Having staged an entire awards ceremony digitally during the pandemic, Kanya King has taken remote working to a whole new level. Ahead of our panel that aims to improve connection in the music industry, the MOBO founder argues that while tech unites us, the sector needs to increase its diversity...
INTERVIEW: COLLEEN HARRIS
The MOBO Awards was livestreamed on YouTube for the first time ever – with three million views. How proud are you that you were able to bring the music community together in a pandemic?
“I felt really uplifted. After the year that we had, I wanted something ground-breaking. Doing a virtual show meant we could be creative. MOBO was known for being energetic and for having a purpose, so it was important to have a show that was powerful and entertaining, but we also wanted to deliver some serious messaging. We wanted to push those boundaries and use cutting-edge screen content for links and performances. It was combining that and having a show that was fast-paced and natural with a live feel. We were creating a really powerful experience.”
How big a challenge was it to take an event like the MOBOs and stage it virtually?
“Everything was so fluid all of the time in terms of the [pandemic] guidelines – what you could and couldn’t do – but it was great to have a team that was passionate about MOBO and its purpose, all working together for that end goal. We also knew there was ‘virtual fatigue’ so we wanted to bring some humanity and purpose, plus show what was going on backstage. That was really important to us. When you’re planning an event there are a lot of stakeholders involved, so it was a challenge to put this together with global artists in the current climate – all without an audience in the room. It was great that everyone was pulling in the same direction.”
Has the event fundamentally changed MOBO going forward?
“Yes, absolutely. If anything, we’ve seen that technology allows us to do things differently in ways we would not have imagined a year ago. We’re keen to embrace that change and reach a global audience. That’s really exciting for us. We’re making plans and assessing the landscape out there, and we’ll react to where we are in the world. The MOBO Awards was a huge success – the feedback has been incredible. We’re looking to see how we can build on what we’ve done to create more surrounding content. The social media pick-up was hugely engaging and that really added to the event. Storytelling is a huge part of what we do and so we are always looking at how we can do things differently.”
MOBOs have partnered with Accenture to launch a new networking platform called Mobolise. Is there a sense that, due to the pandemic, it is now more important than ever for people to network and seek career opportunities?
“Yes, because the world of work is changing. We’re very excited about Mobolise – to connect and create the best career opportunities within the most forward-thinking companies. There’s going to be so many people losing or changing their jobs. A platform like Mobolise can provide mentorship, support and guidance. There are new jobs being created that, say a month ago, people would not have heard of. We will facilitate connections at all levels. The aim is to empower creative talent by ensuring they have a voice. We’re targeting forward-thinking organisations in film, music, TV and technology. We are supporting them to develop a progressive workplace, helping them to build on the pledges that they’ve made to advance the industry.”
How have you personally adjusted to doing your job remotely during the pandemic?
“On a positive, I’m able to get more done. The amount of time I spent travelling to meetings before, having the meeting and then travelling back – your afternoon could be gone! I personally have never felt more connected. There are so many ways people are trying to connect with you. That’s been very important to me with this new way of working. Our team will have our morning calls and there is that sense of camaraderie. It’s really important to have those networks. That’s why Mobolise is so important. Trying to navigate the industry has been very challenging. Ideas are the currency of creative industries, but if you don’t live in a big city or you don’t come from families that are connected with these firms, how do you get in? Mobolise will make it very easy. If you’re a person that doesn’t know anyone within these aspirational organisations, that’s fine – you won’t be disadvantaged now.”
Do you think communication platforms like Clubhouse, Zoom and more will fundamentally change the way the music industry works once the pandemic is over?
“Without a shadow of a doubt. We’ve hopefully got a greater culture of transparency. Platforms like Clubhouse are not so focused on how you look. It’s about the knowledge that you have, moving away from the physical and perception, to a more honest and open environment, which I think is great. I also love mentorship. I get asked to mentor people all the time and when you’re busy, it’s very difficult to do that. But when you have platforms where you can talk and give advice to lots of people, you can really share your experience with the younger generation, so they can hopefully avoid the mistakes you might have made. They can avoid a life full of missed opportunities and regrets.”
What changes are needed regarding the representation of black talent within tech?
“I sit on a number of creative industry committees, and pre-Covid the creative industries had been one of the fastest growing with a huge impact on UK culture and society. The technology companies are the ones shaping the world, yet despite this growth, black talent was being left behind. The numbers were staggering. We talked to lots of organisations and identified a lack of access to opportunities due to bias in the hiring practice. We’ve got a large database of black talent. Organisations that are unclear about where to access them, we can give them access. We also want to allow talent to be themselves, to be able to talk about race. I know from my own journey people used to say, ‘You have a chip on your shoulder’, but to get the best out of everybody you need to allow people to be themselves in organisations – not feel isolated. I want to create a welcoming environment where people can discuss these issues out there, a sense of belonging.”