Michael Kovac 97BBA often thinks back to a day in January 2014. He sat in the audience of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr’s GRAMMY performance rehearsal. Even the fever he had couldn’t disrupt his captivation.
“I was just thinking to myself, ‘There’s nothing you can do to make me leave here,’” he says. “It was an out of body experience to watch that magic happen.”
Watching rehearsals is one of Kovac’s favorite perks of his job as the Recording Academy’s chief of staff. He says nothing compares to the unfiltered beauty of artists preparing to share their art with the world on music’s biggest night. “You see musicians who have been in this business for decades still fine tuning songs and playing around with things.”
It has, too, taken him years to perfect his craft as a business professional.
An Entrepreneurial Education and a Background in Business
Emory was the first university Kovac visited on his tour of colleges. He appreciated its fantastic facilities and the unlikelihood of snow. And, after meeting some students who offered to show him around, Emory quickly climbed to the top of his list.
It wasn’t just southern hospitality, it was Emory’s version of it. I left there thinking, ‘This place is incredible.’Michael Kovac
Kovac pursued a business degree in entrepreneurship and decision information analysis while in the BBA program at Goizueta. He reflects that Goizueta was ahead of its time in offering such a program. Kovac says he has always been curious about what data exists and what story it tells. Now, many businesses strive toward data-driven decision making—a skill that has served him at every job in his career.
After graduating, Kovac worked in consulting for Deloitte and later Sony Pictures Entertainment. After a few years and lots of traveling, he decided he wanted a creative outlet. He was specifically looking for one that would allow him to tap into his love of photography. A gig with Getty Images allowed him to do just that. Kovac was a consultant by day, and an entertainment photographer by night.
After years of shooting various events, premieres, and red carpets in Los Angeles, Kovac developed a relationship with the Recording Academy. His knowledge of the Academy proved beneficial when he had the opportunity to meet then-Interim CEO Harvey Mason Jr.. He was looking to build a team to transform and level up the 65-year-old organization. Mason Jr. brought Kovac on board in March 2020, at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, to help him realize his vision.
Beyond the GRAMMYs: A Mission in Music
Kovac’s first order of business was to help marshal the Academy’s efforts to support its charitable arm, MusiCares. In just a few months, with the MusiCares chair, Steve Boom, the organization raised and distributed more than $37.5 million to music individuals in need.
“We’re best known for the GRAMMYs—three and a half hours a year—but during those other 364 days a year, the Recording Academy is a busy mission-driven organization,” Kovac says.
Since we arrived, in our DNA is a very strong bias for action. We support music and the people who make it because we know the value and power of music and what it means to the world. I don’t know if there’s a better job than that.Michael Kovac
In addition to MusiCares, the Academy has an educational focus through the GRAMMY Museum and GRAMMY U, a program that helps develop the next generation of music creators and professionals. Through their advocacy department in Washington, Kovac says they are also actively working to restore artistic protection with the RAP Act, championing creators, and fighting for the well-being and lives of those in the industry.
Kovac says each day that he strives to amplify the power of music and that he and his team consider: How can we do more? How can we be better?
“The Recording Academy’s role is to be in service to the music community and to recognize excellence, and that’s what we get to do every day,” Kovac says. “I hope to help grow our mission and to be able to serve more people—a more diverse, global base of people. Music transcends borders, and it brings people together. It helps us understand each other better. Through music, we are doing the work to make this world a better place.”