During this year’s Women In Music Awards, we inducted game-changing industry executives (including one posthumous award) into the Roll Of Honour, in association with TikTok.
They join the pantheon of previous honourees, including some of the biggest names in the business, from Emma Banks, Sarah Stennett, Rebecca Allen to Kanya King, Stacey Tang, Charisse Beaumont and Mary Anne Hobbs, who have been selected since the awards began in 2014. The Roll Of Honour aims to highlight the breadth, depth and variety of individuals who are trailblazers in the music industry, with their activities consistently benefiting women, or focusing on empowerment/gender disparity.
Following the Women In Music Awards ceremony, Music Week is running Q&A interviews with all of this year’s Roll Of Honour inductees.
As the co-manager of Sugababes and founder of marketing and consultancy agency, Twenty:Two Agency, Whitney Asomani is a music industry executive whose dynamic career has spanned several disciplines over the past 15 years.
A BRIT School and University Of The Arts alumnus, Asomani began her career at just 18 in celebrity and events PR, before moving into television where she climbed up the ranks to become a music executive at ITV. She was then headhunted for BT Sport in a management position at just 25.
Having transitioned over the years to work within the music industry, Asomani has delivered huge projects which include producing British Arts Council-funded music events and tours championing the early careers of UK acts like Abra Cadabra, Big Tobz, Kay Rico, Aitch and more. She has consulted with Burna Boy's management team, girl group MO on their hit single Bad Vibe Ft Mr Eazi & Lotto Boyyz and, at Sony Music Entertainment, saw success with artists from RCA and Since '93, where her roster included both UK and international acts.
At the beginning of 2020, Asomani left Sony Music Group to focus on co-managing Sugababes’ epic return to music, alongside Matt Johnson, and launch her music marketing agency Twenty:Two Agency – which has overseen a roster of stars such as Doja Cat, Zara Larsson, M1llionz and Ms Banks, to name just a few. The Sugababes' return has been nothing short of incredible. Last year they played a legendary Glastonbury set, shutting down the festival’s Avalon field, they headlined The O2, and this year they’ve released new music and played an array of sold-out shows, including an iconic Boiler Room set which became the most subscribed event in the platform’s history.
Here, Whitney Asomani speaks to Music Week about her industry journey...
How do you feel about joining the Music Week Women In Music Roll Of Honour?
“I'm very grateful to be recognised, it’s so rewarding to be placed on the Roll Of Honour as a multi-hyphenate, amongst brilliant women who are excelling in their respective fields. It serves as additional confirmation that I am making the right decisions.”
How do you look back on your early years getting into the industry?
“My path wasn’t straightforward at all, and there were moments of frustration and believing that I had taken the long route, but the range and diversity of my experience is something that is so advantageous to me today. In hindsight, I'm able to look back with pride at a young girl who was tenacious and curious to explore the industry, until I had clarity on the career I wanted to build.”
Did you have a mentor at that stage?
“I’ve spoken before about the fact that all of my early opportunities were given to me by women, however I can't say that I have had a mentor throughout it all.”
Having co-founded your own agency, you then branched out into management too. What prompted that decision and how did you find your feet as a self-taught artist manager?
“I haven’t taken a traditional approach to the industry so I've often had to create the opportunities I believed I deserved for myself. There wasn't a role that would have allowed me to manage an act, nor the freedom to partner with the many artists and teams we’ve had the pleasure to serve via the agency, but that's what I wanted to do, so I made it happen. I'm still finding my feet to be honest, and I'm in a constant state of learning and adapting, despite what it may look like externally. I’ve been exposed to a great deal working with the band [Sugababes], not only have we had to hit the ground running, we’ve also navigated considerable challenges along the way. The decision to manage the group and step up my agency stemmed from a belief that I could achieve more and be part of something great, and after understanding more of the girls' journey, I was just motivated to help them triumph and reclaim their careers.”
I haven’t taken a traditional approach to the industry so I've often had to create the opportunities I believed I deserved for myself
At the same time, you’ve been an active campaigner, what motivates that side of what you do and what have you learned from doing it?
“We need diversity throughout the industry, so I'm keen to help provide opportunities to gain experience to people that won't make it through the apprenticeship application process or can't afford to intern without pay. I’ve learned that circumstances can prevent many hungry and talented women and Black people from getting their start, so I'm motivated to pay it forward for that reason in particular.”
What personality traits and skills does it take to be an entrepreneur in the music industry in 2023?
“Being an entrepreneur means taking calculated risks. Don't be afraid to bet on yourself and your vision. You need to be genuinely passionate about music and the work that you do, because you won't always be inspired. You may rarely hear ‘thank you’ or be rewarded sufficiently for your efforts so it's important to remember why you started and be prepared to advocate for yourself. Although it might sound negative, it's also important to keep it real about how resilient you need to be at times, because setbacks and disappointments are inevitable, but how you use those experiences will dictate how far you can go.
“Also: innovation and adaptability. The music industry is always changing, so stay on top of new technologies, trends, platforms and business models to stay relevant. Regardless of your discipline, be prepared and willing to adapt, pivot and upskill at any given moment.
“Most entrepreneurs I know are also innately curious – get outside of your bubble, see art, go to the theatre, take an interest in what's happening in the world! Music is an artist’s self-expression which is often influenced by their worldview and experiences, so you cannot afford to be closed-minded and out of touch with society and culture at large.”
Sugababes’ comeback has been amazing to see. How have you engineered it as co-manager? What have been the driving factors?
“When we met in 2019 we were four women with fire in our bellies and a lot of self-belief. Not so much to prove people wrong, but to prove ourselves right and [for them] to reclaim their career and voices. We have engineered a consistent upwards trajectory in all areas, so considering where we started, success looks exactly like what is happening with Sugababes now: they are using their name, releasing new music and performing to thousands of people at each gig. Matt Johnson and I have established a working relationship that allows us to play to our strengths and cover all bases. Matt works super hard and goes above and beyond for Sugababes and the rest of his clients. I have a lot of respect for his work ethic, on paper we’re an unlikely pairing but I think that's exactly why it works!
“The initial strategy was to rebuild the band’s live business, and the best launch pad was to get them back in front of the loyal fans who never lost hope of hearing and seeing this line up together [again]. Sugababes are incredible live, it's such an important part of what they offer. They sing studio quality arrangements and harmonies live, show after show. We also have brilliant agents at CAA (Paul Franklin and Chris Ibbs) who understand the vision and have worked with us to create significant demand and value in the market. This is a new chapter of their story and I'm proud of all that's been achieved to date.”
What’s your biggest achievement so far?
“Making it through 2020!”
What advice would you offer young women about enjoying a successful career in music?
“Embrace your individuality and show up as yourself so that the people who are looking for someone like you can find you. Code switching is exhausting and will only get you so far, so find comfort in the fact that your individual experiences and uniqueness will be valued in the right space. Also, foster strong relationships and be intentional about growing your network. Not everyone will become a friend, but checking in and adding value where you can instead of creating transactional exchanges will make the difference. I met some of my closest friends via the industry, and they’re an invaluable support system, so surround yourself with like-minded people with whom you can seek advice and share ideas. Lastly, hustle and be prepared to work hard. Long hours and a killer work ethic are a frequent combination.”
What’s the best advice you’ve ever had?
“There are two simple quotes that come to mind: ‘If service is beneath you, then leadership is beyond you,’ and, ‘Work hard and be nice to people.’”
Is there a young woman you'd like to shout out who you think is a rising star in the industry?
“I have to mention Tasha Demi who is the co-founder of Twenty:Two Agency.”
Is there a young woman artist whose music you're enjoying right now?
“I think Debbie is a breath of fresh air, she's a naturally gifted songwriter with powerful and soothing tones, I loved her on Stomzy’s This Is What I Mean. Tyler Lewis is also a new artist who Matt is managing, she has an incredible voice and I'm looking forward to seeing how the team develops her sound.”
Finally, what's your biggest lesson from 2023 so far?
“I don't know who coined the phrase, ‘Never let success get to your head or failure get to your heart’, but it feels like an apt quote for the rollercoaster year that has been 2023.”