Working towards a fairer music industry

In Conversation With : Jess Kangalee

Jess Kangalee founded Good Energy PR in 2019, following years of experience working within traditional press companies.

As is the case with most office work, the bureaucratic processes of these companies made for stifling environments, but in her experience, deeper rooted prejudices in the industry created structures that were even more suppressive for employees.

Racist and sexist attitudes created a sense of displacement that was heightened by the fact that Jess works within the indie and alternative music scene, a space dominated by white men.

Now Jess is her own boss, she’s free to support musicians who, like her, have had to overcome embedded industry discrimination. Primarily working with artists who are people of colour, female or queer, Jess has shaped a space that champions the diversity of music and its creators. 

We spoke to her about her day-to-day role, the Good Energy roster, and the ways in which employers should be providing guidance and opportunities to entry level staff.

Did you go to University and if so, what did you study? If not, what did you do after school/college?

I did go to university - initially I was going to study Law but I changed my mind last minute and decided to study music instead. I ended up going to Salford University for Popular Music & Recording.

When did you realise a career in music was something you wanted to pursue?

I’ve been involved in the music industry since my teens and got offered a few artist development deals early on, however it was very hard for me to navigate the industry coming from a completely non musical family and having limited relevant contacts. Though I didn’t feel confident in myself or my knowledge of the industry back then, I knew that going into music, in some shape or form, would happen. I think less than 10% of my graduating class work in music full time now.

What was your first job in the industry and how did you get it?

When I finished my degree, I returned to London and was constantly applying for internships via music job sites. I unfortunately experienced some abusive behaviour at my first internship and then luckily I managed to confirm a new internship at an independent radio & TV plugging company. I had no idea what plugging was and barely listened to the radio before starting that internship but I found that I loved the job and ending up staying at that company for five and a half years.

How did you end up choosing the PR route?

I used to always say that Im the most un-PR person working in PR. I never felt like I lived up to the stereotypical PR personality because I had the most incredible anxiety about interacting with others in a professional capacity at the start of my career. I didn’t want to get anything wrong or show myself up as “not being worthy” or “not belonging”.  Being the person that I am and working in a majority white male space, that standard of perfection was magnified 10 fold. The micro aggressions were constant and you were always being judged by an intense double standard.

Besides the fact that I did love the job there was definitely some small semblance of not being able to leave as I already had my foot in the door. As a queer woman of colour Ive always been taught to minimise myself especially in white spaces and as there was such an enormous lack of representation for anyone like me present, it made me feel like I didn’t have the right to explore other options because that would somehow be seen as reaching above my means or being greedy. I always advise young people coming into music now to try out as many different things as possible and to not be afraid to take risks or wear many hats.

When did you decide to set up your own company and why?

I decided that I wanted to set up my own company in 2018 but it didn’t actually come to fruition until 2019. I felt like the environments I had been in previously were very limiting and I was ready to be my own boss. I wanted to be able to control my roster and make sure that the majority of my acts were people of colour, female and queer. I also realised that I wasn’t getting the space, support or opportunities I needed to grow upwards and it became apparent to me that the only way to keep developing was to set up my own business and work independently.

What does your day-to-day role entail?

My day to day is broken down into looking through track lists, reporting coverage, writing press releases, pitching tracks, pitching for promo opportunities, chasing for feedback, doing radio edits, meetings, reporting, new business, social media, a lot of listening and my least favourite thing- accounts! In addition to plugging , I also work on various projects that aim to improve inclusion in the music industry by creating a safer and fairer environment for minority groups.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in terms of building your career in the alt / indie music space?

There are too many to list here but ultimately all my challenges have involved abusive behaviour, sexism and racism. It’s another one of the reasons I set up my own company. For so many years I felt deeply forlorn, there was no one for me to look up to and therefore no one who could prove someone like me could be successful. At a certain point I realised I needed to be that person for myself. Running your own company, you are in charge, you call the shots and you wont put barriers in the way of your progression or the progression of your future employees because you’ve been through it.

What do you look for when building your own client base?

Primarily the music and the people behind the project. I have a very eclectic taste so some element of the music needs to speak to me and then one step further I look at the artist, their creative ethos and what they represent. If these two main factors align then I know it’s a good fit.

Do the methods for getting coverage on TV / Radio etc differ or is it broadly the same process?

It’s all basically the same format, pitching, chasing, updating, confirming and cultivating relationships.

For a burgeoning PR, what are the first steps people should take when approaching artists as potential clients and building a roster?

I don’t really see the process as having steps. If you find something you like and you want to promote reach out and if you are really enthusiastic that will shine through. They may have someone on board already or they may choose someone else but even if it doesn’t work out that time around its important to build relationships in the long term. A specific project that comes up may not be right for you but a project could come via that same contact in the future.

From your own experience, what are the ways in which employers can help support new starters?

Paid long term internships, active mentorships and access. Interns need to be paid properly as they tend to be doing real work (not shadowing). If you aren’t in a position to be financially supported by your family you are often doing a part time internship, working part time and will also have to be at events and gigs. This limits your time and the opportunities that become available to you. A lot of us have had to do this and it’s not something I want to pass down to the next generation as it fuels the lack of inclusivity within the industry.

Most of the time it takes a while to get into a working rhythm and learn new skills. Quite frequently with short term internships you dont get the chance to learn, rather you are just being made to do a lot of admin and end up leaving without the knowledge of how things work and why. It’s also important for these internships to be over a longer period of time because that allows for a deeper understanding of the industry to develop and also allows the opportunity for new starters to widen their contact base.

It’s imperative to make sure that if you are offering an opportunity like this, that you have the time to properly teach and explain the processes of the business and your day to day.

I always felt a great sense of ring fencing when I was a starting out and there was a huge lack of access to the point where I felt I wasn’t allowed to ask for opportunities to help my progression so I think it’s important to make sure that kind of mentality isn’t passed down, and support is present from day one in the form of openness, effective communication and transparency.  When Ive had interns in the past I have made sure to get them involved in as much as they were happy to be involved in whether that be gigs, sessions, campaign strategy etc Ive helped with CV’s, job interviews, contacts, transitions and been a general support where needed.