Five Things I Know: Rachel Jones-Williams, Dirty Hit Australia

In August, British label Dirty Hit – home of The 1975, Beabadoobee, Wolf Alice and more – announced an expansion into Australia. Rachel Jones-Williams, who’s worked at Sony Music and Caroline Australia and is now leading Dirty Hit’s Aussie expansion, talks to NME about impostor syndrome, major labels and more

The early days of an artist’s career are crucial

In one of the first conversations I had with [Dirty Hit founder] Jamie Oborne, he said something to me along the lines of: you and I are going to have every opportunity to do great things in our career, and if we mess up, we can try again. But when it comes to an artist, a lot of the time they just have one chance to make things work. He was talking about what drives him to make sure his artists have every chance possible to succeed.

I had thought about this before, but it was how he put it so eloquently that stuck with me. The start of an artist’s career is when it is crucial that everything’s done right, and that everyone puts their best foot forward to support the artist – who will only release their debut album once. You fight for every small win because you have to, because someone’s career is in your hands and they trust you to do just that. And when things don’t go to plan, it’s not about “mistakes”. It’s about reflection, realism and nurturing creativity.

Global deals must be backed by real commitment

Australian artists are often signed to global deals by major labels without firm commitments from markets elsewhere to support their music. They get sold this package, promised the world, but when it comes down to an “international rollout”, they get lumped in with hundreds of other priorities.

Right now, major labels are signing as many artists as possible to build out their market share, and not everyone’s getting the attention they deserve. It’s frustrating to watch and even more heartbreaking for an artist to experience.

Australia is a progressive market, and the music being released here is exciting and has the potential to make its mark internationally – but when that international proposition isn’t fulfilled, it’s truly a wasted opportunity for the artist.

Rachel Jones-Williams of Dirty Hit Australia
Rachel Jones-Williams. Credit: Jess Gleeson

Artists should sign to a label only if they feel the team will go to bat for them

Artists are extremely intelligent and they have great intuition, that’s what makes them brilliant creatives. They should be signing to labels because they can feel the passion, the love and the excitement.

When artists are signing to major labels, they’re often only talking to the A&R and marketing team in one territory. Dirty Hit is a small global team and we’re signing artists we all love – if I’m interested in an artist, I want to be introducing them to everybody on the team so they know exactly who’s working on their music internationally and showing what we can bring to the table before they even decide if they want to sign with us.

In a perfect world, major labels would do this – but those teams are just too big to have that kind of community. Within small teams there’s direct connection and an understanding and appreciation for nuance – that’s where great ideas can happen.

“If we mess up, we can try again. But artists have one chance to make things work”

Be fearless in the face of impostor syndrome

When I first got the offer to join Dirty Hit, I had a little impostor syndrome. The offer really caught me by surprise – it was the sort of job I did picture in my future, but I was still only 25 and thought there would be a few more stepping stones I needed to take to get there. I knew I could do the job, but I feared that I wouldn’t be taken seriously running a label and maybe this was all happening too soon. I knew that if I didn’t take it that it would be something I would really regret.

Impostor syndrome can be so hard to tackle, and in Australia as well there is this tall poppy syndrome where you feel like people want to cut you down for being successful and loving what you do. I think young women and other minorities can mistake working in the music industry as a privilege they should be grateful for. It is a privilege, but we also deserve to be here, and we got here because we worked hard. We are worthy and should be treated as such.

The 1975 Laneway Festival Sydney 2020
The 1975. Credit: Liting Ng for NME

It will take real action to uplift minorities in the music industry

There’s this new, exciting wave of incredibly powerful young female artists who are owning their own space – who mean what they say and say what they mean, who don’t have boundaries on how they express themselves. I started in this industry when I was 18 and I can relate to the fight that it takes to muster that confidence.

It’s really easy to feel disillusioned by this industry. Over the last few years I’ve felt this responsibility to create opportunity, and uplift artists and young people in the industry. I was lucky enough, coming up in this industry, to have people who did that for me.

It’s important to keep creating community in your space and doing what you can so there’s an entry point for people to come after you. That’s the only way the industry’s going to change: good examples and allowing people to feel safe that they can have opinions and take a chance.

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