Caitlin Whelan: Women & Non-Binary Folk in Live Music
Updated: Feb 28
This series is an extension from our Instagram, with full Q&A's instead of the shorter Instagram bios. Here you can read the full in-depth interview with Freelance Gig Promoter & Music Marketing Manager, Caitlin Whelan & go direct to their provided donation link to show your support:
I am the founder of CLW, a digital marketing, management and gig promotion company based in Cardiff! I also co-run Rose Parade Recording Co, a new independent, community-focussed record label also based in Cardiff. In the past, I've worked with a number of Cardiff-based venues, festivals and promoters as their Marketing Manager so I've been lucky enough to work in different parts of the industry. Music has always played a massive part of my life whether it's been going to gigs, playing instruments (albeit pretty badly!) or just listening to music in general but I never considered it as something I could turn into a career.
Originally I trained as an actor at university but after a year of trying to get into that industry, I decided it was no longer for me, and set my sights on getting into arts marketing instead - which was something I was becoming increasingly interested in since finding out about that career path at uni. I spent the next two years building up my knowledge (copious amounts of YouTube videos!) and experience working voluntarily with different organisations. In 2017, a marketing role came up with Sŵn, a festival and concert promoter in Cardiff, and I was super fortunate to get it. It was a complete 'jump in the deep end' experience for me, but I made memories I will never forget, learnt so much about marketing for live experiences and fell head over heels in love with music again. The guys I worked with were so supportive and always willing to give me tips and advice which I'm so grateful for. After my time at Sŵn came to an end, I started working with Gwdihŵ, a wonderful music venue, which is sadly now closed, which is where the seeds started to be sewn for starting to promote my own gigs. Fast forward to May 2019 and CLW was born! Back in March of last year, a band that I semi-manage and am great friends with called TJ Roberts, decided they wanted to start their own record label which has artists and the communities that they are a part of at the centre of everything they do. They asked me if I wanted to get involved as a director and I jumped at the chance. We launched in October and in that time we've released TJ Roberts' second album 'Love, Loss and Other Useless Things', the first offering from our monthly Singles Club (a track from Cardiff art-punk band Blue Amber) as well as the first single of a new EP from up-and-coming electronic producer Shreddies. We run as a Community Interest Company so any profit we make will be invested back into the community by putting on outreach projects like music workshops for under-represented groups which is something we're really excited about. Obviously, the pandemic has stopped us from doing things in person (most of our meetings have taken place on Zoom!) but we're looking forward to the future and making the most of everything that we're able to do at present. We've got big plans!
At the start of my career, I really lacked the confidence in myself to go and achieve what I wanted to achieve, and I still feel a little bit of the classic 'imposter syndrome'. I think in part it was because I didn't really have many female role models to look up to who were working in music. I've tried to align myself with people (regardless of gender) that are supportive and share the same ethos for equality as me so I've been fortunate to not experience much sexism in my career so far. There was one occasion where I was working on a gig and had to pass some information on to a male sound technician relating to an artist and he point-blank ignored me which was immensely frustrating. The artist in question (also male) saw what happened, went up to him and relayed the same info and got a reaction. This is probably the only time really I've experienced something like this. Over the past year, I've got to know a number of women and non-binary people working in the Welsh music industry which has inspired me to make more of the fact that I'm a woman working in music. I would love to see more people like me get involved in the industry - not just as performers but as managers, promoters, sound techs or label owners and I hope that by showing what I do, I can encourage other people to do the same too. I'm a true believer in the idea that you can't be what you can't see so the more visible we are in these roles, the more we can make it easier for young women and non-binary people to aspire to work in our industry.
I had a lot of plans in 2020 to put on more gigs and establish myself properly as a promoter. Obviously, the pandemic put a stop to that so I took some time off to think about how I could adapt my business which is when I started offering digital marketing services directly to artists as well as working with clients outside the music industry. I was really lucky to receive a Cultural Recovery Fund grant from the Welsh Government so some of that money was able to be invested back into my business which I'm really thankful for. I've also been able to keep myself busy with the launch of a new record label which I co-run with some wonderful people so even though my original plans for the year weren't able to happen, some lovely new things came into my life instead! I think everyone, particularly those who work in the live music sector, has been impacted in some way or another regardless of gender identity. Of course though, those who are more financially better off are less likely to be affected by the pandemic.
At Rose Parade, we've been discussing ways in which we can encourage more female and non-binary artists to work with us. Since launching we've been bombarded by submissions from male acts but I can count on pretty much one hand the number we've received from female and non-binary acts. We really want this to change so we've personally reached out to artists we love - and many of them say they don't feel ready for a label or they already have other plans. Our goal is to change people's perceptions of what a label is and can be so that more people especially women and non-binary people feel more confident in approaching us. Ultimately, we want to be a label for everyone. My aim as a promoter is to champion female and gender-minority talent (on and off stage) wherever I can, whether it's booking them to play a show or work in a tech role. I'm proud that every gig I've staged bar one has featured female or non-binary acts which I think shows it can be done. Going forward, once gigs can finally happen in Wales again, I want to make even more of a conscious effort to find female and gender-minority talent and give them a platform.
To support Caitlin you can donate directly to her paypal at: paypal.me/clwcdf
Interview conducted by Ellen Sanderson