During this year’s Women In Music Awards, we inducted game-changing 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 in the business, from Emma Banks, Sarah Stennett, Rebecca Allen to Kanya King, Stacey Tang, Charisse Beaumont and Mary Anne Hobbs, who have been selected since the awards began in 2014. The Roll Of Honour aims to highlight the breadth, depth and variety of individuals who are trailblazers in the music industry, with their activities consistently benefiting women, or focusing on empowerment/gender disparity.
Following the Women In Music Awards ceremony, Music Week is running Q&A interviews with all of this year’s Roll Of Honour inductees.
Claire Walters started her career in the music industry aged 19, working at MCA Music as their receptionist, where she ended up joining various different departments, learning the ropes of music publishing in the film & TV, business affairs and A&R departments.
Her current role as A&R/creative manager at UMPG sees Walters involved in various processes, from signing and setting up sessions and camps to pitching for both artists and writers across the UMPG roster, with a focus to ensure they are always championing young, female writers.
In early 2021, she signed Sam Ryder who, at the time, was a burgeoning TikTok star but not yet a songwriting sensation. Walters set up one of his first sessions with Max Wolfgang and Amy Wadge which resulted in Space Man – the highest scoring UK entry in Eurovision history. She was also heavily involved in overseeing the creative and writing process of Ryder’s No.1 album, There’s Nothing But Space, Man!
This year, Claire Walters worked on a deal with Simon Cowell’s publishing company, Syco, with songwriters like Lucy Spraggan. Here, she reflects on her career to date...
How do you feel about joining the Music Week Women In Music Roll Of Honour?
“I feel incredibly proud and very grateful. Each year, I attend the awards and come away feeling totally inspired. Hearing the stories of amazing women, how their journeys into the industry began and how it has shaped their lives and careers, always reminds me of how lucky I am to be part of such a great industry. To be recognised in the Roll Of Honour alongside so many women I admire is very humbling.”
How do you look back on your early years getting into the industry?
“From a very young age, I have always loved and been passionate about music. When I was 13, I went to my first gig, and I knew straight away that being in the music industry was what I wanted to pursue as a career. I couldn’t actually imagine myself doing anything else. As soon as I left college, I reached out to as many music companies as possible and was offered an interview and ultimately my first job at MCA Music Publishing. I began on reception, so I got to meet so many writers, managers, A&Rs, many of whom are my peers today.”
Did you have a mentor at that stage?
“Barbara Zamoyska, head of film and TV at MCA Music, was the woman who gave me my first job. She encouraged and guided me, quickly offering me more opportunities and responsibilities. I have also been lucky enough to have had several great mentors along the way!”
You started your career in music at 19 as receptionist at MCA music, taking in roles across film & TV, business affairs, A&R and the creative department. Just how important was it to your career to have all those different experiences in different areas of the industry?
“I was fortunate to have been given the opportunity early in my career to work across various departments in publishing. It gave me insight into how deals are done, how the world of sync works and how an A&R department is run. Taking part in A&R meetings was a real learning curve and made me realise that working with songwriters in the creative department was what I felt most passionate about and driven to do.”
One of your biggest successes recently was A&Ring Sam Ryder – especially with setting him up with one of his first writing sessions. What was the key to helping support Sam? What are you most proud of in terms of your work together and understanding of one another?
“When I was first introduced to Sam Ryder and his manager David by my great friend and writer manager, Mel Redmond, I knew instantly that he had an incredible, distinctive voice, and the ambition to be a great artist. At that point, he hadn’t been involved in many writing sessions, so I suggested a few different writers for him to work with. The first song I received from those sessions was Space Man, which he wrote with Max Wolfgang and Amy Wadge, and I was totally blown away. I think Sam and I work so well together as we both share the same love for classic songs. In a very short period, his writing has developed hugely. An example of that is his song Mountain, which he wrote independently and performed at the Eurovision 2023 final alongside Roger Taylor.”
I know that it’s tricky for mothers or any parents with young families to work in A&R, and I’ve always advocated for what I needed in this area
Music Week often hears from people we speak to that A&R is still imbalanced in terms of gender representation. What barriers do you think are stopping more women from entering the A&R world? And what practical steps/initiatives would you like to see the industry take to address the balance?
“I think young women who are just getting into the industry see A&R as a role which is mainly male-dominated, but this is not fully the case. Many of the senior executives are women and have worked their way up from A&R roles. Passion for music is the essential starting point, but everyone has different skills – some people might be more organised, some more nurturing, some more tenacious. Everyone has different experiences and brings them into the way they work with or support artists and writers, so making this area more accessible to women – and improving diversity in general - can only benefit the world of A&R.
“I know that it’s tricky for mothers or any parents with young families to work in A&R, and I’ve always advocated for what I needed in this area. UMPG has made good adjustments to support my needs, I’m given flexibility, trust and support to be able to juggle my work and family life. All organisations need to be working in this way.”
As someone who’s achieved so much success working with songwriters, what would be your advice for young women who want to start working in creative/A&R roles?
“Try to get out there and meet as many people as you can. Go to gigs and events, find new music through online platforms. Meet other women who are on the same journey as you and advocate for one another. Get to know writers, producers and their managers, as well as other A&Rs. Also, work hard, be kind, resilient and amongst everything else, believe in yourself.”
What’s your biggest achievement so far?
“My biggest achievement is most definitely my two amazing daughters! Professionally, being included in the Roll Of Honour feels like a huge privilege, and I think the relationships I have built with industry professionals and songwriters have been both a great pleasure and a massive achievement. To be able to have played even a small part in some amazing songs and songwriters’ careers over the years is also so rewarding.”
What advice would you offer young women about enjoying a successful career in music?
“My best advice would be to trust your gut instincts. If there is an artist or writer you really believe in, do everything in your power to sign them, even if it means being very persistent! Take every opportunity, nurture the relationships you have made in the industry, work hard, and be resilient.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever had?
“Don’t compare yourself to others, especially in an A&R role. Everyone has their own unique strengths and tastes when it comes to music, and we need a broad range to make up a diverse roster. Be authentic, trust your judgement and go for what you believe in.”
Is there a young woman you'd like to shout out who you think is a rising star in the industry?
“It is difficult to name one as I work with so many amazing women across the industry. I would like to shout out all the incredible female A&Rs at UMPG UK, including Colette Goodfellow, Arnaz Marker, Abbey Ennis and Ellie Spilker. All these women have fantastic judgement, incredible taste in music, and are exceptional A&R executives.”
Similarly, is there a young woman artist whose music you're enjoying right now/excited about?
“I’d really like to mention Ines Dunn, who is an amazing young female songwriter. She has written songs with artists like Mimi Webb, Griff, Holly Humberstone and Maisie Peters and her writing is going from strength to strength.”
Finally, what’s your biggest lesson from 2023 so far?
“Appreciate the people around you and the work they do. Working as a team where everyone supports each other creates success, both individually and collectively, and makes the work we do more rewarding and fun. I am very lucky to be so supported at UMPG by Mike McCormack and the whole team, and particularly our brilliant head of A&R Pete Simmons.”