We are super happy and honoured to have had the chance to speak with the amazing and beautiful Steph, label manager behind legendary DEEP MEDi and unusual music agency musik matter. Just to be clear, Steph is also doing many other exciting things, so read about her inspirational journey in the music scene, her thoughts on the position of womxn in the music industry, and some up and coming females in the bass and dubstep scene in the conversation below.
(Image of Steph by Bianca)
Ynez: Hey Steph, the first dilemma that comes to my mind is, which name do you prefer and why, because I’ve seen that sometimes people refer to you as Steph, and sometimes as Steffi?
Steph: I grew up as Steffi (German friends)... English friends relentlessly called me Steffi Graff so gradually it became Steph (English friends). Most people only know me as 'Steph MEDi' so when I started musik matter, I needed separation. New contacts, naturally, started calling me by my email label. I know it's confusing for some... I like, and answer to, both.
Ynez: I had the pleasure to meet you at the Outlook festival, where we communicated regarding the press business for DEEP MEDi. You are their label manager. What does that work entail, and what does that mean you do for the label?
Steph: Mala listens and chooses the art...and then we try to translate the artist's creation into reality. It's just the 2 of us, so we cover everything!
Ynez: What is your favorite part of the job? The process of releasing new music, communicating with the artists, throwing label nights, going to festivals...?
Steph: That's tough to answer, as everything we do is so personal!
The label nights we do in-house always feel special because we can add the little details, so the artists, audience and behind the scene team all enjoy and feel united in the experience. I love that we get to influence line-ups and showcase the label, not just the 'headliners' of the moment. We always have our own team at the till to welcome everyone.
It's not all about the profit and loss.
For me, events and in-person communication are invaluable. Relationships can become so distorted when they only exist electronically. It's music – it's so emotive – it's impossible to enjoy it just by sitting behind my laptop. I love the artists' enthusiasm when it comes to releasing new music...I'm never bored of receiving the Test Pressings...never bored of waiting for the artist to receive the first ever copy of their vision. It's a beautiful thing to be involved in such a personal process of creation.
I love that I get to enjoy festivals and shows...I also go to a lot of non MEDi music events; feeling and understanding what is going on outside of our bubble, and bringing it back into my day to day / night to night. I love to support other events, I understand what goes into them and how much it means! I really love all elements of the role – the sum of all of it makes it so special! I love the flexibility and adapting…never knowing what's next.
Music is so personal and beautiful – as a result my work feels personal and beautiful.
Ynez: But that is not everything that you do, right? As you mentioned you are running your own music agency - musik matter. How does that work?
Steph: musik matter is actually not an agency – not in the traditional sense.
It's a compassionate consultancy company that offers to share knowledge, and lighten to-do lists. Often people find it hard to get answers in the industry or cannot afford a team...we try to fill that gap. As part of this, mm offers support to artists, who handle bookings directly. Some are not established enough for the main agencies to take the risk yet, or they're between agencies, or happy to work smaller shows that came via their socials, or just not pleased with past experiences etc. etc. musik matter looks after the negotiations and the details to ensure the artist can focus on the fun bits.
A lot of musicians I work with don't like the term 'business' being applied to their art - but once money is involved, it's business. musik matter offers to be the buffer.
Ynez: How did you start musik matter and what was your business policy in the beginning? Did it change over the years?
Steph: I was working at Transition Mastering to learn the vinyl production process, when it first became clear that people were really struggling to get support. I spent hours and hours providing tips, for free. I sat down one night, and built my first ever website to document what I had learnt so far, and so that I could share with others. Simultaneously, we started to grow MEDi label nights, looking after the event management side, as well as artist bookings. This gifted me insight into both sides of the coin; what the artist needs, and what the promoter needs. One of our artists (Compa) asked if I would be his agent – I explained that I am not energetic about 'selling artists'. We reached a compromise, whereby I would support any incoming bookings generated by his hard work, but would not 'find' shows. I discuss every booking with the artists and try to share my knowledge and experiences, to help them understand the inner workings and allow them to make informed decisions.
I am not in charge – they are. I speak to a lot of promoters, so often bookings come organically, but I am not actively pitching. We also offer 'advancing'; some artists are with a big agency for incoming bookings, but like responsibility for the travel and final details of the show. I enjoy the Promoter + Artist communication – the balance of both is vital for me to keep an eye on the bigger picture.
Ynez: Let’s rewind a little bit now. How did you start your music journey and first enter the music business, dubstep scene, and the Sound-system culture?
Steph: While I was climbing the ladder in corporate business, my friends were beginning their music careers. I always helped at events (Sana and I still get recognised as the girls behind the big glass at DMZ at Mass) but work was Senior Corporate management (last role: Head of Operations and Strategy). I looked after four departments, and delivered major branded advertising campaigns across Fashion week, Wimbledon, World Cup etc. In 2012, I planned the biggest campaign of the company's history (and my career) for the Olympics...and after an ultimatum....I took a risk, and quit!
I took a long break abroad in the hope of making it permanent, but realised I wasn't ready to quit the UK - just the corporate life! While I was taking a break, sofa surfing at a friend's house, I got frustrated listening to how he was often being treated by promoters. There was zero accountability, and it felt like the artist was always last in line. He trusted me to apply my business communication skills to his bookings, and I found a new way to pay rent, while helping a friend.
A few months passed and Mala (and Kris) needed an intern at MEDi...I decided to help while I decided what to do next...and again, my business experience could support friends with their passion. It was a breath of fresh air to be outside of corporate boxes and approvals. When Kris left MEDi, Mala offered me the chance to join the label, and here we are! Unintentionally, I had been building an understanding of what artists needed personally...while gaining business experience to understand what they needed professionally.
Ynez: Did you know from the start that you wanted to be a music manager?
Steph: I had no idea at all what I wanted to do when I quit Senior Management. I just knew that I loved working with and developing people...and that I had an insatiable appetite to learn more. I was confident I had transferable skills, but no idea I would apply them to music.
Ynez: What was your favorite music to listen to while growing up, and some favourite places you were going out to?
Steffi: I grew up with my dad's big speakers always playing music no one else had...louder than anyone else could (clean loud, of course!) ☺ My dad is Jamaican - there was a lot of reggae, motown, soul etc. I spent hours reading the sleeves, singing along, and scratching his vinyls. As a teenager in Manchester, indie, swing, and commercial music were added to my daily listening. My first club was Champers in Rusholme – I was fourteen!
Then I discovered pirate radio: rnb, hip hop & jungle...then began the quest of trying to get into clubs. My first underground club (real club) was dark, packed, and didn't play chart music. I loved it! And then came Croydon: garage, drum'n'bass, and more jungle. This was where Loefah, Pokes, Seamus, Mala, Meat, Black Pudding Productions and I met. No one was working in music yet - our shared love of Metalheadz connected us socially. One of my favourite memories will always be heading to Cafe de Paris for a Metalheadz special...dress-code: suits. We all got dressed up and headed uptown. This was the first time I met Goldie (Loefah, responsible for my most embarrassing fan girl moment!) ☺ And of course, I'll always remember the first DMZ at Mass in Brixton as a very special space!
Ynez: As I mentioned to you, WXMB 2 is a female oriented collective on a mission to take on inequality within the music industry. As an insider, what is your opinion regarding the position of women in the music industry today?
Steffi: Big up to you and WXMB 2! The standard programming we grew up with is deeply ingrained in all industries, and music is no different. There is often a distinct lack of female self-belief, easily exploited by some who find it easier if women remain in admin roles or serve as emotional support. Personally, it took a while to understand that I am not an imposter...I am capable. There are no big secrets in the industry...ask questions and work hard!
In my day to day, I have to find many work arounds - not because I accept the prejudice, but to free up the energy to keep pushing forward. One example I often reference is that I sometimes need to ask male counterparts to send difficult emails. My personal experience has been that asking questions, and not just accepting everything blindly, is received as challenging from a female....but from a male, is almost always accepted without a second thought. It was a tough realisation that being female (something I cannot change), just being me, triggers unfair, irrational behaviour.
I was even more surprised and confused to experience strong females behaving with the same aggression, no accountability and a lack of empathy. Unprofessionalism transcends gender. I understand that I cannot control the position of women in the industry - it's so much bigger than me. But I try to have a small impact by working with honesty and integrity, and treating everyone equal, no matter what is thrown at me.
I don't believe that I am better than anyone (male or female)! Just different...with different experiences. I try to stay positive and to understand people's perspectives; and as a result, I am lucky to meet a lot of like-minded people. Empathy and sharing knowledge to empower others feeds my soul, and seeing how it has changed my life and those around me gives me hope that we can keep growing and improving the current position of women in the industry.
Ynez: Wow, absolutely beautiful and on point, I share your views. So, do you think that some changes can be made within the industry to make the situation better, and what would they be (if you ruled the world! ☺)?
Steffi: If I ruled the world, accountability and self-reflection would be law. ☺ I don't feel weak being accountable for my mistakes – acknowledging that I am not perfect and that I have something to learn from almost every situation has helped me build and grow. And reflecting on how my actions can make people feel is vital – I don't have to agree, but I have to be aware that other perspectives exist. And always will. I would also encourage mixed working spaces, gender/ability etc. - any imbalance can bring unhealthy results. I could go on...but I'll save it for when I rule the world ☺
(Steph and Mala)
Ynez: From my experience in the business, and as a music lover, I can see that there are more men than womxn in the dubstep scene, and in the Sound-system culture. How do you find working with mostly male artists (please correct me if I am wrong!)?
Steffi: I've worked in retail, advertising, software, payment solutions and music...all of them have been male dominated, at the top. I was often the only female (or one of two), in a boardroom of minimum ten males. The 'attention to detail' roles always seem female-dominated. Working in dubstep and sound system culture doesn't feel that different to the other industries. I am pleased to say that I have met more independent female artists and collectives in music than my other industries so far. I am not good at listing people, but off the top of my head, some of the women running BIG things, consistently for many years:
(sorry in advance to those I forgot in the moment!)
BassCoast – Andrea Graham & Liz Thomson
Channel One – Rachel Bevan
Earth – Rebecca Prochnik
Jah Shaka – Nikki Ezer
POLY - Keira Sinclair
Sub.mission / BlackBox – Nicole Cacciavillano
Primavera just achieved 50/50 line-up across their festival.
There are so, so many young women coming up and removing the 'male dominated' blocker by doing it themselves. There's a long way to go, but we have the tools to keep sharing knowledge and experiences in order to build confidence in our ability. 'If you can see it…you can be it“ (Thanks Sisters of Reggae & Roots Daughters!)
Ynez: For sure, sharing and connecting makes us stronger and better! Also, as a label manager for DEEP MEDi, why do you think that most dubstep producers are still men? Sure, dubstep has quite a dark and heavy sound, so does techno, yet nowadays we can see more and more female artists conquering the techno scene. So, when do you think we can expect that in the dubstep genre?
Steffi: I am not the oracle, and have no idea 'when', but all I can tell you is that there are more females now than when I started. That has to be a positive. How long did it take with techno? Maybe past examples can offer us some insights for the future...? And fingers crossed dubstep does it quicker! Let's party with a 50/50 line-up, on a mixed gender sound system, organised by a mixed gender team, to celebrate! ☺
Ynez: I am a huge dubstep fan, so it would be great if you could share some interesting recommendations for some new artists and DJs. It would be great if they were female, but we support male artists too, so please give us some good artists to watch.
Steffi: I don't have as much time as I would like to seek out new artists…so maybe not brand new 'ones to watch', but a few females that dabble in bass, and who have made it into my own private tunnel view via mixes or shows I have heard: Darwin, Eva808, Fauzia, Gigsta, Golden Medussa, Hannah (Subtle Fm), Jossy Mitsu, Juba, Khiva, Kikelomo, L U C Y, Melissa, Sarah Farina, Sherelle, and of course Sicaria Sound! (alphabetical as i don't have favourites!)
Ynez: If you could put together your favorite minimix (of all time), which tracks would it include and why?
Steffi: This is without a doubt the most challenging question to answer – I tried and failed…my playlists and mixes are so varied, constantly evolving and crossing all genres, depending on my mood, and also the space I am listening in.
This week's so far: Koffee, Top Boy tracks, Little Dragon, MosDef, Sade, ShyFx, The Fugees, Masego, Missy Elliot, Earthgang, J Cole, Wande Cole, Loose Ends, Gaffacci, The Heatwave, Floetry, Chronixx, Maleek Berry, SiR, Sunni Colon, Children of Zeus, Erykah Badu, Giggs, Chaka Khan, Alexander Nut NTS, Volume 1 – Commodo, Gantz, Kahn, Mala Worldwide FM…
Ynez: Now that we are packed with good music recommendations, let’s get back to the business talk for a moment. Besides, everything that we mentioned earlier, I’ve also heard you are also working with Native Instruments. If yes, what do you do for them?
Steffi: I didn't ever aim to return to big business, but I felt it was important to take the opportunity to understand how a music company ticks from the inside. I started with Christmas party Artist Care, and was then offered a ten month contract as Brand Programme Manager, while also dipping into Artist Relations. I finished that and came back for a super exciting YouTube influencer project: 'Creator Base' – celebrating ten years of the NI Machine. NI brought 15 international influencers together to collaborate and enjoy Berlin. It was amazing! I am currently supporting Artist Relations, but about to finish for the year.
Ynez: Is there anything more that you do that I didn’t mention, or that I don’t know about?
Steffi: I recently featured on two panels (The Venue After Work Sessions' 'Independent Artists' & A Bass Odyssey 'Inclusion of Women in Sound System Culture). I travelled to Milan with Emika as tour manager, experiencing a taste of techno. I was part of Norwood Soul Patrol (a vinyl only show on Rinse FM) with Loefah, Chunky & Seamus (often Benny Ill too) for two years, and as a direct result dj'd at Berghain as part of CTM Festival, ZKU as part of Berlin Biennale, and Ohm for Sarah Farina, Uta and Alex's Rec Room.
I discovered that I don't like DJ'ing in clubs...It was fun, and gave me a great insight into how an artist feels standing up there, but I'm more comfortable on radio, where the selection can be less dance-floor orientated. I recently recorded a voice-over reel.
Ynez: So, this one is a logical follow-up question: how do you manage to do all that, and what does your working day look like?
Steffi: When I started musik matter, people said the website is confusing as it's not possible to do all of those things...I do them all, so I don't know what to say!
None of the artists I work with pay full-time dosh, so I am not expected to commit full-time hours. I juggle and do my best to sync the hours someone can afford with their deadlines.
I'm lucky and able to focus on several tasks at once, and retain a lot of details without needing to switch hats; there's probably a sexist joke about multi tasking in there somewhere, if you dare! ☺ Not everything is immediate, but I have learnt to accept that and to just get on with it, instead of worrying about how I am going to manage.
Ynez: Every time I see you, you are full of positive energy that you are transmitting to everyone around you. What is your ritual for self-care and relaxation, because it is very important in our industry…?
Steph: Thank you ☺ I am very, very lucky and have met some amazing people who love without judgement; as a result, I learnt to love myself: my qualities, as well as my flaws. I understand that I cannot control life…only how I react. I remind myself of that daily, and try to get rid of any negativity as quickly as humanly possible.
My self-care: take time when I really need it – no matter what the impact. If I don't, I'll have nothing left to offer. I stay positive because I LOVE people, and believe in us. When we communicate openly, without fear, and with respect, a community is created and nourishes everyone! And of course, music is my therapy – I am privileged that I have a job where I can close my eyes and disappear. DEEP MEDitation ☺
Ynez: You have so much experience and you’ve seen the scene from many aspects. What would be the best, and most important, piece of advice you would give to the young female artists or women looking for their place in the music industry?
Steph: Anyone good at their job, or who claims to care about you, will support your growth.
Do not hold onto negativity because of sentimentality! Taking care of yourself and your mental health is not selfish in any way whatsoever.
Ynez: What was your favorite, and what was the hardest, event for you to organise? (and why?)
Steph: Favourite: being involved with Mala & The Outlook Orchestra at The Royal Festival Hall – the feeling in the room was spiritual. I have never experienced anything like it, and still don't have the words. There were a lot of involuntary tears.
Hardest: Mala & The Outlook Orchestra at The Royal Festival Hall - it wasn't a direct show, so you can only add a little...trusting others to realise a close friend and business partner's dream was hard. You just want to keep adding, but it's someone else's money and vision. Noah, Tommy and the Outlook team did an amazing job, thank goodness!!
Ynez: Yes, I can agree, I was at that show and it was stunning, bravo! In the end, what are your plans in the near future, where can we catch you, and do you have any events, concerts, or label nights coming soon?
Steph: MEDi at Fabric this Friday, with Mungos in Room 2 will be our last label show of 2019. We are really excited! New Year's Eve (if all goes to plan - keep your fingers crossed for me) will be spent watching Sicaria Sound's amazing year come to an end in Kentucky, for the Bassnectar show. It's the biggest show of their career via musik matter, and I hope to be there to witness it. Mala is playing so it's a double 'work' dream!! 2020 starts with MEDi back at Corsica, London, and one more night TBA. There's so much music in production – the to-do list is heaving! An artist I have been dreaming of working with got in touch for some support. As I work purely on word of mouth, it means I never know what's next! I'm excited to see what the universe has in store for me!
Ynez: Fingers crossed for you, but I am sure whatever is ahead, you will do amazing! It was lovely to speak to you, and thank you for your time. If you want to add anything else, feel free to do so!
Steffi: Thanks for considering my little contribution to the industry interesting enough to share ! Keep up the good work – every step of support is progress.
If my experience can support you...or you fancy helping out at musikmatter, get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Once again many thanks to Steffi for all the amazing words and advice. It was so inspiring and warm to chat. 💛 Check out all the amazing work she does via the following links:
insta: musik matter