Irish women rocking the global music industry

Five Irish women who are upsetting the balance of a traditionally male-dominated industry

Fri, Mar 8, 2013, 14:23

BERNIE DIVILLY
International
marketing manager, Domino Recording Co. Based in London

I look after the roll-out of artist campaigns across all international territories, with a concentration on mainland Europe, Australia and Japan. I liaise with our label partners in each territory and oversee their marketing strategies, budgets, release plans and targets, discuss touring possibilities and so on. I’m in the job just over a year – I moved over from Dublin in early 2012, where I’d been PR manager for [Pias Ireland] for three years.

I’m loving my 30s; my career is going in the right direction, I have more confidence, I give less of a damn what people think, and more of a damn about the important stuff. That happy-in-your-own-skin feeling is coming through at last, which was maybe lacking somewhat in my 20s.

Over the past few years, my thoughts have changed somewhat about the nature of the male-dominated music industry. In earlier years, I would have said no, there wasn’t resistance to me just because I’m female – the PR industry in Ireland, where I started out, was, to my eyes, predominately female. My superiors were female, and the woman who first drew me towards PR, Ellen Gunning, of the Irish Academy, was helpful and encouraging. The world I saw around me was full of these strong, vibrant women, and that was the world I was trying to conquer.

In my experience, it’s higher up the ladder that women start to become aware of the patriarchal aspect of the industry, the “boys’ club” element, the far-too-small sprinkling of women in top management, the lack of women in A&R. I’ve definitely come across a few misogynists, and have somewhat figured out how to navigate them. I’m starting to think about these things, and how they should change. I think I was very naive about the industry in my earlier years, or perhaps just too busy to think about it properly.


SINÉAD GLEESON
Freelance production manager, touring
and artist liaison assistant working on events and festivals. Based in Ireland but works predominantly in UK and Europe


When I am working abroad, I am mainly on the road with a band or artist. I look after band and crew hospitality, including accommodation, flight and crew visa requirements, crew and band logistics including payroll, budgeting and advance sheets. I’ve been doing the job for five years.

How did I start out? It was at the 2006 Electric Picnic when I first found a love for festivals and seeing live gigs; I thought to myself, I could do this. I approached Dave Allen, then booker for the then Temple Bar Music Centre (now Button Factory), for some work experience. When my week’s work experience was over, they offered me an evening job in the box office doing tickets and guest list, and it was here I met one of my mentors, Paddy McPoland. At the time he was tour manager for Sinéad O’Connor. I was very determined and a little brazen, I guess, and asked him could I do some work experience with him. He agreed.

As a woman and mother, I believe I bring a unique quality to looking after bands. If I can persuade my 12-year-old son to do something, then Liam Gallagher is a piece of cake! In terms of touring with a band, when you are doing long stints on the road, it helps to have a female as a mediator. Also, I was told that when dealing with music and festival personnel abroad, they found my Irish accent and charm very trusting, and therefore it was easier to get things done.

You need a very thick skin for this business, as you deal with many egos, but I won’t be satisfied until I go all the way to the top. I have always said that opportunities don’t land on your lap – you really have to go out and find them for yourself.


BERNADETTE BARRETT
Artist manager at Mondo Management (including Damien Rice, David Gray, Lisa Hannigan, Orbital). Based in London


My job entails a wide variety of day-to-day activity, as well as a general, aerial view of managing bespoke teams of people that we carefully put together for each of our artists. The roles of managers have changed enormously over the past few years, and it has become very commonplace for managers now to not only oversee teams and create strategies for artists, but also to directly assume the roles of record label, publisher, accountant, tour manager, agent, promoter, PR, plugger, TV promotions, merchandise vendors, van driver, social media mogul, internet policer, website designer, and so on. Obviously, it differs with every artist, but the job involves managing all aspects of each artist’s career and trying to make sure expectations are aligned on all sides. As a manager, I’ve been doing that for 15 years; before that, I was a concert promoter for seven years, both in Dublin and London, to where I moved in 1997.

The music industry can take advantage of young people’s eagerness, regardless of gender. Starting off, certainly, I can’t say I was aware of meeting much resistance on the grounds of being female. In later years, however, I have sometimes felt that things might have worked out differently if I had practiced more golf!

That said, in my life there have been amazing men who have given me a chance, supported and encouraged me. They certainly added much more weight than any people who said, “it couldn’t be done”. More of that sort of behaviour!

I love working with women. Sadly, I still notice there are major imbalances in the numbers of top positions held by men and women within the business – as, indeed, there are in many other businesses. It might be nice to imagine a situation where women are as supported as their male counterparts to work and raise families. An enforced lifestyle choice of either career or family, though, is still quite common, which I think is a pity.


SERENA FLEMING
Assistant booking agent to Rod MacSween, Managing Director of International Talent Booking. Based in London


I co-ordinate tours and live shows for acts like Fleetwood Mac, The Who, Maroon 5, Kelly Clarkson, Richard Ashcroft and Jane’s Addiction, not only in Europe but also South/Central America, Australia and Asia; pretty much all territories excluding US and Canada. I’ve been in the job almost three years, but I couldn’t have done it without the invaluable experience I gained over six years with my very astute mentor, Brian Whitehead, CEO of Dublin’s Olympia and Academy venues, who promoted me to day manager of the Academy venue in 2008.

I have heard of instances of resistance towards women in the industry, but actually from women to other women. This is really sad to witness. Not only does it end up being a slight on each party involved, but on women in the workplace in general. There’s a fine line between being assertive and being aggressive. Coming from a one-parent family, I have always been taught women and men are equally capable.

I feel lucky to be in the position I am in, but it really is a labour of love. I have noticed in London, in particular, there is a trend of unpaid three-month internships, which places a big strain on emerging college graduates, many of whom are already in debt from college fees. Government-funded work placements or music collectives would be of great benefit to college graduates – it would enable them to get the much-needed experience to move forward with their careers.


NIAMH O’REILLY
Director Digital Sales & Marketing, Sony UK. Based in London


I lead a team of digital marketing managers, and I am responsible for digital strategy for all Sony’s commercial releases, including all the company’s catalogue and compilations. It is my job to try to grow digital sales and digital revenue both in streaming and download in the market for the Sony catalogue – catalogue represents more than half our revenue. I have been at Sony for nearly six years, starting as a digital marketing manager, and then working my way up to Head of Digital Sales and then to my present position.

How did I start out? In 1995, I saw an ad in Hot Press . Practically every Irish person I know who works in the music industry started out at Hot Press . Jackie Hayden and Niall Stokes knocked the corners off me, but I had the time of my life there.

Yes, the industry is male dominated, but it’s not exactly mining or construction, is it? Resistance? No, none. I was confident of what I wanted to do, and my gender and what people thought of me was irrelevant. Maybe there is a lot more gender bias in affiliated industries like management, studios, tour management, production, sound, lighting – but not in record companies anymore. My boss, the EVP of Sony Music UK and Ireland, is a woman, and Annette Donnelly is MD of Sony Ireland. There are role models now to be business-like and feminine, and to achieve motherhood and successful careers.

What else springs to mind . . . Well, I object to the word “feisty”, and the worst sexism I have experienced is in restaurants where there is sexism on a grand scale when being seated as a woman or group of women. This never, ever happens to me when I am with my boyfriend or stepfather or male colleagues and friends. Ask any woman and they will tell you the same.

One more thing: it’s now more accepted to take extended maternity leave and work reduced hours and still be a key decision maker. At Sony, they are amazing and I’m lucky to work reduced hours and still be in a senior role is rare in every industry.