Sarah Grill (MA Music Business Management, 2011) has been working in the music industry for over fifteen years. She was recently invited to join a panel of music industry experts at The BRITS School as a key music influencer to share her experience with those hoping to follow her footsteps.
Currently the Tour Manager for SIGMA at Nocturnal Touring Ltd, she has an impressive career which has included working for MTV, DMP UK and UAF Music. In 2012, she was Road Manager for Rihanna in the 777 world tour. Sarah is also Operations Director and Booker for Fieldview, “Wilshire’s Biggest Little Festival”, a 5,000 capacity charity festival which is currently in its tenth year.
Here, Sarah tells us how to succeed in the exciting, ever-changing and competitive world of music.
Congratulations on being invited to join a panel of the key influencers in the current music scene as part of Brits Week 2007. How does it feel to have been named as a leading light in the industry?
It definitely doesn’t feel real or deserved. To this day, I still turn around and look for an adult in a room when there is a problem. It takes me a while to realise that – at 30 – I am the adult. It’s an honour, that’s for sure, and I feel proud. However, do I believe it? Hell no.
The music industry has the reputation of being incredibly competitive. Tell us about your career to date and how you got where you are today.
There are no lucky breaks nor is anyone there to help you. I always thought that if I work hard, do well at university and am clever, I’ll get a job no problem. That wasn’t the case. Years of tears and self-doubt later, I made it. Was it easy? No. Did I work hard every day? Yes. Did I want to give up? Yes. It’s hard. No one has your back; you have to have your own back. Just because you’ve done one internship after university, doesn’t mean you will get a job. I was “lucky” enough that after 10 internships, multiple jobs at festivals and night shifts at the pub, someone finally felt sorry for me and paid me some money. In all honesty, if you’re not ready to give your life to music, it’s probably not for you.
When did you realise that you wanted to pursue a career in the music industry?
I initially studied International Development as I wanted to make the world a better place, but my passion for music was stronger and I got onto the MA in Music Business Management to pursue that, and if lucky, combine them. Nowadays, I write all of my riders in a sustainable and ethnical way to make sure that when we tour, we do it respectfully. However, no doubt, there is always more to do.
Are you musical yourself, or are you driven more by an appreciation of music?
I learnt the hammered dulcimer when I was young, as well as the piano – but I was never any good at either. However music always felt real to me. It could send me to my darkest places but it could also pull me out of my weakest moments. It could elevate the happiness I was already feeling, and being at a concert just made me feel alive.
Is it fair to say that the music industry is still a male-dominated arena, or is this changing? Have you ever experienced any barriers in your career?
Daily. I’ve been turned down for jobs because I will just be a “groupie”, stage managers don’t shake my hand, production managers don’t believe me when I state the facts of my set up. Hardly a day goes by where people don’t belittle or try to patronise me. But you hold yourself high, and you rise above it. Eventually you’ve heard and done it all; your skin is so thick that you can just smile it off.
You are a part of the team which founded and runs the Fieldview Music Festival, “Wilshire’s biggest little festival”. Sounds like a dream job! Have there been any particularly stand-out, amazing or funny moments when you have been onsite that you wouldn’t mind sharing with us?
Fieldview is my life. It’s run by some incredible people who are all my best friends. Unknowingly I started the path of music and sustainability early in my life – and this project has given me the tools to do both. It’s completely run by volunteers such as myself, and all the money we make goes to charity. We don’t take any sponsorship, we source ethnically and sustainably. Stand out moments are easy to come across at Fieldview: the artists being so happy there, they are covered in glitter (there is no artist area so everyone is together), the happiness people have in their faces, the joy of music and arts, the sheer pleasure of every person partying being so respectful to the environment – it’s basically all just love. The weekend is one stand out happy blur.
You have worked with the likes of Rihanna, SIGMA and Zara Larsson. What is it like working with high-profile artists?
I think it’s all about being yourself, respecting privacy and knowing your artist. I barely use social media – I have no desire to be in the front of the camera, and I don’t feel like taking any photos (ever really). I think this gives artist a sense of freedom, since they know nothing will ever be published by me. I enjoy the personal moments I have with all of them, and I thrive to see them succeed on stage. All I do is make sure they are happy – so they can then, in exchange, make others happy with their performance. It about being there in the background and giving them however much or little support they need.
You are originally from Vienna. What was the best thing about being a student in London?
The people. Hands down. I met my soul mates in this city. I wouldn’t be who I am without London and its people. It’s unique in its politeness, beauty and brutality. I love every inch of it.
How has your MA in Music Management from the University of Westminster helped to shape your career?
It showed me the different aspects of the music industry as a whole and it was good to get a glimpse of what I was about to get into. Also even if we haven’t stayed in touch with the people I met on the course, I have crossed paths with them in my career and it’s nice to be able to relate to episodes of your life together.
What was the most valuable thing about your course at Westminster?
The tutors were amazing. A completely different bunch of people from all walks of life. I enjoyed heated exchanges and learning about new and different aspects of the industry.
And finally, what advice do you have for any of our current students or graduates who are hoping to break into the industry?
Work hard and put yourself out there. No one owes you anything; no one will ever give you anything. Just get out there and graft, and when you think you can’t do it anymore, keep going, because that is what separates you from the rest. Obstacles are there to be overcome.
However the most important thing: PUT 30% OF YOUR INCOME AWAY FOR THE TAX MAN. He’s coming and he’s taking. So be prepared.