best Gospel Album at the 55th annual Grammy Awards, making it the first time a hip-hop artist won that category.
First-time nominee and Class of 2018 alumnus Connor Back works as a mixing engineer for Lecrae’s independent label, Reach Records, and is nominated for his engineering work on Lecrae’s album “Church Clothes 4”, nominated for Best Contemporary Christian Music Album.
Watch the official lyric video of Lecrae’s “Your Power” below.
Randy LeRoy receives 1st Grammy nomination
Former recording industry student, LeRoy is nominated for his first Grammy Award for Best Historical Album for “Playing for the Man at the Door: Field Recordings from The Collection of Mack McCormick, 1958-1971” as mastering co-engineer. He is the senior mastering engineer for Tonal Park- Recording Mixing and Mastering.
Listen to the “Playing for the Man at the Door: Field Recordings from The Collection of Mack McCormick, 1958-1971” album below.
MTSU alums continue working together
Alums Jason Hall and Jimmy Mansfield are both nominated for their work on Lainey Wilson
’s album. Nominated for Best Country Album: “Bell Bottom County” for engineer, mixing and vocals, Hall and Mansfield have crafted sounds for award-winning artists for several years, including Grammy nominations for their work on albums by Eric Church, Little Big Town, Brothers Osborne and Miranda Lambert.
Watch a behind the scenes video of the making of Lainey Wilson’s “Bell Bottom Country” below.
Tay Keith receives nomination for Best Rap Song
Tay Keith, also known as Brytavious Chambers, graduated MTSU in 2018 with a degree in integrated studies and media management, is nominated among the songwriters for “Rich Flex” by Drake and 21 Savage, which was nominated for Best Rap Song. Keith, an honorary professor in MTSU’s Recording Industry program, was nominated previously in 2019.
Tony Castle nominated again for work with Willie Nelson
Castle graduated in 1995 from the Recording Industry Production and Technology program. He is nominated for Best Bluegrass Album – Bluegrass (Willie Nelson) engineer, mix engineer. He has won previous Grammy Awards for his work with Nelson.
Castle has worked on projects for Reba McEntire, Kenny Chesney, Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, Sheryl Crow and Dr. John.
Listen to “Bluegrass” by Willie Nelson below.
2016 alum nominated for engineering work
Phillip Smith is a 2016 Recording Industry alum, is nominated for Best Americana Album for his engineering work on Brandy Clark’s self-titled album.
Listen to “Best Ones” by Brandy Clark below.
MTSU History alum part of Lainey Wilson’s album
Josh Kear, an MTSU History alum with a minor in Recording Industry, worked on Lainey Wilson’s album, specifically composing work for the song “Watermelon Moonshine.” His recent singles include Carrie Underwood’s “Ghost Client” and “No Body” by Blake Shelton. He’s won multiple Grammy Awards and was a co-writer on Lady A’s (formerly known as Lady Antebellum) No. 1 song “Need You Now” in 2011.
Watch the official music video for Lainey Wilson’s “Watermelon Moonshine” below.
About MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry
MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry is part of the College of Media and Entertainment. It prepares students for careers in its Commercial Songwriting Program, Audio Production Program and Music Business Program. Students learn in state-of-the-art facilities and have first-hand experience at events like the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival, The Academy of Country Music Awards, and more.
MTSU alums and students have worked with people like Keith Urban, Cher, Bruce Springsteen, Lady Gaga, Wiz Khalifa and more.
Standout alumni include artists and songwriters. Among the artists with MTSU ties are HARDY, Tay Keith, Sam Hunt, Chris Young, Brett Eldredge, Amy Lee of Evanescence, Lecrae, Hillary Scott of Lady A, Secret Sisters, Brittney Spencer, Daisha McBride, Anderson East, Eric Paslay, HunterGirl, Luke Laird, Erin Enderlin, and Josh Kear.
The program’s alumni roster also features:
- Producers, including Michael Knox, F. Reid Shippen, Street Symphony, Clarke Schlietzer, James Porte, Randy Watchler, Blake Chancy, Jason Hall and Jimmy Mansfield;
- Engineers, including Chris Nelson, Jim Zumpano, Lij Shaw, Pablo Arraya, and Sean Sullivan;
- Managers, agents, promoters, recording, publishing, and production executives, including Traci Thomas, Kent Earls, Abby Baas, Cassie Petrey, Jade Driver, Cindy Watts, Alison Auerbach, Dustin Boyd, Daniel Miller, and Mike Molinar;
- And executives at companies, including UMG, Sony, CAA, CMT, CMA, Warner Music Group, Big Machine Label Group, Clear Channel, EMI, Grand Ole Opry, Ryman Auditorium, Live Nation, Vector Management, Sony/ATV, and WME.
Keel said the department has prepared “several generations of music industry leaders by providing an educational foundation of all aspects of the industry, including music labels, publishing, talent agencies, music publicity, entertainment law, copyright administration and tour management.
“Our alumni have found tremendous success in rap, hip-hop, country, rock, pop, Christian music and other genres,” she added. “What is so special is that our alumni love to return to campus to share their knowledge with current students.”
For more information about MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry, click here.
— DeAnn Hays (firstname.lastname@example.org)