This summer, The Go 2 Agency founder Shauni Caballero is launching Mothers In Music, an initiative that she hopes will change the landscape for mothers across the business. Music Week meets the executive, alongside WME’s Whitney Boateng and BBC Radio 1Xtra & Parlophone’s Sian Anderson, to hear their stories and their message for the industry at large...
WORDS: ADENIKE ADENITIRE
PHOTO: LOUISE HAYWOOD-SCHIEFER
As one of the UK music industry’s most prominent young executives, Shauni Caballero is the ‘plug’ when it comes to ensuring that up-and-coming artists, writers and producers get paid from publishing and royalties. Caballero previously worked at Universal Music and PRS For Music and later founded publishing and consultancy venture The Go 2 Agency. Since then, she has been instrumental in the early success of some of Britain’s most popular Black music acts – everyone from Digga D and M Huncho, to KO and Central Cee. Caballero was inducted onto the Roll Of Honour at our Women In Music Awards last year.
Having recently written her first book, A Quick Guide 2 Music Royalties, and with her business ever-expanding, she definitely has her hands full. But Caballero is showing no sign of slowing down whatsoever. Her brand new project, Mothers In Music, is an initiative aimed at supporting and empowering mothers in the music industry. The non-profit organisation was inspired by her own personal experiences as a mum.
“I’m a single mum with a six-year-old son, Samuel,” Caballero says. “And even when I was pregnant working in music, I was hiding my belly and not telling anyone because I was consulting and I didn’t want to lose the gig.”
She has seen first-hand how motherhood has affected those close to her, not to mention countless other women across all areas of the business.
“I’ve got a good friend in the industry who is trying for a baby but can’t tell anyone at work, as she is afraid of not being considered for an upcoming promotion,” she explains. “But men can have a whole bag of kids and it doesn’t matter. Plus, when I was on the judging panel for PRS funding, there were always mums applying for help with childcare costs.”
This extremely important project is still in its early stages, with Caballero in talks with various industry partners (including Carla Marie Williams’ Girls I Rate) about the direction she wants it to take.
“Initially, it was just about raising money to launch two funds for mothers in music, one for creatives and another for the next generation of executives,” she explains. “However, after I spoke to some female friends who are also mothers in the industry, it was obvious that there needed to be more added to [the offering], such as some organised awareness around the many issues mothers are facing, and that’s how it turned into an initiative, it all happened really naturally. Outside of financial support, we will be collaborating with music and creative companies to offer resources like writing camps, plus general guidance and mentorship.”
The first Mothers In Music panel event is scheduled for June, and is set to feature a performance from new mum and Island-signed artist Miraa May, with PRS For Music chief executive Andrea Czapary Martin, who is also a mother, among the executives taking part.
With momentum growing, Caballero has been calling upon her network of mothers for backing, including good friends Whitney Boateng, an agent at WME and mother to four-year-old son Isaiah, and Sian Anderson, a DJ on BBC Radio 1xtra and marketing and A&R executive at Parlophone, who has a six-year-old son named Elijah.
Here, we hear from all three to find out why motherhood needs to be prioritised on the music industry’s agenda…
Firstly, Shauni, can you tell us your aims for what Mothers In Music can achieve?
Shauni Caballero: “There needs to be more support for mums. Everyone has a mother, but women are ostracised in the workplace and it is so prevalent in the music industry. I want to provide support to mothers, and to women who eventually want families. It’s a very big goal, but that has never scared me. I want to completely change the nature [of this subject] and attitudes and culture towards mothers in the industry, so women as well as employers will not see women having a child as a hindrance.”
Whitney and Sian, why did you want to get involved with Mothers In Music?
Whitney Boateng: “For me personally, coming up in the music industry I don’t feel that I really met many mothers. And I always wondered if the music industry was just too haphazard for having a child and a full-time job, if it was almost impossible to balance. I was 26 when I had my son. I was still starting my career and I panicked because I had seen women having babies and not bothering to come back to work. So I was worried about what it was going to do for my career. But it’s important for people to see that there are mothers in music who are balancing their career and motherhood. It is important for women to know you can do both.”
Sian Anderson: “I think there’s a lot of negative stigma about having babies in general. I saw a whole thread today about ‘why women should not have kids’ and, ‘why they shouldn’t put their body through the trauma.’ It’s pure negativity! But, actually, it’s just beautiful, I wouldn’t have changed it for the world, and it will be really inspiring and motivating for people to see that. A lot of my close friends in the industry are mothers: Kamilla [Baiden], she’s on Capital Xtra and was also a producer for Kenny Allstar on 1Xtra, Jess Monroe, who manages Stardom and Morrisson, and obviously Shauni and Whitney. There’s also Cat Park from Ten Letter PR. There are so many of us now who are doing great in our careers and our kids are also happy, healthy and have everything that they need. And, most importantly, they have enough time with their parents. If other women could see that, they would feel less scared about taking those steps themselves.”
How do you reflect on your personal experiences of motherhood in the business?
WB: “When I found out I was pregnant I was genuinely quite worried, especially being in the live industry where there aren’t many women as it is. I was working at Live Nation/Metropolis Music at the time, and I didn’t know any mums in Live. But I was really fortunate as I had a boss, Raye Cosbert, who was really understanding. As soon as I told him that I was pregnant he congratulated me, and throughout my pregnancy if he noticed any sign of discomfort, he’d allow me to go home. And when I had the baby he would check to see how I was doing. So, I had a really good experience and it is not lost on me that I had a boss that actually cared. But I was one of the fortunate ones. I don’t think that is the general experience for women.”
SA: “I’ve been in this industry since I was 15 and I’m 31 now. I got pregnant when I was 25 and had my son at 26. At the time, there weren’t many women who were proactive in the Black music scene who had babies and it was obviously quite a new thing, especially in terms of me seeing certain journeys or paths that I could look at and say, ‘OK, cool, this is possible.’ I didn’t know how my employers were going to feel about it, and how my career would go from there. But I just took it in my stride and decided I was going to carry on working right up until the end [of my pregnancy] and then get back to work three months after I had my son. Getting back to work was about getting back to some sort of normality and just breaking the cycle of super-repetitive days, more than me feeling any pressure to resume my career. It was definitely a self-care thing.”
What are some of the challenges you’ve found or have witnessed as a mother working in the music industry?
SC: “I didn’t see it at the time, but if I’m honest, I think one of the real reasons why things didn’t work out for me in the past working at one of the major music companies was that I couldn’t do the chummy work drinks with everyone. I had to go and pick up my son from nursery, which meant I had to leave a bit earlier than everyone else to get my train. My son’s dad is supportive. He also works in music but he lives abroad. Working for myself has definitely been better than working for anyone else because I’ve set my own hours. You know, if I need to take my son to the dentist, I can schedule my own day around having him. What you really want from a company is a mum-friendly organisation where, for example, members of the team have their kids in the office sometimes, or can even do the school run. That’s a progressive company to me, very accommodating and supportive.”
You have all had a lot of success since having children, would you say it can create even more drive to do well?
SC: “I would say it’s made me very productive, every hour counts. I don’t have a lot of idle time. So when I’m in work mode, it’s tunnel vision. And if I say something’s going to be done, chances are it’s already almost finished. I don’t like my time being wasted and I don’t waste people’s time, because in my spare time I like to be with my family. Also, that mothering instinct is there now and I have become like a mother to a lot of the young artists that I work with. They call me ‘the mum of the scene’ because I am like that towards them. I tell them off when they’re late to meetings and they listen to me.”
SA: “In my job, I am a specialist in Black music and a lot of the content in some of the popular tracks is not the most positive. My son went to nursery one day and did Circle Time. When I went to pick him up the teacher said, ‘Elijah had a very interesting Circle Time today.’ So I was like, ‘Really? What did he do?’ And she said he recited some words to Headie One’s song Know Better. So, he’s obviously got that from listening to my radio show. So things like that make you really start to feel conscious, like, ‘What am I putting out there? And actually, is it more important for me not to put this out there?’ Or, ‘Is it important to go ahead and put it out there, as the song was written as part of somebody else’s history?’ That’s something that I meditate on a lot.”
Whitney, how would you describe the landscape for mothers in the live business?
WB: “My boss at WME, [co-head of worldwide music] Lucy Dickins, is a mother of two, so it’s very easy to manage my career around my son because she understands. But that is a rarity because across the board in live it’s actually terrible. There aren’t enough women in this space anyway, so the diversity is non-existent. The live sector has a lot of work to do in terms of diversifying what it looks like. It’s an old white man’s club at the moment, so being a Black woman is one thing, and then being a Black woman who is a mum is another. But I’m very lucky with the bosses I’ve had that I’ve never had any pushback over my son.”
The idea of ‘mum guilt’ is increasingly part of the conversation among mothers, have you ever experienced it?
SC: “Of course. Just today, my son asked if I could pick him up from school and I said, ‘I can’t unfortunately, I’m working,’ and he sulked. But I always give him the option. I said, ‘Well, you know, you have a nice life, and I bought you a Nintendo Switch – that wasn’t cheap.’ He knows we’re going away this summer and have all these nice things and I said, ‘I can stay home all day, and cancel the holiday and return the Switch, or I can work and you can have both. Which one do you want?’ And he told me to go to work. So we were able to compromise. But I think everybody needs to know that it’s really natural for us to feel mum guilt. But the way you have to think about it is, we’re providing for our kids, and we are looking after them by going out and working. And it’s important for our kids to see that too. I don’t know who can afford to be a stay-at-home mum these days anyway, so you shouldn’t be thinking it’s normal.”
Lastly, what can people in the industry do to help change the narrative around motherhood in music?
SC: “More support is needed, and just for companies to be more understanding. Because that was something that I personally found hard. Before Covid, there were always problems if I had to be off work if my son was unwell. So home working was a luxury. But I think we’re now seeing that we can still get the job done wherever we are, as long as we have our laptops. So, just being more accommodating, that’s definitely what’s needed.”
WB: “I think the frustration is that people don’t really talk about it. It’s not spoken about enough. We need to actually have more of these discussions. I wouldn’t say it feels like a taboo, but we need to normalise mothers being in music, it needs to be more of a conversation. I always knew I wanted to have kids, but sometimes I do think seeing is believing. It’s not that I didn’t think that it could ever happen because I hadn’t seen any mothers in music, but you just want to see successful examples. Representation is important.”
SA: “In terms of what we need, I think it’s less practical and more like a level of understanding, that if you’re working with a mum, there’s a shut off point, and you shouldn’t contact them after that time in the evening. There just needs to be something in place where mothers feel protected enough to be able to actually be mums. One of the things that I’ve noticed is there are a lot of times where it would be so much easier for me to just bring my son into the office, but you would never ever suggest it. But if there was some sort of childcare [scheme] in the industry, that would be so helpful. And, actually, a lot of our kids are creative, so I would love it if there were some sort of nursery facilities for mothers and fathers in music where their kids could actually come and do music. That would be dope.”