Roanne Mesirow talks to AWTY about the discrimination she faced, both from men and women, when setting up Mezz, a female led music management company, in the male dominated world of Rap music.
“I started in the music industry six years ago completely by accident. I was employed at the ACE hotel in New York as an event planner. By chance, I worked alongside a colleague who was also a rapper. Sitting next to me she would often hear me on the phone to clients. One day, out of the blue, she said to me, ‘Roanne you would make such a good manager,'
"I have never met anyone who is so on top of their shit.’ From that conversation I slipped into managing her and my music career began.”
Despite Rap being a male genre (when over 6.7 million fans voted on a ranking of ‘The Greatest Rappers of All Time’, only three of the top hundred rappers were female) Mesirow was not a rap novice, having grown up in Chicago listening to Eminem, Kanye West and 50 Cent. After her chance introduction to music management, Mezz Entertainment followed shortly afterwards, with Mesirow making connections with other rappers who, seeing the work she was doing, wanted her to manage them.
"Being a young female in this industry there’s a lot of judgements made, whether conscious or not, people still look down on you."
If a woman running an all-male list of rap artists is unusual, even more striking is that Mezz is managed almost entirely by female staff and interns.
“Being a young female in this industry there’s a lot of judgements made, whether conscious or not, people still look down on you. That’s why the internship programme is so important to me because I see these young adults come onto the programme one way and leave completely transformed with a new level of confidence and courage to take things on and take risks.”
Yet, in developing her company, Mesirow has faced considerable discrimination.
“This industry forces you to be a bitch. If you’re friendly and nice its seen as flirting, if you're business like you're cold and aggressive."
"Recently I had an incident with one of the DJs with whom I work. I was booking him in to do a gig, and I spoke to the event manager I had talked to before about my DJ wanting something changed. I asked three or four times but got no response, before finally I was a little sterner. He then says to my DJ ‘Yo, you need to watch your girl and her attitude’ If I had been a guy it would never have got that response. It would just been seen as getting things done and it wouldn’t have taken so long.”
“When someone is ‘DJing’ its very common to just go up to them and say, ‘what’s up?’ while they DJ. I wanted to get my client into this prestigious club in LA. There’s a guy who is very high up the club's company and whose brother is a DJ but deals with the booking side. That night he was DJing, so I went up to him and said, ‘What’s up?' I just wanted to say 'Hi and put a face to the name but I will email you’. The interaction lasted no more than 30 seconds, but his brother then came up to me and said ‘You shouldn’t do that’. When I responded by saying ‘but it’s very common', he said, with a smirk on his face, that I was being very aggressive and he was going to ban me. Its something that has never happened to me before."
"It made me feel, because I’m a woman, if I say that something needs to happen, its seen as annoying or aggressive rather than if I was a man it would just be sorting things. It’s so infuriating’! I just want to be treated with respect.”
However, Mesirow has also experienced problems from women working in the industry.
“I know this is something women don’t always want to hear but we can be our own worst enemy at times. I’ve asked women to step in and be mentors yet unfortunately, they just haven’t stepped up to the mark. I really wish it wasn’t that way, but women are insecure and we still often see each other as competition.”
It’s a theme AWTY has described before in an interview with sound engineer Paula Nahlen who commented...
“When I started out, I met a lot of really cool females. Band members, managers, sound engineers etc. However, I can’t say many of them were too nice. It felt like they were implying they were so much better than me and it would be a waste of time us even trying to have a conversation. It taught me that I never ever wanted to treat anyone in the way they treated me.”
For Mesirow working in an environment that can offer support is critical.
“Find a small company to start off in, where you can develop close relationships. Build your skillset, get some hands-on experience, find someone who has respect for you and will give you a chance. That’s the best place to start. At Mezz everyone is supportive and an ally to one another. There are some really strong friendships and business relationships that form between us and the interns. It’s really cool!"
A sound career?
Successful live sound engineer Paula Nahlén, describes the prejudice she encountered and what women may still need to do if they are to be successful on the technical side of the music industry.