Kailei, you’re the Marketing Manager AUNZ at Ultra Music Publishing, Payday Records, Helix Records and Guest List Records / Director at Same But Different Agency. How did you get your start in the music industry? Did you choose to work in music or did it choose you?
I lived in Singapore as a teenager where there was an amazing live music scene with lots of young, local bands doing great things. I spent a lot of time with a friends’ band at rehearsals and in the studio which felt really natural to me, so I knew pretty early on that I wanted to work in music. I went straight from high school into Music Industry Business at TAFE and started paving my way from there.
I scored an internship with Tim Manton at Scorpio Music Management (Van She, After The Fall, Operator Please, Lisa Mitchell, Matt Corby, Amy Meredith, etc) in 2007 and because I lived out of home and didn’t have the luxury of living rent free, I had to take my full month’s annual leave from my full time job and spend my holidays working for free to get music industry experience!
There were lots of job interviews and rejections along the way, or job offers that were hideously underpaid and I couldn’t afford to accept because I had to pay rent and bills, but eventually I was offered and accepted my first industry role as an agent and my career officially began.
If a young person is reading this who’s finding it tough to break into the industry – persist! You’ll get your lucky break, don’t give up on your dream.
How did you get to where you are today?
Hard work, long hours, taking opportunities that were outside my comfort zone and throwing myself 300% into my career. It’s a known fact that women have to work twice as hard as men to prove themselves, so that’s exactly what I did. Then work twice as hard again because we work in the entertainment industry and a standard 40 hour work week simply doesn’t exist. Relationships and reputation are everything in this industry and those are what have landed me multiple opportunities over the years.
Do you feel that higher education is a necessary step to enter the music industry?
A credential on a CV shows that someone is committed, sure, but the music industry is all about relationships, experience and hustle. My suggestion would be to intern with a company for six months, work your guts out and hope that you secure a full time gig from it.
Tell us about your role, what does your day-to-day entail?
I’m the wearer of many hats so my roles and priorities vary depending on the day. I’m the AUNZ Marketing Manager for US music publishing company Ultra Music Publishing and three record labels, Payday Records (est. 1992), plus two new labels to be announced later this month. I own an agency, Same But Different, where I represent Aussie talent for management, bookings and brand partnerships.
Have you had to overcome any challenges or adversity in your career, and if so, how did you approach them?
Constantly, but that’s the nature of the industry for everyone involved. For the most part we either deal with people, events or campaigns, and all of those things can backfire even if everything is planned to a tee. Everyone who survives and thrives in the music industry requires a certain level of resilience and grit. As a woman, I’ve been the only female on the team more than once, or the first female to step into a role or team that’s usually entirely male.
I used to see that in a negative light, but now I see it as a positive and am really proud that I’ve been a risk taker, a leader and someone who can comfortably sit at a table full of men and hold my own. I’m really thankful to have been given those opportunities because that opens up a space for another woman to step into.
Let’s talk about the highs vs the lows of your career, what is your greatest achievement vs a moment you’d prefer to forget?
Funnily enough my greatest achievement is also something that was quite traumatic and took a few years to overcome emotionally. Launching Alpha Booking Agency in 2018 was something I’m really proud of, but also something that I learned a lot from by making mistakes and overestimating my capabilities without knowing what I was getting myself into.
Pulling the pin on a business after six months made me feel like a failure at the time, but in reality I was brave enough to start a business and even braver for starting one that was standing up for women and LGBTQIA+ industry workers and artists. Alpha is taking shape again this year in a different format, kicking off on International Women’s Day which is super exciting.
Who has been your greatest champion in your career, who has helped you along the way?
You’ve got to be your biggest champion if you want to have longevity in a challenging industry. I’ve stayed strong through tough times, I’ve walked away from toxic workplaces when others who felt the same stayed quiet, I’ve continued to push myself and champion myself even at the times I’ve struggled the most. Always back yourself and allow yourself to make choices that empower you.
What do you think is the biggest threat to artists or the industry and what would you do to change it?
The elephant in the room is that we’re overworked and underpaid in this industry. I’ve seen so many people leave the industry over the years and head into careers that are less demanding and double the salary. The toxic culture of “you’re lucky to have your job and 1000 other people would do anything to have it” has always been an issue because it’s ingrained in us, usually by business owners with fat pockets who seem to get richer while we struggle to live comfortably. I’m hopeful that after a few years of people’s perspectives changing around work conditions and work/life balance, we start to see a shift here.
What would your younger self like to remind your current self?
Hang in there, keep on pushing and do not give up because you have so much ahead of you and you will succeed.
How firm are you with boundaries between work/life balance and how do you try to enforce them?
I’m a people pleaser so I’ve found boundaries incredibly hard to manage over the years, particularly as an agent who is constantly on call and responsible for up to 15 talent at a time. Admittedly I still struggle with this and will find myself getting anxious over having to push back on someone or manage expectations of colleagues, family or friends who overstep the mark.
The best advice I have as a 35 year old woman who’s still trying to get better at this (pray for me!) but has made some progress is directing people to email if they contact you via text, call or social platforms for business. Unless it’s something that needs to be rectified on the spot for business, don’t pick work calls up or reply to texts/emails out of hours.
At the end of the day, you and your health are more important than any job and if your boss/colleague/client/artist can’t respect your boundaries, it might be time to reconsider working with those people.
Any tips for a quick ‘pick me up’ if you’re having a shitty day?
I have one friend who always makes me feel better by the end of a call, so even if I’m having a full blown crisis, I know that I’ll be laughing and feeling much better by the time we jump off the phone. If you have the capacity to drag yourself to the gym at the end of a shitty day, you’ll walk out a different person after pumping those endorphins up.
What was a source of inspiration during the pandemic for you?
I was inspired by the possibility of what was next. COVID felt like a clean slate to redesign who I wanted to be and what I wanted to do with my career. I was fortunate enough to do the “COVID pivot” twice during the pandemic and gained so much valuable experience in those roles, all while enduring 290 days of Melbourne lockdown!
What is your go-to Karaoke song?
The Cure – Lovesong