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The Beggars Group, the self-described “largest and most influential independent group of labels in the world” counts 4AD, Matador Records, Rough Trade and XL Recordings, along with each of their imprints, among its stable. Herrick is on a small team that handles press for nearly every artist under the umbrella. For those keeping score at home, that’s Vampire Weekend, tUnE-yArDs, Yo La Tengo and basically every other band you’ve ever liked.
What percentage of the people you work with on a daily basis are male, would you say?
Honestly, I’d say it appears pretty 50-50 to me, not that I’ve actually counted, but I’ve never perceived an imbalance. That said, I’ve had a pretty singular experience. I started as an intern at the Beggars Group right out of college and never left, so we’re talking independent labels that are still around because of a basic need to be adaptable and forward-thinking. About half of our department heads are women, come to think of it.
Public relations seems to be one of the only fields in the music industry where women are especially prominent. Why do you think that is?
You have to wear different figurative hats to do PR. You're called on to write something snappy in an effort to compel others to write something even more snappy about your artist; let's call this the creative hat. Then you need to do a lot of organizing for yourself and other people, so that would be the organizational hat. Then there's the decision-making hat: artist has X amount of time to do interviews, and loads of people clamoring for Y amount of time with them (which is way larger than X), so you need to discern what's the most important. Similarly with guest lists: label was able to buy X amount of tickets, shows sells out, and Y amount of people want to review. You have to try to keep people happy, but sometimes you have to let people down. There's a lot of navigating with different types of personalities and temperaments. "Finesse" might be a good word to use, and it's a word that I would venture to guess is more often applied to women than men.
Not to play up the stereotype of a shy, worrisome girl the corner, but has being the only woman in a room full of music dudes ever made you feel self-conscious?
No, there’s too many of us women, and the people I’ve come into contact with in the music industry that I’ve found the most intimidating have been women, truth be told.
Do you think the camaraderie among women in the industry is stronger than it is among men?
I had a recent dinner outing that was comprised of women on the publicity and journalistic side of things, and there was a moment when I took pause and just felt really excited to be at a table filled with smart, passionate women who are funny and witty and doing great things. So in that sense, there’s an example of camaraderie for you, but part of me finds it sort of sad that my head took me there. Why should a night like that even be considered novel? Why can’t I even stop thinking in terms of gender? And gender binary for that matter! People need to listen to more Genesis Breyer P-Orridge, but that doesn’t just pertain to the music industry.
Growing up as a devoted music fan, did you have other female peers who shared your passion, or did you find yourself talking about music mostly with guys?
I went to a performing arts junior high, so everyone, male or female, was a bit ambitious and nerdy about music and the arts in general. After that I ended up at an all-girls Catholic high school. Surrounded by affluent party girls and academic overachievers, I was one of the misfits that just wanted to listen to music, pour over music magazines and biographies, and spend my lunch money on imports. I had little to no social contact with fellas around that awkward time, so I talked about musical esoterica with my small group of misfit friends in girl’s school, and then I spent an unhealthy amount of time arguing about music in AOL chatrooms. My brother and sister are around 10 years older than I am. I didn’t see them very often growing up, but my brother would visit, survey my music collection and say, “Why the hell are you listening to stuff I listened to when I was a teenager? Here’s a mixtape I made in 1987.”
(Photo by Lee O'Connor)
At Work with Beggars Group's Catherine Herrick