Lisa Power – It takes a village

Profile

Name:             Lisa Power

Company:       Freelance / Self-employed

Job Title:         A&R Consultant / Project Manager

My name is Lisa Power and I’m an A&R Consultant / Project Manager, predominantly working in the area of catalogue music (so music that is more than three years old).  I also have a music blog called Reissues By Women (http://www.reissuesbywomen.com) which highlights catalogue releases, archive projects and the like by women (who are typically under-represented in terms of the amount of music that gets released each year).  I’ve been freelancing for about 5 years now, having spent 15+ years previous to that working for music management companies.  I’m lucky to work on projects by some of the most talented and successful musicians of our time, including U2, Metallica, Shania Twain, PJ Harvey, Mark Knopfler & Dire Straits.  I’m also working on some forthcoming releases with the independent label Needle Mythology that I am very excited about.

Things are quite different now to how they would have been 18 months ago, pre-covid, and I’m based at home all the time now.  I’ve got two kids, so after the school run, I grab a coffee and spend about an hour working on my blog post for that week.  And then start the “day job”.  I work with a number of different record labels, proposing and project-managing catalogue releases, including reissues and box sets – vinyl, CD and digital.  A typical day could involve things like scheduling new projects, booking studio time, checking production samples, working with designers and proofing artwork, having calls with management and label teams, as well as researching new projects and unreleased material.  Fingers crossed the days of going to gigs in the evenings will return soon…

I always loved music as a child, and I studied piano too (although I had a very mathematical approach to it rather than any natural flair!), but I didn’t have much of an awareness of what sort of jobs might exist in the music industry that I could do.  I remember watching the film The Commitments in the 1990s and loving the ‘A&R Man’ character – but the job title didn’t really suggest it was something open to women (and it’s still an area very dominated by men).  At university, I did a Communications/Media degree and moved from Dublin to London in 1999 hoping to work in film or TV.  I signed up with a recruitment agency got sent to cover the reception desk at Abbey Road Studios on my first day.  Such a prestigious place, and I was mortified and terrified because I hadn’t a clue how to work the massive switchboard!  Anyway, I can’t have been too dreadful because a few weeks later, the same recruitment agency asked me if I’d like to work for Paul McCartney.  I had a temporary job at his company for a few months, assisting with publishing and production, and was then offered a permanent role.  And that was where it all started, really.

I worked for Paul McCartney for a total of twelve years, and also worked with the management team that looked after guitarists Tony Iommi and Jeff Beck. Working with artists of such stature, I developed a huge interest in the history of music, and the role of the back catalogue.  And then in 2016 a role specifically working with catalogue music came up that I felt I couldn’t turn down, so I took the plunge and went freelance to do that, and I haven’t looked back. I think a lot of women still get into the industry in admin/PA/secretarial roles which traditionally are seen as more female-led areas (and certainly that was how I got my foot in the door). The main challenge, I think, comes with being a parent and still having a career, and the numbers of women in the music industry drop hugely when women reach their thirties and above for that reason.

Essentially, for the first ten years of our lives as parents, my husband did most of the heavy-lifting on the childcare front.  Quite probably at the expense of his own career.  I am not sure that is possible for everyone to “have it all” in terms of both career and family, even with outside help. There are ways of making it work, of course, and being a parent shouldn’t be a deterrent for people wanting to work in the music industry (or indeed any industry) but it’s a constant juggle.

My big focus at the moment is in looking at the gender balance in the music industry and particularly in the amount of catalogue music by women being made available.  There are many immensely talented female artists and yet so many fewer women than men are signed to record labels. Working in catalogue music, I genuinely thought that this imbalance could be improved upon, because there are decades of music by women to work with. But the problem is just compounded: because so many more men each decade were signed to labels, the pot of music by men remains hugely dominant.  I noticed last year that my own listening habits had started to skew very male, partly because of the fact that I only had time to listen to things I was working on, and those things at that particular time were by men, but also because being in lockdown at home, I was encountering very little incidental music. So I set up a blog – Reissues By Women – to document my own explorations into listening to more music made by women, and I thought other people may also be interested in reconnecting with music by women if it was put in front of them.  Through doing my blog, a lot of women have said to me that they feel like they have lost their connection with music as they have got older, many due to lack of time (especially if they have children), but also I think that women over 35 are a demographic that the music industry isn’t really speaking to as consumers.

I think it’s probably fair to describe me as a competitive person (I can picture guffaws from those who know me well reading this).  I come from a big family of similarly competitive people so I think we all probably “nurtured” each other’s competitive spirits growing up.  My husband once remarked that I could make a competition out of anything!  For all of my career in the music industry I have been lucky enough to work with artists who are ground-breaking and genre-definining, and from that I think it has made me ensure that I too operate at the highest level and make sure that my projects are as successful as possible.  You don’t want to be the blot on the copybook of these musical legacies!

Women are in the minority in what I do and the material I work with.  But I don’t know whether being a woman has any particular advantages.  Other than potentially looking out for other women, and bringing a female point of view (or pointing out when there isn’t a female point of view on something, which isn’t something that tends to win me prizes for popularity..!).

My biggest achievement in life… I think this is the bit where I am supposed to say my children! Love you, kids…

I read a thread on Twitter recently about women’s experiences of pregnancy and maternity leave in the music industry and I was reminded how challenging that whole time is to deal with – how to ensure that you remain seen and that your work remains valid, how to make sure you are not overlooked while you are away on leave.  With my first pregnancy, I basically breathed in at work until I was nineteen weeks pregnant to hide my bump, for fear that I’d somehow become less valid once I announced that I was pregnant.  This wasn’t anything specifically to do with my employers at the time, I should add, but just indicative of the general culture around working life for women.

Outside of work, my favourite hobbies are running with friends – there is a group of us (all women) who meet in my local park every Saturday morning for a run and a chat together.  

The mother-in-law of one of my oldest friends had a mantra which was ‘wir haben alles richtig gemacht’.  She was German, so translated into English it means “we did everything right”.  And it’s been a sort of adopted mantra both amongst my friends and at home with my family.  A bit like ‘we’ve got this’, but bolder!

I’m not the best networker in the world, but it definitely is really worthwhile.  If there are “women in…” groups in your industry, seek them out.  If there isn’t, is there merit to starting one up? Count. Observe the gender balance in what you do.  How many women are in the room?  How many women have contributed opinions?  Can the balance be improved upon?

Trust your gut.  There have been times where I have talked myself into agreeing to things when my gut has told me that it wasn’t a good idea, because it felt like the easiest option at the time.  And I have generally come to regret not trusting my gut!

There are literally too many to mention to mention who have impacted my life but I’d love to give a shout out to all the women in my life!  “It takes a village”, and all that…

I take a lot of pride in my work, so when something I work on receives a great review, or does well in the charts, or is nominated for an award, or receives a great review, it’s very motivating.  

Gender imbalance in buisness, the change is very slow but I am seeing progress – or at least a desire for progress – in the music industry.  There are a number of groups and collectives that have sprung up in recent years to highlight women (or the lack thereof) in various areas of the music industry such as The F-List, Women In Vinyl, Book More Women, Women In Ctrl, Why Not Her and Keychange, all working to change the narrative. I’ve also started keeping an eye on music magazines and the balance of women featured compared to men – this year I have been really heartened to see that four front covers of the music magazine Mojo have featured women, which is quite unpredecented.

There is a still a long way to go though in terms of the gender balance of music being released though.  I did some research earlier this year into the gender breakdown of the annual Record Store Day releases and found that only 20% of releases were by women. And this 20/80 percentage range applies all year round, not just for Record Store Day. (Research is here: http://www.reissuesbywomen.com/2021/04/20-women-snapshot-of-recorded-music.html)

I think there is a huge opportunity for major record labels to establish an incubator project that is staffed by women in the early stages of their career, to focus on making available music by women that is currently being overlooked – be it ensuring that female music catalogues are available on streaming platforms, or establishing a range of high quality vinyl reissues of abums by women that are rare sought after on the second hand market.  There is an acknowledgement by the industry that there are too few women in A&R roles, this would help that, and help address the huge imbalance on the release schedules where music by men dominates.

Make the effort to understand the subject matter you work with, make yourself an expert in your niche of the field.  Speak up.  Ask questions.  

Leadership is a tricky one for me to give advice on, because in becoming freelance, I have basically opted out of the traditional corporate leadership structure.  I’m not sure that I could go back now.  It definitely suits me better to be a consultant and to operate at whatever level or in whatever capacity companies need me to operate in.  I think the challenge in climbing the corporate ladder is to make sure that you are doing the work that you want to do as you become more senior– it is often the case when people get promoted that they end up with more responsibility for managing people, which takes them away from the actual work that they were good at and enjoyed doing.  I definitely didn’t enjoy managing people, and never felt that it was my strength.  I am much happier leading on projects or on aspects of projects as I do now, and working with people in a more collaborative than managerial way.  

At the risk of repeating myself, I have learnt to just to trust my gut, particularly around people-management, and not to always go for the quickest fix solution.  There have been a number of times where I knew that someone wasn’t right for a particular role or team or project but it was easier at that moment to let it run.  And each time, it was way harder and more disruptive in the long run.

What I would say to my 16 year old self: I have had quite a few days where I think “my 16-year-old-self wouldn’t believe this”.  I have had the privilege of working with artists and music that my 16-year-old-self loved.  And that’s why I love what I do, because I get to work on projects that have connections for people and make people feel good – myself included.

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