A black and white image of Miko Marks. The image is a promotional one.
Musician Miko Marks says the Equal Access intiative contributed significantly to her success. Applications for joining the 2023 Equal Access cohort are open through February 10. []

Miko Marks says Equal Access initiative gave her career wings and encourages those from underrepresented groups to apply

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NASHVILLE, Tennessee (WOUB) – Riding off the momentum of their milestone-filled inaugural cohort of 2022, the Equal Access program is accepting applications for their 2023 cohort — and eligible candidates, both country music artists and artist management professionals, can apply through 6 p.m. EST on Friday, February 10. The year-long program is intended to bestow access and training for underrepresented demographics — including Black, Native and Indigenous, Latino, LGBTQ+ and female artists and managers — in the country music industry.

Although country music’s roots are multi-ethnic, the rosters of musicians and managers with top billing in Nashville haven’t exactly reflected that diversity. Per their website’s mission statement, Equal Access was “designed to empower artists and managers from underrepresented demographics in country music by providing financial resources, training, and networking opportunities.”

Equal Access is an initiative powered by mtheory, a boutique artist & management relations’ firm with offices in New York City, Los Angeles, and Nashville. Their primary sponsor is CMT, the Country Music Television outlet owned by Paramount. Other key sponsors include the Country Music Association and Grand Ole Opry.

Each year, Equal Access has selected three artists and three artist managers from under-represented backgrounds to sponsor and mentor, leveraging the highly-coveted networks of mtheory and their partners.

Miko Marks of Oakland, CA was among the six in the very first cohort, which she joined in the year she was turning 50.

Although Marks had extensive experience in the music industry by then — after all, her debut album was released in 2005 — she told WOUB that the benefits of the nascent program were immediate.

Marks said Equal Access supported her financially and assisted in branding, marketing, and career strategy.

“They helped me with so many things about the business that I didn’t know,” she said. “They just helped elevate my career in a way that, had I not been a part of the program, it would not have happened for me […] I would not have gotten this far without them. And that’s just a cold, hard truth, you know?”

Marks spoke to WOUB shortly after her participation in UK Americana Music Week in London, a feat she said was made possible by support from mtheory.

On their application forms, Equal Access outlined some highlights of the program, which include a content fund totaling a minimum of $25,000; a dedicated mtheory representative that will meet with recipients bi-weekly to build artist plans, marketing timelines, and assist with goal setting; and monthly education, networking, and/or mentoring sessions with leaders of the country music industry.

Although the financial support is imperative, Marks tells WOUB that the interpersonal aspects of the program were just as valuable.

“We would meet with Apple Music, we would meet with Spotify… [learning] different models of how music is being put out. Radio was a big part of [my focus] as well, and that’s how I got on the charts.”

It was only a few months into the Equal Access program when Marks caught the attention of WOUB. We were backstage with her at the Grand Ole Opry in October, when she made her show-stopping Opry debut, which will be featured in an upcoming segment ahead of her Ohio show with Little Feat on April 14. Both Marks and her Equal Access co-hort colleague, Valerie Ponzio, were among the 25 multi-genre 2022 music recommendations from WOUB’s Ian Saint.

The 2023 program takes place April 1, 2023 through March 31, 2024. Due to the high volume of crucial meetings and events that Equal Access will facilitate, they would like for each chosen applicant to primarily reside in the Nashville area during the program. Equal Access Director, Tiffany Provenzano, recognized that some chosen applicants might hail from areas with lower costs of living — and told WOUB that their allocated fund can help cover Nashville living expenses, if needed.

Although the time she’s spent in Nashville over the past year has been fruitful for Miko’s career, now that her cohort’s time is over, she intends on keeping the Bay Area as her home base — and wanted to encourage interested applicants, who feel they might want to move back home after the program’s duration, that the career benefits of participating will still be very worthwhile.

“l have built my career to the level that it’s at right now. And if I had not been a part of the program, in going to Nashville as much as I have and will continue to do, I wouldn’t have gotten the leverage — and mtheory really helped with that.”

When reminded that one of her idols, Loretta Lynn, hails from WOUB’s coverage area – specifically, Eastern Kentucky – Marks further emphasized her encouragement for interested applicants to forge ahead. Last weekend, across the Atlantic Ocean, she and Allison Russell performed “Coal Miner’s Daughter” in Lynn’s honor at UK Americana Music Week.

In fact, beginning on March 8, Marks will be part of a new Country Music Hall Of Fame exhibit, alongside many superstars of the genre – such as Reba McEntire, Wynonna Judd, Miranda Lambert, and Shania Twain – and on the promotional graphic, her name appears next to Loretta Lynn’s. A year ago, the notion of sharing a bill alongside Loretta Lynn would’ve been unfathomable to Marks; but she points to this as a testament to how the Equal Access program has briskly elevated her talented profile.

“Having that financial support, having the emotional support, and having a group of people that believed in me and what I was doing was really pivotal in my career. I will never forget it, ever, in my life.”

Equal Access is accepting applications for their 2023 cohort through 6 p.m. EST on Friday, February 10. There are separate applications for artist and management candidates; 3 applicants will be chosen in each category. Links to each application are accessible here: