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CMT and mtheory Team for Equal Access Development Program to Champion Unheard Voices

The artists chosen for the program's inaugural class are Madeline Edwards, Miko Marks and Valerie Ponzio. The music management professionals are Charlene Bryant, Kadeem Phillips and Marques Vance.

CMT has long championed women in the music business through its annual Next Women of Country campaign. Now the network has joined management services company mtheory to expand its philanthropy even more with the new Equal Access Development Program.

CMT and mtheory announced the six candidates who will participate in the program, an artist and management training initiative designed to foster and support marginalized communities underrepresented in the genre, including Black, Native and Indigenous, Latino, LGBTQ+ and women. The program was revealed onstage at the CMT MUSIC AWARDS by CBS Mornings co-host Gayle King who called the new effort "a bold commitment towards ensuring an inclusive future for all voices in country music."

The program will again be featured on tonight's encore showing of the CMT Music Awards. Dubbed CMT Music Awards Extended Cut, the show will air with bonus material at 8 p.m. (ET) on CMT.

The artists chosen for the program's inaugural class are Madeline Edwards, Miko Marks and Valerie Ponzio. The music management professionals are Charlene Bryant, Kadeem Phillips and Marques Vance. Equal Access will work intensively with participants for one year by providing them funding, training, support, and access to mtheory's management services to help them further navigate and grow within country music.

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"CMT has long championed unheard voices in country music, and Equal Access is the next step in our ongoing efforts to break down barriers and move the format forward," said Leslie Fram, SVP, Music & Talent, CMT. "We look forward to working with and providing opportunities for this amazing group of artists and managers, helping them make important professional connections to build successful careers within country music."

The participants say they're already reaping the benefits of the program. Edwards initially thought it was going to take her until the end of 2022 to be able to release new music. Now she says it will just be a couple of months.

"If you have an EP or a record or if you need money for photoshoots or live streaming something, everything in the music industry, even though it's romanticized to not be this way, everything's really expensive," Edwards said. "The margins are not great in music. You spend a lot of money, and then you potentially will make a lot of money. We don't all get that chance to make that money back. But this program is gonna help us with paying for photoshoots, paying for studio time, paying for musicians in the studio, paying for a mixing guy, paying for a soundboard guy."

Marks said she's anxious to use the Equal Access Development Program for help with distribution.

"It's gonna help me get the music out further," Marks said. "I've been doing this for 20-something years, so it's going to help me reach more people and get to the masses a little more. I've been doing this independently and just on my own dime or on donations for people who really believe in my talent. So this is a boost that boosts a much-needed boost. I'm grateful for the opportunity."

While this year's class was chosen from people the founders knew needed help, the upcoming classes will offer an application program so the resources are available to more people.

"By developing talent both on and off the stage, Equal Access hopes to tackle the lack of diversity and insular nature of the country industry head-on and create networks and solutions for artists and managers," said Cameo Carlson, President, mtheory Nashville.

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