In The Lead—Billboard’s Honda Stage-sponsored podcast series hosted by Gail Mitchell (Executive Director of Billboard R&B and Hip-Hop) and Jordyn Rolling (Billboard News host)—chronicles the unique rise of female music industry change-makers, the challenges they’ve overcome and how they’ve paid it forward since finding success. These discussions aim to inspire others, especially younger women who have aspirations of filling these impressive shoes or creating their own distinctive lanes.
To date, Mitchell and Rolling have spoken to Fadia Kader (music partnerships lead, Instagram), Dayna Frank (ceo/president of First Avenue and the National Independent Venues Association (NIVA)), Phylicia Fant (co-head of urban music, Columbia Records), and Towalame Austin (evp of social impact, Sony Music).
Ironically enough, each guest took a slight detour on her way to the music scene, with their careers initially kicking off in the fashion, television, film and sports realms. Nevertheless, their passion for music — coupled with their love of making a difference — continues to guide them on their professional journeys. While the pressures of being a woman in music are not in short supply, these phenomenal professionals continue to defy norms in order to create a brighter future for rising industry executives.
“I view [challenges] as opportunities,” says Frank during episode two of the show regarding her experiences as a queer woman working in the indie music space. “You can really carve your own path, there really are no expectations, there are no restrictions…I was just ‘me,’ and that was very freeing in a lot of ways.”
Hot-button topics like navigating the industry in the age of COVID-19 are widely discussed throughout the four-episode series. Kader commends Instagram’s live streaming feature for bringing artists closer to fans during these turbulent times. Through her work for the app, her penchant for trend forecasting and knowledge of social media’s best practices, she is credited for her major contributions to the Verzuz music battles that became a quarantine mainstay in 2020. “[Instagram is] bringing a new level of comfort during a time where we’re all in need of healing,” she says during episode one.
It goes without saying that the concert market is taking a devastating hit during the pandemic. Frank, who heads up Minneapolis’ premier indie music venue First Avenue, opens up regarding her work with other venue owners and artists through NIVA to raise funds and aid for independent clubs and theaters. “First we’re gonna help them survive, then we’re gonna help them thrive,” she explains.
In The Lead also tackles the importance of dismantling systemic racism in the workplace while exploring how macro and micro-decisions by those at the top are necessary to spark industry transformations. In order to foster stronger representation in the music field, Fant believes that it’s important to “change where [we] sit.” She continues, “You have to take those blinders off and recognize…to rid systematic oppression, we have to give everybody a start from the same line.”
Creating change is also important when it comes to artists’ narratives, as explained by Austin, whose work at Sony Music is rooted in social justice initiatives. She commends the musicians she’s worked with like Rihanna, DJ Khaled and Mariah Carey for their dedication to amplifying causes near and dear to them. They help to mobilize fans around issues that they may have been otherwise unfamiliar with. “As someone who’s worked in the industry for a long time…I’m blessed to be in front of people who want to give,” she says in episode four. “That passion is really what stands out.”
With all of these phenomenal talking points in mind, it’s key to recognize that the central theme of In The Lead is to highlight the importance of women across music industry lines. Each guest discusses the necessity of having women in major business and decision-making positions as integral to making the field a better place to work in the long run. As Kader puts it, “[Women] change the world consistently…if you don’t have women on the team, then you’re not doing it right.”
You can listen to all four episodes of the In The Lead podcast below and on all of the major streaming platforms.