At the Women In Music Awards 2023, we celebrated the achievements of 13 game-changing executives and artists as the industry came together to honour their work. Music Week has spoken to all 13 winners of the category awards to tell their stories.
Words: Anna Fielding
This year’s recipient of the Outstanding Contribution award, BPI director of events & charities Maggie Crowe, is a music industry legend.
Following a stint at music publishing firm Windsong, Crowe moved jobs in 1986 to take on a secretarial role with the Anti-Piracy Unit at the BPI. She progressed to become PA to John Deacon, the director general of the BPI. The role, which gave her a privileged perspective on the industry, meant she “got to know all the juicy bits going on”, whilst also interacting with the industry leaders of the day.
Following a huge amount of hard work from the BPI and the music industry, the BRIT School came into being in September 1991, opening its doors to the first wave of 250 young people. The injection of funding came from the Nordoff & Robbins anniversary fundraiser, Knebworth 1990.
Other achievements include the Music Education Directory and music education work following the formation of The BRIT Trust. With Adrian Carter, Crowe has steered the BRIT Awards since 2005 (almost 20 years). Since 2015, Crowe has also overseen the operational running of The Mercury Prize.
In 2011, Maggie Crowe was honoured and in her words “gob-smacked” to receive an OBE for services to the music industry and charity, presented to her by HM The Queen.
Here, our Outstanding Contribution recipient for 2023 reflects on her achievements, including her reputation as ‘Queen of the BRITs’...
How does it feel to win the Outstanding Achievement Award?
“I’ve only ever done the job. It’s nice to be recognised, but I hate having the spotlight on me, I prefer to be in the shadows.”
You’ve overseen so many awards ceremonies, the BRITS, Classic BRITs, BRITs Icon and the Mercury Prize. Surely it must be good to have an award come to you for once?
“I talk and do lists, that’s what I say my CV consists of, that and being behind the projects that other people can enjoy. I’m very proud of what the team around me achieve, but I get a great sense of achievement from my job. So that’s why being given an award feels a bit weird.”
You started out in the music industry with a summer job at Windsong International, is that right?
“Yes, with lovely Steve Mason, who looked like a big teddy bear back then with his big beard and his gravelly voice. I was looking for a job for the summer, I went through Reid Employment. I could type, and it was the big old-fashioned typewriters then, so you couldn’t have posh nails. I was just 18. I’d passed my driving test and done my A-levels. I wanted to go to Roehampton Institute and learn to be a cookery teacher. I like to cook. I hadn’t a care in the world at that point and I had no fear. And everyone at Windsong was just lovely. They were all massively passionate about music, and it just made me more passionate, and got me hooked.”
Thinking from when you started to now, how do you think the industry has changed in terms of women?
“Massively, in this industry, in every industry. In my generation we were told by our careers officers to go off and be nurses or teachers or secretaries. Going to university wasn’t even considered an option. There were amazing women when I first came into the industry and I think they were the warriors who opened things up, especially in terms of the men who might have wanted to keep a closed shop, and these women said, ‘Look we’ve got something to bring to the party.’”
You are known around the industry as the ‘Queen of the BRIT Awards’. What do the BRITs mean to you personally?
“Adrian Carter and I became team leaders in 2005, Peter Jameson gave us the job. I feel very privileged to be the custodian of something that is never changing – and nor should it. Music television has sort of depleted over the years, but we stand as a two-hour live show. No one normal would put a stadium-size set into a live show for two hours. Most people would pre-record or have a longer delay. We use a 30-second delay. And there are learnings from the fantastic teams around us, the digital and interactive. It’s a medley of old and new. The BRITs mean everything to me. The Mercury Music Prize means everything to me. The Grammys are 55 years old now, so we’re still the younger sibling, but I think we’ve got a bigger global reach now as we’ve done more work on the social media side.”
Sometimes it’s not the biggest BRITs performances that are the most complicated, but anything involving pyro and rain together is very hard
How do you think British music benefits from the spotlight of the BRITs?
“Everyone remembers Adele’s performance in 2011. And that’s the perfect circle. Any proceeds that come from the show go to the BRIT Trust, and the BRIT Trust supports Nordoff & Robbins and the BRIT School, where Adele went. There have been some amazing performances and collaborations over the years. Look at Wet Leg last year, that staging was so fun and so playful. That stood alongside Harry Styles, alongside Stormzy. It’s our shop window to the rest of the world for British music.”
What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you whilst working the BRITs?
“To be honest, funny doesn’t really come into it while we’re really working the show. Although there was once with a very famous American artist who was rehearsing late. For eight or nine days we basically take the keys from The O2, take over the space and then hand them back at the end. This rehearsal was going on – I felt that me and Adrian could almost do the dance routine at that point. Anyway, I hopped on the carpet cleaner, one of those ones like a sit-on lawn mower with the big circular buffers at the front… I thought I’d have a little tidy up while we were waiting.”
What’s been the most stressful performance to orchestrate?
“Well, it’s stressful for the team who do it. Sometimes it’s not the biggest performances that are the most complicated, but anything involving pyro and rain together is very hard. I always try to plan, plan, plan for every scenario.”
We asked you in 2020 what your greatest BRITS moment was… and now we’re asking again.
“I still don’t think I can answer. With each of them, it’s often the relief that they’re done and people are pleased. But I think we should always be brave with what we do, because if it is our shop window then we need to push the boundaries musically, creatively. I sound like a politician… I will always remember the Covid years because we were the only show that didn’t go down. We cracked on. The logistics, the testing centres, making sure none of the artists were intermingling backstage. And then having the 5,000 key workers in the audience.”
How important do you think the BRIT school is when it comes to developing UK talent?
“Beyond huge. But people don’t know that it is still a comprehensive school in Croydon. We have 1,400 students. It’s not a stage school. But I think there’s something in all of us, if you go into this line of work then you might not have been what a traditional state school wanted you to be, you might not have jogged along as well. For me, that’s the philosophy behind BRIT School. I was involved in it when John Deacon, my gorgeous boss, was in the original talks. It took time and even getting it on the table with the DfE was a massive achievement. The school is a beacon of aspiration and it’s not all about Tom Holland and Adele. There’s some kids there from very deprived backgrounds and they need the school to bolster them. There’s one lad who went and did production art and now he’s 22 and working on the Madonna tour. “
Who are the people you’ve worked with along the way that you’d like to give a shout out too?
“John Deacon, obviously not the one who is Queen’s drummer. I was his secretary. Peter Jameson, who gave me the opportunity to be the event director for the show. John Craig, who was the [previous] BRIT Trust chairman, who allowed me to develop my passion on the charity side of things. And, obviously, Adrian Carter.”
Click here for more from Women In Music 2023.