Women In Music Awards 2021: Music Champion Sulinna Ong

Women In Music Awards 2021: Music Champion Sulinna Ong

The Music Week Women In Music Awards returned for the first in-person event in two years to honour 12 incredible executives and artists, alongside the Roll Of Honour inductees. 

Staged in partnership with AIM and UK Music, with YouTube Music as headline sponsor, the ceremony took place at the London Hilton, Park Lane on Friday (October 22). 

Music Week is running interviews with all the winners following the ceremony.

Here, Women in Music Awards 2021 Music Champion Sulinna Ong (pictured with Spotify MD Tom Connaughton), newly promoted to global head of editorial at Spotify, reflects on her career so far...

What does being a music champion mean to you? 

“It’s two-fold. Firstly, there’s finding and working with artists, it’s about playing a meaningful part in the growth of their career and seeing them go on to be discovered by the wider public and enjoy greater and greater success. Then there’s working with diverse business talent in the industry, it’s about mentoring new people and building great teams to improve the music industry overall.”

What do you enjoy about introducing audiences to music? 

“The importance music holds in people’s lives and in the wider culture is really at the core of why I love connecting listeners to music. Music is a bellwether for what’s happening in the world. It can challenge the social and political cultural norms, and in 2020 and 2021 we have seen that happening more than ever. From a global pandemic to upsurges of political protest… Music expresses the emotions that drive change and helps to articulate it to a wider audience. 

"It’s also a source of solace, escapism, and inspiration for people. I’ve seen how important this has been to audiences, over the past 18 months in particular. Culture isn’t something that just happens on a stage or in a gallery: it’s happening in your headphones and on your screen. For me, there is a simple, pure joy, and satisfaction in introducing someone to their new favourite song, artist or playlist.” 

How do tech developments support this? 

“Streaming makes music available to everyone and democratises the access to it. You can just press a button and it's there. It breaks down genre and language barriers - people can easily explore things that would otherwise be outside of their comfort zone.” 

How does a typical day at the intersection of music and tech play out for you? 

“I think one of the things that I love about this job is that it does really differ from day to day in terms of the things that you're working on and thinking about. Being in music streaming, it really is about being at the intersection of technology and music. It’s about how people want to listen to music, and what's exciting people and the art that artists create. And so, on any given day, it obviously starts off with listening to music, catching up with music, speaking to artists and their teams, and then also talking to our teams. That gives you a picture of how music is moving around the world: we’re seeing what other editors across the different countries are seeing and what's really engaging audiences. Then there’s talking to product teams about the features and the things that they're working on and researching. So those are the core elements of my day. 

"I'm really looking forward to being able to go to a gig again though. I think that's certainly something I have missed, being able to see an artist perform in the flesh. It is a different experience.”

Can you tell us more about championing others in the industry? 

“As a woman of colour, it’s not easy to succeed in this industry. I wasn’t part of any networks; I had no connections and there was no one who looked remotely like me in the earlier stages of my career. Eventually I was lucky to find people who took a chance and hired me. I promised myself that if I ever achieved a position of influence, I would use it to clear a path for others. Now I’m in a position where I can make a difference in hiring and promotion policy, and it’s important to use that position wisely to champion others who might not otherwise get a fair chance to succeed.”

There is a simple, pure joy, and satisfaction in introducing someone to their new favourite song, artist or playlist

Sulinna Ong

What industry changes would you like to see? 

“It’s good to see the industry finally talking about equality and equity: but talk is easy, it’s the numbers that count. We need to ensure that we make diverse hires and pay them appropriately: 80% of Black music professionals report having faced discrimination in the industry, and people of colour on average are still paid only about 80% of what their white colleagues make. For Black women that gets even worse. Talking about this is a useful prelude to change, but until we actually see those numbers change, we aren’t doing anything real.”

What would you say to other people who want to make change?  

“Stop talking about it, and start doing it. Change is happening now, and you can either be part of making it happen and be on the right side of history, or you can get left behind as a footnote. That’s really the only two choices people are going to get from this point on. I think we should all realise by now that upholding the status quo is over.”

How do you feel about winning this award? 

“I’m really humbled. I love music, but I also want to make a contribution. And I hope I have done in the curating and marketing of artists and with the people I’ve hired. Everything we’ve achieved we’ve done as a team. The innovation has come from different points of view, from different backgrounds coming together. And those different approaches and those different experiences have led to great work. So, this award is really because of, and for, the team, the people that I work with. 

"My parents left Iran in the middle of the night with me as a baby, because of the revolution in 1979. So, I know everything can change in a heartbeat, in the blink of an eye. And so I always remind myself, that it's wonderful to be recognised for what I do now. It’s wonderful to have come to this point in my career where I can influence others. But I always remember that things can change so very, very rapidly. It means that I remember that the reason why I've got here is through working with people, other talented people. I’m here because of collaboration, because of people who lifted me up as I hope I lift others up. I never want to get to a point where I let it get to me, where I think that everything is only down to me alone.” 

Click here for this year’s full list of Roll Of Honour inductees.

Interview by: Anna Fielding

PHOTO: Paul Harries

For more stories like this, and to keep up to date with all our market leading news, features and analysis, sign up to receive our daily Morning Briefing newsletter

subscribe link free-trial link

follow us...