With Mother's Day only days away, we wanted to shine a light on some of the incredible women working in music to get their thoughts on the current state of the industy and to talk about where they started out and what life is like balancing being a mother and working in music.
Lisa Power is an A&R consultant who works with UMC, Universal's catalogue label in London. Over the last 18 month's Lisa has worked on catalogue releases for huge names like U2, Elton John and Metallica.
We spoke to Lisa at Abbey Road as she recounted the beginnings of her career right here in the Studios, her motivations and inspirations for working in music, and her advice for women looking to get started in music.
• Can you tell us about the beginning of your career in music, how things started for you?
My very first day of work in the music industry was as a temp on the reception desk at Abbey Road Studios in the summer of 1999, shortly after I moved to London! A few weeks later, the same recruitment agency asked me if I’d like to work for Paul McCartney – an offer that few would refuse. I temped at MPL for a few months, assisting with publishing and production, and they offered me a permanent job. To this day, I am very grateful to recruiter Margaret Mills for putting me forward for those roles, it opened up a career path that I had never thought possible.
• Did you face any struggles getting into the industry?
To be totally honest, and it sounds very naïve, but I didn’t realise that such great jobs in music were out there. I had done a Communications degree in Dublin, had spent a year as a Production Assistant in the Irish film and TV industry and was hoping to break into something similar in London. I had an extremely lucky break getting my foot in the door to work for Paul McCartney. I worked hard to make that into a permanent role, but it wasn’t a struggle to get in the door in the first place.
• Can you tell us about the experiences you have juggling the role of a mother, and working in a demanding industry like music?
I am fortunate in my current role as a Consultant that I have some flexibility about how I structure my working days. In theory, I am a part-timer. I work four days a week, Monday to Thursday, and aim to preserve Fridays as a non-working day to be at home.
I try to make sure that I do school runs at least two days a week so that I have an involvement with the school community and know who the people in my children’s daily life are. I have a brilliant husband who also works flexibly and does more of the heavy lifting on the homefront during the week.
It is a constant juggling act, and I would be lying if I said that my work life didn’t overspill into my home life, be it answering emails on my phone while the kids are having their evening bath or popping them in front of the telly while I do a Friday call. Or the eve of last year’s World Book Day (possibly parents’ most dreaded day of the year!) where I was sewing a costume for Mog The Forgetful Cat in between trying to deliver artwork that was way past the deadline. If I have had a particularly busy day it can be very hard switching the work brain off, especially if I have been using my commute to get work done, but we try to sit down as a family together for dinner every evening and share the news from the day.
The unadulterated views of a 5 and 7 year old can be a useful reality check. When the kids are ill it is very challenging, not least the delicate negotiations as to which parent’s meetings are more important and more immovable and who is going to stay at home with the sick child. But by and large we make it work. Liking what I do really helps when things are challenging. And I think the challenges are there for any parent – dads as well as mums – if you want to be a hands-on parent and have a career.
• What does / do your child / children think of what you do?
For the most part, I think their primary thoughts are concerned with my role as their mum rather than anything else I might do in life! In fact, I tested this theory by asking them what they thought of my job and my daughter (aged 5) said ‘What job?’. Which, all things considered, I guess is a positive response! I do chat to them a little bit about the music that I work with and they are interested to hear about it.
Last year, I was involved with Elton John’s greatest hits collection Diamonds and played some of the tracks for my kids. One day we went to a café (café trips are high on my list of quality family time!) and as we went in the door they exclaimed loudly and excitedly whilst jumping up and down “Mummy, they are playing ‘Crocodile Rock’!”, much to the amusement and bemusement of the other customers.
I have always been very conscious, both before and after having children, not to be defined by my job. Since having children, I am conscious not to be solely defined as a mum either. I do other stuff as well as both working in the music industry and being a parent, including a voluntary role as an Event Director at my local junior parkrun which I was involved in setting up in 2015. I am really keen to promote positive attitudes towards being active and the importance of good health from an early age.
• What inspired you to start working in the music industry, where did your original motivation come from?
I had studied piano for 12 years and was hugely interested in music but I hadn’t quite put two and two together career-wise. It was very much a case of being in the right place at the right time and a door opening for me with an opportunity to be grabbed.
• It’s hard to deny that the music industry seems to be male dominated, what do you think is the barrier to entry for women?
I am not sure that the barriers are necessarily highest at entry level, particularly looking at the recent UK Music research which showed that the numbers of women drop off considerably as they get older. The diversity study found that between the ages of 25 and 34 women account for 54.5% of the workforce – which is a positive statistic on the face of it. 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). However, according to the research, the number of women in the industry drops to 41.4% in the 35 to 44 age range and then to 32.7% between 45 and 64. And I recently read an article that pointed out that out of the twelve flagship frontline labels at the three UK majors, there are just two women in President positions versus twelve men.
So it’s hard to deny that the industry is male dominated, but the domination seems to me to happen further up the chain. In my household, my career has been prioritised. Potentially at the expense of my husband’s. I am not sure that it is possible for everyone to have it all in terms of both career and family. And the traditional patriarchal set up in society has meant that when decisions have to be made about something having to give – not least when the sums are done about how much is left in a pay packet once the childcare costs are taken care of - it is often the woman (frequently the lower earner in a couple) who takes a step back. The forthcoming gender pay gap disclosures due by April will be interesting to look at with that in mind.
• Were there any women in the industry (or elsewhere) that inspired you as a role model?
From a very young age, I was always fascinated by what Madonna was doing. Not necessarily as a role model (I can’t sing, and I certainly can’t dance, so there were never any ideas about becoming an artist!) but as someone in the industry out there on her own, pushing the boundaries.
Sinead O’Connor too, as someone who’s never conformed to the industry’s or society’s expectations of how a woman should behave. Whilst I wouldn’t say that my own career aspirations were as a direct result of wanting to emulate other specific women in the industry there are many, many women who inspire me. Colette Barber (recently retired) and Lucy Launder at Abbey Road for a start.
Jenny Marshall and Rachel Thomas at Marshall Arts. Annie Nightingale. Nadine King, Lucie Panton, Jess Keeley, Leila Hebden and Kristina Heaney at Maverick. Becky Coffey at Not Us. Eleni Psaltis at Q Prime. Orla Lee Fisher at Universal. Rachael Paley at Rocket. Christine Gough and Lydia Kohl at Universal Production. Holly Williams at Island. Cathy Hawkes and Trish McGregor at Apple Corps. Aoife Corbett at MPL. Katie Alley, Carolyn Agger, Hannah Chadwick, Rosie Danks, Caroline Allen-Coyle, Sue Armstrong at UMC. To name just a few…
Fundamentally, though, my biggest mentor and inspiration in the industry has been Scott Rodger. We worked together for almost a decade and he afforded me massive freedom to come up with ideas from an A&R perspective, particularly on catalogue and repackages, which shaped how my career has progressed into my current role.
Lisa with Head of Mastering Services, Lucy Launder.
• What changes have you noticed in the industry for women since your first taste of working in music?
An obvious one, and something neither specific to women nor the music industry, but developments in technology that have permitted the increase in flexible working I think have had an impact on the number of women able to stay working in the industry after having children.
• What would your advice be for women looking to get started in the music industry?
Do it your way.