Member Spotlight #9: Kajal Gayadien, Global Head of Licensing at Vevo
Interview by: Tara Gardner
Kajal Gayadien possesses wisdom beyond her years and (lucky for us) a heart big enough to share it.
She completed her Masters in Intellectual Property Rights in 2009 and after only two years, was named Head of Digital, Sync and Mechanical Rights Licensing at the Dutch collecting society, Buma/Stemra (read that story below).
Kajal joined Vevo in August 2014, and most recently took on the role of Global Head of Licensing, relocating to Vevo’s HQ in New York.
Kajal’s story is one of curiosity, ambition, confidence and community. She’s the kind of woman we’re happy to have representing the shesaid.so collective; showing the industry what we’re capable of — we’re unafraid and here to stay.
Global Head of Licensing at Vevo
shesaid.so: How did you land your first career position?
Kajal Gayadien: I actually finished my Masters in Intellectual Property and Technology in 2009; right when the economy collapsed. Nearly all relevant law firms were on a hiring freeze which was quite depressing. So many of my clever, super qualified and recently graduated friends were at home without a job! I got lucky and landed a job at a private law firm as an attorney, but the role was mainly focused on corporate law. I was knee-deep in mergers and acquisitions when I suddenly realised that even though the money was good, this was not going to make me happy.
Because of my passion for IP and love for music I started looking around for in-house legal counsel roles with music-related companies and came across a role as Legal Counsel at the Dutch Copyright Collecting Society (PRO) Buma/Stemra. I was invited for a few interviews and got the job as Legal Counsel, Digital and International Relations. BEST DECISION OF MY LIFE!
ssso: As the Global Head of Licensing at Vevo, you’re no doubt a negotiating pro. How did you earn your chops? Are there any techniques you could share that might be helpful for someone trying to improve their abilities?
KG: I got promoted a couple times when I was with Buma/Stemra. Eventually I became the Head of Digital, Sync and Mechanical Rights Licensing, moving away from Legal into a Business role. I was responsible for doing deals with all digital music services operating in the Netherlands. Negotiating became my number one task and I loved it, still do! Being on the rights-holders side often seems easy as music services need your rights — you have a (de facto) dominant position in the market. This is not exactly true… you want all these services to be available in your territory, so you simply must do a deal. No two services are alike so you must come up with creative solutions to meet both your rights-holders’ needs and wishes plus those of the online music services’. That is the fun part!
Some things to keep in mind:
Building a relationship takes time but it’s worth it… I rely a lot on relationships — I am an extravert so I have no problem with networking and I have made some amazing friends within the industry which helps a lot. I would say it’s really important to try to do your best to get to know the other person properly (they are almost always interesting) and gain their trust. This often results in being able to have an open and honest discussion. You will always get better results, if you are able to adapt your technique to their personality and mood.
Really trying to understand their wants and needs is imperative… I remember the rights holders being pleased when Vevo hired me, because I “speak their language” and understand why sometimes they (rightsholders) couldn’t give us what we needed. Collecting Societies (PROs) and Labels represent authors and artists, so for starters you must understand that they are not negotiating on behalf of themselves, but on behalf of many writers/artists, and that they will do anything in their power to get the best deal possible for them.
You can’t be too competitive… trying to get it (100%) your way will not help but don’t be a pleaser/pushover either! Prepare and decide what is important to you and what you are willing and able to trade off.
ssso: Licensing is really at the heart of Vevo’s business. What are the greatest challenges creative content licensing face today?
KG: I think one of the most challenging issue for our side of the industry is the lack of flexibility. License agreements are quite restrictive; they set out exactly what you can and cannot do with the content/rights. Sometimes our Creative, Content and Product teams come up with brilliant ideas, and I have to tell them “no, sorry we can’t, we don’t have the rights.” Although with my experience on the rights holders’ side, I can understand why the licenses can be restrictive, however frustrating it may be for them to understand and accept.
ssso: How was your move from Europe to US? How did that come about and what are some things you wish you knew before you made the big move?
KG: I have to say that Vevo made it super easy for me, they helped me with everything. I moved from Amsterdam (I am Dutch) to London for the job at Vevo where I lived for 2,5 years before I moved to NYC. I got promoted to Global Head of Licensing and for this role I had to be in the US which is where Vevo’s HQ are.
I felt at home in NYC from the moment I landed. Don’t get me wrong, moving from Europe to the US is stressful — the amount of paperwork we had to fill out is crazy and everything works so differently over here. From healthcare to how you pay rent… but I think I adapted quite quickly and I am loving the challenge!
ssso: What tools do you utilize for your success?
KG: Again, I rely a lot on my industry friends, relationships and my colleagues. Important tools for my job would be time and expectation management and prioritisation. During my time at Buma/Stemra, I took part in an external 12 day Young Executive training — I learnt so much from that! I still use the tools provided during that training and regularly get training opportunities with Vevo. Never pass on these opportunities!
ssso: What makes a good leader?
KG: A person who creates an environment of trust, who strives to let their team shine and develops emerging leaders. You and your team won’t succeed if you don’t have the respect and trust of your team — which you earn by getting to know them, have their back, trust their abilities and judgement and of course realise (every day) that you won’t get the job done without them. Honesty, integrity and being able to set clear goals is key!
ssso: Can you point out a pivotal career changing moment for you? Maybe a specific opportunity or person that you met that’s had a great impact?
KG: Oh yes I’ve had a very clear pivotal career changing moment ☺ As said I said, I was hired at Buma/Stemra as a Legal Counsel. The role of Head of Digital became vacant. The then CEO, Hein van der Ree, had decided that this role would also be responsible for the Sync and Mechanical Rights departments. Recruiting began and I was asked to help with the interviews. I was working late one evening when the CEO said he needed to talk to me about the candidates we interviewed. He asked me what I thought of them — when I said that we had to keep looking, he said to me “I want you to do it”. I remember looking around his office thinking there was someone else in the room he was talking to (no joke). Mind you, I was 27 and had only been working for Buma/Stemra for a few years. My first reaction was: NO, are you crazy!?!
Eventually I obviously took the job! It was quite scary, having to manage 3 departments and so many people without the appropriate experience. However, I knew my former boss (Buma’s General Counsel) and the CEO trusted me and would have my back. I learnt so much during that time. Buma/Stemra really was music industry bootcamp for me! The CEO of Buma took a huge chance on a very young and ambitious girl, and I am forever grateful to him for that.
ssso: Do you have any career or personal books/podcasts/articles you could recommend?
KG: The book “The Five Dysfunction of a Team!” We recently had a Business Development/Affairs offsite during which we discussed the principles of that book. It’s quite simple but so incredibly effective and written as a fable. The book outlines a model and actionable steps that can be used to overcome common hurdles and build a cohesive, effective team. Definitely a must-read for all those who strive to be brilliant team leaders.
ssso: What lesson have you learned the hard way?
KG: I learnt this a long time ago — don’t assume that everyone around you wants you to succeed as much as you want them/the company to succeed. Be trusting but don’t be naive!
ssso: Who/what gives you you strength?
KG: Sounds cliché but definitely my friends and family — they keep me grounded, give me energy and advice. I also want to make my parents proud and that really encourages me to work hard. My love for the industry and this job helps a lot too!
ssso: Share a piece of advice you were given that really resonated with you.
KG: I was working 15 hours a day, 6 days a week and couldn’t enjoy my holidays since I was always on my phone, working. My mom said to me: “No one is irreplaceable; the company will not collapse when you work a little less or enjoy your holiday”. She was SO RIGHT! My dad used to say: “Work hard, and always take care of number one. If you are unhappy and unhealthy, you won’t be able to live up to your potential, be your best self, be instrumental to your employer and help others”… sound advice, if you ask me!
ssso: What should we know about you or what you’re currently working on?
KG: I am quite vocal and active when it comes to equality and diversity — equal opportunities, pay and rights for women and people of all backgrounds. The music industry is (very) slowly getting better, but it’s still skews extremely straight, white, middle-aged male! The business side of the industry doesn’t properly reflect the artists’ side which I think is wrong. Just look at the panels at most music industry conferences, “manel” galore! It is uninspiring and absolutely ridiculous… it’s 2017, come on people! I am fortunate enough to have a (male) boss who has three VPs (of which I am one), all three females, but I realise that that is certainly not the case everywhere so I will continue to speak up!