Artist manager Nadia Khan talks WomeninCTRL

We had a chat with artist manager Nadia Khan, best known for managing Lethal Bizzle, she also manages Lady Lykez and Laughta. Nadia has her own management company, CTRL Management, and label, CTRL Records, and is very active in supporting other women in the music industry through her platform, WomeninCTRL. She told us about life as an artist manager, WomeninCTRL, and her week’s residency with Jäger Soho earlier this summer.

You had a week’s residency with Label Lodge at Jäger Soho – what did you get up to over the week?

The week at Jäger Soho was amazing. They gave me the space to do whatever I wanted and because I’ve got the WomeninCTRL platform, I wanted to partner with different female-led brands.

I worked with Superfoxx, who are a really cool female collective that are pushing to get more female DJs on the scene and really work on fixing that gender balance, as currently only a small percentage of DJs are female. They ran a mini DJ school and people took part in free DJ lessons.

GirlGang are another really cool female collective that do freestyles and they did a radio takeover. I also partnered with TenLetter PR, who are an all-female PR company. I gave them a day and they did a radio takeover with DJ Melody Kane from BBC 1Xtra.

On the last day, I did some 30 minute one-on-one workshop sessions. I did 10 sessions and a really nice variety of people came; people trying to get into the industry, a couple of artists, a manager who wanted to get some advice and network… I really enjoyed that aspect. Then we did a radio takeover with Girls of Grime and CTRL Records.

Can you tell me a bit about what you do day to day?

For the last 15 years, I’ve been an artist manager for Lethal Bizzle. Because the industry has changed so much in recent years and a lot more music is released independently, I ended up running all of our releases and starting my own record label, CTRL Records.

I’ve had a successful artist and now that I’m in a comfortable position, I can take on projects that I really feel passionate about. Breaking female talent and seeing a female MC succeed is really important to me, that’s why I took on Lady Lykez and Laughta.

What made you decide to start the WomeninCTRL platform supporting women in the music industry?

I work with so many talented females within the industry and I don’t think women shout enough about the great work that they do. There should be more females working within the industry, and the females that already are in the industry should be talked about and have more of a light shone on them.

WomeninCTRL started on Instagram, highlighting women that I’ve worked with or admire in the industry, calling them the #womeninCTRL. People started messaging me saying ‘this is great, you should do more with this.’

Relentless approached me and offered me their space to do an event. I put the first event on around International Women’s Day in March. I wanted to build a really cool line up of women, give them a really good platform and empower them, but also help people that want to get into the industry.

I do a lot of panels and sometimes feel like the audience are unable to relate to the topics. I wanted to do something that was actually going to help the audience, so that they get something out of it, and also empower the females on the panel. I think women are really finding their voices at the minute and there’s a demand to hear from powerful women and find out how they got to where they are.

I really want to use the WomeninCTRL platform to talk about gender balance across the industry. I want to see more females on playlists and line ups.

Do you think that we are starting to see the industry take steps towards equality?

100%. I think that conversations are happening and women now feel like they have a voice. Personally, I feel like that’s why women wanted WomeninCTRL so badly, because they wanted to empower other women and talk about about issues that effect women within the industry.

I think it’s about speaking about things with a positive message, rather than being like ‘oh, it’s not working for females. It’s not fair’.

You’re quite well known in the grime scene, which appears to be quite heavily dominated by male artists. How have you been supporting the women that you work with to carve a path for themselves in that scene?

When I started out, women within the grime scene were very niche. It’s been interesting over the last year to see how many females have started coming out of the woodwork. I didn’t even know that there were that many females out there trying to become artists. There’s some great platforms called Girls of Grime and Girls I Rate that showcase females and give them a boost.

When I started looking after Lady Lykez, there were maybe one or two other females that were actively doing stuff within the scene; I think it was more challenging back then. A few years ago, female MCs were still being brushed to the side. I think the frustration really got to Lykez and she wrote a song about it called Nobody Can. She called out all the guys in the scene and was basically saying she could bar against them rap for rap, lyric for lyric. She didn’t want to be classed as ‘good for a girl’, she wanted to be classed as a good MC.

After that we did Lord of the Mics, which is a rap battle from the grime scene, it’s Jammer from BBK’s project. I said to him, ‘We’ll do it, but it needs to be her clashing a guy.’ She was the only girl ever to clash a guy on that platform. All the stuff that we did for her releases came from having doors closed on her and her not being taken seriously.

Even with Laughta, my new artist, we went to do a grime set and she was the only girl there. All the guys were handing the mic around and she didn’t get it for ages – she had to really fight to get the mic.

There’s a really interesting production that Lykez is doing at the Roundhouse, Lil.Miss.Lady, and one of the scenes shows the mic being passed over her head. It’s a story of a female MC through the grime scene. The guys co-wrote it with Lykez and interviewed a lot of female grime MCs and DJs about their experiences of being a female in the industry.

When I’m putting out my female artists, I can see that there are less live slots for them, less opportunities on playlists. It is just a matter of continuing to keep building it up and make the right noise, in a positive way. It’s about finding different ways in when the doors are closed on you.

If you could give one piece of advice to aspiring female artists or musicians what would it be?

Persistence is key and never give up. If you have that persistence and consistency, then you’ll break through.

What’s been the biggest learning curve that you’ve faced in your career to date?

Realising I need to talk more about what I’m doing with my work. I often just kept my head down in the background, did my work and thought that that was enough. I think if you just do that, other people that are more vocal might take credit for your work.

When I started fifteen years ago, it was a big challenge to take on managing a grime artist, especially as the scene was so unstructured back in the day. Building that confidence was my biggest learning curve – to not be afraid to come out and talk about myself.

What would you say you’re most proud of so far within your career?

I think working independently and doing it all myself. That’s something I’m grateful for everyday – that it’s my business. I just feel really fortunate to be in a position where I’m comfortable and can run my own business and work on projects that I love.

As a female music manager do you feel that you’ve come up against any different kinds of challenges as opposed to if you were a male?

When I started out, I didn’t even think about it being difficult as a female manager because I was so ambitious and determined. I just had a really set idea of what I wanted to do.

I was quite young when I started out and had a lot of aggressive males trying to bully me into agreeing to their terms. It was a really big challenge to take that on. I think the industry is a bit of a boys club, so it’s been a challenge to find my own way within that and feel comfortable with my own skin.

How have you overcome and dealt with those types of scenarios?

Just by being professional – I get the job done and that’s it. There’s nothing else you can do. I’ve had to give myself that confidence to hold my head up high, be professional and do my job.

Are there any other key steps that you think are important to help to create a more balanced and fair music industry moving forwards?

Definitely a lot more conversations; a lot more women need to come together and share their stories and not be afraid to talk about their experiences. The work that I’m doing with WomeninCTRL is trying to highlight the gender imbalances across the industry, find solutions and action change.

Lady Lykez

The WomeninCTRL pop-up at Jäger Soho was part of the three month Label Lodge in partnership with AIM, which saw a different independent label curate the space each week.

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