During this year’s Women In Music Awards, we inducted a further 14 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 and Sarah Stennett to Kanya King, Rebecca Allen and Stacey Tang, that 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 game-changers 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.
Meenal Odedra started her career in the music industry at the age of 16. Having been subjected to a lot of racism throughout her school days, she decided to make a safe space for people of colour in a predominantly white, ex-miner town. These open mic nights were funded by the Derbyshire Youth Forum and South Derbyshire Council. Through these events, Odedra became a de facto manager to those who won the open mic, and it led to her being picked for the 19-under-19 campaign by the Department for Children, Schools and Families and Metro paper – a national campaign to find 19 young people who were making positive change.
Having made connections with the likes of Sway DaSafo, David Aghedo, Brian Shekoni and Zeon Richards through her time at university, Odedra continued to pursue a career within the music industry after finishing her degree.
Odedra has now worked in the music industry for the last eight years in all areas, from major and indie record labels to publishing and smaller music companies. As an active member of the music industry, Odedra is a friend of AIM and sits on the BPI Equity & Justice Advisory Group and the UK Music Futures Committee. She is passionate about positive change within the industry that she works in and loves, particularly regarding issues of mental health, inclusivity and diversity. Odedra also sits on AQA's music syllabus round-table, a space dedicated to ensuring that the national school curriculum is as diverse as possible.
In 2019, Odedra launched The Music Assistant, a unique company which offers support tailored specifically to the music industry. Through this work, she became head of global operations for Shesaid.so – a global network of women and gender minorities that work in the industry. Also in 2019, she featured in Music Week’s Rising Star column, while in 2020 she was named an honouree on the Shesaid.so Alt Power List.
In 2021, Odedra joined PC Music as label manager and, having recently left, is currently studying an MA in race, media and social justice at Goldsmiths and is excited for her next chapter within the industry.
How do you feel about joining the Music Week Women In Music Roll Of Honour?
“It’s an absolute honour to be joining these powerhouses of women on the Music Week Women in Music Roll of Honour. I still can’t seem to get over the fact that little old me will be on it! I’m joining women who have always inspired me, and for that, I’m so thankful to those that nominated me.”
How do you look back on your early years getting into the industry?
“I look back on my younger days with admiration. I can’t believe this girl from a tiny village in the Midlands managed to ‘make it’. From organising gigs at the leisure centre hall to where I am now! I never thought that I would be where I am today.
“I always talk about the barriers to entry for those who have no ties in the industry, and aren’t from London. It really wasn’t easy. I moved to London in 2014 with no particular links to the industry. I landed a fulltime job at Topshop Oxford Street, and then just hustled!
“I went to as many networking events as possible, and would book meetings with those that I met. Looking back, I was probably really annoying! When I was at uni, I’d cold email people and ask for meetings, then get the megabus from Bristol to London for a 30 minute meeting! I’m so thankful to Sam Potts and Remi Harris for creating the Young Guns Network, that community was key in helping me get my first big break in the industry.”
Where is the support for music industry professionals? The industry needs to be more open
Did you have a mentor at that stage?
“I wish! I didn’t know where to turn to for advice! I tell this story a lot; in my first role, I had such bad imposter syndrome and just didn’t feel like I fitted in. When I speak to young people, I always tell them that networking and mentorship are key in this industry. You need to find your tribe, people who champion you, and you need to find a mentor. This could be informal or a more formal set up, people love to give their advice, seek out the people that you most admire and ask if they have any time to sit down with you. We’re constantly busy though in this industry, and so it’s key to have your ‘ask’ ready! ”
What’s your biggest achievement so far?
“As cliché and annoying as it sounds, my biggest achievement is that my parents are proud of me! My parents came here from Gujarat, India in the ’70s. My mum was born in Uganda, and fled the country aged 14 in 1972 due to the expulsion by Idi Amin. When they got here, they worked bloody hard. I literally grew up in the shop that they owned, they brought it a month after I was born, and so sometimes I’d be in the bouncer under the shop counter whilst they worked there! Racism was prevalent growing up, it wasn’t easy but my parents worked extremely hard to ensure I had a good education. Whilst they don’t quite under the roles I’ve had, they’re proud of me, and that means a lot. Big shout out to Nagarjun and Shanti!”
As someone who’s driven by creating change in the conversation around mental health in music, do you feel satisfied with how much the subject is in the spotlight right now? Is the industry all talk, or do you feel significant change is actually happening?
“Interesting question! Whilst I think companies are aware and may be empathetic towards mental health within the industry, I don’t think there is enough practical training. Why aren’t mental health days the norm? Why do people have to call in sick feigning illness, when really they are burnt out and just need a few days of rest?
“We are hopefully well aware of the shocking fact that musicians are three times more likely to suffer from depression, but where is the support for music industry professionals? Therapy is not cheap, and as an industry, we need to be more open.
“There are many issues within our industry that contribute to mental health – the idea of ‘never not working’ is an example. I had hoped that, with the lockdowns, companies would continue to adjust. Maybe some have, I don’t know.
“I once worked for an entrepreneur, and every month he gave us a ‘Blue Sky Day’– a day where your wage is fully paid but you do something you love, it could be a cooking class, it could be an online course. I LOVE that idea and I wish that companies within the music industry would adopt this. I do so many ‘extra curricular’ things within the industry not because I’m forced to, but because I really want to make an impact and positive change. I’d love for companies and organisations to want to expand their employees' horizons.”
Women can champion other women, and that’s so important if we want to see positive change
Similarly, you do a lot of work relating to barriers to entry into the business. What, in your opinion, is the single biggest barrier facing the next generation at the moment?
“Education. Whilst at school, I was never told about the many many roles within the music industry that I could do. I said this in a previous interview for UK Music, but I implore everyone reading this to just reach out to your secondary school. 1) They will be thrilled to have you (ego boost and you get to sit in the teachers’ lounge and call your teachers by their first names… win win?!). 2) You might spark the interest of a young person that is shite at keyboard or singing, but loves music.
“Honestly – if it wasn’t for the Derbyshire Youth Forum that funded us to set up the West Street Music Project (shout out Lauren, Jess and Becky!), I honestly would not have realised that these roles within the industry existed. I am so thankful for John Chell and the rest of the staff that let this clueless girl handle the budget and organise a string of Hip-Hop open mic nights, the first of their kind in a predominantly white area. I worked with the local council and police to give young people (of my age at that time) a safe space and a platform.
“The sad thing is, we’d meet at Connexions every week, and those Youth Services are no longer available to young people. Where do young people go to feel safe these days? One of my dreams is to create a music inspired Youth Centre someday.”
What advice would you offer young women about enjoying a successful career in music?
“Find your tribe. It took me a long time to find my feet in the industry, and I’m so thankful for the friends I have within the industry who just get it! Our industry can be a fickle old thing, but I’ve found friends who are my cheerleaders as much as I am theirs. That’s such a special thing.”
And, lookingback, what’s the best advice you’ve ever been given?
“It’s advice I have given myself actually. I’m not a gatekeeper, I will always be there for my peers if they need advice or an intro somewhere. I think it’s so important that we don’t try and gatekeep this industry. Women can champion other women, and that’s so important if we want to see positive change in the industry that we all work in and love.”
Finally, so far, what’s your biggest lesson from 2022?
“I think I will defer to my 2019 Rising Star interview here, ‘Do something that makes you feel happy, there’s no point in being in a senior position if it makes you feel unhappy.’”