Working towards a fairer music industry

In Conversation With : Joy Warmann

A familiar theme in our In Conversation With series is the concept of growing your own networks. Increasing your pool of contacts increases your chances of being in the right place at the right time when opportunities arise.

Joy Warmann takes this one step further and makes community building a fundamental part of her multifaceted career; either as a Project Manager at Secretly Group, through her work at Imaginary Millions or as a Soho Radio host and curator.  

Building community not only helps to open doors but having a network of likeminded people within the industry has also kept Joy close to her core principles, forming somewhat of a guide for the specific roles and projects she chooses to work on. 

We had a chat with Joy about the details of her various day to day roles, how to marry your passion for music to the key skills needed to establish a career and her hopes for the next generation coming through. 

Read on below. 

Project Manager & Radio Host

What was your first job in music and how did that come about?

My first job in music was music blogging. Essentially I started that because I was going to so many gigs and I got to the point where I was like I’ve got to tell people about this. Or, I’ve got to put this energy somewhere. I didn’t have a big outlet of people who were also going to shows and would appreciate it in the same way so I just started writing about them. Then that turned into more music journalism work. 

And what other jobs have you had in music?

I’ve had a lot of different jobs since then. I worked in HR for a bit, that was outside of the music industry completely. I work with this creative community called Imaginary Millions, I originally started off being a label assistant and went on to project manage and assist them with the nights and the releases. Now I’m heading that up. In amongst that I did artist liaison work for o2 Music, creating content for their platform “spurring on UK’s live music”. That obviously came to a screeching halt as soon as the pandemic happened. 

It was during the pandemic when the job at Secretly came across my desk and so I applied for that and have been working there ever since with lots of little bits in a midst that. 

Can you tell us about your role at Secretly now and what that entails day to day?

As a Project Manager for a label we’re all assigned different artists that are on the roster and then let’s say one of my artists wants to release an album, I will assist them with setting up that campaign. That’s everything from getting the timeline sorted, or the budget or getting in touch with who’s going to be the publicist for the campaign or just finding out what the story of the album or release is going to be. Essentially pulling together the team and making sure that we’re all working together to make sure this album comes out in the best possible way. 

Day to day, it’s the standard emails, meeting and rallying the troops! A lot of chasing! 

Did you have an idea of what a project manager was before you saw the role?

Yeah, so Imaginary Millions would have been on a lot smaller scale than what we have at Secretly. At Secretly I’ll have anywhere between 16 and 20 artists and at Imaginary Millions I would have had three. I knew to some extent what I would be getting into but obviously it’s a larger scale, you’re working with larger budgets and you’re working with international artists as well. At Imaginary Millions, everyone was based in London, it was a much smaller scale operation. Same same but different. 

What are some of the key skills you’ve picked up along the way?

Prioritising! That’s number one. That’s something I’m still tweaking every day. But when you’ve got so many different things on your plate, you have to figure out a way to do things efficiently and effectively as well as accurately so prioritising is key. I feel like I understood prioritising but boy when you do jump into a scene where you really do have to be cautious with your time, you don’t really get prioritising until then. That’s been a good skill that I’ve developed. 

Also sharpening your ear in music is really key. I think a lot of people think they can work in the music industry because they like music and then come into a space and not really know how to sell that music or how to listen out and hear something and know this is going to work here, or this is what we should be targeting. I think being able to listen to something and pick up immediately what that song or project might need and where it might flourish, that’s been a good skill to develop and practice and strengthen in all of my roles.

Have you had any official mentors or guidance or have you just had to make your own way?

I’ve not had any official mentors but I’m lucky enough to have a lot of friends who are also in music and funnily enough, more often than not, they’re a similar age to me or from a similar background to me so they’ve been able to give me advice or we can bounce ideas off each other. Or just chat! 

I have a good friend of mine who is an artist manager, Kaiya Milan, she manages Steam Down and a few others. She’s been in the business for a long while as well and so every now and again when I'm stuck or want to get a fresh perspective on something I always go to her and we’ll just chat and bounce things back and forward. I’ve been lucky enough to have a good support system in that way, groups of individuals who want to see each other win and so we’re all just happy to put each other on a pedestal when we need it.  

When you’re trying to establish yourself, people don’t automatically think about the next person who’s struggling so creating your own networks is a key part of it?

Yeah, 100%. As much as it would be great to have a mentor, and I think there’s so much value in that, I’d say for me community is a necessity in the music industry. From the artist or the CEO of a label, having people around you who can hold you to account and support you all the way through your career, I think that’s so essential. 

In what ways are your different positions complementary to each other and do you think dipping your toe into various disciplines in music is a good way to find your feet?

They all bounce off each other. There’s different career paths that I’d still like to explore within the music world. I never come into a job thinking I just want specifically this role. It’s more so a case of, does this role have these things; Can I support good music that I actually believe in and that I actually like and can I be doing something to give them the resources, the time and the exposure that they need to get this out to the right people. If the role does that, then generally i’ll be interested. 

So when it comes to radio, Imaginary Millions, Secretly Group, artist liaison, all of these enable me to spotlight artists that I care about and music that I really enjoy and bring them to an audience that also might appreciate it. I try to do that in the best way that I can and I’d say that’s how they all relate as roles. 

Having to curate things for the radio show, that helps with sharpening the ear and seeing which markets things are going to go into. With Imaginary Millions, the Project Management aspect of it that was something that really helped me when starting out with Secretly. Also the ethos behind Imaginary Millions is more that everyone can be a performer, everyone can be an artist, giving people the change to explore their creativity within that. And so being able to support people in that really helps me with things I can play on my radio show or to show people that you don’t have to have a million pounds to produce a track that can be played on the radio. All of these things coincide in one way or another. 

What are some of the things you’d tell your younger self to do differently on your career journey?

Whoa, calm down! Things just find a way of working themselves out in the end. I know that’s a really difficult thing to sit with when you feel like nothing makes sense and you’re not in the right space. But I think if you hold onto your conviction and stay strong in knowing that you want to be in this space, or this job and keep putting quality work out there, things do work themselves out. I would tell myself, keep doing that and you’d find yourself where you need to be.

What are your top tips for younger people trying to break their way in?

Meet people! Talk to people! Research the places where you can meet other like minded individuals. This can be anything from going to gigs, the kinds of music that you’re into or the music that you’re interested in working with. Going to those shows and chatting to people that you might have regularly seen at those shows and just making connections. Every connection is important, whether it serves you now or later, meeting people and actually just getting your personality out there, being nice to people and just letting people know what you’re about. That’s always helpful. The reason I have the job at Imaginary Millions is because I was working as a barista and I met the founder as I was serving him coffee! We just got to chatting and I told him what I do. 

I’d say do your research about the kinds of spaces you can be within to get the role that you want, if it is a specific role, and if it’s not a specific role, find people who are similar to you, maybe the same age or the same background and are in the music industry who might have some insight into other careers or things you need to know about and see if you can just chat with them. Ask for advice. You can’t really have shame when it comes to these things. Ask people, be curious, be kind. That’s pretty much it. 

Looking ahead say five years into the future and thinking of someone who is currently 16 - 18, what kind of changes to the industry would you like to see happen for them?

As you can probably tell, I’m super big into community, I think that’s a change that is happening more. We’re seeing more collectives building up, more collaboration and people coming together and sharing resources, sharing knowledge and creating really good things from that. I’d like to see that be a (permanent) thing. 

I’d love to see more women in positions of power in the music industry. That is something I see happening more and I believe we can get there in the next five years. 

I’d also like to see more risk taking. I think a lot of spaces in the music industry - and this is a bit of a “hot take” - are resting on their laurels a little bit. Just kind of coasting in the knowledge of what’s been before and no one is challenged enough, I feel. I’d like to see some of our bigger infrastructures in the industry being challenged and having to take risks and do exciting shit! That’s how original landmark memorable moments happen. 

Do you mean the types of artists who are being supported or the types of shows that are being put on?

Moreso the types of artists who are being supported. Because music discovery has taken on a whole different way of being that has just made it easier for people to receive music but not easier for people to actually go out and do the research of their own. A lot of people are just going into playlists vibes, knowing the song but when you ask them who the artist is, no one knows.

 I feel it’s watering down the meaningfulness that can come from putting out a really good album. That’s not to say that we don’t have brilliant albums, this year in particular has been a brilliant year for music, but I think in terms of the types of music that are having the light shone on them, there’s not enough being done. There’s not enough people going out there to find new things. It’s always the same five people who are always at the centre of things, so that’s getting boring.

What have been some of your career highlights?

The first thing that comes to mind is the first International Women's Day Imaginary Millions event that we put on, that was just out of this world. The nature of the nights is such that it’s an open mic but there’s no sign up sheet, no expectations, no judgement. So every night, you don’t know what’s going to happen, you don’t know who’s going to perform or what they’re going to bring to the stage when they get up. It’s 2 hours of that. So to do an International Women’s Day where we had an all women band and women to the front with control over the mic. We had a full house, we recorded it. Ill Camille came through who is this sick rapper from the States. She got on the mic and we had some really amazing performances. A lot of it was people who had never performed in their life, that was really special. 

Secretly has been full of gems. The first album I put out was Claud - Super Monster. Claud is such an amazing musician and artist and that was really exciting. Especially as it was the first release to come from Phoebe Bridges’ label as well. It was really really cool to be a part of that. 

We did some content with Nova Twins at o2 Music, that was dope because I’d been following Nova Twins since Bassline Bitch way back when and so being able to put them infront of the guys at o2 and have them be just as excited - now they’re Mercury nominated which is wild - that was cool too.