Music management can be an unforgiving business: always on, no days off and often tasked with making things happen in extremely challenging circumstances.
“It’s a 24/7/365 job,” Alex DePersia, who has worked on Pharrell’s management team for a decade and also works with young singer/songwriter Gracie Abrams, said during a panel at Billboard’s inaugural MusicCon in Las Vegas on Friday (May 13). “It requires a lot of attention but there’s also a lot of love and care that goes into it.”
DePersia was speaking on a panel titled Women on the Rise: Management 101, alongside We the Best general manager Nelly Ortiz (DJ Khaled) and SALXCO artist manager Dina Sahim (Swedish House Mafia, French Montana, Bebe Rexha, Hope Tala), moderated by Billboard writer Kristin Robinson. Each of the three managers spoke on the challenges of management but also on the rewards, and some of the specific realities of being a woman in a male-dominated field.
“It takes a lot of work,” explained Ortiz, who says she joined Khaled’s management team at Roc Nation “after the jet ski” situation, when Khaled became “the Snapchat King” after posting a series of videos to the app when he got lost on a jet ski near his home in Miami. “The best part of being a manager is understanding your limits and where you can help your clients big or small. That’s not something you can learn in school; you have to learn on the job.”
Sahim recently oversaw a huge moment in the career of her client Swedish House Mafia, when the group put out its first album ever and headlined Coachella, alongside fellow SALXCO client The Weeknd. SHM had locked in the booking a year ago, and months of rehearsals led up to the performance — which, of course, continued changing at the last minute. Sting and The Weeknd were supposed to be surprise guests, but when The Weeknd was added to the performance as an official headliner, things changed again. “It’s mind-blowing to look back and see what [we] put together and accomplished together,” she said. “It’s so much better when you win together.”
Each of the three also offered advice for aspiring managers, who often come from various areas of the business: Ortiz’s background is in marketing at record labels, while DePersia got her start at ICM and Sahim at WME. “Whenever an opportunity presents itself, even if it doesn’t make sense now, never burn a bridge. That’s very important. And have fun with it,” Ortiz said. Added Sahim, “The art is lost of keeping your head down and working. We worked really hard, we worked late nights, no job was too small or too big to get the respect that we deserved.”
And DePersia touched on a topic that each of them agreed with. “Find allies,” she said, which each of them mentioned could be in many forms: both fellow women who can lift you up and the men who insist that you belong. “You find your people, you find your group and you find mentors and people who can show you a path. And those people don’t forget you. If you keep your head down and do your job, it follows you.”
In recent years, the music industry has started to make changes and adjustments in efforts towards more inclusion. But it’s still slow going. “I think there’s been change and there hasn’t been enough,” DePersia said. “Some things are still just stuck in time and they should be progressing faster.” Added Sahim, It’s up to us to change it. Every person sitting in this room is an agent of change. You can lead the pack. And it’s on us, honestly.”