“This industry sometimes doesn’t believe in people – you have to believe in yourself”: Meet some of UK music’s most trailblazing women

This International Women’s Day we sit down with five inspirational women from various sides of the music industry – from management to festivals – to discuss their experiences, what’s changing behind the scenes, and their advice for anyone looking to get involved…

“This industry sometimes doesn’t believe in people – you have to believe in yourself”: Meet some of UK music’s most trailblazing women
Rachel Roberts
Megan Winstone

It’s no secret that the music industry is male-dominated, yet the input of women in decision-making roles is vital. This International Women’s Day, allow us to introduce you to those who are paving the way for the next generation of women in music, behind the stage and right on it.

It takes a village to put your favourite band's music out there, and it’s often the people who actually make it happen that we don’t hear enough about.

To celebrate International Women’s Day, Kerrang! joined five instrumental women who are behind your favourite radio shows, festivals, press campaigns and album releases at London’s Royal Society of Arts for a roundtable discussion on the biggest challenges – and the biggest joys – of being a woman in the music business.

Emma Van Duyts (director of Public City PR), Clare Maxwell (VP of marketing UK at Concord Label Group), Alyx Holcombe (presenter on Kerrang! Radio and Radio 1), Jasmine Hussain (operations manager for Slam Dunk Festival), and Anna Maslowicz (manager of bands like Hot Milk, Loveless and IDestroy with Cardiff Giant Management, and owner of AMPublicity) gathered in the brick-walled cellar of the RSA building to tell us just how they made it, who inspired them, and where the future lies for women who work behind the scenes.

The women who made it feel possible

Emma Van Duyts: “I was about seven or eight years old, and I watched the Madonna Like A Virgin tour on video. I thought she was the coolest fucking person I’d ever seen in my life. I started picking up magazines like Smash Hits and Just Seventeen and got super into music. There was a magazine article in Just Seventeen about someone who was a publicist, and I was like, ‘That’s what I’m going to do with my life.’ I got my job at Warner Bros. as a press assistant on my 17th birthday. The rest is history! It was Madonna’s fault.”

Alyx Holcombe: “I’ll say it: Avril Lavigne, man. 2002. Avril Lavigne! I was like, ‘Oh my God, she’s so cool! I want to look like her.’ All of her videos, early on especially, were like, ‘Yeah, I can be really cool and be one of the dudes as well.’”

Clare Maxwell: “I had the red [Hayley Williams] hair. Hayley’s definitely up there as, I don’t know, playing with the boys, right? And being like, ‘I can do anything I want and I can be as cool and as much of a part of it.’ She just owns it.”

Jasmine Hussain: “I don’t know if anyone remembers [the TV show] Warped Tour Roadies? I saw Lisa Brownlee and she was the tour manager for Warped Tour. I was like, ‘Holy fuck, this is life-changing. There are women that run this shit and they are amazing at what they do.’ From that moment on, I just completely looked up to her.

“At my first Slam Dunk, I was freelancing. I was doing artist liaison and PVRIS were playing on the main stage, which was my stage, and Lisa was tour manager. We worked together the whole weekend and after she landed back in the U.S. I got a text from her saying, ‘You were amazing this weekend, it was great working with you.’ It was such a great, emotional moment. I just burst into tears.”

Emma: “She’s a fucking badass! She ran Warped Tour like a tight ship. You didn’t fuck around with her. She doesn’t take any shit but she’s also lovely.”

Anna Maslowicz: “I grew up in Hong Kong. I absolutely loved music but there was nothing, no live music. When I moved back here for university, I went to gigs all the time. I was just like, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I went to Goldsmiths [university], I did a media degree, and then afterwards I was temping.

“I started at Universal and about four days in and they were like, ‘Hey, do you want a permanent job?’ When my boss was doing publicity for Hole, Courtney [Love] just used to ring and send these really long faxes. The other day I found a 19-page fax that she sent one day. She [would say things like] ‘Do what you want to do. Don’t listen to anybody.’ She was a super-inspiring woman.”


Alyx: “I didn’t go to uni. I was in an underground punk band for ages and I was like, ‘Alright no-one’s really chatting about us so I’m going to start something.’ For five years, [I] made a radio show in my room. I got a £5 mic from Argos and just taught myself how to put [a show] together and then kept going into places like, ‘Hi, [I’ve got] this demo…’ I was probably so insufferable, I didn’t shut up.”

Anna: “That tenacity and strength is amazing – the fact that you’ve not given up, because a lot of people would have. That’s why you’re where you are now and that’s why you’re smashing it. This industry sometimes doesn’t believe in people and you have to believe in yourself.”

Clare: “This industry changes every second of the day and you’ve got to adapt. I think it's really healthy to adapt, to want to learn more and not get stuck in your ways… That’s so exciting. You’ve got to constantly want to ask questions, want to learn.”

Anna: “No question is a stupid question. Everybody didn’t know anything at some point. It’s not only learning what is good, it’s also learning what’s bad.”

Clare: “There are a lot of incredible people [who] will always have your back, and have been around for 20, 30 years… I think I was the second woman at Raw Power [Management]. I had never felt so respected. Those artists are the reason I think I’m still confident in what I do. I definitely have moments where I’m not… But those artists that I managed in the early days, they never treated me like a girl. And you know what? I love that. I was just an equal.”

Imposter syndrome and standing your ground

Emma: “Imposter syndrome never leaves you. I think that may be in every industry. The amount of times where I’m looking at other people’s press campaigns like, ‘Why couldn’t I get that for my band?’ And then I’m like, ‘Stop comparing yourself to somebody else. You know that you work super hard.’”

Jasmine: “Not comparing yourself is really hard. I think everyone’s path in this industry is so different. There is no way you can have a fair comparison.”

Alyx: “That’s true. I think once you realise that, you’re like, ‘I’ve got to be myself. I don’t care if I fuck up!’ I’m going to fuck up and I’m going to laugh about it.”

Anna: “I’m sure we’ve all had instances in the past when people have been super-disrespectful. There’s a couple of instances I can think of when that’s happened, and it’s normally been a man that’s come in and stood up for me. That’s really great when people do that. You should be treated exactly the same as anybody else.”

Alyx: “I had it recently. I was like, ‘Why am I preaching about saying what you want and doing what you want, and I’m being spoken to by this man in a way that is so disgusting?’ I just turned around and I was like, ‘Fuck you. I’m not working with you anymore.’ I started crying. The weight off my chest! But it’s terrifying.

Anna: “You worry about the repercussions, but people will respect you more for standing up for yourself.”

Alyx: “Yeah, it all works out for the better. It’s getting over that hill. Like, ‘No, I can stand up for myself, and I’m not going to be scared of the repercussions, whatever they may be.’”

Emma: “That’s exactly where the music industry has changed. As women, we can take those giant steps forward, and you’re not getting the door smashed in your face. You sit around a table in a meeting and people actually listen to what you have to say.

Anna: “There’s so many women now. From Paramore to PVRIS, to Hot Milk, Nova Twins. There’s so many strong women in bands.”

Jasmine: “There’s all the powerhouses behind them, like all of us. That’s what needs celebrating as well.”

Positive change

Clare: “I remember in meetings, I’d be one of two women [and there’d be] 20 dudes. I remember being a manager, going into a big label meeting, and I brought my lovely assistant along who was a guy. We sat in that meeting talking about the campaign and every single person would talk to him. He’d be like, ‘I don’t know. Can I ask my boss?’”

Anna: “I had that once when I was in a meeting with a booking agent. I took the intern who was there for four weeks from college, and he spoke to him… Absolute bullshit.”

Emma: “I think it needs to start with parenting. It doesn’t matter whether you are male, female, LGBTQ+... Just be respectful. It should be instilled in you, rather than this boy’s club, bullshit mentality.”

Diversity at festivals and the change that lies ahead

Jasmine: “I think from an outside perspective, it looks like a black and white problem of just putting more women on the line-up, but it’s not. The pool of artists that have women in them is smaller anyway, especially in the alt. world. To then put in factors of whether they're in their touring cycle or not, whether they actually want to play the festival – that small pool is then even smaller. If we have got a smaller band, but a bigger slot, we’re not going to put them in a slot that they’re not necessarily going to fit. [For example] Anna, how would you feel if Hot Milk got booked because it was like a box-ticking exercise? It would be awful! At Slam Dunk, we have local and national promoters so we help build bands up.”

Kerrang!: “Last year, we spoke to Nova Twins and Witch Fever for International Women’s Day, and they talked about the idea of tokenistic situations like that. How do you think we can better improve this? Do you think it’s a grassroots problem and it’s about nurturing early talent?”

Everyone: “Definitely!”

Alyx: “And people of colour in rock as well; I’m introducing so many more [POC artists]. Even now I try to split it down the middle with male and female on my shows. That’s what I'm seeing coming through now – a lot more women, a lot more people of colour. I think in 15 years, we’re not going to have people kicking off about festival line-ups.”

Emma: “When we started working with [Nova Twins], they had an EP out. No-one knew what to do with them. And I’m like, ‘What do you mean you don’t know what to do with them? They’re two badass women who play incredible music, write their own songs, and make their own damn clothes. They’re awesome! You know exactly where they’re supposed to be. Why are you trying to make them a hip-hop band? Because they’re two women of colour?’

“We put in so much work around that first Nova record to establish them as musicians. That was a big deal for them. Kerrang! was so instrumental in helping us break Nova Twins… I think having a band like that be so visual within our world has really helped a lot of bands come out of their shells.”

Alyx: “Nova Twins have really influenced a lot of small artists, I see it every week. And that is so important.”

Emma: “It can just take a band like that to help open the floodgates, to make people feel accepted in what traditionally was seen as a very white, male-dominated scene. You pick up an issue of Kerrang! now, you flick through and the diversity within the pages is fantastic.”

Clare: “I am so honoured to be part of this and be representing a woman in music. I think that’s really important, but I also want people to just think of me as a really good marketeer, a really good boss, a really good exec. I don’t ever want to feel like I was promoted to this position because they need to fill a [box]. I would hope I can speak for most women [when I say] you just want to be recognised as being really good as who you are. This is becoming normalised, I wish it had happened sooner, but imagine what it’s gonna be like in 10 years.”

Take it from the experts – their advice to you

Clare: “If you have any interest in music and you’re maybe not a creative person, but you’re really good at maths, production or engineering, there’s actually a job for you in music. Do you know how vinyl gets made? I don’t! But there are really good people who do. There’s the engineers, studio managers, there’s the people who have to do all the production stuff to actually get it on Spotify.”

Alyx: “Don’t give up and don’t take shit. It’s really easy to take shit, and you get scared to retaliate. But just fucking retaliate and don’t give up.”

Anna: “Start small. Go to your local venue, see if you can help there. Help promote bands, see bands coming through.”

Jasmine: “Ask questions. Ask questions to everyone, learn everything and be nice, you’ll get far.”

Clare: “Work hard, be nice to people, and stay passionate. Find something you love in it every single day… And you’re never too established to make the coffee or send the mail.”

Anna: “Absolutely agree with that. Passion and standing up for yourself, being a hard worker.”

Jasmine: “Music is too hard to not have passion about it.”

Emma: “Don’t be too proud to start at the bottom. Get some on-the-ground learning of how things come together… If anyone asks me for advice on anything, I’ve got all the time in the world. Although, if someone’s rude to me, they’ll sure know about it! Work hard, be nice to people, but don’t take shit.”

Kerrang!: “Don’t be a dick?”

Emma: “Don’t be a dick!”

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