interviews

Women In Music Roll Of Honour 2022: Deborah Annetts, ISM

During this year’s Women In Music Awards, we inducted a further 14 amazing industry executives (including one posthumous award) into the Roll Of Honour, in association with TikTok. They join the pantheon of previous honourees, including some of the biggest names ...

Women In Music Awards 2022 - The Company Award, Diversity In The Workplace: Come Play With Me

At the Music Week Awards 2022, we celebrated the achievements of 12 game-changing executives and artists as the industry came together to honour their work. Music Week has spoken to all 12 winners to tell their stories. This year's winners of the Company Award: Diversity In The Honour category – which is judged by members of the UK Music Diversity Taskforce – is Come Play With Me. A Leeds-based label and non-profit music development organisation, the organisation specialises in supporting people from marginalised communities to build sustainable and meaningful careers in the music industry.  Led by director Tony Ereira, CPWM supports artists with skills, funding and live opportunities when releasing music digitally and physically, alongside regular long-term support for artists in the region delivered via mentoring, artist development and workshops. Come Play With Me supports early career promoters in delivering and promoting events through its Come Platform Me initiative, while its annual I Know A Place conference provides a space and platform for those experiencing marginalisation within the industry. The company also offers training and consultation on LGBTQ+ and trans inclusion for venues, labels and other industry professionals. Outside of artist and professional support, Come Play With Me has established a successful podcast dedicated to creating and celebrating LGBTQ+ role models, alongside a bi-monthly physical and digital magazine creating opportunities for writers and editors to develop their skills. All of which allows the company to support young people across Yorkshire with mentoring and shadowing opportunities in all aspects of the music industry, signposted via our extensive partner networks in Leeds and beyond.  Here, Music Week meets label manager Eva Davies and diversity project manager Antonia Lines to find out more and celebrate their Women In Music win... Congratulations on winning the Diversity In The Workplace award at this year’s Music Week Women In Music Awards. What does this acknowledgement mean to you?Eva Davies: “It makes us really proud of everything that we're doing and everything that we've achieved over the past few years, I know we've grown a lot as a team. It's really exciting that we get to share this with everyone.” Your business is a non-profit record label and development organisation established to support people from marginalised communities gain sustainable music careers. What was the initial inspiration behind your formation? ED: “It was originally Tony [Ereira], the director, who set it up as a singles club back in 2015. He wanted there to be a platform to support emerging artists and be able to give them the opportunity to release on vinyl as that's often something that's never massively achievable for emerging artists because of the cost. And it just slowly grew from there. Over the past few years, we started focusing more on support for underrepresented groups. And that's now the forefront for 80% of our projects – it's grown as the team has grown.” Antonia Lines: “What’s been nice about it is that it’s grown really organically. The more we worked with marginalised people – a lot of them were LGBT and working class – the more other people came to us from different areas of the music industry. Now we have the magazine, where we work with a lot of LGBT writers, photographers and designers, but also people who might want to get into working at festivals or putting on gigs, stuff like that. So, now, we don’t just support musicians, a big part of what we do is everything else to do with the music industry as well.” ED: “It also reflects on a lot of experiences we’ve all had working in music, because we’re a very diverse team too.” We’re doing a UK wide project with the Independent Venue Community where we go and talk to venues about inclusion and how they can create more physical spaces for LGBTQ+ people Antonia Lines What work in the diversity space are you most proud of? What impact have you made?AL: “I think it's interesting, because we're a mostly queer, working class background organisation and we have a very unique make-up. But we're also very keen to work collaboratively with other people. So we'll work with Black Lives In Music, Attitude Is Everything and lots of other people that work with other marginalisations and other identities, to bring in other peoples’ experiences and make sure that we're supporting those who also don't look like us, because as much as are diverse in terms of identity, class, background, geography and all that kind of thing, we're not diverse in terms of ethnicity, race – there's a lot of stuff missing from the makeup of our organisation. So we try to, as much as possible, work with other people who are doing that work. We will help people with LGBT inclusion, they may help us with race equity, or making sure that people with different disabilities can come to our shows – that's been really nice, in terms of diversity and inclusion. We're able to offer our expertise, but we're also able to work with people that can offer theirs. And it becomes a very mutually beneficial thing where we're all working together to support that equity in the industry.” ED: “I think the compilation albums we do are a very good example. We work with 10 to 12 artists on each compilation album and we're now on our fourth. A lot of the time, these are artists that have never released a song before, so this is their first experience of releasing music and being an artist. Giving them the time to develop as artists and feel more confident about the work that they're creating is really exciting. And it's something that I love doing.” Across your events in the last six months attendees identified as 63% female, 11% non-binary/preferred not to say, 1.5% trans, 37% people of colour, 57% LGBTQ+, 6% had a disability and 56% working class. Likewise, Come Platform Me supports early career promoters that have experienced marginalisation to deliver and promote inclusive events, build experience and gain practical skills in event production. How far does the industry have to go to catch you up in this regard?ED: “I think the starting place is not forgetting about the importance of not only creating spaces for underrepresented people, but also including straight cis guys [in the conversation]. I think there's a lot to be said about the allyship side of inclusion. Because you need to be able to open up the conversation with everyone. I think the more people that do that, the easier it is to have conversations that are open and honest, where people can feel like they can ask questions.”  We work with 10 to 12 artists on each compilation album... A lot of the time, these are artists that have never released a song before, so this is their first experience of releasing music  Eva Davies AL: “There are so many people doing great work in terms of making the music industry more equitable. So I think it's about larger organisations, or people that have that resource and funding, getting those people in to share their experiences. Training is great, but what is often missing from that is what support people actually need, taking that step back and saying, ‘Okay, we're going to ask different communities what it is that they need, and then we're going to do that.’ That's where we come from. It's about creating a space where people can ask for help. And the first step to that is by asking people what support they need, and then doing it – and doing it in the way that they want.” What did backing from BPI, Youth Music, Independent Venue Community and others do to help you spread the word? ED: “Youth Music enabled us to be able to bring more young people on the team. I know that's something that Tony [director] is really keen on – and giving them responsibility so they have a bit of ownership on the work that they're doing. IVC is all about training, they support us loads for I Know A Place, which is our January conference. And that means that we can make it a bigger thing with bigger names and make it a real staple for people to come to.” AL: “That IVC partnership is really great. Now we’re doing a UK wide venue support thing with them where we go and talk to venues about inclusion and how they can create more physical spaces for LGBTQ+ people that are welcoming across different venues in the UK. And as for the BPI, they supported us to get a label assistant in for a year, which allowed us to really look at the label and ask how we support artists long term. How do we develop artists? How do we help them book a tour? How can we help them for the next 12 months of their career and then maybe pass them on to a different label? So it's given us that kind of capacity, which in turn allows us to go for more funding bids based on the fact that we're able to support artists more long term.” What would your message to the music industry be?AL: “There are so many people doing great work at a grassroots, community level in the industry that are so diverse and so brilliant, you just need to listen to them. Just listen to what their experiences are. Listen to what support it is that they need and give it, basically. That makes it sound really simple, and it's not, but it’s just about finding out who's doing things in the area that you work in, whether that's geographically or industry wise, and working with them – giving people the work and the space that they need to be able to do things.” ED: “I agree. Collaboration is my word!” Interview by Charlotte Gunn

Women In Music Awards 2022: Music Creative Jessica Agombar

At the Women In Music Awards 2022, we celebrated the achievements of 12 game-changing executives and artists as the industry came together to honour their work. Music Week has spoken to all 12 winners to tell their stories. Interview by Anna Fielding Jessica Agombar’s first foray into songwriting came about in 2008 when she was signed to British hit factory Xenomania.  Whilst there, she landed a role in St Trinian’s 2: The Legend of Fritton's Gold, which gave her the opportunity to be a part of the writing and recording of the accompanying soundtrack.  Agombar then signed to Atlantic Records, joining British girl group Parade and scoring a Top 10 hit with debut single Louder. She later started an independent and self-funded solo project, enjoying support from Kiss FM, Capital Xtra and BBC Radio 1Xtra. It was around this time that she realised the part of being an artist she enjoyed most was creating the music, and committed to songwriting.   Before long, Agombar began collaborating with David Stewart, quickly forming a creative relationship to be reckoned with. The pair co-wrote Dynamite for BTS, which now ranks among the top 100 most streamed songs of all-time. Agombar has written for a host of the biggest names in pop including BTS, Shania Twain, Olly Murs, Jennifer Lopez, Jonas Brothers, The Scarlet Opera and Mimi Webb. To date, songs written by Agombar have collectively amassed somewhere in the region of 7.5 billion streams.  Her ambition for a chorus, determination to succeed and pure love of music make Jessica Agombar one of the most sought after writers in the industry.  Congratulations on winning this year’s Music Creative Award, what does that mean to you? What is creativity to you?  “I can't quite get my head wrapped around it because of all of the incredible women that have been involved over the years. And so far, it just really humbles me for my name to even be amongst them. I was also really, really, really shocked because, as a songwriter, you don't really look for recognition. You do it for your creative ego and the artist is the vessel.” What was the industry like for you when you started out? Were there any glass ceilings you had to break through? Any obstacles to overcome on your road to amassing over five billion combined streams from your writing? “I wouldn’t say it was a glass ceiling, I couldn’t open the door at all. When I started out it felt like there were no female managers, no women in A&R. I used to be in a girl band called Parade and we were signed to Atlantic. Everyone thought I was really happy, but we were constantly being told about our weight, how we looked, and were asked to see dieticians… And we were told we were disposable. Our creativity was valued so little. And it wasn’t necessarily the record label. It could be a photographer on a shoot, or a TV producer. “Also, I grew up in Bow, East London. I didn’t have the kind of family with connections or who knew how to open doors for me. But at the same time, a lot of boys in my area were getting really big with grime. Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Strider, Wiley and Roll Deep… but it was a boys’ club. Being in this manufactured girl band and being from an area where all of the boys are just winning, winning, winning and then never seeing women elsewhere in the industry… It took me years to even navigate how to get into a meeting room without being there with a man in order to talk on my behalf. And I feel like maybe it’s to the detriment of me or maybe this is a positive, but now it makes me speak a little bit louder, or get my voice heard a little bit more.” I wouldn’t say it was a glass ceiling, I couldn’t open the door at all Jessica Agombar How did you move from being an artist to being a songwriter? What is the benefit of knowing what it’s like to walk in an artist’s shoes when it comes to working and writing for them? “I knew I wanted to write big global hits for the world’s biggest pop stars and I learned not to be shy about saying that. I wasn’t at the forefront, so I was able to stop being shy about my dreams. I had been trying to fund myself as an independent artist, arranging studio time and shoots and doing my own plugging. I was working two jobs too and it was knackering. But then someone suggested songwriting and it really appealed. I realised I loved part of what I did, but I didn’t want to get up and perform.   “I think I can sense an artist’s mood when they come into the studio, how they’re feeling about themselves and the project and the people around them. They may be on a conveyor belt, meeting new people everyday and having to give their life story and then sit down and create something. I want them to feel comfortable and that they can trust me.” When it comes to the industry’s relations with songwriters, what do they need more support with in your mind? What can the industry do to help its own creatives? “I think what a lot of people don’t realise is that we do everything on spec. We don’t know if anything in the studio will see the light of day, but we’ve paid to get there, paid for lunch. It always absolutely baffles me that the producer is so well respected and the production deal is cut before anyone walks into the room. And eight times out of ten, that producer is a man. And every single time he’s getting paid whether the song comes out or not. At the higher levels, they can insist that the song comes out. It always astonishes me that it isn’t the same for writers.”  What are your proudest moments as a creative so far? You’ve worked with so many different people. “It was BTS’ Dynamite going to No.1 worldwide. It was culturally huge because it was their first song in English. And they’re the biggest band in the world right now, the numbers are insane. It was amazing that Big Hit, their label who are not British and not American, gave me and my writing partner David Stewart their absolute trust to do it ourselves, which is a rarity these days where so many songs have 12 or 13 writers on them. It gave me the confidence and the happiness to continue as I started.”  What has working with BTS done for your career?  “It’s opened a lot of doors in the US, which for Brits is really hard. My experience of being in Los Angeles when I was in a band was so horrific that it really put me off going there for nine years. I was scared and I knew I wouldn’t go back until I’d done something so big in my career that I couldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable or be undermined again. Also it’s changed my life financially, obviously.” In 2021, you told Music Week that the top tip you’d give to aspiring creatives is that “you will get a lot of ‘nos before getting a yes”. What is the key, in your mind, to coping with rejection and disappointment in the industry? How do you not let that knock your creative confidence, so to speak? “I still get ‘nos’. I'm still getting ‘nos’ every single day. But I got a ‘yes’ that turned into a huge ‘Yes,’ and created a domino effect of others. My thing is, throw 10 things at a wall and one has to stick. And if that one doesn't, then the next batch will. You can suffer through the nos if you remember why you’re there. And if you are there because of your love for music, then the next day when you get into a session and you write a song, you get that incredible bubbling, energetic, amazing feeling of writing a beautiful chorus. That’s when you’ll remind yourself of why you do it.”  

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