Madeline is a music executive, producer, entrepreneur, and women’s rights advocate. She is the founder of Heads Music, a boutique music management and distribution company in New York City. Nelson has also been instrumental in the shaping of entertainment and music culture behind the scenes in her roles as producer, executive, artist manager, and trusted advisor throughout her career.
Madeline Avis Nelson was born in Harlem, New York, and raised in Pawleys Island, South Carolina. Nelson would later move back home to Harlem, where at the age of 20 she started as a talent booker and eventually became a producer for the famed television show “Showtime at the Apollo”. In addition to her work on “Showtime,” she also held various coordinator and producer roles for Def Comedy Jam, The Soap Opera Digest Awards, Essence Awards for Essence Magazine, and the B.E.T. Awards.
Nelson transitioned from entertainment to music starting in 1992, starting with her management of hit-maker Teddy Riley. Madeline’s involvement with Riley began with the production of 1992’s “Rumpshaker.” “It was one person that gave me the confidence and confirmed that I needed to put this record out… and that’s Madeline Nelson, She’s the one that said when I was working on ‘Rumpshaker,’ she’s the one that said ‘this record is done.’ … When she did that, I immediately hired her, and we were inseparable.” [SOURCE: Teddy Riley Breakfast Club Interview October 11, 2018]
Madeline signed on as Vice President of Music Operations for New Jack Swing Productions, a subsidiary of Jimmy Iovine’s Interscope Records Label in 1995. There, she managed the day-to-day operations of Riley and R&B super group BlackStreet. While managing Blackstreet, Madeline was responsible for the release of the global hit No Diggity, choosing to debut the track from their new album in place of the suggested ballad. During her tenure at New Jack/Interscope, Madeline also worked with other great talents such as Gwen Stefani, Snoop Dogg and Pharrell Williams.
Through the years, Madeline has amassed a wealth of knowledge and experience from her time spent working in the television, fashion, music and marketing industries. Nelson worked for Donna Karan’s Urban Zen organization in 2010, where she served as Vice President of Foundation Operations. Before joining Donna Karan’s organization, she served as a Project Manager at Steve Stoute’s marketing company, Translation, LLC. While at Translation, Madeline coordinated campaigns for high profile personalities such as Ray Allen, Ray Lewis, Denzel Washington, LeBron James, Faith Hill and Rihanna.
In her most recent role before founding Heads Music, Madeline was Senior Vice President of A&R, Artist and Label Relations at Sony Music, (a role created specifically for her by SME’s CEO Doug Morris), Madeline’s responsibilities included developing and nurturing new talent in coordination with the A&R teams across three major Sony labels: RCA, Columbia and Epic. Notably, during her time at Sony Music Madeline worked closely with J.Cole for the release of his 2011 album Cole World: The Sideline Story, which went on to platinum certification, and Elle Varner’s debut project Perfectly Imperfect.
Always dreaming of leading her own label, Madeline shifted away from life as a high-powered corporate music executive to found her own independent, boutique-style label and full-service music company, Heads Music, in 2012. The label is the first of its kind, and is led and staffed entirely by women, a reflection of Nelson’s dedication to having women achieve equality within the music industry.
As CEO of Heads Music, Madeline manages Grammy-winning, multi-talented artist Wyclef Jean as well as a roster of indie artists such as Jazzy Amra, Jeremy Torres, and Riley. The full-service label focuses on services within management, artist development, brand strategy, and publishing. Madeline is deeply devoted and engaged in all aspects of her business: from what she refers to as “true artist development” to the authentic approach that Heads takes with its artist marketing strategies.
Nelson is also heavily involved in the music production side at Heads Music, using her expertise from her A&R work with legends Teddy Riley and Michael Jackson on Jackson’s 2001 album Invincible to be co-producer on 39 songs to date for Heads Music, including Wyclef Jean’s 2016 streaming smash, “Hendrix” (English and Spanish version featuring Farina, Bryan Myers and Anonymous) “I Swear,” ft. Young Thug and Wyclef Jean, and “Kiss the Sky”, ft. Wyclef Jean by The Knocks. She has also been a producer on much of the label’s young talent’s work including Jazzy Amra’s “Single Single,” which began trending on TikTok in January 2020.
Madeline’s dedication to authentic opportunities and sharp negotiating skills have landed her clients deals and opportunities forging Wyclef Jean’s relationship with Cannes Lions where he now sits as Entertainment Lions President, to brokering Wyclef’s Africa-based publishing company, Carnival World Music Group, to co-founding and developing Wyclef Jean’s cannabis product line with Cali Life, the BOOM BAP collection, and to currently developing an animated project with Netflix about Wyclef’s life in Haiti.
Madeline is also fiercely dedicated to female mentorship. Many of the women who have worked under or have been mentored by Madeline have gone on to leadership roles at Sony Music, Def Jam, Warner Music Group, Columbia Records, and Glassnote Entertainment Group.