International Women’s Day: Women in the live music industry on what they love about their careers, and what needs to improve

‘It’s the best job in the world’

Roisin O'Connor@Roisin_OConnor
Monday 08 March 2021 13:31
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<p>Working mum: Natasha Gregory backstage </p>

Working mum: Natasha Gregory backstage

On International Women’s Day, The Independent asked musicians to name the women who inspire them each day, with some wonderful answers.

We also spoke with women who work in the live music sector, from venue owners to sound engineers and agents, plus the co-founders of the Music Venue Trust, the charity that represents hundreds of grassroots music venues around the UK.

To mark International Women’s Day 2021, Music Venue Trust will be highlighting the women and female-identifying people who work in the grassroots music sector.

Using the hashtag #WomenToTheFront, throughout the week MVT and the music venues across the country will be shining a spotlight on the women who are vital to the grassroots music community.

MVT recently announced 6 new patrons, all women working in the music industry: rock duo Nova Twins, Welsh post-punk trio Adwaith, DJs Moxie and HAAi, singer-songwriter Kerri Watt, and Director of Mother Artists Live, booking agent Natasha Gregory.  

See what these women had to say about working in the music industry:

Natasha Gregory

Co-founder / Booking Agent Mother Artists Live (IDLES, Cate Le Bon, Enola Gay, Grandmas House and more)

What was a breakthrough moment in your career?

As a woman in this industry when I finally felt I had a voice as a respected agent at a table full of industry folk and as a mum knowing I could keep my roster whilst focusing on motherhood as my central compass. With regards to my roster just so many breakthrough moments shows and festivals wise. I learnt early on that it’s small victories along the way that will carry you better.

What’s the biggest challenge you’ve overcome?

The fear of becoming a mum and what impact that would have on my career and stress in what is a 24/7 working world. I learnt firstly to not compare myself to others, and accept that it’s not a straight career path to the top, and that that’s ok. But more importantly that success to me is measured on what makes me and my family happy. Success is different for everyone. I want to lead by example, to inspire that it is possible to ‘succeed’ as a woman and mother, in a way that doesn’t compromise one’s values.

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Beverley Whittrick, co-founder Music Venue Trust

Beverley Whittrick, co-founder of the Music Venue Trust

What’s your favourite thing about working in the industry?

The people! Working with creative, clever, maverick people is the greatest reward.

What needs to improve for women in live music?

We have come a long way in recent years and there are some amazing male allies as well as female champions in live music. I suspect it’s easier to be working in the office-based side of the industry as a woman than to be a crew member or a musician, but little by little the visibility of women making live music happen in venues and festivals is having an impact. When we get to the point where no woman is asked if she’s someone’s girlfriend when she arrives, then we’ll really have changed things for good.

Danni Brownsill, promoter

What was a breakthrough moment in your career?

The breakthrough moment was almost a complete accident. Our previous promoter left giving us only two weeks notice. Without any previous experience of actually costing and booking shows, I was left to run The Sugarmill. Fortunately, I was a quick learner and developed agent relationships quickly. Stand out shows that I’ve promoted have been Foals, Johnny Marr, Idles, Frank Carter & The Rattlesnakes and Wolf Alice.

What needs to improve for women in live music?

There is still lots to do in terms of achieving better gender balance. Women need to be encouraged into the industry, and be supported and protected. Abusers and harassers in the industry should be called out, not only by women, but also by their male peers. If this begins to happen on an increasing basis then women in the industry may be less scared to speak up when they are mistreated.

There are lots of fantastic female role models for women wanting to get into the industry to look up to, and I think there should be more mentorship initiatives available to allow females in music to take advantage of this. I’ve been lucky to work with many exceptional female agents, managers, and of course my fellow women who work for Music Venue Trust. They all inspire me everyday.

Bryony October, front of house sound engineer 

What was a breakthrough moment in your career?

Having William Orbit tell me that the soundcheck he had just heard me mix was one of the top 10 sonic experiences of his life, for Katie Melua and the Gori Women’s Choir in Brighton Dome, December 2018.

What’s your favourite thing about working in the industry?

It’s the best job in the world. Nothing matches the feeling of mixing a brilliant band to a large or small space full of people who are LOVING what they’re hearing and dancing and singing along. It’s pure oxytocin running through your veins  and you get paid to be in amongst that every night.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it / how are you overcoming it?

It’s always been the huge question of juggling a family life with touring. And I’m still not sure how you overcome it because on paper it’s literally impossible to be away enough to make a proper living with a young family at home. Some acts will totally work with you but for others it’s out of the question you’re in or you’re out. And this answers the question below as well. There needs to be more established protocol to support this or simply better job security so women don’t feel like they have to choose between family or career.

Lady Nade, artist

Lady Nade

What was a breakthrough moment in your career?

Being asked to sing as part of Grammy Nominee Yola’s gospel singers at the UK Americana Awards in 2017 - this introduced me to an amazing community who have supported me ever since,  Realising that Americana was such a big umbrella, I immediately felt very supported and part of a collaborative community where my music has found a home and it’s a place where I’m not restricted by pure forms of any genre.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced and how did you overcome it / how are you overcoming it?

Being a black female artist has meant I’ve had to work twice as hard, if not more, than white men in the industry, especially to be accepted as a roots artist. I appreciate that historically men have dominated in the music scene, and thankfully now we are riding a wave of change. Alleviated by my incredible fanbase endorsing me as an artist, through crowdfunding, buying my music and coming to see me live. Their loyalty and encouragement has been a real beacon of light.

The support I have had from various funding bodies and mentoring schemes has meant I’ve been able to step away and look at my art, allowing me to choose my collaborators well and truly express myself through my music while keeping my integrity intact. I’ve now been able to develop my team, this means I’m not working alone at this job anymore, being a musician is a business and it’s hard work when you have to consider every element of it

Toni Coe-Brooker, Production & Programming Manager of Green Door Store and Rossi Bar, Brighton

When I first started working in music, I found it was quite difficult to be taken seriously as a programmer. Particularly by older men in bands who had technical questions about our lighting rig or sound desk or if there were disputes to handle. I was often met with aggressive and intimidating behaviour. I am however very pleased to say that sexism within the industry has felt like it’s improving. With more inspiring women moving into senior roles and a collective effort towards creating more opportunities for women on and off the stage, I can definitely say I feel much more respected and accepted.

Sam Dabb, owner Le Pub music venue, Welsh coordinator for Music Venue Trust

What was a breakthrough moment in your career?

I forced my way into the industry rather than had a big career break! I fell in love with live music aged around 15 and instantly knew that was it for me! I started a band, a management company, a promotions company and then eventually ended up working in Le Pub. My job in Le Pub is to oversee everything. I make sure we have enough beer, I make sure the rotas work, I clean toilets. It’s not all booking cool bands.

What needs to improve for women in live music?

I think more venues need to be welcoming for women. Dressing rooms with a cubicle for private changing, just a curtain would do. Not everyone wants to naked together. Sanitary products on the rider, they may not be needing but simply putting them shows that women have been considered and are welcome. Lots of cheap, achievable little things rather than a massive thing that may be too difficult.

Theresa ‘Tre’ Stead, tour manager (Django Django, Jessie Ware, Mystery Jets, Take That)

Since I started tour managing 15 years ago, I’ve been inspired and excited by the rising amount of young women eager to forge a career in the live event industry.

This may be due in part to the increased exposure of the numerous incredible women who make up the building blocks of the touring circuit. There is such a great community of us, and it’s really inspiring to see the networks being built to support women in the industry.

The bad old days of “lads on tour” have very much been left in the dust. Live events is now an industry that welcomes and appreciates the skills and experience that women can bring to the table. There is so much help and information out there, and it really pays off to utilise these tools to do your research, especially in this downtime while covid has halted touring plans. Your peers can become your greatest source of information and potential job opportunities, and now is a great time to expand your networks and join these communities.

What was a breakthrough moment in your career?

Walking into a venue in Birmingham at the very start of my career and the promoter ignoring me, as he assumed I was a girlfriend of the band or someone not worth bothering to introduce himself to. I’d only been doing the job a few months, so my confidence levels really weren’t very high anyway. The band immediately picked him up on his behaviour, and made sure that he fully understood that I was in charge, and everything he wanted done had to go through me. This small gesture really boosted my self esteem, made me realise that I had the full support of everyone on the tour, and the validation that they saw me as fully capable of doing the job.

What was a breakthrough moment in your career?

Walking into a venue in Birmingham at the very start of my career and the promoter ignoring me, as he assumed I was a girlfriend of the band or someone not worth bothering to introduce himself to. I’d only been doing the job a few months, so my confidence levels really weren’t very high anyway. The band immediately picked him up on his behaviour, and made sure that he fully understood that I was in charge, and everything he wanted done had to go through me. This small gesture really boosted my self-esteem, made me realise that I had the full support of everyone on the tour, and the validation that they saw me as fully capable of doing the job.

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