Rocking to Her Own Beat

Allison Hagendorf considered a medical career after college, but her love of music won out. More than two decades later, she’s got one of the coolest gigs in the industry.

Black and white photo of Allison Hagendorf with Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony of Van Halen, courtesy


How many college students study for an organic chemistry test while planning a Pearl Jam listening party on campus?

During her time at Penn State, Allison Hagendorf worked hard to balance the demands of a rigorous premed curriculum with her duties as the campus representative for Sony Records. She had plans to become either a veterinarian or a medical doctor, and she loved planning big parties and shining a light on up-and-coming musicians by handing out free CDs, posters, and other merch. Once, she even dressed up as a vampire while giving out samples from the Dracula 2000 soundtrack.

By some measures, Hagendorf ’01 Agr was an influencer before influencers were a thing. But in her senior year, she found herself at a crossroads: Should she pursue hard science, or hard rock? Hagendorf was so conflicted about whether to go into medicine or music that she made one of those pro-and-con charts: On one side she envisioned herself as a veterinary TV host, a la Steve Irwin on Animal Planet. On the other, she weighed the advantages of becoming an MTV veejay. Even after Sony named Hagendorf its college rep of the year in 2000­–01 and offered her a job at Columbia/Epic, she still didn’t let go of her medical aspirations. She figured she would move to New York to work in the music industry for a year, then return to her studies.

But Hagendorf never needed a backup plan. Her entry into the music world has led to a 22-year career as a music promoter, journalist, and host of shows including The CW Network’s music competition show, The Next, and an announcer on the MTV Video Music Awards. In January of 2016, Hagendorf was named global head of rock for Spotify, and in February of 2023, she launched her own video podcast, The Allison Hagendorf Show, a “love letter to rock” featuring in-depth interviews with both established and up-and-coming artists. She complements her podcast with “Sound Advice—New Music You Need to Know,” a standalone Instagram Reel on her @AlliHagendorf account highlighting music by new artists she recommends.

“I want my own personal heroes on there, like Joan Jett and Billy Corgan of the Smashing Pumpkins and John Taylor of Duran Duran,” she says, “but I really love providing a platform for lesser-known names that deserve to have their story told.”


Hagendorf with Avril Lavigne, courtesy
FRIENDS IN ROCK: From legends such as former Van Halen members Michael Anthony and Sammy Hagar (top) to pop-punk star Avril Lavigne (above), Hagendorf has made a career of getting up close and personal with some of music’s biggest names. Courtesy.


Music was a part of her life long before Hagendorf sat face-to-face with her heroes. Her mother, Arlene, was raised on American Bandstand and would show Hagendorf reruns of the show. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever,” she says. “Dick Clark would be introducing new music to his fans and also hosted from Times Square for New Year’s Eve.” As a teenager in Rockland County, N.Y., she fell in love with 90s rock titans such as Oasis, Radiohead, and Nirvana. “Nirvana was the band that changed my life,” she says.

She knew she wanted to be a TV host—or a veejay, in the contemporary sense of the MTV she grew up on. Hagendorf also wanted to drum like a rock star—she played clarinet as a child—but that idea was shot down by a music teacher who told her only boys played drums. (Looking back, she says, she wishes she’d had a female role model like 13-year-old British musical prodigy Nandi Bushell, famous for her 2020 online drum battle with former Nirvana drummer and Foo Fighters founder Dave Grohl.)

The summer before starting college, she met with someone from Sony’s college marketing program, and prior to her senior year she was offered the campus rep position. The gig gave her the opportunity to promote bands and to get to know musicians like brothers Benji and Joel Madden of pop punk band Good Charlotte, who played at Crowbar in State College in 2000. She has photos of the brothers hanging out with her friends at their State College apartment back in the day. “We were the same age, and became fast friends,” she says. “Our relationship started at Penn State.”


photo of Hagendorf's entry in senior yearbook with her face circled, by Lavie
SAY, LA VIE? Hagendorf was all smiles for her Penn State senior portrait. La Vie.


After college, Hagendorf decided to give the music business a shot. She was partly inspired to take the job at Columbia/Epic, she says, because her favorite childhood MTV veejay, Matt Pinfield, was working there. She worked in the jazz department, nowhere near the rock-focused Pinfield, but she asked if she could assist Pinfield in addition to her job. That initiative paid off, she says, and soon enough, “my job evolved to only assisting Pinfield and really becoming his right hand.”

Through working for Pinfield, Hagendorf learned the art of scouting unsigned talent. “Artist discovery became my passion,” she says. She was among the first people to see alt-rock band The Killers play, and says she knew as soon as she saw them that the band would hit it big. Years later, she promoted English singer-songwriter Yungblud. “He had a five-song EP out in 2018. I knew the music was special, and once I met him and saw him play live, I knew he was going to be a [star],” Hagendorf says. (When her Rock This podcast made its debut on Spotify in 2020, Yungblud was her first guest.)

As much as Hagendorf loved scouting for new talent, she kept thinking back to those American Bandstand and MTV shows and her dream of becoming a TV host. She began interviewing artists so she would have material for a reel. She also landed hosting gigs at events such as South by Southwest and Lollapalooza.

Initially, she was nervous doing live interviews with her childhood heroes. In an early gig at the music channel Fuse, she interviewed former Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, whose music she had rocked out to in her Penn State dorm. “It was like an out-of-body experience,” she says. But the jitters melted away when Hagendorf realized that she was in her element, and that “this is what I have always wanted, what I had manifested, and I was so grateful and proud that I had gotten to this moment.”


Hagendorf with Edge and Bono of U2, courtesy
BEAUTIFUL DAY: Evolving past the jitters of her earliest in-person interviews, Hagendorf is now comfortable chatting with multiplatinum global superstars such as the Edge (left) and Bono of U2. Courtesy.


Hagendorf expanded her range into branding partnerships: from 2008 to 2014, she collaborated with fashion designer Steve Madden on a music program that was played on TV and in his stores. Steve Madden Music featured artists like Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, and Jason Derulo. “It was fusing fashion and music,” she says.

Her hosting mettle was tested in 2012 when she became host of The CW Network’s The Next: Fame Is At Your Doorstep, a talent search show along the lines of American Idol featuring celebrity judges such as Gloria Estefan, Nelly, and Joe Jonas. Pulling it off on live TV gave her the confidence and credibility for other high-profile gigs, including serving as the host of Times Square New Year’s Eve, the MTV Music Awards and X Games Aspen on ESPN & ABC.

When interviewing artists, Hagendorf says she’s trying to get to the essence of what made their careers possible. “What did this artist go through? Who did they listen to? What made them want to pick up the guitar? How did they find their voice?,” she says. “It’s a safe space. I’m here to amplify the story, because I really respect this guest as an individual, as a musician, as an artist.”

Chad Tepper, a musician, social media star, and recent guest on her show, couldn’t agree more. Tepper, who was homeless as a child and lived in a car with his parents and two brothers, credits Hagendorf for picking him out of obscurity and giving him his big break when she featured his song “I Wanna Be Your High” and other numbers on Spotify three years ago.

“I am telling you right now, what you did for my whole life and my whole career without even knowing me …” Tepper says on the podcast. “Everything in my life—signing to a record label and having a song on the alternative radio chart…”

It’s meaningful praise to someone like Hagendorf, for whom music is interwoven in every aspect of her life—including inspiring the names she gave her two sons: Dylan River and Cole Hendrix. She mentions the “weird full-circle moment” she had a few years ago, when Yungblud’s second album, Weird!, included a photo of then-baby Cole on its cover—an echo of Nirvana’s iconic Nevermind, the “life-changing” album that helped set Hagendorf on her own career path.