- Words Miriam Balanescu
Women in CTRL, founded by music industry maverick Nadia Khan, is here to push forward gender equality in the sector.
The music industry has long been mired by sexism. On a management level, there are only 3 female CEOs and 1 female chair throughout the 12 music trade organizations in the UK. For individual artists, female songwriters are only credited for 19% of songs in the Top 100, while only 3% of producers in the Top 100 are women.
These are just a couple of the staggering statistics published by Women in CTRL, a not-for-profit organization taking on gender inequality and representation in the music industry. Founded by Nadia Khan, a music industry master who has been in the business for over 18 years, Women in CTRL is both a support base and a campaigning body for fairness in this sector. Testament to the organization’s importance, Nadia, as the pioneer behind Women in CTRL, recently appeared on Jägermeister’s “The Meister Series”, a project which celebrates those who go above and beyond in the music industry.
Also tackling institutional racism and advocating for underrepresented groups, the charity harnesses Nadia’s expert knowledge as a manager, music consultant, and chair of AIM – now with her own label imprint CTRL Records which triumphs female talent – to help members of the Women in CTRL collective reach success.
We chatted with Nadia about her career journey, travelling the world, and who she thinks will be the next big thing.
Tell us about your career, before your work with Women in CTRL. How did you get to where you are today?
I run my own artist management and music consultancy business day-day, so I work with a lot of artists, producers and record labels planning releases, marketing campaigns, strategies and business plans. I’ve had an incredible career so far doing something that I love and working with artists I’m passionate about.
I got my first break in the industry 20 years ago when I applied for a 2-week work experience placement in a music PR company. I ended up staying on for 3 months as an intern before they offered me my first paid job in the music industry! I went into that placement with the mindset that I wasn’t going to leave without a paid role, so I did everything in my power to stand out.
Improving representation and rights for women in the music industry is so important, and you’re a key player in leading that change. Can you remember the moment the lightbulb went on and you knew you had to found Women in CTRL?
After working in the industry for 16 years as a music manager in a heavily male-dominated job role and industry I had experienced a lot of tough situations and felt quite isolated at times. I’ve been completely ignored, laughed at by security, assumed to be a groupie or an assistant SO many times, and removed from stages by security at festivals who don’t believe I’m the manager. It happened all the time and when I finally decided to start speaking up on my own experiences, I found that many women I spoke to had the exact same or very similar experiences. We just never spoke about it!
I started Women in CTRL to empower other women in the industry, along with myself to speak out, raise awareness on these issues, and encourage us all to shout out more about our achievements. It started organically on Instagram with me sharing my experiences and posting other women that inspire me, and we’ve grown now to over 2000 members across the industry.
Apart from raising awareness, we’d love to know more about the work you do to help women into top industry roles and to become successful musicians?
Following my Seat at the Table report looking at the lack of women in senior positions across the industry, I’ve been working over the last year helping women get into board positions across music organizations. It’s a long and slow process but we are making change across the industry. I’m publishing a follow-up report in July and happy to be part of the change that’s happening in the industry. When I published the report there was only 1 female Chair across the organizations which I found shocking. Since then I put myself forward to become Chair of AIM (Association of Independent Music) and got elected to that role!
I’ve also published reports looking at the gender disparity in radio play for female musicians, with male artists featuring on over 80% of all records in the top 100 radio airplay chart. The top 10 female songwriters in 2019 earned 70% less than the top 10 male songwriters, so there is a shocking disparity! It’s really about bringing as much awareness to the reality and data really helps to show that. There’s a lot of industry bias that exists within the current systems that penalize female musicians, and unless we start to acknowledge there is a problem then nothing will change.
What kind of community do you hope to create with Women in CTRL?
A safe space for women to speak out, connect and feel empowered. I didn’t have access to anything like this when I was coming up in the industry and it felt really isolating at times.
We have an online dedicated community forum, which is a safe space where members can meet, network and share their experiences. We host events for our members, and help them with job referrals, connecting them with opportunities. It’s been great to see so many come together in the community. Anyone can join for free here: members.womeninctrl.com.
Did the pandemic impact your work in any way? Do you think equality has got worse or better over the past year?
All my management and consultancy work completely paused or got cancelled when the pandemic hit. Running my own business, this impacted me hard financially. However, at the same time for the first time in my career, I had free time and I decided to invest a lot of my energy into Women in CTRL. We then had the horrific murder of George Floyd which led to the BLM movement and the #showmustbepaused campaign which allowed us all time to reflect and for the first time, equality and diversity started to be discussed in the industry in a more open way.
I think that we are on the path towards change, there’s more awareness and acceptance on the issues we have in the industry and there’s a concerted effort towards change. It needs to be continued and not forgotten, as real change is going to take time.
You’ve worked in the music industry for over 18 years. I’m sure you’ve got bags of stories! Can you spill on some of the best or worst?
I’ve been blessed to have such incredible experiences in my career. I’ve travelled the world, been to amazing places, and had success charting top 20 records independently. All these moments have been so rewarding.
The worst experience for me has been that real struggle to be accepted and taken seriously – it’s a combination of lots of microaggressions every day where you are constantly getting dismissed that can really build up and affect your confidence in your work. It’s about fighting past that and not letting anything hold you back!
I don’t dwell on the negative experiences, but I use them to empower myself and others. I’m not going to quietly accept it, and neither are other women in the industry that I speak to!
How do you keep yourself motivated?
I follow my passions. My work has always been driven by doing what I love. I never have a “boring” day at work, and I run my own business so it’s so rewarding to be your own boss and getting paid for doing something you love.
What is your advice to women wanting to get started in the music industry?
Yes, do it! We need more women in the industry, and you can really have such an incredible career. There are a lot of positive changes happening in the industry and loads of supportive communities like Women in CTRL, Girls I Rate, The F List, Women Connect and more which are great places to network and build some relationships in the industry.
Name three women in the music industry who you think will be the next big thing.
Laughta: a musician and presenter doing inspiring things after teaching herself to mix and master and produce in lockdown after building her own home studio! Tackling the issues of disparity head-on with a positive attitude and great work ethic.
Wardah Sempa: a multi-talented PR-presenter, editor of Link Up TV and a true boss. I see big things in the future for Wardah, her energy is infectious and inspiring.
Cat Park: an inspiring mom of 2, who runs her own successful promo & PR company Ten Letter PR. Love her tenacity and strength, I’ve known her for many years and seeing how she’s continued to grow her company.
Lastly, if you could travel anywhere after the pandemic, where would it be?
I miss traveling so much since the pandemic – I used to travel a lot with work. I want to do an all-around-the-world trip and appreciate all the places I’ve never visited yet.