Viewpoint: Nina Nesbitt's manager Vicky Dowdall on motherhood in the music biz

Vicky Dowdall

2019 has been a big year for Vicky Dowdall. The CEO of VDM Music has helped her client Nina Nesbitt score a Top 30 album with The Sun Will Come Up The Seasons Will Change (Cooking Vinyl), been shortlisted for Manager Of The Year at the Music Week Awards – and given birth to her first child, Harley.

But the artist manager kept her pregnancy secret from the music business for most of her term, because she was worried that people would treat her differently if they knew.

In a special Viewpoint for International Women’s Day, Dowdall writes about why she made that decision – and how she’d like to see the industry change to support independent businesswomen through pregnancy and motherhood…

“I didn’t really start showing until over Christmas so it wasn’t that hard to hide my pregnancy. But the reasons why I did it are more complicated.

It was a crucial year and, with everything I was doing for Nina Nesbitt and the build-up to her campaign, as well as the other deals I was doing for clients and my consultancy role, I just felt that I didn’t want to be treated differently. I didn’t want my clients to worry that I wasn’t going to be able to do my job, and I thought it was easier for everyone if I just kept it quiet and proved that it didn’t affect me at all. And, if anything, I had one of the best years in business I’d ever had.

I told my clients just before Christmas and they were all brilliant. Nina said to me, “I think it’s good for you because you’re a bit obsessed with your job!” I didn’t even tell my assistant until then. I’d told my close family and best friend knew, but no one in any wider circle until January. People got a bit of a shock when I told them, “I’m having a baby in three weeks”, their faces were quite a picture.

Everyone was lovely to me apart from a few comments. I was in a planning meeting and stumbled on my words and, in front of a lot of people, someone said, ‘Oh, that’ll be your baby brain’. I just said, ‘That’s exactly why I didn’t tell people’, because you do get treated differently. I didn’t want that negativity.

There has, quite rightly, been a lot of attention on maternity leave for female executives at labels and other big music companies. But when you’re running your own, independent business, you’re not working for a company where you can switch off. It’s just how it is. The day my waters broke I did a 12-hour day and then went into labour, and I was emailing from the hospital bed, literally, the next day.

So more support is needed. When you’re an independent company, you can’t expect someone to pay you or give you time off. But the industry can definitely not have the perception that your career is over once you have a kid.

After I gave birth, I questioned myself: Is it just me that feels that way? Is it me that’s got the problem or other people? But there are other independent businesswomen out there who have done the same. So I’ve got to ask myself, why are we feeling like that? Why do we feel unsupported? Over the years, people have asked me, “Are you going to have kids?” and I always said no, just because it was easier. And then they’d say, “You’d never be able to do what you do with kids, so it’s probably for the best”.

I don’t think it’s going to be a walk in the park. My husband and I don’t have family in London so we’ll need childcare and that costs money. But there has to be a way that it can be made more acceptable to run your own music business and have a family. I’ve been building my business up for 20 years, I’m not going to suddenly let it go when I’m at the peak of my career. But it can only be improved by people changing their attitudes.

To be nominated for Music Week’s Manager Of The Year award was a big boost and that made me go, “You know what? I’ve had a baby, been nominated for an award and I’ll carry on making sure my clients are successful”.

If I did it again, I probably wouldn’t hide it. And if someone asked me if they should, I’d say no, because you shouldn’t have to. Being a mother is probably the hardest job I’m going to have, but it should be an empowering thing. I’ve had to prove people wrong throughout my whole career, which makes me even more driven and determined than ever to be the best mother and manager I can be. I will find a way. I always do.”

* To celebrate International Women's Day, Music Week is ungating our interviews with the 2018 Music Week Women In Music Roll Of Honour. Keep an eye on our Twitter feed today for links to the stories. 

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