Women in Music: Marieke and Hannah
by Leah Devine and Ilaria Mangiardi
Women in Music is a MassiveMusic series, which celebrates and empowers women who are leading the way, creating equal opportunity and encouraging other women to pursue a career in music.
As we march on through this month of uncertainty, we continue celebrating the positive things around us. To empower, encourage and inspire.
In Vol. 2 of Women in Music, we want to know all about the realities of starting a business, landing internships and how to deal with sexist a**holes.
To answer our questions, this time we interview two women who are fighting for equal opportunity, encouraging gender diversity within the music industry. From Amsterdam to San Fran, this MassiveMusic series aims to share anecdotes, offer advice and encourage everybody to find what they love, and do it.
Born in London, a city that raised icons such as Amy Winehouse and David Bowie. She started her record label Mink Records in 2016 whilst studying philosophy at the University of Amsterdam. Mink has a left-field indie alternative focus and a DIY spirit, yet a broad genre spectrum underpinned by solid business acumen.
Through Mink, Marieke focuses on releasing and promoting music created by exciting talented emerging artists, whilst also putting on regular curated live nights. On top of being an artist manager (Jeangu Macrooy, Torii), a freelance writer and a (vinyl) DJ, she also works with Mink Music Publishing. We think she’s bionic.
(Photo by Rachel Byrne)
Designer and Creative Producer for Sony Music’s 4th Floor Creative label, everything she does revolves around the visual aspect of an artist’s campaign. The design element of her role relates to the merch produced for Kontraband, their inhouse merchandise company.
She is also the Creative Producer for album and single artworks, which mostly consist of organising collaborations, commissioning photographers, working with the artists, labels, and their management to discuss concepts. One minute she’s mood boarding for a press shoot with a grime artist, the next she’s working with an indie band for their new album cover.
Tell us about your relationship with music: where did it all begin and where is it now?
HANNAH: My journey into music took its time and certainly didn’t come without its obstacles. I’m from a music-orientated family and, to the amusement of others, my instrument of choice was, and still is, the trumpet.
Originally I had my heart set on the fashion industry. I dreamed of being a designer who made clothes for guys in indie bands, so I specialised in menswear design.
After working in fashion for a couple of years, it hit me how much I hated the industry and urgently needed a way out. So, after working behind a bar for a year, organising gigs in the upstairs venue and setting up my music blog, I eventually managed to get myself an internship at Sony Music’s 4th Floor Creative label.
And the internship turned into a full-time job.
HANNAH: Yes! As soon as I started, I knew straight away that I had found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. Afterwards, I was offered my current position: Designer and Creative Producer. I absolutely love what I do.
Having the opportunity to work with the most talented and passionate artists and colleagues on a daily basis is such a pleasure. It’s funny how things turn out.
Founding a label: what made you do it?
MARIEKE: Whilst I was studying, I worked for a Dutch record label to gain experience within the industry but afterwards moved to Glasgow for some time. In the Netherlands, I found myself getting quite frustrated with the music scene.
Here we have an extremely rich and diverse alternative music scene, but it just wasn’t getting the infrastructural support needed for these artists to sustain themselves financially and get to the next level.
What kind of support is necessary for an alternative artist to flourish?
MARIEKE: Well, for example, no television programmes were showcasing alternative music here, very few small labels serving as the crucial stepping stones for artists’ first releases, and only a couple of good music blogs and magazines.
My conclusion was that my music taste was probably not commercial enough to have an interesting career in the Dutch industry – and that I’d be better off either leaving the music scene altogether, do something else, or move somewhere else.
In Glasgow, where my father is from, I encountered the opposite of what frustrated me in the Netherlands. So many musically adventurous, sometimes very alternative artists were enjoying significant commercial success in the UK. I found myself instantly inspired by this. Most people I knew on both sides of the North Sea were similar in their love for music, they just needed a gateway. Enter Mink Records.
I wanted to deliver the same positive spirit towards alternative music that I experienced in Scotland and apply it in my country. Dutch artists were/are actively seeking an artist-friendly indie label, somebody to help take those first steps.
Most of the artists on my roster, including the ones that went on to become big in their respective scenes, had no interest in them from other labels when I started working with them. That to me illustrates that there is a need for that infrastructure.
Is it a priority for you to collaborate with other female creatives?
HANNAH: For sure. Being in a position where I can collaborate with other people, I try to make sure that the team is as diverse as possible. It has improved in recent years, yet women are still heavily underrepresented in some areas of the industry. It’s important to make sure that we’re doing what we can to change that.
Why are women underrepresented in the music industry?
MARIEKE: It seems pretty obvious to me that it is a situation that has to do with the history of women in the workplace, just like in any other industry. I avoid wasting too much emotional energy on sexism and let my work speak for itself.
Praise and criticism, including sexism, have to go down the same drain if you are working for yourself, on your terms. I think that’s the only way to have a happy, durable career. You don’t have to become tough as in hardened, bitter or distrustful – although, at times, it feels inevitable when discrimination is a weekly occurrence. You have to become tough in terms of protecting your emotional state and remember what you are doing it for.
Because I hope you’re not doing it for the approval of sexist people, or anyone who puts other people down due to their insecurity or warped worldview, for that matter. Their opinion is not a good one to hold as valid or valuable in the first place.
Call them out, cut them out, and then get on with it.
Pros and cons of being self-employed?
MARIEKE: Having your own company is good because you don’t have to deal with existing power structures that may be tainted with sexism, although you might still be confronted with them. I have been surrounded by powerful women my whole life so it never really occurred to me that I couldn’t do Mink Records. I only realised a ‘female-owned record label’ was interesting to people once I got going.
That type of ignorance in innocence is the base state we should try to achieve. I hope to contribute to achieving that base state by not making too big a fuss out of it, precisely because I take the matter so seriously.
Our Music x Mind initiative focuses on how music can help tackle mental health issues. Do you ever feel waves of fear or doubt?
HANNAH: Anxiety and coping with imposter syndrome is something that I deal with all the time. Sometimes I feel confident in my abilities and position but there is always that voice in the back of my head that tells me otherwise.
Although it’s devastating how common imposter syndrome is becoming, I think the awareness surrounding it is getting better. For me, I find communicating with others really important. Whether it’s confiding in a friend, family member, a colleague or, if things get out of control, contacting a helpline.
I am so lucky to work within a company that recognises that this is a common problem, particularly with creatives. Voicing these issues always gives me a sense of relief, it puts things back into perspective. I am also aware of the frequency in which my mindset can drastically change.
However, I have found that if I get into a good routine (aka a good night’s sleep, an early morning start, get to boxing and eat some healthy food), I find myself already thinking more clearly and positively. You have to tackle it one step at a time.
What songs have been your motivation to go out and get sh*t done?
HANNAH: It’s obvious to me that Ronan Keating’s ‘Life is a Rollercoaster’ is the only song you need in this situation.
What changes would you like to see?
HANNAH: We need to see more women working within live music – sound engineers and technicians. They are seriously underrepresented. The few that I do know are frequently patronised or mistrusted to do the job they have worked so hard for. I’ve had friends tell me about times they haven’t been ‘allowed’ to carry amps because they have a vagina. Excuse me, what is this insanity?
I also think that women are still frequently sexually objectified in a lot of music videos. I would like to see some creative development there.
The biggest challenge you’ve faced in your musical career?
MARIEKE: I’ve gone through some really complicated situations and hundreds of last-minute unforeseen crises. Running a label involves working with a lot of people with strong personalities, sometimes in stressful situations. All the late nights, early starts, managing everyone’s *high* expectations and operating all of this with an often tighter-than-you’d-like budget and deadline: this is not the normal 9-5. Despite all of this, it’s mine and I love it.
Do you have any advice for handling all of this madness?
MARIEKE: First off, you have to be resilient. Working in the creative industry is tough because people not only invest their money and time but their heart, passion and creative perspectives too. So when things go wrong, it’s twice as bad.
When people ask me what I have learned throughout the past 3 years of running a label and a publishing company, whilst managing artists and organising events, at first I joke and say: to breathe.
But honestly, that is my advice to everyone. It’s not the response they’re after but it’s true. I understand now that not everything is within my control. So, when I’m confronted with complications, disappointments, dishonesty, stress, or other negativity – the first thing I do is close my laptop, leave my phone, and breathe. Breathing is the most basic, magical tool, it puts everything into perspective.
Once the situation has been resolved, increasingly as time goes by, I have this feeling of ‘see, it’s never the end of the world’. Truth is, it’s probably not even the end of the week yet. New issues will arise. That’s why the biggest challenge is to develop trust within yourself.
Believe that you can handle any situation if you remember to keep calm and collected, which for me means be happy, professional, empathetic and capable. Having that confidence gives you peace of mind to take on new challenges.
Any women out there that you would like to acknowledge for being an inspiration?
HANNAH: When it comes to inspirational women in music, I’d say Cassandra Gracey, the president of my label. She’s so ridiculously incredible that I do have to mention her. She’s a mother of three, gets up at 5:30 am to do boxing every morning and still manages to smash her role as president of 4th Floor Creative. Not to mention, that she looks amazing. All. The. Time.
From the moment I met Cass, I knew that she was the person I wanted to work for. In a world where hostility can often get the better of us, she has only ever been supporting, encouraging and brilliant at recognising the extreme love and passion that goes into our jobs.
The music industry can sometimes be a ruthless and brutal place, but it’s people like Cass that keep me motivated to do the thing I know I love doing. She has had such a positive impact on my life.
MARIEKE: I find inspiration in all sorts of women, in and outside the music industry. It can be a cleaning lady at a venue who has the sharpest response to a sexist remark, or women who admirably manage to balance their femininity, compassion, empathy, and softness with strength. I like artists like Kate Bush, ESG, Marianne Faithfull and Alice Coltrane, to name a few, because they are so unapologetic in their artistry.
Any woman who manages to navigate the music industry whilst staying professional and true to themselves under structural sexism deserves praise.