|Berklee College of Music’s Business/Management Department fifth annual Business of Hip-Hop/Urban Music Symposium: Ladies First Edition featured an all female panel discussing music industry culture and politics. (Photo courtesy of Darcie Wicknick)
Nearly 200 people filled the seats of Berklee Performance Center to learn how to take their music business careers to the next level.
The “Business of Hip-Hop/Urban Music Symposium,” in its fifth year, is an annual knowledge sharing event hosted by Berklee College of Music that puts music industry professionals on the hot seat so that members of the panel’s audience can ask questions about the ins and outs of creating, promoting and earning income in the music business.
Dubbed the “Ladies First Edition,” this year’s panel convened earlier this month and featured five female music industry executives who have played a major part in hip hop and urban music, including Nina Packer, GM of Bryant Management (which guides the careers of music megastars Lil Wayne and Drake); Lynn Scott, VP of Marketing at Universal/Motown; Rose Daniels of MusicIndustryOnline.com; Shanti Das, president of Press Reset Entertainment and former VP of Universal/Motown and Columbia; and LaTrice Burnette, cofounder of Game Media and former Atlantic Records marketing manager who has coordinated campaigns for Jay-Z and Diddy.
Berklee alumni and event co-producer Darcie Wicknick said the symposium presented an ideal opportunity to “highlight the value and the level of leadership among female executives in hip hop and urban music,” and dispel the myth that mostly men manage the music industry.
“This is not an old boy’s club,” Wicknick said. “I think that’s a misconception. Hopefully, [this event] will encourage not only prospective female executives in their pursuits, but also help prospective male executives understand that they have different kinds of role models they can look up to.”
It made perfect sense then that panel moderator Sharon Heyward kicked the discussion off with a shout out to a woman music industry executive whom many considered the mother of hip hop. “It would be wrong if we didn’t take a moment to throw up a peace sign and say rest in peace to Sylvia Robinson,” said Heyward, who herself was once a top executive, having worked as GM of Virgin Records and president of Perspective Records.
Robinson, who was responsible for bringing together pioneering hip hop group Sugarhill Gang and releasing their classic record “Rapper’s Delight,” passed away less than a month ago at the age of 75.
As the panelists delivered engaging anecdotes and expert pointers on everything from helping entertainers build a buzz to workplace gender politics, it became increasingly clear that the six women on stage were doing their best to live up to Robinson’s legacy while encouraging the audience to do the same.
The dialogue involved plenty of information about the attitude and atmosphere of the music industry as a workplace, as well as repeated reminders that etiquette, personal image and branding, and a tireless work ethic were important ingredients for creating a successful career in any industry.
But the panelists were also clear that even with a good grasp on industry protocol, a strong skill set and years of experience, being a woman in what some believe is a male-dominated industry can make working in music entertainment challenging. They encouraged young women interested in music business careers to stay focused on their responsibilities and goals, find common ground with male colleagues, and look at other ladies as their cohorts rather than their competition.
“Even though I’m a female who likes to have a good time, I made sure that the guys respected me,” said Das. “I didn’t go out and try to hang and make it just a social environment — it was still about a business. I wanted to be known for what was up here and not for what’s below,” she told the audience, who exploded in applause.
When asked whether the working landscape had changed in recent years for women in music entertainment, the panelists mostly agreed that it had — but not for the better. “I think it’s worse,” said Hewyard. “What I don’t see among this generation is the same kind of camaraderie that was had back in the day.”
“And for that reason, there’s fewer black female executives,” said Das. “I wrote a blog a few months back [asking] where is the black female record executive? Is it the new dinosaur?”
Turning to Heyward, Das continued, “Back in the day, I had you to look up to, Jean Riggins, Martha Thomas Frye, and the list goes on and on and on. It’s just not that many black female executives now days.”
“I do think that it’s worse,” Scott agreed. “I think a lot of the reasons that it’s worse is because it’s just the nature of business right now. Many people are in survival mode, and … [are] just like, ‘I’m going to get mine — I’m going to do this because I need to justify why I need to stay here and still collect my salary.’ ”
Heyward encouraged the panelists to join forces to bring together a bigger group of women to talk about how female record executives can work together to help each other take their careers, urban music and the music industry in general to new heights.
“Out of all the things I’d like to see this generation do, it’s hold a conference,” Heyward said.
The symposium was a good starting point with great potential to be an important stepping stone in ensuring that the next generation of music industry executives work together to help make hip hop, as Berklee music business/management department chair Don Gorder said in his introduction to the event, “the universal language of music that it really deserves to be.”
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