When You Cause All This Conversation

We are here, whether you see us or not, we’re here, and we are working.

Dream hard, work hard, grind till you own it. But striving to own it in this city of London, literally demands that you adapt or perish. Brutal to the core but booming with an exhilarating energy, many want to be in the heart of it all but not everyone has the heart to hustle this hard.

Born dreamers, a new generation of creatives have emerged over the past 10 years, and they’ve experienced the most significant cultural revolution over the past century. As graduates of the social and digital generation, this pack have strived through one of the toughest periods of economic austerity, inequality and rising job uncertainty. Being visible in this age of selfies, is still a social experiment, but despite all the odds, strivers have a drive to rise and a thirst to endure the relentless grind.

Beyond natural born privilege, many striving creatives and visionaries have geared themselves up to survive the worst, and they’re resilient to the core. These upstarts have rewritten the rules, learned to use new mediums, adapted to new technologies, crafted new channels to promote themselves and caused a lot of conversation. But recognition doesn’t come easy when striving this hard doesn’t fit the convenient narrative.

In 2016, it’s impossible to ignore pivotal people who are making strides to change the course of conversation, when curating the ‘30 more under 30‘ list, Semtex stated in no uncertain terms, “Everything is changing, the way artists market themselves, fans consume music, and so must the way that these lists are compiled. All emerging talent needs the opportunity to shine, not just the faces that fit, or those that are part of an agenda.

When it comes to fitting in, women are still striving for our place at the table and last year, when Billboard made the decision to abolish it’s ’50 Most Powerful Women in Music’ list after 23 years, it was abundantly clear that collectively women in the music business are still stuck in a rut. You can strive harder, work harder, dream harder, but without a pack mentality you just can’t cut through.

So who owns your future? It’s not enough to keep running off lists year on year, trying to throw pot shots at predicting the future of the music biz. When our ’30 more under 30′ caused all this conversation, we may have got under the skin of the music industry, but the conversation had only got started. Winners don’t quit on themselves, strivers learn to survive, and surviving in this industry means you have to flex a little.

Causing all this conversation, was all in a day’s work, when we gathered together Jamz Supernova, Nikita Chauhan, Joss Meek, Tiann Rowland Dixon, Sade Lawson, Chloe Fletcher, Parris OH, Leila Singh, Kamilla Rose, Mercedes Benson, Caroline SM and Kaiya Milan. What do they think of the present future of the music biz? They see it, they want it and they’re ready to own it!

Bow Down, Bitches!

Ok so getting 12 ladies into formation for a shoot in a derelict building in London, may not look like an easy task, but for these ladies – one thing was apparent, they all knew why they were doing this. “A lot of the females that are here, [at shoot] are, I would say, the 3 minorities in the music industry.” Chloé an International Talent Executive at MTV, pointed out, “Like a lot of females in the list they’re young, from ethnic backgrounds and they’re female. In the music industry that’s already 3, the fact that we’re all together and we’re all doing well in our separate fields, is great.

Yeah we all know Beyonce slays it – but why do many British women still feel excluded from participating and sharing platforms equally with the few women that do make it to the top. Why does, empowerment seem to actually evade 99% of women who aspire to be bosses in the music industry? Whether you tell women to lean in or lean out, be a boss bitch or pipe down, how many are actually breaking the ceiling and lasting the course?

When it comes to a minority of 3 in music, flipping that to the girl power of 3, Joss Meek a PR exec at Wired a 3 person PR agency, knows exactly why it counts even more – “We work independently and as a team and we all bring something different to the table. I think that’s what’s nice about working outside of a sort of more established and bigger company, you’re not a small fish in a big pond, you’re like equally sized fishes.” Unlike gender stereotypes that pit women against each other, the failures of many women to break the ceiling, have pushed some women to pursue collaboration over competition, as Joss continues – “I think there’s two kinds of people in the industry, there’s people that will stop at nothing to get to the top and I think there’s people that are in it for the love, they’re family people, they’re supportive. I am a big fan of that phrase that nobody has to lose for you to win,” 

Slay Trick, Or You Get Eliminated

What woman may not have unlocked till now is the kind of bonding that’s feeds a ‘bro’ culture boosting men out of the pitch and into the boardroom. Joss broke it down for us, “Networking is incredibly important, but only if you’re comfortable with it, its not about forcing yourself into situations you wouldn’t be in normally because that’s really obvious. But the bro culture thing is something I’ve definitely noticed, I’ve got friends that are male that work in the music industry and they just go for beers or they’ll go and play ping pong or football together, and do all this stuff and they’ll talk about the football. I think with girls it takes a while to warm up, I think girls are more wary of other women, which is a shame.

Yet within the music industry, there’s been an underlying sense that women feel they have to prove their worth behind the scenes before they can push themselves to the forefront. Lacking a natural ‘bro’ boost, it’s a fine balance trying to navigate through actively promoting yourself to being promoted. Beyonce may endure criticism for her strain of feminism, but her kind of empowerment is as much about marketing herself, as it is about causing a conversation.

“Marketing yourself and your own personal brand should never actually outshine your actual work”

I asked Parris OH from Sony Music, how important marketing yourself or marketing your work is today – or if there’s even a distinction? “I think there is a distinction and I think for me I’m one of those people who, my work comes first, that should speak for me before me, myself , my face – anything speaks for me. I’m always about trying to back up yourself with substance and I think there is a distinction, and I think actually the people who get it right are the people who market themselves a little bit and market their work a little bit. You know they’re about, they’re in events, they’re doing the right things, and you know they’re a cool person, maybe their social media’s on point but I think its definitely a balance between that and people knowing your face and knowing what you can do as well.”

Who Needs A List?

But when it comes to those lists and the issues of diversity, sometimes we’re told it’s down to the fact that people in the industry don’t know where to look. Maybe they just aren’t looking hard enough but for a future music business to become truly representative, the biggest challenge in cutting through to be recognised, is actually being seen in a crowded space. Often the biggest concerns for young creatives and executives is when is the right time to be seen and heard. While some are worrying they may be shouting too loud, others may be waiting too long to be heard.

When it comes to diversity within the music industry, we are here, whether you see us or not, we’re here, and we’re working and we’re doing a lot of the work actually, a lot of work. And a lot of the successes that you see it’s down to us. Like I think that’s the main thing is that we’re here, whether the gatekeepers wanna acknowledge that we’re here, that doesn’t matter, we’re here and we’re doing it, and don’t think just cos you don’t see somebody that reflects you in a list, that you can’t get into that.” Parris made her way into her role through an internship but her reasons to pursue it have been more than about making any list, “That’s not the way in, the way in is your heart , you being passionate, that’s the only way in, you gotta fight for it – no matter what you wanna do. I think that’s the overriding sense of whatever you wanna do you can do, it doesn’t matter about a list.

“Whether the gatekeepers wanna acknowledge that we’re here, that doesn’t matter, we’re here and we’re doing it”

Tiann, 19 is a talent scout at Columbia, who signed her first act as an intern – “When I first heard about the 30 under 30 I know there was a lot of controversy about the people that they chose, how there was a lack of diversity in there but initially when I first saw it I was ‘ok well maybe they didn’t know about me because I’m still new and I’m still young, maybe I haven’t ticked some boxes yet’, but when you start seeing a pattern, then you’re like ‘ok well that’s not really cool’.

Nikita a radio producer and presenter, explains “I talk to a lot of people who feel the same, this is our day to day lives you don’t think you’re doing anything different, you’re just doing what you love, you’re just doing something you believe in.” Yet Nikita doesn’t underestimate the impact of a list for others, “It doesn’t even have to be 10 people, it doesn’t have to be 10,000 people, even if you make a difference to one person, it’s just about making sure whatever difference you make and whatever you’re doing, as a role model, is positive and it’s going to give that energy out, and it’s going to grow into something more.

With the rising tide of freelancers and startups, striving to be visible as an independent is a struggle of its own, as Joss explains “I think something that Music Week fails to do is look at independent people and people outside of the core of more obvious label work. Because it’s a voted system I think a lot of labels will all vote for their new junior or vote for their newest person which is brilliant and those people are so talented and they deserve the recognition, but it does leave people who work independently or in sort of slightly more obscure fields out of those lists and unknown. So it felt really nice to be working from just a team of 3 at Wired PR, it felt really special to be included.”

Age Ain’t Nuthin’ But A Number

Forever plagued with the generalised stereotypes of lazy or entitled millennials, a realtime obsession with age, has plagued young people to feel the pressure to achieve much more even earlier in the game. But has obsessing about reaching certain milestones by an early age started to become it’s own measure of success in this business? For Tiann it isn’t about her age, working at 19 just came out of a choice to skip university and go for an internship instead, “If somebody’s looking at my story and being like ‘man I wish I could do that’ or they’re looking at the article and looking at what I do and stuff and they see someone who’s young like them, just like them, doing exactly the same thing, it just opens up doors.

Chloe, adds “I mean a lot of people do the whole, gotta go to school get a degree and I think, if everyone follows their paths, just keeps on what they’re doing, I think that’s all that matters, follow your passion.” Getting past the conundrum of university vs internships, doesn’t clear the way for a straight path, as Nikita explains, “Education is important but it’s not everything,” she continues “It’s a mixture of networking, getting experience, putting yourself out there, dropping an email to any company, to any person you wanna get in touch with. Because the thing is more often than not, especially in the creative industries people know exactly what it’s like to get that first step, to get that first break and they are more than happy to help.

Is She Bait?

Gaining visibility through social media may be running out of steam soon enough and as some start to opt out of the digital world altogether, can image still play a part? Parris believes it can, “I think one of the things that allows you to be put in a person’s mind for something first when it comes to work or position, is your image, people remember you like ‘oh I remember that girl who wore a yellow hat one day’ or ‘ I remember that girl who’s got half her head shaved’ as I get a lot or ‘she has cool shoes’… It’s a marketing strategy essentially.

“I think one of the things that allows you to be put in a person’s mind for something first when it comes to work or position, is your image”

So why do women still struggle with challenging stereotypical gender roles with their image, particularly when it comes to being a boss. A recent Forbes analysis on leadership at work found that Androgyny is strongly related to transformational leadership and a move towards androgyny can also ease women’s role incongruity problem when they are in leadership roles.

I talked to Kaiya Milan founder of Women In Music, about challenging gender roles, “I think there’s a misconception that you have to be one or the other, you have to be sexy and you have to be in the front, or you have to be behind the scenes and you have to have no make up and stuff like that. I think its kinda bridging the gap between the two because for me personally it’s like the same way I’ll wear heels to an event, and I’m like ‘yeah I’m here’ – I’m also working, I’m working really hard. It’s a lot more accepted now to do that, but I think it still needs pushing a little bit more. I think its kinda regaining that sort of ‘we can do anything we want’ and it’s not  a feminist movement, it’s more like empowering, women don’t necessarily have to be in the background. But I understand why they do, because you’re taken more seriously when you don’t have that social image, but I feel like you should still be taken seriously if you do. It’s like just trying to find the balance between the two, but I think women are always scrutinised so much ‘she’s too bait’ or ‘she wears this kind of stuff, I won’t take her seriously’ and it’s like you can wear whatever you want and you’re still a boss regardless and I think that’s what it is.

Image for women in this male dominated industry is as much about being careful behind the scenes as it is about carefully crafting the right image publicly. For some women it’s a difficult decision to emerge out of the shadows and be on the frontline. I asked Joss what swayed her decision to go for it and step in front of the camera at this shoot, “I think for me, it was quite a personal, in that my immediate reaction was no I can’t do that, I can’t be infront of the camera, I’m too shy… It’s just that thing and I’m really guilty of comparing myself to other women aesthetically and thinking no I don’t want to stand next to all these other beautiful people. So I think for me it was like a personal venture ‘no like go on do it, stand up and let people know who you are and what you do’ but I definitely understand that some people sort of felt like ‘no I work behind the scenes and I don’t need to be seen to do that, your work will show what you do, your face doesn’t need to do that’. So I see both sides completely, I think it’s what you’re comfortable with.

“Self branding is very important”, as someone who works with international executives, Chloe see’s the benefits when it comes to getting to know about other women, “Cos the industries ever changing, a lot of them [women] I probably wouldn’t have come across if it wasn’t for self branding, social media, Twitter, people just going out meeting each other. That’s another thing regards to getting yourself out there naturally not forcefully, just networking and getting to know other females, younger females, older females, just getting in that space and talking to people.”

Woman or Girl?

But beyond debating gender roles or adapting androgyny, there’s still a question about universal girlhood. “That’s my favourite type of question,” says Tiann when I ask her whether she prefers to be called a woman or girl. “I like to be called a woman, because I feel like I’m super super super huge on, I wouldn’t like to call myself a feminist, I’d like to just call myself a person who just believes in self–empowerment. I just feel like the word ‘girl’ is kind of derogative in itself, it kind of puts you down on a lower level, you’re younger, you’re little. Woman is just stronger, it stands for something, and you feel powerful and you feel like you can change something, you can do something, cos you have substance, you have your own kind of stamp on the ground and stuff.

Tiann continues “Oh I’m just a girl’ I hate that, but once you start to get to 18 you got your own mind and you got your own head and you know what you wanna do and stuff you can’t be walking around like ‘oh I’m just a girl I don’t know’ – that’s like the lamest thing in the world, like you should know cos you’re a woman you’re strong you’re powerful in your own right. Your gender shouldn’t mean anything, you should be able to conquer absolutely anything you want to do because you’re you, its not even about being a girl or a boy it’s about being yourself, and being who you are, I personally feel like gender doesn’t matter in any form of way. If you wanna do something you should do it.

I ask Parris the same question, “Ooh for myself? I guess I’m a woman now, but as you can see I struggle with that, cos I’m very youthful, I’m very playful, I like to have a joke, I like to be fun with people and me personally sometimes it can be a bit of both. I know in my work I’m a woman and I like to be taken in the adult sense seriously but for me as a person and me having fun – I’m playful, I’m a girl, I’m young, I’m always gonna be young.”

Proudly proclaiming ‘girl power’, Joss has another take, “Hmmm, I still feel like a girl but I’m a woman. No I think we’re all women once we start working, but women power isn’t the phrase is it? Girl Power is. I’d hate to think that somebody or anybody was discussing your quality of work based on how you looked or what they thought of you. Surely it should be based on your work and your ethic not on anything else.

Cause I Slay

Watching these women slay in the new premium collection from ADYN, a brand that has androgyny running through it’s DNA, there’s a sense that no one is trying to fit into a gender role. Launching their new women’s collection at the end of May – Matt, Ash and Alpha, the founders of ADYN – have adapted their DNA in one sense for women but in a real sense it’s just down to your own perspective. As Alpha explains “It’s always going to lean one way or the other, so it could be unisex or androgynous but it’s always going to lean one way or the other, just depending on your spectrum of where you stand with yourself.

Parris, who stands with her own style, describes it as ‘cozy gang, “What I have on me right now doesn’t matter, it’s what’s in my brain, what’s in my soul, in my heart, as long as my energy is right, then I think that counteracts a lot of the negative aspects of what people kind of project onto you. Because really, me in a tracksuit’s not negative, I think it’s Stormzy who says “I’m in a tracksuit man, I ain’t gonna stab you” – its one of them like, “I’m in a tracksuit, but I know my shit, I know what I’m talking about” it’s kind of that situation. So I think substance and what’s in your brain is there to back it up.”

“I’m in a tracksuit, but I know my shit, I know what I’m talking about”

Parris continues “I’m not trying to push the boundary just to be like ‘look what I can do’… I’m trying to do it because what I wear on my body is an extension of my personality, and like I said sometimes its playful, sometimes its serious, so my style switches up all the time.

I ask Nikita, what she thinks the epitome of style for British woman is today, “I don’t think you can define a British woman and that’s the beauty of it, even today looking at the girls that are here, the ladies that are here, and the way we dress, the way we talk, the way we interact, every single woman’s individual but I think it’s just a case of they know themselves and they own themselves. A British woman will know this is what I like, this is what I don’t like but I’m gonna own it and I’m gonna show everyone that I can own this, I think that’s what a British woman stands for.

With eyes in the present, always fixed on the future, these strivers are learning to adapt new skills to survive in a very new kind of industry. When we converse about the future of the music biz, I ask them how they see it evolving.

It’s exciting,” says Nikita “I think its going to be exciting in the future and I think the reason it’s going to be exciting is because there’s so many things going on, in the last few years we’ve had this big thing about “oh my god SoundCloud’s here and nobody can make music” but people are finding ways to get their music out there, grow the industry but there’s also all these other elements. There’s the PR side of it, people are getting more adventurous, more creative, there’s also the way music’s being shared and there’s more outlets, like internet radio’s massive. One of the things about that is that people can access music quicker, people can share music quicker and everyones willing to collaborate a lot more. I’ve just realised that as soon as you start surrounding yourself with the right people, everything just gets bigger and better and that’s the thing about the music industry, people may say “oh God, record sales have fallen”, yeah things change, one thing that is constant is change and I feel like the music industry is gonna get bigger, better, the people are gonna get younger.

I ask Parris to imagine her future self reading these words in 10 years time and what she’d hope she could say about herself as a striving 23 years old. “Do you know what I think that my future self will say about my current self, that I grabbed every opportunity, I did everything, I was tired for probably about 10 yrs of my life, because I did everything, I had fun, I got the work done.

We all have to live

Striving in an industry that’s rapidly changing into a future music business that we don’t quite know yet, I ask Joss what her vision of what the music business could be or may become? “I really go through stages with the music business, I’m in love with it most of the time and then I hate it sometimes as well. I think it can be corrupt, it can be difficult, it can be misogynistic, it can be very very complicated and it can also be repetitive and quite obvious. But my only worry is sort of for young women getting into it and people from different backgrounds, I came from a background that wasn’t able to support me while I worked for free. So I had to work multiple jobs for many years, while I got experience working for free in the music industry and worked my way up. Some people are fortunate enough to be able to live at home and do all of these things that are taken for granted but for me that’s the main problem with the music industry, that it only allows for people who have supportive families, or like myself who work multiple jobs to keep things going. It’s a shame there are not more systems to help people get in and get more experience, alongside making money, because we all have to, we all have to live.

To live with a living wage ultimately still remains one of the greatest challenges today. If future survival relies on the strivers, than striving for gender equality and pay equality are as real today as ever. I searched for a definition of a striver, and at the top of my Google search appeared an article from the FT aptly titled ‘Are You a Striver, Slacker of Fantasist?‘. When it comes to their perspective “strivers are restless overachievers” who drive everyone else out of town, in reality, these restless strivers are striving to survive in this town.

Whatever the future holds, one thing we’re looking ahead to with anticipation is ADYN’s launch of their exclusive range for women coming to at the end of May – watch this space!