WOMEN IN MUSIC: HOW TO BECOME A SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEUR
Established in 2012, Women in Music Canada is a registered non-profit organization comprised of influential members of the Canadian music industry. Last month, the conference brought together four very influential female entrepreneurs in the industry who shared insightful advice on getting started in the industry, building your business from the ground up, the struggle of being a female in the industry and working with some of Canada's best musicians. The panel consisted of:
From left to right:
Lola Media Group
Lola Plaku is the founder of marketing group LUVLOLA and management company Lola Media Group. Throughout her very impressive career, she has worked with the likes of Drake, The Weeknd, French Montana, Travis Scott and Kehlani during their humble beginnings in the industry.
Jones and Jones
Jones and Jones has earned Gold and Platinum Records and JUNO Awards for its contribution to the Canadian Music and Entertainment Industries. Denise received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Urban Music Association of Canada, for her contribution to the development of the Canadian music industry.
Joanne is the founder of Indoor Recess, a national PR company, respected by artists and industry around the world.
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Beverly Moore is the founder of MMM, a management co. providing business, tech and music consulting to entertainment and media biz.
When addressing the purpose of the panel, the moderator explained how "A couple of years ago we wanted to identify which areas in the industry were underserved and which sectors, which genres, so we would have a really great sense of what we need to do as an organization. One of the things we found is that entrepreneurship is really really low for women in the industry. If you actually look at Canadian heritage grants and the top ten recipients were all male owned and male run and they received a total 3.5 million dollars. And that’s what we would love to change, just so you understand the spirit of why this is so important to us."
What are some of the biggest hurdles you’ve faced?
Denise: Men. By extension of that though, I’m just gonna say women. Because we see those hurdles as blocks and not stepping stones. It’s you thinking that you can’t do it, and not even knowing that you’re thinking that you can’t do it - that’s the limitation that we face.
Joanne: I was going to say math - I’m really terrible at math. I think the struggles we have are what all entrepreneurs have. I was really bad at billing people - I would sit there for hours and hours and hours trying to do the math and then I realized I could just pay someone to do the math part that they’re actually good at. And that was when my company really started to prosper because I stopped trying to do things I’m not good at. I think as women and as people we try to do all these things and we try to be all encompassing and it’s about recognizing what your strengths are and what makes you the most money and being ok to say "yeah, I don’t know that part."
Lola: On daily interactions, I think men are probably the biggest challenge - men and women actually tend to undervalue your capability. I’ve been in situations where I’ve sat across the table from powerful women who were established in the music industry for 20 something years and you feel inadequate and you feel like you’re not good enough. And men obviously. I work with rappers a lot and you have to be able to stand separate from everybody else. So when I’m a tour manager I have to demand that respect for myself. I have to be very bossy and I have to be very demanding and just kind of set standards for myself but it’s hard when you work with men because you have to be the person in control and you have to be able to tell grown people what to do. That’s definitely a hurdle, but I think that the not knowing how to properly structure your business and not knowing your weaknesses and your strengths is probably the biggest damage you can do to yourself. Because not knowing that you need an accountant or you need an attorney to look over contracts or somebody to add the numbers for you and do the books for you can damage you a lot more than your confidence.
For people starting out and looking to become entrepreneurs, what would be some of the key strategies you would suggest to them?
Denise: One of the things that I wish that I knew is understanding that ‘we’ doesn’t mean you’re not ‘me.’ As you realize you need help in areas of weakness, it doesn’t mean that you’re not able. One of my first challenges is when we decided many many years ago that I was going to open the bank account and I was told I needed my husband’s signature. If you want to stand on your own two feet, you truly have to be motivated by what you want to do.
Beverley: Most of my clients come to me and they don’t have a bank account or a chequing account. There are contracts, and so you really have to understand business. Period. Take a business course - do something like that. Understand that you have to invoice on time. This is how it works - invoice and then add 30% because that’s what you should be paying yourself. Set aside another 15% for the government and the rest is your budget. And make lots of to do lists - I have a to do list for every single job, and check those off. And if you can’t do those lists, hire someone. That’s the best advice I can give.
Lola: My biggest challenge starting was deciding on sending out invoices. It’s so hard to ask people for money that you’re worth. The biggest challenge for me early on was to decide whether I wanted to do things because I wanted to make money or because it made me happy. I’ve turned down six clients in the past month and a half that would pay me lots of money, and I didn’t love the music and I don’t love them. And I don’t want to put my team and myself through the hurdles of making them famous. I made a decision early on that I wanted to do things I really loved, and I was ok to receive less pay for things that I truly enjoyed rather than get a bunch of money for things I hated doing.
Joanne: With the invoice - I have a different perspective on that. I think that sending an invoice to a client is a balance system between the two of you that shows you’re worth something, that you’re obviously working and it keeps them in mind that you have value to them. So I think that you shouldn’t be shy about it. I think you have to have faith in yourself.
Do you have any suggestions around financing and grants?
Beverley: You need to have really good credit. When you are working with other people, they are your creditors - that’s building good credit for you, a good reputation that can pay your bills on time. I got laid off from a musician gig which was writing jingles for which I was still self-employed, and I went to my boss and I said I need to buy a computer and I need a loan. So at that time in the 90s it was $10,000 to get all the programs such as Logic Audio so I basically went and I said "this is the plan, I’m going to take the 10k and I don’t know when I’m going to start paying you back. But the first check that I get I’m going to set aside money for my music and computer and I’m going to start paying you back." And then I got in the habit of paying him back, at first it was every week but it was too much. So it took about 4 and a half years but I was able to feed myself and start a business. I got an assistant, I got more equipment. So that really helped, and then I built my credit up and was able to go to the bank and do basically the same thing. So you really have to have someone in your life that trusts you if you’re going to do the private loan thing, or get a line of credit or a credit card - you can do all of those things yourself. You don’t really need a grant.
Lola: When I started managing artists, I realized when you’re managing someone else’s career you have to have your own stuff in order. I started looking at grants and there are so many you can apply for, and thankfully I do have good credit and I do have a good reputation, and so people trust me and I can get good reputation letters and I can apply for the grants that I need. When you have other artists you’re managing it’s important you understand the grants system, especially in Canada.
Denise: I remember my initiation to grants was "you must be poor if you’re getting it." I remember an artist said "absolutely no way, I don’t want to see FACTOR on my album." And I said Celine Dion had it on her first album, let’s just put things in perspective here. The more you know, the more you realize what you don’t know. The more you get into the industry it’s about knowing what’s available to you and always seeking and finding. For years we applied for grants for the artists that we represented but we never applied for any for ourselves, and then I realized we do qualify. When I see the OMCD list and I see LiveNation on it, I’m like "ok then."
A lot of people think when you become an entrepreneur you get to work when you want to work, and I think something we would all agree to is that you probably work twice as much. How do you recharge when you’re feeling drained?
Lola: I suck at recharging - I don’t have time to recharge because things need to get done. I’ve learned to schedule things on my time and I’ve learned to say no to things that are not beneficial. I used to overextend myself and have to be everywhere and be needed everywhere and now I’m kinda like "I don’t need to be there" and I can send somebody on my behalf or just communicate via email or over the phone.
Joanne: If you’re going to be an entrepreneur, you should probably like what you do and want it to be part of your life. It’s a life choice, it’s not a business or career choice because it is all consuming. I don’t know how else you would do it if it wasn’t and I think that’s in any sector. I got off a really busy two years with one artist and so my way of recharging was to sign another one. If you like what you do it’s like a rebirth. I had a really young band - they’re only 18 years old and I’ve been in clubs in Toronto this week that I haven’t been to in 3 years and I’m like super excited and super charged by it. So seeing like 50 fans in Toronto last night cheer for them and that got their music was awesome. You can’t really leave your business to anyone else, I’m the first one at work and the last one to leave, always. My phone is on 24/7 and my friends hate me.
Denise: I think though recharging is, on a number of levels, physically, mentally, spiritually necessary. You have to understand the value of you in this thing. That you do not function at your maximum. Don’t care how much you know you can do like doctors and nurses do 14 hour shifts. When you are able to know that and understand that, and when you’re able to not take your phone to go get your mani pedi, you understand you need to put yourself first. Understand how important you are to what you do. If your business is going to stop because you drop dead, that’s kind of a problem. Take time for you and if you’re into what you love you get it, and then you come out of that really empowered and wanting to continue to go build.
Beverly: I guess I’m pretty structured, and I’m a mom so I have to take time. I actually have it in a calendar and I have a note and it comes up with an alarm that says ‘turn the phone off.’ So usually at night, like 10 o’clock comes, my phone is off. You need to just shut it down.
Denise: When I came here and I had my first child we knew no one. Walking into my interview with CBC radio I said “you called me for an interview and I don’t have a sitter." So I’m bringing my son, who was 2 and a half years old, and so you have to know how to ask for those things. Because when you ask for something or you make an approach you’re either going to get it or you won’t. But if you don’t you’ll know for sure you’re not getting it. That man had his son on his lap for the duration of the interview, and I walked out of there with a job as critic and arts reporter for CBC radio. You need to pause, because people won’t pause you. They’re going to pull it from you because you’re giving it.
What is the best advice you could give your 22 year old self?
Joanne: With music, go out there and meet as much people as you can. Get as much experience as you can, and absorb as much as you can. Then you’ll get a sense of what really speaks to you, and the other thing I would add to that is confidence. One of the things I wish I had is more confidence at a younger age. So don’t be afraid, and all of us are still learning. They’ve done research on this, and when people apply for a job, women need to feel like they’ve got 100% of the qualifications and men will apply if they have about 60%, and so the same applies in business. Don’t wait to feel like you know 100%. Fake it until you make it.
Beverly: I interned everywhere. I wanted to learn everything. I went nuts and walked into people’s offices and asked "can I just sit and watch you?" And I interviewed people.
Denise: My mum called me when I was in my twenties ‘jack of all trades, master of none.’ You know what she calls me now? ‘Jack of all trades, master of many.’ Limitations should only be put on you by others, not you on yourself.
Beverly: Something that I’ve found lately as our company is growing and interviewing people is the lack that women have in our accomplishments and they’re not willing to tell you what they are. I think if you’re out there interviewing for jobs you should really think about this because I really noticed that when we’re interviewing men they will tell you what their accomplishments are right away. And they will tell you what they can fix in your company. With the women sometimes I found that I have to drag it out of them by asking what their best accomplishment is so far and there’s just this stumbling that happens, quite often. So I’m not saying this is based on a couple of interviews, this is a problem. I don’t think we’re bossy, I think that we’re ambitious and I think we need to be able to talk in those terms until people are used to it. I probably would have told my 22 year old self to just do it and not be afraid to ask for what you want or tell people what you’ve done.
Lola, in one of your interviews you talked about producing one of the first shows for Trinidad James and how proud of you were that. you ALSO talked about how people come into this industry for the wrong reasons. What are the some of the misconceptions for people that want to become an entrepreneur in this business, or just be in this business period?
Lola: I get approached by young women on a regular basis to get into the music industry. I don’t know if it’s through my Instagram or my social life online but I feel that many people - women and men - are driven by the fact that they want to be in the vicinity or the surroundings of celebrities. They think that they can take pictures and they’ll be popular and famous and that doesn’t really pay your bills - that’s not a job. I didn’t get into the music industry because I want to be around famous people, it kind of just happened and I worked really hard. I don’t want people to think when I walk into a room "oh there’s Lola, she’s cool and she’s pretty." I want people to know that I work my ass off. With Trinidad James and with any of the concerts that I did, I lost money I worked my ass off I had to prove myself to New York and to Toronto. I didn’t do it because I wanted to be next to Trinidad James, I didn’t do it because I wanted to make a whole bunch of money. I did it because I believed in producing an amazing concert and I did. We signed an amazing deal after that and when I did the Big Sean concert here in Toronto it was the same thing - Nobody believed in me but I believed in him and I knew he could make it. When I did the French Montana concert it cost me $50,000 and I lost $10,000 in the process. I don’t do it because I want to be cool.
I’ve had a lot of young women say they want to do tour management, but there’s things like having to sleep on a bunk bed for 12 hours at a time, or you can’t shower because the artist takes priority. You get a meal ticket and if you don’t get there in time you don’t get to eat. You have to pay the bus driver and put all your balances together. And so I’ve done tours four times with really big artists and everybody’s like "oh my god that’s amazing." I don’t even realize what I’m a part of until it’s gone because I’m stuck dealing with a budget and making sure my artist has the earpieces in and that they’re dressed and the crew is dealt with and the guests have their tickets. People see the glamour and they see how easy it might be because they’re not supposed to see the hurdles, but if you really want to do something you have to understand everything that goes with it.