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.
De Burgh-Holder plays a pivotal role working with the company’s digital partnership teams and label, helping decipher the wealth of data delivered by partners and translate insights into actionable recommendations to support and elevate Sony Music’s iconic roster of artists.
In the course of her career so far, De Burgh-Holder also spearheaded the curation of a specialist education programme structured to inform executives and peers across the industry about the value of data and to help demystify the wealth of information that is now available. She has also worked closely with the Official Charts Company, the BPI and the BRIT Awards on a variety of projects which have helped to shape British music.
Outside of her analytics role, De Burgh-Holder is a mentor, a member of the Sony Music LGBTQ+ group Freedom, the Sony Music women’s group SWIM and is a passionate supporter of other women in music groups.
This year, the Official Charts Company announced De-Burgh Holder’s appointment as their new chair, making her the youngest and first female chair in the company’s history.
Here, she reflects on her career to date…
How does it feel to be recognised as a Rising Star? And what would you highlight as achievements in your six years at Sony?
“Delighted, followed by severe imposter syndrome, and back to being delighted again. In terms of personal highlights, it’s when you get to see the outcome of your work making a real world impact. Also, seeing the success of the people around me. Over the past couple of years I’ve been a mentor with Sony’s mentor network, and when you see someone you’ve mentored really come into their own in the industry, that’s fantastic.”
Your current role is as director of commercial analytics. Just how important is the role of data to the modern music industry?
“I think the important thing is looking at it as a partnership that goes both ways. I think that data has always played a role in music. It's just the size of it that's changed. And we need to remember that while the size and the value that we can interrogate out of data grows and becomes more nuanced, we can get slightly different things out of it. But no matter what happens, it should always still be a partnership, and there's a lot of value in context that you get from people in those creative roles and from the music itself. The best lesson that I learned from working in data in a creative industry was in my first week because I ran a report for my boss, Charles Wood. I was looking at a bunch of tracks and the overall results were fairly consistent, but there were a couple of anomalies. When I told him that they were just anomalies, he asked me if I'd listened to them. And I hadn't. They were two UK hip-hop tracks. That’s why they were performing entirely differently from the other pop tracks, but I didn't know that because I hadn’t heard them. Data in a creative industry is about listening both ways. There's an incredible amount of value that comes from the creative sides, which is why it's a privilege to work in our team alongside the digital partnerships team. You get that wider context.”
You spearheaded an education programme to inform people across the industry about the value of data and to help demystify the wealth of information that is now available. What was most in need of demystifying?
“I think that in any industry, no matter what, there will always be people that love that data feels like an exclusive club. And they like to maintain that by having loads of jargon, making it inaccessible and making it seem really complicated. And we see this with consultants all the time, where they will come in, they'll throw a bunch of numbers at us, and they won't explain them. They’ll rely on our reluctance to ask what the f*ck they're talking about to almost maintain the illusion that they’re the experts and that it’s too hard for anyone else to understand. So I think the thing that needs demystifying most is the idea that you shouldn’t ask questions. It's always OK to ask questions.
Conversations that are the most helpful in any business, are the ones that are the most simple. If you can't understand every third word that someone is saying, that isn't a bad reflection on you, that means someone hasn't explained themselves properly. The best analysts and the best minds in any industry are the people that can tell you about three months’ worth of work, that's billions of rows of data, and explain it in three bullet points.
There's not actually a barrier to data. There are people who help – analysts play their part translating it and they’re people who can help explain. But there's not actually a barrier to understanding what that data means and being able to see the data in the first place.
Data is something that should be easily understood by everyone because we do it every day. The average intern that comes through our building is already used to to looking at what good engagement stats are because they're staring at it on social media every day – the like to view ratio on Instagram or the number of likes versus comments, you can see the level of engagement that people have and it's something that comes instinctively now.”
Education and paying our interns, that's what's going to shape the best possible music industry
Charlotte De Burgh-Holder
So where do you see the future of analytics heading, especially as it relates to labels?
“I think across all industries, but especially in creative industries, the future of analytics is where everyone is utilising data comfortably. And I think that that's something that we now do at Sony Music in a very effective way, but it's something that we continue to get better at. We’re already getting billions of rows of data each day. It won't be long until we're getting petabytes. Someone asked me what a petabyte was the other day, I just said f*cking massive. It won't be long until we're at the stage where we're getting petabytes of data and it's easy to be intimidated by that. But the fact is, it's all just a reflection of the simplest things in a more detailed way. Whether someone's playing a song, whether they like a song, it's all the same as things that we wanted to know 50 years ago. It's just we get a lot more detail now. So, it's our job to translate that detail into what people actually want to know.”
Earlier this year, you became the first woman to be appointed as chair of the OCC. What kind of message does that send about gender balance across key industry roles?
“There have been some incredible women on the board and I am very much honoured to be the first one to be invited to the chair. I think representation across all roles matters, because representation informs who comes through next. When you have voices at the table with a diverse experience, they will be so much more aware of any kind of barriers to entry they themselves faced when they were coming up.”
How do you think the OCC is helping to set standards for charts? Can the organisation help to ensure there is increasing rigour for charts around the world?
“I think they set the global standard for charts. Not only in terms of the charts themselves and the dedication they have to the integrity of those charts, the OCC also maintains one of the most extensive market databases in the world. And I cannot understate the value of how important that is. I work in data and data is all about context. And whilst any individual music company will have our own quiet, granulated, granular data, having wider context that comes through from the OCC provides so much more information that you're able to see the wider picture.”
You are also a member of the Sony Music LGBTQ+ group Freedom and the Sony Music women’s group SWIM – how do these groups play an important role within a major label?
“I think that these are groups where everyone has an opportunity to have a voice at the table and to have their voice heard at the highest level. And I think that there is a really strong culture here. And something that I've really admired since I first started is that it doesn't matter how senior you are, if you have an idea of something that is important, there are avenues and opportunities to get them heard.”
Why was it important to reform the BRITs categories in terms of gender and eligibility – and do you feel that has been effective?
“That's something I get to take part in as a part of a much wider group. But the discussion around reforming the categories was something the BPI had come up with before I got involved. In terms of my involvement, I was looking at what happens if we make the changes, but in terms of how they're being made, that really needs to come from someone else. And I think there's an importance in recognising the role you play within data, particularly when it comes to stuff like diversity and inclusion where you need different kinds of experts, you need to know when to stay in your lane.”
What do you want to see change in the music industry?
“That’s a pretty hefty question. I think the industry as it is now is more diverse than I've ever seen it, and I've only been around for seven years. It should be possible for an artist to feel comfortable and go to a label team and see people that look like them and understand their stories because there's a sense of relatability. And I think for a long time that wasn't the case. I think as the industry goes forward, we need to commit to making sure that we're bringing in a diverse range of people, and that means that we need to address barriers to entry. When we talk about the future of the industry and committing to having a diverse workforce – that means we need to pay our interns properly. Sony has one of the best and most extensive internship programmes where people are paid, and that means that people from outside of London have opportunities. That includes people who don't have the luxury of living at home, because not all young people can live at home for a variety of reasons.
"When I first moved to London I thought about getting a job in the music industry and the only jobs that I could get access to were paying less than minimum wage. I couldn't afford to get in that way and I was really lucky that I found my way into Sony Music, eventually anyway. But that’s not going to be the case for everyone. I think the education opportunities to tell people what kind of roles are available is really important... I think it is really important for people to know that no matter what your skill sets are, if you have an interest in music and you're passionate about it, there will be a job for you within this industry. So I think education and paying our interns, that's going to shape the best possible music industry.”
Finally, having made such an impact already, what would you like to achieve in the years ahead?
“I love what I do because it's constantly changing. And a big part of what I'm doing at the moment is looking at data democratisation, making sure that everyone has a really solid understanding of what data can do for them in their jobs. I work with a fantastic team. And I think for me in the future, I would just love to develop a wider team. I would love for everyone that I work with to feel really confident and comfortable using data. And hopefully keep learning lots of new things.”
Interview by Anna Fielding