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Creating Legacy: Black women behind the scenes in music

Following our collaborative event with YouTube Music, we look back at the inspiring wisdom we learned from some amazing Black women working in music.

27 Mar

For International Women’s Month, YouTube Music and gal-dem have teamed up to bring our audiences Women in Music, a roundtable of Black women behind the scenes creating, producing, marketing and managing who are carving out a legacy both for artists and most importantly, themselves. We wanted to celebrate their stories, share their achievements and find out more about how they are making waves in the industry. They are decision-makers, the trendsetters, the organisers and most importantly, they are leaving the door open for Black women coming up behind them. 

The event was hosted by gal-dem’s very own resident DJ and producer Lil C, who was joined by artist relations manager at YouTube Music Sheniece Charway; singer and songwriter Kamille; tour manager and executive producer, Tina Farris and PR and founder of Louder than Words, Myvanwy Evans.

“There’s a lot of forward-facing roles in the music industry…But actually when you’re doing a really good job in being behind the scenes, it’s about facilitating others”

– Lil C

They discussed how to create a legacy and support Black artists all year round, the importance of community and connecting with like-minded Black women in the industry, and why you don’t have to have a degree or background in music to get your foot in the door –  just passion, work ethic and a love for music.

So, to round-up the event, find out more about the movers and shakers and their advice for Black women finding a space in the music industry:  

Lil C – DJ and Broadcaster

Lil C is a DJ and broadcaster hailing from south London. She captures the sound of the transatlantic diaspora through her love of Afrobeats, R&B, Reggeaton and Bashment. 

A resident gal-dem DJ, a member of the London-based collective Prestige Pak and a member of BBZ collective, Lil C has DJ’d at some of the world’s biggest stages including at Notting Hill Carnival, Hackney Carnival, Afropunk, Glastonbury, Lovebox and Parklife.

For those who are behind the scenes in the music industry, events like these championing those voices are even more imperative. “There’s a lot of forward-facing roles in the music industry,” she says, “But actually when you’re doing a really good job in being behind the scenes, I suppose it’s about not being known, actually, and facilitating others.”

Sheniece Charway – Artist Relations Manager, YouTube Music  

Starting her career in music as an intern at Sony Music in the marketing team, before working at Columbia Records, 29-year-old Sheniece is now making waves as the artist relations manager at YouTube Music. “My job is kind of making sure that we’re on top of everything – manage our relationship in terms of new products. YouTube is always changing and being innovative.” She has worked with some of the biggest artists going on campaigns across genres including Rick Ross, Skepta, Harry Styles and WIZKID.

For Sheniece, leaving a legacy is all about amplifying Black voices all year round and not just during Black History Month or Carnival. She points out, “65% of popular music is actually Black.” 

“I didn’t know my job existed until I got into it”

– Sheniece Charway

As Sheniece explains, more than anything, getting into music “is more about being passionate, I didn’t know my job existed until I got into it.” And while it is harder to be a Black woman in the workplace, especially with ‘angry Black woman’ stereotypes, Sheniece says your work should speak for you. “A lot of the time I don’t even have to say anything – just do it, be about it, be successful.” 

KAMILLE Singer/songwriter

KAMILLE – real name Camille Purcell – is a Grammy-winning songwriter and a singer. She is behind some of the most beloved tunes right now, including Little Mix’s ‘Shout Out to My Ex’, she has credits writing and exec-producing ‘Confetti’, the number one album from Little Mix, and has collaborated with the likes of Dua Lipa, AJ Tracey and Mabel. And even with all these accolades, the former stockbroker turned singer is very much an artist in her own right.

“My advice for anyone entering this industry is to not be afraid to take an L”

– KAMILLE

A simple but effective way to continue her legacy and others who come up behind her is to make sure her name is made visible. “A thing I like to do as a producer and a songwriter is making sure that people can see my name credited under things, especially when it comes to production, because there are so few Black female producers in this country.”

Kamille’s best advice for getting into the industry and firmly staying there is accepting failure. “I feel like [my advice for] anyone entering this industry is to not be afraid to take an L,” she explained. “I feel like being able to suffer failure is probably one of the greatest tools you can learn because I think this industry is probably, like, 90% failure.” Outside of this, when it comes to songwriting, she says to be persistent, recounting that she sent countless demos to labels, grew her contacts and teamed up with management. “You have to really be brave and be able to just embarrass yourself sometimes for what you believe in basically”

Myvanwy Evans Founder, Louder Than Words

Myvanwy Evans founded the non-profit cultural communications agency, Louder Than Words, and has worked with a number of music and cultural organisations to help amplify the voices of disenfranchised young people and communities. She has led music, arts and culture campaigns across the industry and has developed numerous music programmes.  

”I think legacy is playing a massive role in my life and in my scope of work,” she says. “I’m obsessed with Black culture being documented in the right way, being archived.” But currently, as it stands, she says, “I think that other people are documenting our culture.”

“Careers feel very formulaic, like they should go a certain way, and what we find is they don’t” 

– Myvanwy Evans

To get into the industry, especially PR, it’s all about being able to connect with people. “I think you don’t need a master’s in marketing or PR. [You] need to really listen to that voice inside of you,” she says. “Careers are really interesting. They feel very formulaic like they should go a certain way, and what we find is they don’t.” 

Things may be getting better for Black women in the industry, but there is still a long way to go. “We just cast our vote for the Brit awards … I don’t think there were more than two Black females across all categories for us to nominate. And I found that really hard this year,” she admits. 

And when it comes to closing the gender pay gap, she says, “I mean the only way that I know how is to start your own company. For me personally I pay well, and I put women of colour at the forefront of those roles.”

Tina Farris – Executive Producer and Founder, TF TOURS

Tina Farris has been the tour manager for the likes of Lauryn Hill, Anderson .Paak, Ella Mai, Lil Wayne, Queen Latifah, Jill Scott, Maxwell, Nicki Minaj, Solange and D’Angelo (to name a few). She’s hit the road with the Black Eyed Peas, guiding the group through 15 countries, 76 cities and 99 sold-out shows before 1.3 million attendees. She was actually a teacher before going on the road with The Roots, but came from a “musical legacy” herself – her grandfather was a producer at Motown.

“To me, legacy can just be a teaching. It can be the words you pass on”

– Tina Farris

“To me, legacy can just be a teaching, Tina says. “It can be the words you pass on, you might find yourself saying in a conversation that your grandma told you.” She says that keeping the door open for others and giving a helping hand to Black women is crucial. “I have brought in a lot of tour managers, mostly Black, mostly women, and [now one of them] is currently the manager of Cardi B.”

Keeping a community and staying connected with other Black women behind the scenes, especially in an industry where there are so few is key. “I learned about four new people today! I didn’t know what everybody did, you know, it’s very important that we know what each other does,” she says. “There are more women tour managers out there [now], I mean we’ve always been out here, we just need to let each other know about each other.” 

You can watch the full Creating Legacy with YouTube Music event at the embed above, or via gal-dem’s YouTube channel.