Member Spotlight #24: chapter leaders (Mumbai, Italy, Amsterdam)

This month, we interviewed leaders from three of our chapters, about what brought them to music, how they balance their work, and their best piece of advice. [Interview by Alix Vadot]
12 min readApr 7, 2020


Aneesha Kotwani | SSSO Mumbai | WAVLNGTH

sss: What inspired you to get involved in the music industry?
Aneesha: Raised by my grandmother [and as an only child], I grew up in a rather protective environment — when everyone was out clubbing in their teens, I had a curfew. When I finally started going out, all I had access to was table service clubs, Billboard Top 40 and Bollywood. It wasn’t until I moved to the UK to pursue my Masters that I realised what the world had to offer with respect to music and nightlife. I was instantly hooked and [started geeking out on] discovering artists, labels, clubs, festivals and venues. Working with a few London promoters alongside my full time job, mostly doing a lot of admin work, I got a taste of what it’s like to put up parties. When I moved back to India due to visa issues, the lack of good music and nightlife spaces got to me and inspired me to contribute to the scene, introduce people to what they were missing out on. Back then, I felt events was the only way to share this with others but now I am also exploring other avenues. Currently, I am inspired by learning about different musical cultures, meeting and working with musicians and artists I look up to. Most of all, I make sure that every single person that interacts with what we do has a beaming smile on their face.

sss: What are you juggling in addition to heading’s Mumbai chapter?
A: It is no mean feat to run a brand that has 15 chapters all over the world and to make sure that every chapter, although growing organically, is not losing momentum. I have immense respect for Andreea to be so patient and open-minded dealing with so many different personalities, and look forward to learning more from her. Apart from Mumbai, I run a music events and culture agency called WAVLNGTH where we execute tours across the country every 1–2 months. I also run a blog called Humans of Music (inspired by HONY) and dipped my toes in artist management in 2019, helping build the career of a music composer, producer and drummer from New Delhi, Tarun Balani, who has just released his debut EP under his electronic music project ‘Seasonal Affected Beats.’ I am all over the place. But enjoying every minute of it. The challenge is to constantly find ways to sustain myself. I have no side income and am trying to not let myself get lost amongst all the work.

sss: How do you envision your chapter’s role in shaping your local scene and how do you hope it will help those trying to enter the industry?
A: With SSSO Mumbai, things are definitely growing organically. We have been focusing more on community projects but are now ideating on how we can scale things up, create an impact and most importantly help women who want to pursue a career in music. We are hoping to pitch to suitable partners who believe in the ethos and ideology of what stands for. Most importantly, we want to focus on building a community — it is hard to get people involved in an industry that is sometimes so cash-minded while losing sight of the human aspect.

sss: What is one piece of advice that you’d like to share?
A: Never be defeated; and be ready to put in the work. The music world looks all dope from the outside but only the strongest survive. You have to show your sincerity, passion and tenacity. Most importantly you have to be authentic. If you’re not being you, not enjoying every moment of the ride, and not exercising patience, then maybe this industry isn’t for you.

Nur Al Habash | SSSO Italy | Italia Music Export

sss: What inspired you to get involved in the music industry?
Nur: I have always been naturally attracted to anything related to music. I learnt to play instruments very young, then switched to music journalism when I was in high school, and started DJing and producing my own club nights and festivals during college. After a few years, I realised all this could become a real job… and here I am, getting paid to attend music festivals!

sss: What are you juggling in addition to heading’s Italy chapter?
N: I am head of programmes at Italia Music Export, Italy’s official music export office. I basically help Italian musicians and their teams with working abroad, getting gigs, getting press coverage, working with new international partners, etc. My office offers them grants, education and strategic support. It’s a very rewarding job - I work in close contact with musicians and music professionals, following their career journey. I listen to a lot of new music and attend showcase festivals all over the world, meeting fantastic people. At the same time, I know our job is extremely beneficial to the Italian music community, which is great.

I’m also the Vice President of EMEE, the European Association of Music Export Offices. We exchange useful information about our own music industries, share best practices, and lobby at the European level to enhance the circulation of European music.

sss: How do you envision your chapter’s role in shaping your local scene and how do you hope it will help those trying to enter the industry?
N: The response when we first opened the Italian chapter was overwhelming. Hundreds of girls and women who work in the music industry joined (we’re now more than 1000 members) and everyone’s first reaction was “wow, I didn’t know we were so many!”. So the first benefit was gaining a sense of community and identity — which helped shape everything else. Women in the group also felt a sense of relief by sharing unfortunately common troubling work experiences and learning they’re not alone, but also that something can be done about it. Our workshops and tutoring programmes have also helped in building a real community where everyone has each other’s back, and sharing knowledge and help in any way they can.

The very existence of this group has also sent a very clear message in the Italian music scene. Suddenly, a lot of male colleagues started paying attention to gender issues and wanted to learn more, or at least started asking themselves questions. Not everything has gone smoothly in the process — Italian culture is very patriarchal (and you can tell this from our positioning in the EU Gender Equality index). Making people understand that we all behave according to invisible, but strong, structures that need to be dismantled is not an easy task.

Ultimately, the chapter has been really effective in terms of job placement: virtually all of the job postings in the Italian music business are not advertised and companies rely on personal recommendations. We now share these in the group, helping many girls wanting to enter the industry.

sss: What is one piece of advice that you’d like to share?
N: Be patient and compassionate, constantly work on yourself, but more importantly never underestimate or belittle yourself! Know your worth and fight for it.

Sarah Stam, Naomi Wallenburg, Yvette Bolten | SSSO Amsterdam

From left to right: Sarah Stam, Naomi Wallenburg, Yvette Bolten

sss: What inspired you to get involved in the music industry?
Sarah Stam: I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household with a lot of music constantly around, parents who would encourage and could afford musical lessons for myself and my brother, and a broad cultural education. From a young age, I dreamt of working in music — as an artist or supporting an artist — and wanted to experience the magical feeling of live music at a concert or festival again and again. I thought everyone wanted a job like that, so I never thought I would make it. I studied visual arts and general culture and marketing, and decided to try anyway. Now, 10 years later, as an artist manager, I work with extremely talented producers and vocalists, travel the world and am constantly meeting people who share this love for music. It is an absolute dream!

Naomi Wallenburg: My parents are both musicians so I grew up with music surrounding me 24/7. Having unlimited access to their music studio and all kinds of instruments, music became my playground. From a young age, I composed my own songs acapella and started incorporating piano (which I insisted on learning) from the moment Alicia Keys became a pop star. My parents showed me how magical music can be, not only when performing but also composing, producing and the business side of it. It was and still is the only thing I want to do.

Yvette Bolten: Music has always played a big part in my life, which isn’t a big surprise with a father who is a composer. After the local talent show in high school, I found that being on stage was not my cup of tea, so I looked for other ways to be involved in music-related projects. That resulted in three years of organizing living room concerts, hosting a radio show, and now to all the lovely events we’re creating with shesaidso.ams. To me, music sparks the same kind of joy that stops Marie Kondo from throwing away her whole wardrobe.

sss: What are you juggling in addition to heading’s Amsterdam chapter?
SS: When I founded amsterdam 3.5 years ago, I had been working in London a lot and had attended the events and participated in their she.grows scheme there. After running into Andreea — the inspirational initiator of this massive powerful and uplifting global movement — a few times at international conferences, we really hit it off, and we decided to create a branch in the Netherlands. Having just gone independent as artist manager and consultant at the time, running my own thing while kicking off something as new as was a big adventure! I have been very lucky to always have had empowering, inspiring and strong women supporting the initiative here in the Netherlands and within our shesaidso.ams team. I could not have done any of it without all of them.

I currently run my company, set the tone., a boutique artist management company where we work with producers, vocalists and artists.

NW: Next to performing, I am still writing songs for myself (bobbie wall), my brand new girlband (BAY) and others. I also have my own company that initiates, creates and produces cultural events titled Know Me! Productions.

YB: I work as a freelancer in the creative industry, mainly focusing on content creation. In my spare time, you’ll find me at the local cinema, concert venue or bar where they serve Elvis Juice.

sss: How do you envision your chapter’s role in shaping your local scene and how do you hope it will help those trying to enter the industry?
SS: Our vision is to advance the awareness and opportunities for underrepresented communities in the music scene with a special focus on women, to create more diversity, inclusivity and equality for everyone within the wider music industry. We have been working together with key partners in the Dutch Music scene like Amsterdam Dance Event, Beats, Eurosonic Noorderslag but also with a wide variety of key professionals from companies like major labels Sony and Universal, to artist managers and publishers all the way to lawyers, entrepreneurs and mental health coaches.
We also want to empower young generations, like through our she.grows mini-mentor program with ADE, where multiple mentees have walked away with an actual job and concrete opportunity after the program. Or she.grows during Eurosonic, where we saw the inspiring sound engineer Petra Randewijk as a mentor, who shared her experience as female working in a male dominated scene. Such role models are key to showcase to future generations. Aspiring and empowering the next generation of professionals, letting them know they can become anything they want in the scene, is what will make a real change in the long run.

NW: I hope that our chapter can be an inclusive community where we can connect and come together. But also where people and businesses can go to for information, contacts or inspiration. Our aim with shesaidso.ams is to function as a link between all the different people, groups, genres, genders and everything in between and try to make this a healthier and more equal music scene for everyone.

YB: We’re not just talking about change, but we’re creating change. It’s all about action. I think that has always been the Dutch approach and characteristics, don’t talk the talk but walk the walk. What can we actually DO. We aim to achieve this change by organizing empowering events, mini-mentor programs, inspiring talks and showcases for the next and current generation of professionals and artists. Include everyone and encourage them to take action.

* ams also wants to recognize the support of partners like ZOKU for allowing a space for the aspire to inspire events for example and Absolut. who shares their vision, as showcased in their own campaign “everyone is equal on the dancefloor”, and allowed ams to produce and host all events for free, making it as accessible as possible for everyone.

sss: What is one piece of advice that you’d like to share?
SS: For those who are trying to find their way within the music industry, I would say just keep working hard and take it one step at a time. Everything starts with one step. It is 33% talent, 33% hard work and 33% luck for everyone in the scene. Whether an artist or professional, whether new or established. Going out there and networking is everything, and we all have to be lucky to meet the right person at the right time who is able to lift us up and allow us that next step forward.

For those already active in the scene, I think it is useful at times to realize we are not saving lives here. At the end of the day this is music, and it is about connecting and sharing. So, don’t forget to take care of yourself, of each other, of your colleagues and artists. Stay balanced and discuss topics like personal goals and mental health regularly (not only when you start hitting walls or encounter a burn out). And don’t forget to enjoy the ride, plan moments to stand still and breathe!

NW: I want to quote the last chorus in one of my own songs titled ‘Right, Before I …’. Something that actually helped me see things, such as good looks, career and money, from a different perspective. Because in the end, all that matters is your friends and family. And especially during these challenging times we are currently facing, this might be very obvious but solid advice.

“Love as much as you can.
Live life together and
lend a helping hand.
That’s all I need to be.
Signed by me.”

YB: If you stand for something, surround yourself with like-minded people and make the change. I’m really grateful that I found this within shesaidso.ams. We’re really doing this because we believe in it.

Click through for some of our chapter leaders’ favorite tunes.

What’s next?

Unfortunately, due to the current state of things and the severe impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the cultural industry, all three chapters have had to rethink how they can continue to offer programs in these times. Here is a peak at what they’re planning …

Mumbai: “We are not letting this situation get the better of us and are trying to explore some ideas in the merch/content vertical by connecting with women who are experts in the field or can contribute to the same.”

Before everything was canceled, Mumbai was working on organizing a four-class DJ workshop, creating a touring property, and exploring a smaller version of SSSMeets to take place in Mumbai or somewhere else in India.

Italy: “We decided to take this as an opportunity and so we’re launching a new initiative called ‘ streaming sessions’. We basically run workshops and ask-me-anything through live sessions in our Facebook group. Viewers have the possibility to donate to the music professional holding the session. All of the sessions will be available after the live streaming, creating an online library of ‘music industry classes’.”

Amsterdam: “We are busy brainstorming on how to support and empower our community online and through livestream events at the moment. […] These unforeseen situations require some improvising, so we’re exploring other ways to connect with people in a non-physical way.”

In other 2020 plans, ams has a lot in store, including an all-female writing camp for artists. They had also planned a she.grows mentor program XL, continuing Aspire to Inspire events, and focus on initiatives to initiate conversations with higher-up professionals and CEOs to implement real change and establish diversity and inclusion in the Dutch music scene.



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