McIntosh attended Jackson College in Columbia, Tennessee, and studied music under Asa Everett. In 1875, he was appointed head of the Music Department at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee. In 1877, he joined the faculty of Emory College, Oxford, Georgia. In 1895, he left Emory College to devote his time to the R. M. McIntosh Publishing Company. He also served as music editor of the Methodist Episcopal Church South Publishing House for over 30 years.