Women In Music Roll Of Honour 2023: Liz Northeast, SVP of EMEA, Fuga

Women In Music Roll Of Honour 2023: Liz Northeast, SVP of EMEA, Fuga

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.

From her earliest days selling vinyl and working the DJ circuit in Australia through to her current position as an executive in the independent music space, Liz Northeast's 20-plus year-long legacy within the industry has been established as a result of her passionate commitment to community, advocacy and wellbeing. 

In her current role as SVP, EMEA for Fuga, a division of Downtown Music, Northeast is responsible for commercial strategy across the region. Promoted to her executive role in March this year after only one and a half years as UK GM, her accomplishments have included her pivotal role in tripling the UK team, signing deals with the likes of Marathon Artists, One Little Independent and The Hives, as well as bolstering female leadership in her region through two senior hires, Lara Baker [general Manager, UK] and Desiree Vach [General Manager, GSA]. 

Her years of championing the independent sector include previous senior roles as VP of artist and label development at AWAL and VP of international client relations for The Orchard, as well as working as a yoga and meditation teacher providing wellbeing classes to the music industry and externally hosting women-centred community classes focusing on prenatal, postnatal and menopause phases of life.

Recognised by Shesaid.so in their 2022 Alternative Power List, Northeast takes an active role in bringing Fuga closer to organisations that encourage diversity. An advocate for the women of Fuga, she champions the development of women in the organisation through flexible approaches to childcare, women's health, mental health and wellness issues. 

Northeast also currently holds a place on the University Of Cambridge’s Women Leading Change: Shaping Our Future course, is a sought-after voice for global conferences including Big Sound, IMS, Reeperbahn, AIM Connected and Music International Cannes – where she joined a women in music panel moderated by Michelle Escoffery – and was asked to speak on AFEM’s 2022 panel at IMS on the art of negotiating deals for better mental health. 

Driven by her focus on how to support mental health and wellbeing, Northeast’s nurturing management style has also resulted in her far-reaching reputation for holding a safe space for women in the community.

How do you feel about joining the Music Week Women In Music Roll Of Honour?

“Growing up in Australia in a single parent household, I never imagined I would achieve much, but I always had a passion for music that I relentlessly pursued. To be recognised for the hard work I’ve done – and the risks I have taken! – over the past 20 plus years is very surreal. I look at all the incredible women honoured, and to be honest, it is somewhat overwhelming and incredibly humbling to sit at the same table as them. Having this opportunity inspires and motivates me even more and I’ll continue to use my skills, passion and fortunate position to do what I can to elevate other women and minorities in the industry.”

How do you look back on your early years getting into the industry?

“With both wonder that I survived and fond memories of the fun times! I was one of those kids that never finished university and instead did everything possible to see how I could get into the music industry through hard graft and a lot of work experience. A 90s indie kid, I taped all the music from [radio network] Triple J, before finding and falling in love with dance and electronic music. I bought some second hand turntables, moved to the city and my love affair with the club scene started. I was very lucky to have a successful DJ career in Australia – and feel privileged to be one of the few women representing it at the time – all whilst selling vinyl in Bondi Beach. But I wanted more, to get into the real business of music, and found my career footing in the independent distribution space at local Aussie distributor, Creative Vibes. Discovering and supporting independent artists and music became my passion and I haven’t looked back. I feel lucky to have been able to jump the proverbial pond and to develop such an amazing career here in the UK.”

Did you have a mentor at that stage? 

“Many, but none in the way that I truly needed it – no really close voices to guide me, help me through the difficult times or praise me for the good stuff. I think that’s why I’ve been drawn to wanting to provide more of a safe space and sounding board for the women around me now. All that said, I was very lucky to have a network of peers and industry veterans in those early days that provided me with inspiration. To name just a few, Christine Kakaire was the woman who taught me the ropes from day one, now a kick ass journalist, lecturer and part of the Black Artist Database, Monique Rothstein, who taught me you can do anything by starting her own music PR business, Positive Feedback, Lissie Turner, a former Triple J presenter and now yogi, mentor, author and sober hero, Colleen Theis, COO of The Orchard and the queen who believed in me and propelled my early career here in the UK, and my amazing mum, whom I miss every day. Props to single mums everywhere, you are the real heroes.”

Mentorship has clearly been a touchstone of your career. Why is it so important to you? And what lessons have you learned from being a mentor that you could share with us? Are there ways of mentoring someone that are more effective in your experience? Be it the amount of time you give, the regularity of it?  

“To me, mentorship is about connection, kinship, ideas sharing – not just knowledge imparting – honest and difficult conversations and, more than anything, listening. It’s about creating more safe spaces and avenues to develop relationships, especially in an ever-changing working environment. There are many ways to provide mentorship and support to those around you and it is truly a two way street. I’ve often found myself not just inspired by, but taking learnings from those coming up through the industry, not just those who are ‘older and wiser’. 

“Years of experience does bring knowledge and wisdom that you only get through trial and error, and it’s so important to find space to share that, but for me, it’s also important to acknowledge that we should not discount shared learning from everyone around us, no matter where they are in their career or what role they have. The biggest lessons I’ve learned from both mentors and mentees is to try to be as honest and transparent as possible, and to recognise both my strengths and and weaknesses, [because] those are the things that make you whole, give you integrity and will establish you well in this crazy business – and life.  

“As a mentor, another big lesson for me has been learning to lead by example. Sometimes in this business, things can get busy – extremely busy! – and you can be so focused on work and achieving that you forget to make space, not just for others but for yourself. If nothing else, a mentor can set a strong example through showing balance in their work-life approach. This is also a note to self, I need to be doing more of this at the moment, it’s ok to admit when we need to make improvements!”

I was very lucky to have a network of peers and industry veterans in those early days that provided me with inspiration

Liz Northeast

In 2022 you were part of a panel at IMS talking about the art of negotiating deals for better mental health. Why is that topic so close to your heart? Is enough being done, in your eyes, to take mental health seriously enough in an industry that often prides itself on being on emails 24/7…  

“Personally, I have struggled with depression, anxiety and maintaining mental wellness for most of my adult life, all mixed in with a healthy dose of imposter syndrome – which is sadly all too common for women, in my experience. I feel incredibly grateful to work in the music industry and to be in a role I love, but unfortunately, work and this whole business of music can be a real cause of stress and a trigger for mental health issues. The dangers are all too real and we do need to be doing more, I have seen the devastating impact it can have first-hand, sadly having lost more than one friend and industry colleague to suicide.  

“There is a shift starting though, we are talking more about the issues at hand, we tell each other that it’s okay to not be okay, we are no longer afraid, or at least we shouldn't be, to call in sick when we don’t feel mentally well, so there is a start, but it’s not enough yet. There needs to be a systemic culture shift, work culture should not just be about the free snacks, drinks, summer Fridays, as nice as they are, we need to take it back to basics and really support our people as humans.

“Free time doesn’t necessarily equal availability, focus time is important, lunch hours are necessary, family time is vital and holidays and weekends should not mean you need to log on to get a few things done. Pandemic and post-pandemic has exacerbated this culture and has blurred or even removed the boundaries between work and personal time. So, we do need this culture shift, we need a top-down approach to set examples for those coming through, we need education on ‘best practices’ in the workplace to start making some real change. Of course, we also need better support and resources for those that are suffering.  It’s encouraging that many companies now provide access to an EAP – Employee Assistance Programs – and private health care, but I think better policies around mental health leave and care are essential. Education for all staff on how to recognise issues or support peers and dedicated mental health first aiders are just some of the things that spring to my mind. As a yoga and meditation teacher, I’d also really like to see more actual well-being [practices] put back into organisations, so we are actively practising wellness and not just avoiding burnout.

“Separately to this, but somewhat related, there needs to be more done to support women’s health in particular. Flexibility, policies and pledges for everything from reproductive health issues, menopause and childcare are critical. By not addressing these, we also contribute further to the ongoing disparity between men and women when it comes to career progression and pay. [I would say to] anyone, if you are struggling and don’t have easy access to an EAP or private health care, please suffer alone, Music Minds Matters is a free 24/7 charity where you can seek support.”

What’s your biggest achievement so far? Please go into detail

“Ok, I’m going to lead with a personal one. This year my little family of three bought our own home. It was just my mum and I growing up and throughout my childhood we moved house over 15 times by the time I was 18, so owning a home was just never something I thought was feasible. To own one now feels like a small miracle and a big achievement, and I know my mum would be so proud. Professionally, it has to be the steps I have taken in my current position at Fuga/Downtown. I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to step up into a leadership role after such a short time, and even luckier to be surrounded by an array of female leadership colleagues – shout outs to Dorothee Imhoff, Kristy May, Sarah Landy, Inge Koedoot, Helen Barrass, Melissa d’Engelbronner, to name a few.  If I can continue to help make change and amplify women through my position, this achievement can only get better.  Oh, and harking back to my DJ Days, [my biggest achievement] was definitely playing to thousands of people at Splendour In The Grass. It was supposed to be a low-key set in the lounge tent, but it was one of the only covered spaces in torrential rain with mud up to your knees. Best set ever.”

What advice would you offer young women about enjoying a successful career in music?

“Saying ‘no’ is just as powerful as saying ‘yes’. Boundaries are vital. Find your people, your mentors, your peers, [because] in this industry your true friends will become your family. Relationships are key, treat everyone with kindness and care – the cleaner or receptionist might be the next signing to your label, the new intern may end up your next boss. Finally, you got this! You may think you don’t, but you do, failure is your friend and teacher so you still got this, even in those moments where it all might seem impossible!”

What’s the best advice you’ve ever had?

“Some of the best advice I have had has come from my colleague and friend, Desiree Vach, just recently: Flex and point, point and flex. As in, you need to have both strength and flexibility to succeed. You need to practise self care, alongside work commitments. It’s all about balance.”

Is there a young woman you'd like to shout out who you think is a rising star in the industry?

“There are many! But someone that springs to mind immediately is another of my wonderful colleagues, Mia Byrne, who joined Fuga in our client support team in 2022. Not only is she an invaluable member of our local and global team, but Mia recognised a gap in the music industry for young people to connect with each other in a safe space, and she birthed the YAMS [Young Adult Music Social] initiative to bridge the gap and bring like-minded young people together as they navigate their way through the early stages of their careers. This is really awe-inspiring and I wish I had had something like this when I was entering my career.”

Similarly, is there a young woman artist whose music you're enjoying right now/excited about?

“Ahhhhh, there are so many. I am going to pop a big name in here, but one that is really just at the beginning of her amazing career and I can’t wait to see how she develops. That is the inimitable Eliza Rose. Not only do I love her music and vocal style, but her story resonates with me – selling records to buy records to DJ. It’s a true music love affair!”

Finally, what’s your biggest lesson from 2023 so far? 

“Nothing is certain in life, you never know what is around the corner – which is sadly all too true in the wider world right now. So family and health should be your number one priority always. That, and that I still have what it takes to go clubbing all night!”

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