Helena, you’re an A&R Creative/Scout with EMI Music Australia, please tell us your story! How did you get to where you are today?
I’ve been a music buff for as long as I can remember – but growing up, I’d always wanted to be the editor of Cleo magazine. When the glossies started folding, I realised I needed a Plan B… and that’s when I turned to music! I was studying Journalism when I started interning at The Music Network, then landed a marketing internship the following year at a music festival, Your Paradise. After graduating uni, I joined Audiopaxx as a tour admin and worked my way up to Head Of Touring, routing tours for electronic artists across Australia. At the same time, I was also working as an artist manager – which really allowed me to flex my passion for artist development and the creative process.
My journey at EMI only started because I slid into my now-boss’ Twitter DMs. He tweeted about an A&R job going in his team, and I jumped at a chance to work at the record label that’s been home to some of my favourite artists. For the last two years, I’ve been lucky enough to learn from and work closely with some incredible industry heavyweights, and call them my family. I’m still pinching myself.
Tell us about your role with EMI, what does your day-to-day entail?
The best thing about this job is that every day is different. As an A&R Creative/Scout, I’m responsible for scouting emerging talent and bringing the label across it.
On a typical day, you’ll find me in my headphones blasting demos from all kinds of genres. My favourite form of scouting is attending live shows – pre-COVID, I’d be out most nights of the week at a gig or an event. Then there’s the creative element in my role, which involves brainstorming with artists on their branding, and working to bring their music video dreams to life. Attending photoshoots, rehearsals and video shoots are especially fun! But the most rewarding aspect of all is getting to help musicians put their art into the world, and nurturing their careers based on their creative vision.
What has been your proudest career achievement so far?
The day I signed Charley to EMI – my first major label artist signing. I’m so grateful to have the support of John O’Donnell (MD of EMI) and Mark Holland (Director of A&R – EMI), who are always in my corner and championing my career!
Who are your role models in the industry, be they international or Australian?
Great segue – I certainly wouldn’t be where I am now without John and Mark’s guidance. I’m so damn lucky to learn from them every day. From our A&R team, there’s Heather O’Brien who is so sharp, brilliant and on-the-ball; and Adam (Weez) Booth – whose dedication to his artists is second to none.
Finally, Poppy Reid at The Brag Media. She’s such a fierce champion of women in the music industry – values instilled in me during our time together at The Music Network.
What’s your favourite thing about working with EMI?
At the risk of sounding corny, it’s the EMI team. We’re such a tight-knit crew and everybody works well with one another. Communication is key to a great team – John O’Donnell and Alicia Reynolds (GM of Marketing – EMI) have really fostered this amazing work culture and support network.
Who are your top three ‘artists to watch’?
I’m going to plug some incredibly talented BIPOC artists in Australia…
• Cat & Calmell
What advice would you give someone just starting out in music who would like to work in A&R? Where should they start?
Be as present as you can in your local music scene. Contribute to smaller music blogs, go to shows, volunteer at community radio. Don’t be afraid to network within the industry and with other music buffs! Twitter, TikTok and Clubhouse is your friend. It’s all about being vocal about the music that excites you.
What impact has COVID had on your work in A&R?
We’ve really seen this pandemic ravage the industry, and its impact especially on our musicians. From an A&R perspective, the constant stop-start nature has thrown a huge spanner to our releases and the actual creation of music – studio sessions get scrapped, video shoots pulled, tours are cancelled which in turn, delays the overall release schedule for an artist. It’s by no means easy, but these constant challenges have forced us to work smarter, plan contingencies and think outside of the box.
What is your big picture career goal?
Larger BIPOC representation within the Australian music landscape is something I’d want to help advance, as I continue progressing in my career. As it stands, the make-up of industry professionals in the Aus music scene is largely white – frankly, we lack cultural diversity in the frontlines of the recordings and live industries, and we need to work towards change.
My big picture career goal is to promote more inclusivity and diversity, especially within large corporates – I want to champion BIPOC music professionals and ensure more voices from different cultural backgrounds are heard. This is how we move forward together as an industry.
What is the best piece of life advice you’ve ever received?
My mate Hannah from high school once told me, “It could always be worse”. I’ve since adopted it as my mantra – it helps me see things from a “glass half full” perspective and reminds me to be grateful for everything I have.
If you could work with any local artist, who would it be and why?
Don’t they always say to “never meet your heroes”? I’m keeping this one to myself.
If you could time travel and see any artist from any time perform live, who would it be and why?
I am once again asking the universe to take me back to Beyoncé’s 2018 Coachella set. I still can’t believe that I – a mere mortal – witnessed that in my humble lifetime.
What does the rest of 2021 hold for you? Anything exciting you can tell us about?
We’ve recently welcomed a new act to the EMI roster! This one is my second signing, and the announce is right around the corner. We’re sitting on some crazy good music and are positively bursting to put this out in the world…
What is your go-to karaoke song?
Misery Business by Paramore. Or if I have a duet partner, it’s Evanescence’s Bring Me To Life. It was never just a phase, OK mum?