41 Tips for Women Starting Out in the Music Business
Leading ladies of the industry give advice to the next generation of executives
Female executives — particularly entrepreneurial ones — are making themselves heard across the world, and affecting real influence on the music market in 2016.
This will always go down as the year, for instance, that a female became CEO of a global “major” music company for the first time: Jody Gerson at Universal Music Publishing.
Yet this progress doesn’t mean that for young women starting out, things can’t still be a little bit intimidating.
With that in mind, The Independent Echo asked 41 leading women in the music business which one piece of advice they would give to a female on her first day in the industry.
But pay attention, boys — there are plenty of helpful tips in here for you too…
Shirin Foroutan: Managing Director, Mute [UK]
Seize every opportunity with the same excitement and vigour that motivated you to do this in the first place — try and carry that with you through life.
Be patient. Don’t be afraid. Treat people how you would like to be treated. Work your butt off. Be an ally to your boss and team. Have fun. Jobs come and go, but your reputation is everything.”
Tiffany Yu: Digital Manager, Three Six Zero Group, Los Angeles [US]
For those starting out in the music business: Don’t ever be afraid to ask.
Ask for information, ask to be a part of something, ask for help, ask for that special access, etc. It’s uncomfortable at first, but you never know what could happen afterwards.
If you already want something so bad to have the courage to ask, you already know why you would deserve it.
So what, there are worse things to worry about than hearing “No” and so much to gain with any answer.
Alexi Cory-Smith: EVP BMG Chrysalis [UK]
It’s 2016. You’re a woman. Get over it.
The most important thing is not to let the fact you are a woman be the defining fact about you. Define yourself not by what you are, but by what you do and the value you add.
On the other hand, don’t try and be one of the boys — you are never going to be one nor do you need to be one.
And don’t confuse being tough with being strong. You can be strong without being a b****.
Strong is good. Sometimes you will have to be strong when you encounter one of those men who still believes it’s 1974.
When that happens — and it will — be prepared to stand up for yourself and make sure you come off best.
Anette Collins: Head of International, Cooking Vinyl, UK
Don’t sell yourself short, believe in yourself and your ability to do a great job, and don’t ever let anyone make you think your opinions don’t count or that you are not an equal.
Vidhi Gandhi: Lead Music Programmer at Shapes in London and a Programming and PR Consultant (Festivals and Concerts) for Viacom 18 Media Pvt Ltd [India]
Be proactive and make yourself heard. In my experience, women and especially young girls tend to be self starters and don’t find the need to be very vocal about their achievements.
The entertainment and music biz is tough, and making yourself heard is essential.
Sophie James: Apricot Wolf / Events Manager & Creative Consultant [UK]
There are so many aspects to the music industry, so many fields and skills.
It’s worth getting started in one venture and gauging where your interests and strengths lie. Work to those; be as personable and likeable as can be — relationships you forge often present extremely fruitful opportunities.
Always remain professional. Don’t be afraid to say yes, but also don’t be afraid to say no! (This advice is not gender exclusive!)
Sarah Puttock: Indietronica.org and Waveform Press [UK]
I am forever learning new things in this industry, but the advice I would give to a young woman starting in the music business is to take positive criticism on board, but don’t let it prevent you from doing what you love.
Remain polite (always say thank you), keep your integrity and passion, and you will get there in the end.
Pat Carr: VP Marketing & Label Management, BMG / Infectious [UK]
Have fun and keep it simple.
Be proud of being part of a pretty big instant gang — but be aware that no one should treat you differently.
Most of all, be kind and respectful to everyone… even BOYS.
Lynn Cosgrave: Director, Safehouse Management [UK]
Believe in yourself, work hard and don’t give up.
Sarah Maynard: Director and Publicist, Major PR [UK]
Starting out in the music industry can be a daunting feeling as each and every paid position is highly sought after.
It can definitely help if you know what facet of the business you’d be best suited to. And once you figure that out, do everything you can to research how things work in that area. But better than that, make sure you get some experience.
It can feel demoralizing to work for free but if you find the right place for you, you’ll be able to gain invaluable experience which will no doubt give you the edge when seeking paid work.
Enthusiasm and willingness to go above and beyond are key but don’t underestimate your worth. As you soak up the skills you’ll be needing in your avenue of work and begin to meet more people within that world, there’s no harm in pushing for more responsibility and even looking for other roles.
Initiative and common sense are absolutely essential. You may find it helpful to learn something technical that will put you a cut above the competition, especially in the digital world. But most of all, make sure you learn from those around you. Both those who are doing it right and those who you can see are maybe not being as efficient or successful as they could be.
Remember that music is supposed to be enjoyable. Don’t let any of the more mundane side of the business let you lose sight of that or dampen your passion.
Summer Marshall: Talent Agent, CAA, London [UK]
Be kind to everyone you meet regardless of if they are a junior assistant or chairman.
Rachel White: Director & Publicist, Brick London [UK]
The piece of advice I’d give is to make sure you create a good work/life balance, and try and keep work separate from time you spend with friends and family outside of the industry. The music industry is so full-on that I think it’s important to have a place and people to retreat to when you need it.
Kristen McElwain: Events Programmer & Special Projects at Resident Advisor, London [UK]
Don’t be intimidated. Know what you want, carry yourself in a professional way, be confident in your knowledge and be firm. The rest will follow. Also, stay on top of your emails.
Catherine Manners: Director, Manners McDade [UK]
As a young woman starting out in the industry, I would simply say to forget that you are a woman, but remember that some men may find you intimidating (but won’t ever admit to it).
Don’t be aggressive (no need) and don’t put up with bad behavior from men — or women!
Dresden Leitner: Press Manager, BIGBOX [UK]
The music industry can be a scary place for a young woman starting out. It’s a big world filled with massive characters moving at a pace that is sometimes impossible to keep up with — but it’s got to be one of the most exciting industries in the world to be involved with, and that’s why we’re all here.
My advice to those starting off would be to meet as many people as possible, at every opportunity.
Those chance meetings, friends of friends or strangers at random gigs are the places where you’ll meet journalists, label heads, distributors, artists, managers and the like who will eventually become your colleagues, clients and friends years down the line.
A more natural form of ‘networking’ — just make the effort to keep in touch with people and hanging out when you get a chance. Once you make a good network of contacts, you become less intimidated by those companies and people that might have scared you once upon a time.
And then once you’re a little more settled, it’s key to stay passionate. The reason we’re in this industry is because we love it, and at times it’s hard to remember that when music becomes your day to day life.
Donna Vergier: VP of International, Domino Recording Company, London [UK]
My advice to young woman starting out in the music business is this: if you find yourself at an independent label, the first thing to do is find out who is driving the vision for the label and then follow their lead.
Even if you don’t get to speak or meet them that often, do your research, find out what they are all about.
In marketing and promotion, there is often more than one right answer, but if you know the vision of the person who is running the label, you can often find the right answer for each situation.
Jodie Fischer: Music Booking Agent, Elastic Artists Agency, London [UK]
I’d advise young women coming into the music industry to be on top of their game. We have to work twice as hard and know twice as much… and it's worth it on the other side.
Take meticulous notes when in training, keep listening to new music, research labels and management companies rosters, and keep an eye on what type of promoters book which kinds of acts.
Don’t expect anyone to hold your hand through this industry cause everyone has to self-motivate in this game. Keep on the muso hustle!
Andreea Magdalina: Head of Community, Mixcloud / Founder, shesaid.so [US]
Something that will probably be useful down the line, I heard it in a university speech: you can tell a lot about a person based on the way they treat people with less power than them.
That’s how you know who to keep close versus whom you shouldn’t be doing business with.
Natasha Bent: VP at The Agency Group, Booking Agent, London [UK]
Work hard, stay humble and respect everyone you deal with.
Halina Wielogorska: Music / Entertainment Solicitor, London [UK]
Don’t disregard anyone you meet and do your best to keep them!
Don’t be afraid to ask for contact details or to find seek subsequent connection on social media.
Always follow up within a week. Ideally, within a day.
Mirelle Davis: Wind up Bird limited, International Marketing Consultant, Commercial Mediator and Band Manager [UK]
I recommend they either come to every meeting late, or learn to love football — as you will be spending the first 15 minutes of every single meeting talking about it. Which, given the music industry loves a meeting, means a considerable amount of your life will be spent talking about football.
Seriously though, I would say stand up for what you believe in and value the relationships that are important to you.
I am fortunate enough to be in a position where I can work with people I both like and respect and ultimately that leads to a far more enjoyable and satisfying experience.
Michelle Lhooq: Features Editor, THUMP/VICE [US]
You will often find yourself being the only woman in the room, on your team, on a panel, etc.
It’s a male-dominated industry, but that means your perspective is even more value. Speak your mind, speak truth to power — never be afraid to be “that girl.”
Jessica Straker: Founder, Juice VCR, London [UK]
Try to keep yourself open and receptive to the suggestions of others. It’s alright (and probably best) to have a solid plan of action for whatever it is you’re working on/aiming towards but keeping even your most desired goals loose allows for possibilities that you may have never imagined for yourself.
Isabelle Wekstein-Steg: Partner, WAN Avocats [France]
First, when assessing intellectual property issues, it is critical to not limit the scope of the intervention to the sole area of the music industry because it is over-simplistic: a broader view of cultural industries is useful and requires taking in consideration other sectors, such as audiovisual media or the book publishing industry.
Secondly, I believe we must take into account the challenges stemming from the new digital era and have a more global and therefore international understanding of this sector not to see it only as a French debate. I don’t believe in the idea of a “French cultural exception.”
Thirdly, within the cultural industries there is as much of a glass ceiling as anywhere else!
Harriet Moss: Sync and PR Manager, Manners McDade [UK]
Be really confident in your own abilities — if you are totally assured in what you are doing and what you know then it’s harder for people to try and intimidate or patronize you.
You are where you are for a reason so try your very best to believe that, and go for it.
Liz Snair: VP, Digital and Physical Sales, RED [US]
Follow up and be on time. These are two basic fundamentals that get lost.
If you don’t do these things well, it doesn’t matter how many connections you have or how great your A&R skills are.
When you say you’re going to send something, send it. When you say you’re going to be somewhere, be there.
Build your reputation as someone who gets things done.
Ineke Daans: Live Strategy Manager & [PIAS] Nites coordinator [Belgium/UK]
I’ve never felt that being a woman stopped me in my tracks. I’ve always done what I wanted to do at [PIAS] and have been given many different challenges over the years. Or I’ve asked for them myself!
I am very aware the music industry is a man’s world and gender inequality angers me in the same way it angers me when I see it in any other industry or aspect of society.
But day to day, it’s never bothered me to work with a lot of men. I don’t let gender define the people I work with or come across.
My advice to a young woman starting in the music industry? What qualities should you have?
The answer is no different than what is expected from a man.
I have held different roles at [PIAS] over the years and when I lead teams and hire staff, I am mainly thrilled by intelligence, humor and passion.
Passion will get you far because unlike “enthusiasm,” you can’t fake passion. Not for very long, at least.
So my advice would be; find your passion and follow it through. Nobody likes a bullsh*tter.
Harriet Wybor: Publishing and Finance Manager, Manners McDade [UK]
Don’t overcompensate, treat everyone you meet equally regardless of their position or gender, and always do your research to prepare for interviews and meetings.
Ema Nosurak: Director, Bite the Apple Agency [UK]
My piece of advice would be the following: if it’s radio presenting you want to get into, connect with stations that suit your style of music genre or presenting.
If it’s artist management connect with agencies that represent the type of artist you’d like to represent, and introduce yourself.
A personal email or cover letter to a companies you value shows confidence and passion for your chosen career path. Which in my experience is very appealing as an employer, and on experience have interviewed people who have reached out.
Nathalie Ridard: Directrice de Promotion, Ephélide [France]
Firstly, it is vital to build a network and choose relationships carefully.
In order to achieve this, we have to be patient and not rush into things, but we also have to show that we can be reactive, courteous and friendly at all times.
Attaching importance to relationships is essential to becoming successful in this industry.
Inma Grass: Communication Director, Altafonte Music Network and Boa Music, President of UFI (Spanish independent record labels association), Member of the WIN Council (Worldwide Independent Network) [Spain]
It doesn't matter if you are a man or a woman, the most important thing to start in the music business is to be passionate about music.
To get excited about and have a strong interest in artists, songs, concerts…
It also helps to have a special sixth sense to work with creators, who are very peculiar and sensitive human beings and female intuition plays a major role here.
Also, always remember to be yourself and be creative. In a world where men are the majority, women have to bring to the fore our organisational skills, common sense and sensibility
Sarah Pearson: Wasted Youth PR, [UK]
Be brilliant at what you do. Become a master at your art. Be creative and passionate.
It’s all about the music.
Support your fellow women peers so we can achieve equality in the higher positions of the music business.
Georgia Taglietti: Head of Comms, Sonar [Spain]
Look around, learn from the people around you, above you, below you.
Listen and learn every day, as music and business are changing and morphing and you should be part of the change.
Go to London where music has always also been a business; there you will learn how to live in it, how to live of it.
And once you get started, stay true to yourself.
Angel Lebailly: DJ & Producer at Jeange [Berlin]
I would encourage any women passionate about music and who aim at launching their career in this exciting business to pursuing their dreams until they reach their goals.
- Make significant and long-lasting connection with inspiring female artists & music business ladies. Always connect the creatives with the business!
- Find your own voice or style, either entrepreneurial or artistic. For instance, knowing which musical genre talks to you the most is quite crucial.
- Be modest. There are always better people around us. Either they have been here for very long or they have created something new before everyone else. Titles don’t mean much in today’s world, but personality does.
Karen Emanuel: Key Production / [PIAS] Production / Think Tank Media [UK]
Be passionate, dedicated, strong willed, determined and get a good accountant!
Sarah Bolshi: Director, Sunday Best Recordings, London [UK]
Music is creative industry, so create your own opportunities.
Wherever you start in music, whichever position, be a sponge and learn.
Never decline the opportunity to undertake a task; however crap and menial it might seem, we’ve all done it.
It’s obvious, but being nice and enthusiastic goes a long way too.
Offer your help (don’t wait to be asked) and you will get it back.
If you are truly passionate, your long term goals and path to them will become visible to you.
Stick with your goals over time — and it can take time — and you will achieve them.
Laetitia Rocca: [PIAS] Deputy Managing Director [France]
I might sound prehistoric, but I strongly believe men and women sometimes react in different ways and don’t always show the same sensitivity.
My advice would be to embrace some of our differences and lighten some others. Some of us are more creative, more sensitive, have a stronger instinct. In this business, I believe it’s a good thing.
Some of us might have trouble negotiating whereas for some men, it feels like a game.
Women should put less effect when there is no need, and more, whenever it is necessary. AND always have a good concealer in your purse.
Sarah Thompson: Managing Director, Charmfactory [UK]
Firstly enjoy. It is a great industry to work in.
Don’t feel you have to adopt a more typically male/aggressive approach to your work, be confident with the knowledge of the job you’re doing and you will do a good job.
Try not to be too emotional, listen carefully and be wise. Have an opinion as long as you know what you are talking about.
Go with your gut instinct, don’t try and do things just because you think other people want you to do them. Be unique and individual.
Choose your industry friends carefully! Find women in the industry you like and trust, and ask them for advice if you need it.
Helen Smith: Executive Chair, IMPALA [Brussels]
My tips could apply to anyone. Work hard, never give up and don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Always be fair — what goes around comes around. Lead by example.
Of course that’s a bit clichéd for a subject like this, which always reminds me of that Punch cartoon of a board meeting with the caption “That’s an excellent suggestion, Mrs Triggs. Perhaps one of the men here would like to make it.”
There are issues with how women are treated, promoted and remunerated in all sectors and I am sure more could be done in music too.
Mind you, personally I have never come across a Mrs Triggs type situation in the music sector, though I was asked to take the minutes in a meeting years ago, which was pretty odd in the particular circumstances. The person had a reputation for being sexist, and that was one of his better features. He isn’t around anymore, before you ask… Of course, that’s pretty harmless compared to other examples.
The issues are complex and subtle as it’s a wider societal question. While policymakers are all busy on their gender strategies, we have to work with equality in mind.
That means standing up for yourself and others when you see discrimination happen, whether its based on gender, ethnicity, disability, political beliefs, etc.
On a lighter (or deeper) note, remember why you started working in music in the first place — not everyone can say they are contributing to one of the rare elements that have the power to transform someone’s day, although that doesn’t mean you have to put up with any old crap…
Apart from that, you’ve got to have fun at your work, so don’t be too PC and always keep your sense of humor. It’s a useful way to make your point and move on.
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This story wouldn’t have been possible without She Said So — an exclusive community of women who work in music.
“I was convinced we could do it on our own — the majors were so arrogant and condescending”medium.com
Find out more about The Independent Echo, a blog from [PIAS] celebrating the character, knowledge and history of the independent music business
Top Photo: Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group, Jody Gerson, accepts executive of the year award at Billboard Women in Music 2015 award show, presented by Alicia Keys [Getty]