If you’ve ever wanted to know what it’s like to be a female boss in the music industry, then you’d better keep reading. Recently, The American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP) held it’s 9th Annual Women Behind the Music event, to honor the daring women making waves in the music industry. All too often, we hear of the music industry being male-dominated, headstrong, and not suitable for women trying to stake their claims in the boardroom.
Thanks to ASCAP’s Rhythm and Soul membership team, however, light is being shed on the fierce women who are changing the landscape of female music professionals. This year’s honorees included music executives Ashley Calhoun, Vice President of A&R at Pulse Music Group, Ericka Coulter, the Senior Director of A&R at Epic Records, and Roc Nation singer-songwriter Kirby Lauryen. Host Cristina Chavez moderated the panel.
One of the first questions posed was how each of the lady bosses found their way into the music industry. For Coulter, a native of Kansas City, MO, she moved to California straight out of high school to pursue fashion, but always had her heart set on music. Calhoun says it was growing up in Virginia Beach, Virginia that she was exposed to fellow state natives like Pharrell, Missy Elliot, Timbaland and N.E.R.D.
A graduate of the Berklee College of Music, Lauryen says it was the tragic death of her boyfriend to a car accident, that sparked her creative flare in music composition. During her time of mourning, Lauryen says that God spoke to her and instructed her to write a song a day. Obeying the command, Lauryen would go on to write a song a day for 275 days, quickly becoming a YouTube sensation and getting signed to Roc Nation by the 302nd day. Some of Lauryen’s writing credits include “Break Your Heart Right Back”, by Ariana Grande, “Only One”, by Kanye West, “FourFiveSeconds”, by Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney and “Die with You”, by Beyonce.
The Southaven, Mississippi native, also gave the intimate crowd some thoughtful advice about navigating through Los Angeles. “I’m a firm believer in keeping God first,” she said. “You have to really keep the faith in L.A., really just finding a circle that will believe in you when nothing is happening … when you’re not on stage, and when you’re in your room, in your apartment – and you’re writing and nobody is checking for your or liking your pictures. Find those people that support you when you’re at the bottom, so when you’re at the top, you have a family and circle around you that believes,” she continued.
In terms of finding love, having a work-life balance, and eventually raising a family, the question was posed about if women can truly have it all. Coulter, who has collaborated with the likes of Tamar Braxton, Ciara, Fifth Harmony, LA Reid and Rodney Jerkins, says absolutely. “If your mindset is to have it all, you’re going to make a way to have it all,” Coulter said.
Lauryen quickly reminded the audience that “being a woman is not a hindrance.” “It feels hard because we are so committed, but if you’re willing to put the work in, it’s worth it,” she said. “You need both, you don’t want to be the woman that’s working so hard and then you go home and you’re Olivia Pope. You just kind of want to have it all, so I’m working on that honestly,” she continued.
Calhoun, who got her first A&R job when she was just 20 years old, says you have to “have your blinders on” when It comes to people’s opinions of your gift or talent. “Everyone has their own journey. Stop looking at everyone else just think about yourself, because people will try to deter you in every way that they can and; it’s not worth it,” she declared.
When it comes to staying focused and keeping your eyes on the prize, Coulter noted that seeing your vision is the key to not being affected by what other people think or say. “That vision board that people tell you to make, that’s real, make that vision board. Look at it every day and know exactly what you’re going for and know that your story is your story, and that’s all you can focus on,” she stated.
As music executives, both Calhoun and Coulter are responsible for finding new talent. Calhoun says that she not only makes a concerted effort to maintain solid relationships with managers, attorneys, songwriters and producers, but she also takes everyone seriously, since “you never know where you’re going to find the next name.”
“When people send me stuff I always listen. That doesn’t mean I have ten minutes to respond and give detailed feedback, but I’m listening to everything,” she said. “ I mean I signed Brent Faiyaz just off a link a manager sent me that I met once,” she added.
In terms of staying grounded and finding time for family, these boss women say they try and take every opportunity they can to visit their hometowns and regroup. “Your foundation is everything. From your friends that you hang out with, from your background, so I try to go to Kansas as often as I can. That actually gives me that balance that I said doesn’t exist,” Coulter said. “Sometimes you need that moment to not look at your phone, not check out records, so when you come back, you’re inspired and you can listen to things a little bit different,” she added.
On whether or not the women have ever been placed in a situation where they’ve felt pressured to compromise, Lauryen said that she struggled being a people pleaser early on in her writing career. “You have to be okay with saying no; that was something I really wrestled with early on. I think I was a bit of a people pleaser early on in my songwriter days because you want any opportunity. So to say no means okay, you might not be able to come back to that session. For me, that was a process as well, but you have to be okay with saying no … I don’t want to write that, I don’t want to go to that session, no, that’s not the type of writer that I am.”
The ladies also spoke about the importance of staying ready and maintaining professionalism as women in a male-dominated industry. Coulter says that in the music game, “you have to be ready for everything,” she said, noting that each day is different and often yields unexpected partnerships and collaborations. Calhoun says that when it comes to women and networking, that it’s critical to be mindful of their attire.
“Just be careful of how you present yourself, it turns people off, or it turns people on,” she said. “We shouldn’t feel like we have to dress a certain way to do a certain thing, but at the end of the day, you do [it] to be respected. This is a male-dominated industry, whether we like that or not, so you have to present yourself in a way that you earn your respect,” Calhoun continued.
While each of these dynamic ladies continue to make their mark on the music industry, ASCAP continues it’s quest to represent music in all of it’s creative glory, and to highlight the women making the world go round. To see the panel discussion from the night’s event, be sure to visit www.lasentinel.net for more.