5 Powerhouse Music Execs On The Challenges, Triumphs & Breaking Up The “Boy’s Club” In The Industry

By Celia San Miguel for TIDAL Magazine

While the rampant gender inequality in Hollywood has been widely discussed in recent years, the male-dominated music industry hasn’t quite garnered the same amount of public scrutiny. And yet there’s no denying that the music industry remains a boys’ club, both in terms of music creators and behind-the-scenes executives. Thankfully, women have been mobilizing to enact change, and they’re finally seeing their efforts bear fruit. We talked to five powerhouse executives about their experiences in the industry, the challenges that remain to be tackled and why we should feel hopeful about the future. 

These inspiring women are: Lanre Gaba, Co-President of Black Music at Atlantic Records; Mayna Nevarez, Founder and CEO of Nevarez Communications, whose clients include reggaeton superstar Daddy Yankee; LaTrice Burnette, Executive Vice President of Def Jam Recordings and President of 4th & Broadway; Jacqueline Saturn, President of Virgin Music Label & Artist Services; and Heather Lowery, President and CEO at Femme It Forward, a joint venture with Live Nation Entertainment. 

In partnership with Amplify Her Voice, the women shared their words of wisdom on dealing with sexism, motherhood, and disrupting the status quo:


“There have been instances when I’ve been told to wait outside of a room, like, ‘Wait right here; we’ll see you in a second.’ And then all the men would walk in [and have a meeting without me]. But I don’t think they would pull a stunt like that in this day and age. In the last few years, women in the industry have become more united, and we’re starting to be treated with more respect.” — Mayna Nevarez

“There’s a whole spectrum of experiences, in terms of treatment from men, that was challenging for me: from being mistaken for a groupie or an assistant [at concerts] to men hitting on me or talking down to me. Early on [in my career], I went through a lot of struggles dealing with people who didn’t show me respect. I know that, if I were a man, I wouldn’t be talked to, treated or looked at in that way. I’m very grateful to be in a position right now where I get to pick and choose who I want to do business with.” — Heather Lowery

“[Over the years] I’ve had to fight to make sure my voice was heard. Oftentimes, you’ll be the only woman in the room, and you may say something and it will go overlooked. Then one of the men in the room will say the exact same thing and everyone will be like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s what we should do!’ And you’ll be thinking, ‘Wait a minute: I just said that five minutes ago!’ Navigating those situations has been challenging. But there’s so much power in being a woman. We are the No. 1 consumers of music. Our voices matter.” — LaTrice Burnette 

“I remember being in a room full of A&R guys, and they’d be arguing about what girls want to hear on records, and I’d be like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me! Like, what would happen if I was not sitting here?’ But I felt comfortable making my voice heard, and I definitely felt like my input was necessary.” — Lanre Gaba


“The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that there’s room for everyone. There’s room for everyone to be successful. There’s room for everyone to be happy. There’s room for people to have wins. And you can be competitive within the system, but you need to be kind and root for each other.” — Jacqueline Saturn

“Every artist has a unique story, so when I first sign a client on, I’ll sit with them for two to three hours and interview them so I can try to get those details and frame a narrative. I think that’s one of the advantages of having been a journalist prior to becoming a publicist: I know how to get the story. Also, technology is changing faster than ever, so you really have to study and stay on top of all the latest trends. My team and I take seminars every month on different topics.” — Mayna Nevarez

“To create a successful campaign around an artist, you want to make sure that you’re hitting at least two touch points. You want to feel the buzz coming from within the entertainment industry. You want to make sure creative energy is there and the things that you’re doing are memorable and meaningful. But then you also need that outside-consumer perspective, which comes from the fans. Like, what are the streets saying? Are people catching on? To have a really successful marketing campaign, you need to have both of those happening at the same time. I always want to know what the people are saying, and so I’m always going outside. I’m going to the club. I’m on video shoots. I’m still on the streets. I think that’s what makes me a different type of executive: I’m literally outside because I know that just sitting in a corporate environment all day isn’t what helps you touch and connect with the people.” — LaTrice Burnette


“My son was born five years after I launched my own boutique talent agency, Agency for Artists, and I remember hustling and grinding and working so hard to build this company. I was literally in my hospital bed working right after [giving birth] to my son. I had the computer on my lap while he was napping. When you’re building a small company, there’s no maternity leave. I was like, ‘If I’m not working, I can’t provide,’ so I kept working. I was a one-woman army!

“You can have a family and be a successful female executive because I’m a living example of that, but it’s hard. It’s really hard. That’s one of the biggest challenges I face: making sure that I’m there for my family and making sure that I’m there for my company. There’s always something that’s suffering. If I’m giving my all to work and I have a tour or a show, something is not getting done at home. I can only do my best and try to be present whether I’m at home or at work. But it’s a daily struggle.” — Heather Lowery

“I remember being in a meeting and having to go home to feed my baby, and you just felt like people were looking at you and judging you. I was extremely fortunate because I have an amazing husband, but it was so hard! I was living in New York City [when my kids were babies], and one missed subway stop means you’re getting home 20 minutes later than expected to relieve someone [from childcare duty]. I look back on those years and I’m so glad I made it through. But I also hope it’s not like it was for me, that you don’t have to make it a secret that you’re a parent, and you don’t have to be ashamed to say, ‘I need to go home and feed my kids,’ or ‘I need to put them to bed tonight, so I can’t go to the show.’ I don’t want people to feel like they can’t get to the next stage of their career because they made a life choice.” — Jacqueline Saturn

“I was pregnant with my first child when I started my PR agency in November 2003. I’m so grateful that I have a supportive husband who has truly been a partner. My kids were just babies when Daddy Yankee’s Barrio Fino and El Cartel blew up, and I had to travel a lot because it was our first time visiting some of those markets. If it hadn’t been for my husband, I wouldn’t have been able to really pursue my passion. But whenever I could, I took my kids with me. And Daddy Yankee and his team were great: They’d carry my son and help with the stroller. My babies were like the mascots! Nowadays you see artists taking their kids everywhere, so it’s more normalized.” — Mayna Nevarez

“I’m proud that I’ve been able to raise a family and do what I do. When I was coming up in the music industry, all the women I looked up to, they didn’t have families. I thought, ‘I want [to have a family so badly], but that’s just what happens; you don’t get to do that.’ And then [Atlantic Records Chairwoman-COO] Julie Greenwald arrived, and I thought, ‘Well, she did it somehow!’ That lightbulb came on, and it started feeling possible. Seeing other women actually do it gave me hope.” — Lanre Gaba

“More and more, I see women doing the balancing act. Even now, while working during the pandemic and being at home, you might have a mom on a Zoom call nursing her child. It’s normal. It’s a part of life. We can be moms and have families and still excel at our jobs. And I think a lot of companies have moved forward to offer greater flexibility for new moms. Flexibility is so important. You can’t be of service to anyone if your family and your home life aren’t situated.” — LaTrice Burnette


“I’ve been mentoring this one young woman since she was 15 years old. She reached out to me [via DM] and said, ‘I want to be in A&R one day.’ Now she’s going to college in September, and she’s managing an artist and contributing to a very important R&B blog. It’s all about women building that pyramid.” — Lanre Gaba

“During the pandemic, I launched a mentorship program called Next Gem Femme. The goal is to help young women tap into their potential and help them have access and opportunities that we never quite had. We paired over 150 mentors, top executives at companies like Apple Music and YouTube, with over 250 young women of color. The applicants were either completing their junior or senior year of college or they were young professionals in the industry. We received over 1,000 applications, and it’s been really inspiring to see how some of these ladies have gotten jobs, internships and opportunities by being a part of the program.” — Heather Lowery

“I think organizations like Women in Music are so important because they allow us to come together and support one another. I started the organization’s Miami chapter. For our first event, I organized a happy hour thinking maybe 20 people would come, and 80 women showed up, from industry VPs to up-and-coming artists. It’s vital that women share contacts and resources.” — Mayna Nevarez


“As women, we’re so maternal and such natural caregivers. And there are a lot of artists who need to feel that sensitivity, that human element, that connection, and I think that’s what sets us apart from the male executives. Also, who is a better problem solver than a woman? Look at what we do all day: We’re moms and caretakers, executives and spouses. There are so many things we do, so many roles we play, and that’s how we approach everything in our lives — especially our jobs.” — LaTrice Burnette

“I know that there are certain conversations with artists that I can handle differently. Sometimes, when you have two guys [disagreeing] it can become an ego thing, whereas I’m able to cut through that. You need that variety of perspectives and opinions and expertise.” — Lanre Gaba


“One of my proudest moments was taking Daddy Yankee to the Viña del Mar International Song Festival in Chile [in 2006] for the first time. Looking back, it was a risky move. If the audience doesn’t like a performance, they’ll boo the artist offstage. But when Yankee came out, the crowd went wild. We proved that reggaeton was here to stay — that it wasn’t a fad but a cultural movement.” — Mayna Nevarez

“Traditionally A&R is an individual-player sport, but I brought a synergy and a spirit of collaboration to the team. We work together and help each other out. We’re a squad.” — Lanre Gaba

“I grew up in Flatbush, Brooklyn. Being from New York City and having the opportunity to relaunch 4th & Broadway, a label with roots in NYC, was really exciting.” — LaTrice Burnette

“Traditionally [the live music space] has been very male-dominated. There’s usually a male headliner. Men are leading in touring and selling the most tickets. I wanted to give female artists more opportunities to perform, and highlight only female performers. [With Femme It Forward] I put Cardi B and Teyana Taylor together onstage, and Brandy with Monica, and the response was so positive. I proved women can dominate in anything.” — Heather Lowery


“[When it comes to workplace conversations] people are trying to be more responsible and careful about how they use their words — and I am here for it! And it’s thanks to the people on the come-up, because they’re the ones willing to call you out when things make them uncomfortable. I am so proud of the younger generation of women. They are not taking shit, man! They’re making sure they’re in a safe place and that people are using their words and terms correctly.” — Jacqueline Saturn

“The only way [the industry] can become a better place is for more women to be hired and empowered. The ambiance is changing, becoming more welcoming to women, and I think that’s by virtue of women being present, being involved and having real voice and real impact. In the last three to five years, I’ve seen a lot more women becoming Vice Presidents and Senior Vice Presidents and making it to the C-suite. To see your peers, people who you’ve worked with for years, finally get their flowers — it’s made me cry tears of joy.” — LaTrice Burnette

[This article was originally published on TIDAL Magazine, and republished here with permission.]

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