Kali Bradford: Women & Non-Binary Folk in Live Music
Updated: Feb 28, 2021
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 interviews with Creative Industries Consultant Worker, Kali Bradford, conducted by our co-founder Hannah, & go direct to their provided donation link to show your support:
H: Hey Kali, so nice to meet you! Just to start us off do you want to introduce yourself and let us know what you do in your own words?
K: I’m Kali Bradford I’m currently a creative industries consultant work with a record label, I’m also working with a TV and film charity and some different festivals, I have my own company called Our Studio which is basically Air BnB for home recording studios and I’ve just started work for an influencer marketing company called SyncVault.
H: So, when did you realise you wanted to work within the industry? Did how you were brought up have any impact? Is your family creative or are you the first one to do it?
K: I grew up singing my whole life and was in musical theatre from a little age, my parents actually met doing musical theatre so basically since birth and my Dad would sit me on his lap and he would play the piano. I thought I would go into musical theatre until I realised there’s no money in that so I thought I wanted to be a music teacher and started college as a music education major, got through my first semester and realised that I don’t like kids so that would be kind of tough. Switched my major the only other music course, music industry, and I had no idea what that meant. My department at the college of St Rose was actually started by a badass, bass playing, sound recording Nun and she’s the reason I work in the industry now.
H: Haha that’s an amazing story! How do you think that being a woman and you gender identity and expression has affected your experience in the industry? For example, when GA was starting, we would quite often walk into meetings or conversations with people who were older than us and men. Did you have experiences like that? Did that impact you?
K: When I was in my undergraduate I was one of two girls in about 14 of us that graduated. So we were the Moms of the group and we hung out with guys, which is something I’ve always done ,and I didn’t feel a difference until I started managing. I managed a jazz band in New Orleans for about two years and we went on tour which I did everything for, and every single time we stopped at a venue they would ask me if I was one of their girlfriends. That was the first time I realised that yeah maybe being a woman would be harder. When I got to the UK I didn’t have the same experience, I did my Masters in Music Industry Management and my class was split, which was amazing and then I started working with record labels and I started seeing it again. I got the usual are you with the band? Then when I worked my way up to label manager at Distiller, even though I was head of partnerships and doing everything there the men that ran it would never allow me in the big conversations, telling me that I didn’t need to worry about the money even though I was the one with the Masters degree and at that point actually two masters degrees. They thought of me as a little girl who didn’t know what I was talking about, even though they had no actual background in it. I just feel like we have to work ten times harder for the same thing, I think it’s getting better and there’s much more women in the industry and that is interesting as well. Because I feel like there’s two different groups in the industry as well, it’s a big generalisation, but I feel like there’s those that are blaming men for not getting ahead. Then there’s the rest of women that are just doing it and proving men wrong.
H: That’s such an interesting point about women who pin a lot of blame on men and yes okay, there are a lot of bad guys out there and we all I’m sure have at least one story, I mean it’s the whole reason GA exists, but you can’t directly pin the blame on the men in your life. Because not only have they probably not actually done anything they’re just subconsciously and usually unknowingly part of a system that upholds it but the partiarchy doesn’t only affect women and people are realising that more and more now, how men are restricted by that and it’s interesting how that’s coming through more there’s more emphasis on being there for each other and that the feminist movement isn’t solely for women.
K: Yeah I’m definitely a feminist but I find it very frustrating the man hating type of feminist
H: Yeah it definitely is frustrating
K: For most people it’s just that they need to be educated and I think that’s coming through a lot with the younger generation and my age and younger I feel are starting to understand that. The older generation hit more barriers of entry, so I get their anger, but I don’t believe that’s the way to move forward.
H: I guess just a different kind of feminism was appropriate and now it’s just evolving like any kind of social movement. I think a lot of girls are getting into it younger which I love, maybe mainly through social media, cause everybody’s got it. Information is so easily accessible and ideas and theories that our parents maybe wouldn’t have heard about unless they went to university or until they got jobs are now being taught to and by 14 year olds on Instagram - which is a great plus of social media, obviously it has a lot of set-backs but that’s definitely a plus.
K: Yeah access to information for sure, I also think it’s great that women are told they can do anything nowadays and you can see it in TV and social media, it’s easy to see strong independent women which our parents didn’t have, they were still put into boxes and even in general I think our generations are so lucky and are allowed to find our passions more.
H: Yeah even I, I mean I’m technically Gen Z but I’m on the older end of it, so I’ve noticed there is a bit of a difference between myself and people who were born in mid 2000s and the creative stuff they come up with that I see on TikTok and they’re so young and saying and doing all of this great stuff. I just think they’re amazing and they don’t even know how cool all of this is because even back when I was their age none of this would have happened because it’s evolving at such a fast pace.
Do you think there are any other ways that your identity has played a role in your career experience? I guess in choosing your Masters did your gender have an impact on your reasons to do that?
K: Haha the multiple Masters kind of happened because I wanted to stay in the country so I guess my identity would be an American living in England and making decisions on how to figure out how to stay, but I think I’m lucky to say that I don’t think my gender had an impact on those decisions, I haven’t actually thought about that before.
H: Yeah I know for me, as I’m currently doing my first Masters, it’s part of my identity to be academic and that’s who I consider myself to be. But just generally how has Covid changed your career and impacted it?
K: So I started freelancing and consultancy in July of 2019 so it was a bit of time before it began but my Visa is a start-up visa so all about the air BnB for HR studios. So, I started that in the Fall and really started consulting at the beginning of 2020 and right as I was about to do everything and had everything booked that obviously didn’t happen. So, I started applying for full-time jobs because being a freelancer during this time is obviously terrifying. I actually ended up coming home to Massachusetts which was never on the cards. Obviously wasn’t working which was when I started to apply for other jobs and was offered a job at one of the large distributors who told me to just make it back in time for August, they said they couldn’t officially offer it to me because of a hiring hold at their parent company then I got back, and they said they couldn’t hire me anymore. So, then I had to pivot away from music for a little while which is why I started working in film and TV, so I now work with a charity that does business development, helping to train people to get into the industry from under-represented groups. So, I work mainly with the BBC, ITV, SONY now trying to get mentors and giving students entry level jobs which is completely different to everything I’ve done before.
H: I feel like a lot of people are doing that, the creativity in career changes I’ve seen is remarkable. The moving home thing is funny because I basically graduated from my bedroom in May and I had moved back home because I was studying up in Aberdeen so in March my Mum had literally driven three hours up at midnight to come and get me before restrictions were imposed. I had to pack up four years of my life like overnight which in retrospect was dramatic, we could have waited until the morning haha.
K: Yeah I’m actually back home again because of the third lockdown haha.
H: I mean you may as well, you get your laundry done for you.
So, do you think the pandemic has had a worse or different impact on you because you’re a woman? I mean I think there are more female freelancers than there are men, I could be wrong though don’t quote me on that.
K: I think that it’s been interesting because obviously a lot of people have lost their jobs and I’ve gone through so many interviews in the past year. I’ve often got to the last stage but people higher than me are usually men because that’s how it’s been, plus I’m 31 so I’m in that weird range where above me is director level so a lot of those positions are held by men. They end up applying for the same jobs as me, because there were no jobs or they were coming from live and they were trying to get into recording or DSBs, so I think it is harder because they’re going to have a bigger pool of more experience people and those with more experience are going to be men. So, I’m not sure in the freelance world if it’s affected me because of my gender but definitely in applying to jobs because I’ve then seen who has been hired.
H: That’s actually a very good point. So, you know how you were just speaking about identity other than being a woman do you think because a lot of your work has changed and some stopped how you identify yourself and feel in yourself has changed?
K: Absolutely, when it first started everyday I would still be looking for other positions because I was saying to myself that I was the music kid and I did all of these masters and stayed in the country and everything and music was my life and I was the only one from my undergrad who is still working in music etc. So, it definitely freaked me out for a little while because my work is my identity but now I feel like I’ve broken away from work being my identity and now starting to understand myself and taking care of myself mentally and physically. I’ve started working out more and generally focusing on me and now I have so many more work boundaries which I never had before because it was my passion. The no gigs thing is also really hard because it’s my life, so without gigs I don’t even know what to do
H: Yeah, it was a massive part of my social life as well it’s where I met a lot of my friends, people I’m still friends with after 7 years you know. Especially weird coming back here because this is where I grew up and started going to gigs and then I abruptly left and wasn’t here for four years and coming back to the bedroom I grew up in and the room I first discovered all these bands and this whole other world through social media is weird because I’m a different person and I don’t even having the option of reintroducing myself to that world.
K: I completely agree, I moved out right at 18 and never looked back so I was home maybe a week at a time for the past 10 years and then I was back for four and a half months at a time. It’s given me a diff perspective on my hometown and I quite like it now, I would never want to live here full time, but I have a new special place in my heart for it.
H: I feel exactly the same way even though Glasgow is a massive city it definitely feels more appropriate being here, I’m more comfortable being here now. So, correct me if I’m wrong but when I was doing a bit of research on you, I noticed one of your masters is an LLM is in entertainment law? My undergrad is in Law as well and I did do a bit of entertainment law related topics but nothing specific, do you think looking at it from that perspective, did it change your opinion on anything in the industry?
K: Yea absolutely, I used to think you play and become an artist, get signed and it saves your life and you’d be rich. But seeing contracts from labels to artists sometimes they get really screwed! Especially the payments from distributers to artists etc is disgusting. It’s interesting to be able to see it from a legal standpoint and understand why things are the way they are.
H: Yeah, you hear about artists being screwed over all the time, the most recent example I can think of is Taylor Swift but I don’t think ppl appreciate how that happens and how easy it is for it to happen
K: It’s definitely in favour of the labels, especially the majors. I’ve always worked in independents but major labels sign up so many little bands and might not even release their music they just don’t want other labels to have them which screws up the artists life. Same applies to management if they have the wrong manager you’re screwed. It’s insane, I think that has definitely given me an edge to be able to look at contracts and make sure I’m not getting screwed and people I’m working with aren’t.
H: Yeah, I think if I didn’t have such an interest in international practices I would definitely be looking at doing something law related in the music industry and proving something like accessible advice to artists.
K: Yeah, I wanted to do that, but I’d have had to do a conversion course and actually qualify to practice. I give advice but I generally just tell people to go see a lawyer haha because I’m very far from that
H: There’s definitely a gap in the market for that haha, someone should be trying to do that because that would be good work.
So obvs you’re from the states but you spend most of your time in the UK, so do you think there is a massive difference in the industry more generally but also what happens at gigs and your treatment as a woman in the industry?
K: Well definitely in the independent sector they’re so different, the US is so big so they have pockets of things and so does the UK but on a smaller scale. I’ve found in the UK independent sector that’s where my best friends are and everyone works together really well and we all try and lift each other up and work together as much as we can, it’s very collaborative. I’ve found that when I went to conferences in the US as a UK representative it’s very much like people only talk to you about how you can help them. Whereas in the UK when we all go to Great Escape business gets done but we enjoy our time together. The conferences here everyone goes home immediately after instead of trying to build relationships because that’s what I think is the most important thing, just having common ground that’s not just work. You obviously have only working relationships but the biggest ones are by keeping your colleagues as friends, we all got into music because we love it so we should talk about it.
H: Yeah, it just makes life easier doesn’t it
K: Yeah, I just find it so much better than just trying to step on people to get ahead, that to me is just such the old way of the music industry it was cutthroat and horrible but now it needs to be collaborative or no one is going to make any money. So, if we just focus on just Spotify or other distributors no one is going to make any money. Also, the difference with gigs and stuff, I feel like people really, really love gigs in the UK, everyone just dances and has fun and here it depends where you are I guess, and what genre, but it’s such a part of the culture in the UK.
H: Yes, I think that’s so important, it’s part of whole city’s identity like Manchester, Liverpool, London and even Glasgow, they’re huge music cities and they have massive music scenes. Like the Barrowlands for me is so important, I love it with my whole heart because I made so many special memories there when I was growing up. There are people born and raised in these cities and the music is almost all of who they are, I think that’s different in the US, not that I’ve spent that much time there, but I’ve been and I have friends there. Even watching videos, you can see these huge stars like even Drake who I know is Canadian but is massive in the US and the difference in the energy of the crowds is insane.
K: That’s what I was saying about festivals they’re my biggest comparison. Bonaroo and Coachella are just lots of people taking selfies.
H: Yeah, no offence but I could not think of anything worse than going to Coachella
K: Haha yeah and then you go to a UK festival and how do I explain this, I say to my friends here that as a culture you guys, at least the English definitely, are quite reserved but you put them in a field all bets are off. It could be pouring down and you’ll still be having a good time.
H: Haha yeah, I definitely feel like that, for me at least, that level of insecurity of wondering how you look etc just disappears. And everyone collectively agrees not to care about it
K: Yeah, festivals are my favourite I am dying to go back. I think this is the hardest thing for creatives, it’s hard because our world is other people and it’s so tough that it’s now been reduced to a screen, as much as it’s great you just miss so much of it.
H: Especially the employees because that’s what they’ve built their whole livelihoods around and that;s just disappeared and we don’t know when we’ll get it back. Obviously amazing news about the vaccine but I’m not scheduled to get mine until like fucking November!
K: Yeah, and with all the other variants as well
H: Plus, I’m still single, how am I supposed to find anyone?
K: Hahaha yes, my mum suggested Skype dates to me the other day which is just not happening.
H: Hahaha couldn’t agree more!
You can support Kali's work by visiting and sharing the links below:
https://syncvault.com/ Or by donating to Help Musicians: https://www.helpmusicians.org.uk/support-our-work/make-a-donation
Interview conducted by Hannah Camilleri