For the next instalment of Many Hats we sit down with Susan Montgomery, Project Manager at Glasgow’s annual Resonate Music Conference, and Senior Music Publicist at Publishing Company 23 Precinct.
Susan has been working on producing Resonate for 4 years now which usually happens in Glasgow each year. This year, like everyone, Susan and her team are having to adapt to the strange new conditions we find ourselves in, so this year, Resonate 2020 will be taking place virtually in November. Susan talks us through her experience – from starting a biochemistry degree to following her passion for music by going back to college to study music, and subsequently kick-starting the impressive career she holds today! See below for wise words, hot tips and some impressive anecdotes…
What are your current roles? What do they involve?
Right now I work as the Senior Music Publisher at 23rd Precinct Music, which is first and foremost a publishing company, so we represent songwriters, composers and music creators, and we also have 2 in-house record labels – so I wear many hats in that role!
I also Project-Manage Resonate which is a music industry conference, which normally happens physically, but this year it’s happening digitally. It happens in November every year in Glasgow, and we host a series of panel discussions, one to one sessions, workshops, seminars – a whole bunch of things! We’ve really worked to grow that over the past 4/3 years to be a sort of calendar – staple – event in a lot of Scottish music-people’s lives I think now, and that’s really where we’re at!
Amazing! What key skills do you use in each role?
At 23rd Prescient as a Publisher I have to be great at communicating. I have to be really forthcoming with ideas, pitching to labels and management companies. So if I’ve got a writer that writes a song I have to find a home for that song, so I directly pitch to management companies, not just here in the UK, but all over the world.
I do a lot of pitching for Sync as well – Sync is when you put music to a moving image, so that could be a game or trailer, advert, whatever else. Basically I organise all the catalogs, all the new music that our writers are writing. I have to then process it on a platform – so being organised is a really important skill. Being able to self-motivate is really important and being able to prioritise your tasks. You know, if I get a briefing for a Sync and it’s urgent I have to drop everything I’m doing and respond to that.
And in terms of Resonate, I think being a good team leader – hopefully I am a good team leader I don’t know, I’ve not had any bad feedback so far! [laughs] – but being able to manage and delegate tasks is really hard, especially if you’re a control-freak, but it’s just about overcoming those challenges that you face with just growing up I guess!
What’s the most rewarding aspect of your job/s?
From a publishing perspective, that’s really where my passion lies. I really love songwriting and just think it’s such a magical thing. Seeing someone get a track picked up by a big label, or maybe I’m working with a vocalist who’s just produced an acapella and I get a producer to bring that track to life, I love that. And if you manage to sign it to a big label, or it doesn’t even have to be a ‘big’ label, but just the feeling of accomplishment, and knowing that you’ve helped that writer or vocalist [is great].
We’ve work on a long term basis, so when we sign people we sign them for at least 18 months, maybe 2 years, so it’s really rewarding seeing those writers progress and develop and grow in confidence. Being able to say, “I’m going to go into this session, and I’m going to smash this” or “I’m not going to feel overwhelmed in a studio with people with 20 years experience” – I think we can all suffer from that anxiety sometimes– so that’s definitely one of the most rewarding parts.
And on the conference side, the rewards are just seeing people learn and talk to each other. I think a lot can be said for people communicating and networking, there’s no better feeling! Making friends… Remember when we used to go out and meet friends! [laughs] I think on an employment level, it really is just seeing people develop and grow – that’s really rewarding.
What experience did you need for the role/s you’re currently in?
Well I started out studying Biochemistry – I dropped out of that because I realised I didn’t want to be a scientist and really I just went to college – that can seem like a bit of a step back sometimes, or society has a dim view if you change your mind or your career… But I went back to college, and my lecturer was actually signed to the company that I work for now, so basically it came to fruition that he suggested me for an opening at the company. So in that sense going into higher education did benefit me.
Was it a music course?
Yeah yeah, a HND in Music Business! I went from cutting up rats at uni to learning about something I had always been really, really passionate about [laughs] – but maybe skeptical, about a career there. And I think this series will probably point out that there’s so many avenues that you can open your eyes to – music publishing, record label management, being an artist, working in the live sector, working in sync, – there’s such a handful. There’s industry bodies, there’s so many opportunities out there, which I really opened my eyes to when I was at college.
And from there, I was just doing the crappy jobs like working the door and doing the cloakroom at gigs, and just really getting my face out there. I happened to meet the manager of a band [from that] and then I was a tour manager for a little bit – I don’t think I really qualified to be tour manager [at the time] but it it was definitely about learning on the job. it was really cool, I got to travel to all parts of the world, and it was a really cool experience.
What was the most challenging aspect of first starting out in the industry?
I think it was just overcoming that anxiety that I think you have when you’re surrounded by people who know a lot more than you – or that you think know a lot more than you. You can feel a bit sheepish sometimes, asking questions. And I think because I was a little older, I was maybe 20/21 when I was first getting into this, I was just thinking ‘it’s now or never’ (even though it wasn’t) but you’ve just got to have that confidence. And if you have a question, just ask. I think for a long time I was sort of like, oh man I can’t ask that person, they’ll think I’m dumb… But really you never experience anything like that, it was always that everyone was really up for helping.
I’ve actually ended up speaking at Academy of Music and Sound classes, and reflect that onto the students there too – just don’t be afraid to ask questions. Its challenging getting your foot in the door, but definitely it’s important to believe in yourself. And there are gaps in the market, so start a company that fits that gap! I would recommend people do that, just being innovative and inquisitive – innovative and inquisitive! There you go [laughs]…
Was your current job always something you wanted to do?
I found out about [music publishing] at college, and music publishing is basically just looking after songwriters and producers, and pitching tracks to labels… So not everyone that writes music is going to perform it, so those that are writing the tracks, I’m going to try and get those placed with labels or management companies or in advents. That really pricked my interest when I was at college, I did my own research on it… But up until that point I had no idea that job existed! It’s a sort of mythical area of the music industry that not a lot of people seem to delve into. But I thought it was really interesting!
In terms of the event side of things, I used to put on events and gigs myself a lot, so had a tiny bit of experience with that – nothing on the scale of a conference. But still, it goes back to having that ground knowledge of a lot of different areas. I think is really what the pertinent benefits are from going into music and studying music – you get a piece of every sector. Its a good time because you sort of find ‘your crowd’ as well – I hate that phrase actually [laughs] – but finding out what it is you want to do with your life. When people ask 14 and 16 year olds what they want to do with the rest of their life, they don’t know – and of course they don’t know! So I think going to college and finding that time where you can discover what you’re interested in… Whether that’s a sound engineer or a songwriter. That’s the time to find out.
What about your music education? How has that informed your skills and experience?
For sure! I went to Glasgow Kelvin College and one of my lecturers was in the band The Bluebells, which were a really big band in Scotland in the 80s. And he was really good at getting the best out of people in his class, getting people to come out of their shell and creating opportunities. Like, we went and saw Stereophonics at The Hyrdo in Glasgow and being there and physically witnessing what was happening… Those physical elements to the course where you weren’t just sitting and looking at a computer screen I found really valuable. I was able to talk to people and we were able to network.. And nobody likes networking! Anybody that says they like networking are lying! [laughs] But you just have to find your own way of dealing with it and making it comfortable for you. That was a good experience being at college, and sort of learning those tricks. And don’t always hard sell yourself – have an actual interest in the person you’re talking too.
I did that course for 2 years, and actually moved down to London to complete a degree at the University of West London, but that fell through and I moved back to Glasgow and just stumbled into this job! So I was really, really fortunate. But definitely having that bit of paper that says you have a qualification in music helps, it’s really valuable in terms of getting your foot in the door and it just lets people know that you have a steady and ground knowledge of music and the music industry, so it’s really beneficial.
Even networking through music education itself can be really helpful as well?
And I know through the Glasgow (AMS) branch, they have a lot of guest speakers come through as well. So myself, but they also bring people from all over the UK, and it’s just about going up to that person at the end and saying ‘thanks for your time’ or making yourself memorable in some way, or just letting that person know, if you’re a manager or artist or whatever, just going up and telling them. And if you need to email them 6 months later, they’ll remember you asked the person who thanked them for their time. Just little things like that, they can seem so menial, but they really are important.
What’s the most valuable piece of advice you’ve received throughout your career?
It’s quite hard to pick out one valuable bit of information… But I think just knowing that you’re doing what you’re passionate about. I think if you’re not passionate about it, maybe you should reconsider? I think I’ve always known that music is my passion and I feel like I’ve got a connection to music… I always sort of felt like I’d end up here. I don’t really believe in all that sort of stuff, but I think, just know that you’re following your passion. And know that it’s going to be hard working in the music industry. There’s quite a lot of people fighting for very few jobs – it can be that case in a lot of sectors – but you have to be committed and you have to be driven. I think that would be the takeaway quotes – driven and committed!
And finally, what advice would you give to current students starting out in the industry right now?
I think just spend as much time as you can learning… I think if I was to try and think of one positive thing that’s come out of the COVID thing – which obviously there isn’t much – but the opportunity for e-learning as improved, there’s lots of things going online. Following things like BPI which is a governmental body for UK music and they have lots of programmes available for free. And we have a conference obviously – shameless plug here! [laughs] – and we’ll have lots of events on throughout the day, so really take the opportunity to expand your knowledge!
And in terms of employability, after this whole thing ends, particularly the live sector is decimated right now, but we’re all working together as a community and there’s lots of great campaigns to get involved in like #LetTheMusicPlay and #WeMakeEvents – even societal things like Pride and Black Lives Matter – music has had a huge impact on all those movements (and vice versa), so it’s still a really good time to get involved in music. Maybe not in the way you would hope to right now, but there’s still lots of things happening in society and with movements that hopefully once this is all over, will set you in good stead for getting a job – setting yourself apart from others applying for a position for instance.
My best bit of advice would be to just be yourself, don’t try to be anyone else, and be committed to whatever it is you’re passionate about, if it’s events then be committed to that, if you’re passionate about being a [sound] engineer be committed to that! I know how hard it is to get your foot in the door, I would definitely just say get out there, don’t be afraid to email don’t be afraid to message on social media – whatever medium you see fit! And don’t be afraid!
Resonate Conference 2020 will be held virtually on 26 November. You can purchase tickets here.
Resonate is an annual music conference held in Glasgow’s east end. Now in its 4th year, we’ve built the event from humble beginnings and now is considered a staple in the Scottish music calendar [we think!].
This year we’re making the move online and hosting our event via Hopin. You can expect the same top quality panels, 1-2-1s, workshops, demonstrations and more all from the comfort of your home. Tickets are on sale now!
We’ve build our event upon 4 key pillars; collaboration, creativity, accessibility and development. These are key objectives that we try to apply to all the activities within the programme. We’ve worked with local venues and event spaces to open up our programme to accommodate technology workshops, one-one advice sessions, group activities, presentations and panel events. Although we won’t be able to utilise those physical spaces for the same purposes this year we’re still as keen as ever to have a diverse range of learning and networking activities for all our virtual attendees.
Words & Interview: Isobel Trott
Photos: © Resonate 2019