In celebration of International Women’s Day, further to the Midem Music Industry Insights article on Women’s role and place in today’s music industry, we’ve decided to shine a spotlight on just a few of the many female founders and leaders leading successful companies in the music and tech space. Thanks to the rise of female empowerment in the music industry, women from across the business are claiming their space and inspiring the next generation, resulting in a more equal and inclusive business. The four women we speak to below discuss the challenges they face as company leaders, their leadership strategy and business principles, and offer some sage advice for fellow women in the music industry looking to follow in their footsteps.
Diana Dotel is co-Founder of entertainment marketing company, MTW Agency which she leads from New York. The agency was founded in 2018 and has recently been working on major partnerships between Maluma and Michelob Ultra and Becky G and Amazon Music. During the coronavirus crisis, MTW has also secured a host of virtual performances and activations for artists including Doja Cat, Priyanka Chopra, Farina, and Becky G with major brands like TikTok, Amazon, Coca-Cola, Bud Light, and T-Mobile. Dotel started her career as a promoter for Latin music, producing concerts for artists from Marc Anthony to Bad Bunny, mostly in the Manhattan area.
Based in Colombia, Camila Saravia Arias is Founder and CEO of artist management company M3 Music. There, she works with talent including Bomba Estéreo Santiago Cruz, Diamante Eléctrico and Mitú. She started her career after studying for a business degree in the US, specialising in entrepreneurship. M3 Music arrived ten years ago after Saravia Arias, alongside her business partners, observed a need for a professional music company working in what was then an underdeveloped industry in Colombia and Latin America.
Laura Lewis-Paul is the Founder and Creative Director of UK-based Saffron Music. The company aims to help fix the gender gap in music and tech by providing training to women in music production, sound engineering, and DJing, as well as running an artist development programme and record label. The company was founded after Lewis-Paul saw how male-dominated studio spaces were, while also witnessing a desire from women to work in music. The pull to build something on her own terms was born out of Lewis-Paul’s experience in the education system as someone with dyslexia who found that environment, and working for other people later on, particularly challenging.
Clothilde Chalot is CEO and co-Founder of French born app NomadPlay which offers musicians the chance to play alongside other artists, orchestras, instrumentals, and vocal ensembles. The app was born out of a desire to make classical music more accessible to wider audience by bringing it to people in their homes and enabling musicians to train with professionals, breaking the solitude of practising alone (which has been particularly handy during the coronavirus crisis). So far, the company has successfully raised €4.2m investment for its development and has over 30k users in France, wider Europe, Asia, and America.
What is your leadership strategy and what are your business principles?
Diana: As cliché as it sounds, I’m a really passionate person. So when I enter a business deal negotiation, it’s by passion. In the branding space, ever since Forbes announced that Latin music has surpassed EDM, there’s this whole new wave of interest from the branding space, but a lot of education is required because the brands sometimes don’t understand the value of the artist and the culture. So I fight for what’s right and educate – I don’t follow the money. That’s how I got to where I am now.
Camila: Our company is a very horizontal company. Of course, there’s the boss and you know who is in charge of something, but I like people to be involved in everything that happens around the business. That’s led people to be very proactive, and they all say what they want to do – the voice of everyone is open. I’ve never been like, “I’m the boss, you do what I say,” I’m always open to opinions, and I think that’s the strategy that’s led us to grow as a company.
Laura: Without our staff, our company doesn’t exist. So it’s about thinking about them, their wellbeing, and what they want from the company and for their own growth. There’s flexibility within roles in terms of how we work with women that are working from home, and we have an understanding of their work and life management. We all speak regularly and know what is going on with one another. I was taught not to bring my personal life to work with me, however, with me as the owner, my life is my work, it’s integrated, and work is a big part of people’s lives, so it needs to be something that is fulfilling to them, and they need to feel happy when they’re in that place. We work really closely with our team to ensure that their emotional and mental health is good.
Clothilde: For me, the human side of management is really important. It’s important to have a team that is united and to not think just about digital and technology, but about the human and emotional side of things, too. When you’re a woman, you’re used to being criticised more than men, so because people are expecting you to fail, you have to think a lot more carefully because you cannot fail – if you fail, that is it. You know that you have to be careful with what you’re spending, which I think is why only 4% of the funds that are raised per year are raised by women. That tells us how women are not trusted and also how they do not dare to fundraise.
What are the biggest challenges you’ve had to overcome in your career, and what lessons did you learn from them?
Diana: My main challenge is just being a woman – I’m also Afro-Latina, which makes it extra hard. Even at my own events that I’ve produced and paid for, people that I would hire to do light and video for the event would think I was the assistant of the promoter. That’s why I’ve always tried to lead and create opportunity for other women in the music industry, and empower and mentor women around me as well. But I don’t focus on it – as women, we already apologise too much and we overthink, but you just have to have a thick skin, narrow in on your goal, and stay on that path.
Camila: Because the music industry is so male-dominated, especially in Latin America, many times, I have felt it was a challenge to get people to believe in you and to see you as a serious person. At the beginning especially, I always was in meetings with men. If I did not have my male business partners, who were always supporting me, it would probably would be more difficult. I think it’s all based on your personality – you have to be very strong and you have to be very straightforward and not let those things get to you. There are some people who are not even going to listen to you. There are business meetings where a woman speaks, and they just get their phone out and start chatting and never look at you in the face. Having women in my team is very important for us right now, we have 40% women, but there’s been times when it’s been 80% women and 20% guys. Having women clients is also very important. With the support of my clients, my artists, and my team, it’s easier than it was at the beginning.
Laura: My biggest challenge is very personal, and it’s about my own self worth and belonging in this space. As a black woman, I feel like I’m a token if I’m asked to be on a panel or if there’s an opportunity that has arisen, I will think I’ve been asked as a way to tick a box rather than for my value or what I can bring to the table. The way that I get through it is to think about other people that I can reach out to and inspire by being there.
Clothilde: It’s all the more difficult when you’re a woman in the music sector – everything is pretty much decided in the pub at 5am and when you’re a woman, you’re not really taken seriously. It’s even harder when you’re working in the tech industry because technological innovation is even more of a male-dominated sector. So when you’re a woman, you really need to try and be taken seriously and to prove that you have the right idea. It’s like running a marathon you have to train a lot and it takes a lot of time to achieve what you want to achieve. I’ve based my strategy mostly on networking, and having a wide network that not only focuses on classical music to hear different perspectives and advice.
What advice would you offer to young women in the music industry looking to launch their own company and take on a leadership position? Is there anything you wish you’d known before starting out?
Diana: Don’t second guess yourself – kind of like we learn early on in school when you’re taking the exam, your first answer, your first instinct, is normally right. So if this is what you want to do, just do it. I would also say that networking and collaboration is so important. Early on, because of the situation that I was in, I tried to do everything myself but it doesn’t have to be that way. Build strong relationships and foundations, and collaborate with others and likeminded individuals. It will definitely make the process a little easier.
Camila: I think networking is very important and it’s difficult when you’re a woman because most of the networking happens at night. I feel like you have to show yourself as a very professional person and as someone confident who knows what’s going on. You don’t have to be a groupie, you don’t have to be with the artists all the time, you have to be someone professional and be with the business orientated people. I think that opens a world for you and that’s where you have to start your process of going in and trying to get into that world. It’s really not easy, but if you really want to do it and you find people who believe in you and believe in your project, you can do it. You have to follow that dream and find the right people who can help you out.
Laura: I would say the ability to ask for support is a really big one. It can also be a challenge, because I think that we can see asking for support as a weakness. But it’s one of the biggest things that has enabled the company to thrive – I’ve had various mentors from day one, and we also have a team of non-executive directors who help support and guide the company. So recognise your strengths and weaknesses, and get support for those weaknesses. Then I would say that having a strategy is really important, and writing it down, but also being able to adapt around that and think creatively, too. The last piece of advice I have is about failure — failure for me feels like a very permanent word, but we can change that word and feeling of what failure is, which is really helpful in terms of business. I can imagine plenty of things that people could say were failures of mine, but I’ve never really taken them as failures — they are learning and growth opportunities.
Clothilde: My first advice is that if there is something you want to achieve and you have an idea that you want to make real, you just need to go for it and try. On the more pragmatic side, my best piece of advice is to be well-surrounded. You can’t do anything alone – it would be an error to think that because you need a strong team behind you, helping you, otherwise you cannot move forward. Also, in an ideal world, what is really nice is to have mentors. I’ve had a great mentor who is still supporting me and has always believed in me, which helped me to achieve more than I could have otherwise. The last most important thing is having a strong and supportive network, because these are the people that will be able to give you advice and to promote your project.