Women in the Music Industry – Kira Robin

March 12, 2021

Hi, Kira ! Could you tell us about your role/position in the music industry? What path did you take to get here, and what has been your personal experience being a woman in the creative/music industry?

I work full time as a Marketing & Social Media Manager at the South London-based online record shop, ColdCuts // Hot Wax. I am the Communications Lead for music education platform CDR, band manager to the 14 piece Jazz ensemble Levitation Orchestra, and do some funding consultancy bits in my free time for independent musicians and collectives. I also host a show on Balamii Radio and occasionally DJ, although I’m still very much in training.

I started off as an apprentice at Norwich Arts Centre when I was 17 after dropping out of sixth form; I’d always loved music and NAC was (and still is) my favourite venue in Norwich, so to get to work there was a dream for me. The NAC team is fantastic and taught me so much about so many different aspects of the music industry, from marketing, to event management, to programming. It really was such a great opportunity for me to gain experience first hand, I knew after pretty much my first day there that working in music was what I wanted to do with my life.

I really took a shine to marketing, and this is the path I ended up following when I went on to work for organisations such as Norfolk & Norwich Festival, Young Norfolk Arts Festival and We Out Here Festival. In recent years I’ve been branching out into different areas such as management and funding, because one can never have too many strings to their bow!

I’ve been very lucky to work for many organisations that have firstly had a lot of women in their teams, and secondly pushed for gender equality both within the makeup of their staff and also their programming. However, it has also often been the case that I’ve been the only woman within an entire team, or that the senior roles within a team are all occupied by men. 

What would you consider your biggest achievement so far?

During my time at Norfolk & Norwich Festival, myself and another member of the NNF team launched the festival’s ‘Access For All’ scheme, which aimed to break down barriers for D/deaf and Disabled people attending the festival. It was a huge project which involved entirely rethinking both NNF’s marketing and event delivery techniques. We worked closely with Norwich-based disability charities and D/deaf and Disabled audience members to ensure events were accessible for everyone. This included making our website more accessible, providing large print and audio versions of marketing materials, creating video tours of all NNF venues, holding more BSL interpreted performances and much more. The feedback we received from D/deaf and Disabled audience members was really positive and the festival still uses the strategy we created today.

More recently, I worked on a charity campaign at ColdCuts // HotWax, where we donated 10% of all our revenue from October to two Black-owned music education charities. For me, initiatives like this are a really tangible way that businesses can support grassroots music organisations, I’d love to see more places doing the same thing, especially big brands that literally make their money through music that is rooted in Black culture.

So, how’s your year been? What’s in store for 2021?

2020 was super tough, COVID hit at a time when I was working fully freelance, predominantly on events which all had to be cancelled, and just as I was planning to relocate from Bristol to London. It took a big toll on my mental health, the industry I worked in disappeared pretty much overnight and the support offered to the sector as a whole was minimal, and for new freelancers like myself, non-existent. I was also meant to be doing an MA in September, which has to be put on hold.

I was lucky enough to land my job at the record shop literally the first day I moved to London last July, which took a big weight off, thankfully people are buying more records than ever during lockdown (myself included). At CDR we pivoted to hosting music production workshops online, which proved extremely popular. I also spent the last year learning more about public funding, and it’s been great to be able to help support independent artists and organisations secure funding during a very tricky time. I’ve also been working on learning when I need to take a step back from work and spend some time on other things, learning when to say ‘no’ has been a big learning curve for me.

I have lots planned for this year! At ColdCuts // HotWax we are going to be opening an in-person shop sometime in the next few months, at CDR we have some big things coming very soon which I can’t say much about for now, and this is also going to be a big year for the band! Basically it is all-go at the moment. I cannot wait until events are back on, there’s something about being in the same space as people that simply cannot be replicated online.

Tell us about some of your inspirations and influences?

It sounds cliche, but honestly my mum has been the biggest influence to me over the years. She’s one of the hardest working people I know, and raised three kids on her own – she has always been so supportive of me and is 100% my biggest role model. She also introduced me to music at a really young age, playing the likes of Erykah Badu and The Stone Roses round the house when I was little, and taking me to my first gig when I was 7 (Pulp at The Eden Centre).

From within the scene I’ve been lucky to work with so many brilliant people. Tony Nwachukwu, the founder of CDR, is a constant source of knowledge and his passion for music and sharing his skills with the next generation is truly inspiring. I also have to mention Andrew, Joe, Sean and the rest of the CDR team who are simply the best to work with, Kwake Bass and Wu-Lu at The Room Studios who have created a truly community-focused music space in Hither Green and Errol and Alex from Touching Bass, who work so hard to create an inclusive space for their community. 

Some advice you may give to others that are looking to get into your industry?

Don’t wait on someone to hire you to start gaining experience in your field. I started writing a music blog, running social media accounts and creating websites in my spare time way before I got hired to do those things. 

Start getting your name out there, reach out to the people/organisations you want to work with and let them know you want to get involved. People appreciate it when you show you’re genuinely passionate about what they do.

What is some advice you wish you could give your younger self when you were starting out?

Have confidence in yourself. After leaving the traditional education system I harboured some serious self-doubt about my abilities generally, it’s taken me a really long time to realise that I’m actually pretty good at what I do. I think this is something that a lot of women deal with, but trust me when I say the guys you work with aren’t feeling the same way, try to channel a bit of that energy and stop holding yourself back.

Know your worth. Stop working for free, as tempting as it is when you’re first starting out. Ask upfront what budget an organisation has to compensate you for your time, they shouldn’t be asking you to work for them if they can’t afford it.

So things look like they’re starting to move again, where do you want to be in a year?

On a personal level, I hope to be dancing in a sweaty club somewhere to some really loud music. 

Professionally, I’m honestly taking each month as it comes. I’m usually someone who absolutely loves a plan, but COVID has shown easily plans can be turned on their head, so I’m just going to keep on working hard on things that I love for the time being.

When it comes to representation, what would you consider the most powerful way to enact change in the industry?

It all starts with representation – music organisations need to hire more BIPOC, women, people from low-socioeconomic backgrounds, LGBTQ people. Stop just hiring your mates or people that look like you, that’s too easy and often leads to teams being way too male and way too white. It is also important that people are given the opportunity to work at a senior level, too often organisations will claim their team is diverse, when the reality is, those at the top with the real power are all white men. 

This organisational change drips down to so many other parts of the music industry. For example, a more diverse programming team at a festival is more likely to programme a diverse range of artists. Similarly, a more diverse marketing team is likely to hire more diverse freelancers (graphic designers, photographers, videographers) etc etc.

What actions can the public, promoters, labels and other industry figures take to support these changes? 

If you have power, use it. I am a woman working in a field dominated by men, but I still have all the privileges associated with being white, so it’s important I use that privilege to enact change – any struggles I’ve had working in the industry would likely be 10 fold for a woman of colour. 

If you’re programming events, releasing music on your label, curating a mix series or anything else, implement a 50/50 gender split. I am so bored of seeing festival lineups with only a handful of women playing, there is literally no excuse for that in 2021. 

The public can support grassroots organisations that are pushing for change in the industry, for example Tomorrow’s Warriors are a great example of an organisation helping more women and BIPOC to be represented in Jazz. Support new women/BIPOC/LGBTQ-owned/run organisations – buy the music they put out, go to their events, share their work with your friends – these are the people changing things for the better and putting out the best music. Most of the dry old organisations we’ve grown up with don’t want to change because the system benefits them nicely, so stop supporting them.

Are there any platforms, policies or programs you know of, and would like to shout about, that are helping to support these changes?

I mentioned Tomorrow’s Warriors above, but I’d also check out Touching BassSaffron MusicYoung Guns Network and shesaid.so who are all doing great stuff for better representation in music.

Which individuals and organisations do you feel are having the biggest impact right now in terms of exposing and educating on this topic?

Honestly it’s been inspiring to see so many individuals share their experiences and bring certain situations to light over the last year, it feels that there’s been a genuine shift in the way we all think about representation within the scene.

What do you expect from the music industry in 2021? (In terms of structural changes, CoVid, diversification, online platforms, hybrid events etc.)

I want to see the big companies make some real change, not just empty promises. It’s not right that so many individuals have had to  carry the weight of pushing for diversity on their shoulders. The companies with the most power in this industry need to use that power to enact real, lasting change. We will have to wait and see if that happens, and keep pressuring companies to fulfill their promises.

How do you feel about events and organisations being accused of virtue signalling? With increased awareness and publicity around gender balance in the music industry, there is a risk of people just being hired/booked just to fill quotas rather than choosing artists based on merit or their proficiency/ability/performance quality. Where do you stand on this?

I feel like that’s an excuse people use to undermine plans to diversify their workforce. People from certain demographics could potentially have a little less experience (although this often isn’t the case at all) – not all of us are lucky enough to be able to gain experience in unpaid internships while our parents pay the rent. Especially when hiring at the lower levels, I am all for hiring based on passion over experience, change has to start somewhere. I feel the same way about programming; artists get better at their trade when they’re given opportunities to perform, so book them! Sometimes you need ‘quotas’ to ensure you’re actually making positive steps, or it becomes all too easy to slip into the ‘usual’ way of doing things.

And finally, could you give us one female artist/performer you think we should all be listening to, and a person/organisation we should be following right now.

Listen to George Riley she’s a London-based singer/producer/legend in the making – her track Move is a particular favourite of mine. 

Shameless plug, but check out CDR – we host events internationally with musicians who talk you through their process when creating tracks, as well as OPN Sessions, where new producers can come down to a venue and play their work-in-progress tracks through a soundsystem and get feedback from their peers. We’ve also been running an Interactive Learning Series over lockdown, teaching people new music production skills. CDR has some exciting things in the works, so keep your eyes peeled! 

Thanks so much Kira ! ?