Name: Yasmine Panah
City: New York
Occupation: Junior Campaign Manager at Weller Media Agency (WMA)
Photo by Monika Oliver
What made you decide to pursue a career in the music industry?
It was kind of a combination of things. I accidentally found a book called Punk: The Whole Story in a bookstore when I was 15, and I suddenly went from the Jonas Brothers straight to The Sex Pistols, The Ramones, and The Clash, so that made me really passionate about music besides pop which is all I was into before. Then it was an embarrassing mix of Almost Famous and Rolling Stone, which I was obsessed with. I started religiously reading Rolling Stone, because at the time, I felt like I was finding all the cool shit nobody else at school knew anything about. I wanted to write for Rolling Stone so bad, so I moved to New York so I could write and be a part of the scene. I started writing for the NYU newspaper in the music section just so I could see shows for free, but I just wanted to hang basically; I did some photography for a little while since I had a camera, so I just took pictures at shows. Then my freshman year I interned at Cult Records, which made me realize pretty quickly that maybe I didn’t want to be a writer, and that the business side would be a better fit for me. To be a writer, especially a music writer, you have to love the actual writing aspect of the job, because it’s not as glamorous or lucrative as you want it to be most of them time, kind of like any job. So I was like, “Do I actually love to write, or do I like hanging out and being around the scene?” I realized that that it wasn’t as much about the writing, it was about everything else.
So you started working for Julian Casablancas and his label (Cult Records), what was it like to work for someone who is so well respected?
At first it was very fangirl-y obviously, and I couldn’t help it because I just thought it was the coolest thing ever. There’s a honeymoon period in your mind when you first get started, but you pretty quickly learn that there is real work to be done. There’s boring Fedex trips, google docs, promos, there’s organization; there’s so much going on. So obviously it’s really cool to say that you work for someone like Julian, but then you get to a point where it’s like, this is a job, and you have to be good at this because people rely on you, and you can’t mess around. So over time the fan part of me chilled out a bit. But then you’re at a show later and it hits you again.
Since Cult was just a small indie label, and now you work at WMA, do you think the music industry is being changed by indie labels, and what do you think is the future of the music industry?
The thing about WMA is that it’s a totally different kind of company. WMA is a digital creative agency, and really unique in a lot of ways. We offer all these services like PR, Social, Paid Media, and we’ve even got a full fledged creative team. So artists, labels and brands can come to us and we tailor the services to them. What I do is called “Strategy” which is similar to campaign management and speaks to my label background. We get to work with artists at all different stages in their careers, and I think it’s so cool that we get to help unsigned artists in the same way we’d be able to help a bigger artist. The industry’s evolving, so I think WMA offers a really interesting solution to new challenges that artists are facing.
As for indies, I think they’re absolutely necessary. Our culture needs smaller artists who challenge us musically, aesthetically, philosophically. I never want to live in a world where people like Blood Orange or Twin Peaks or The Growlers aren’t given the same resources to put their music out as artists who might be signed to a major, or that they’d have to change their sound to appeal to the masses.
Labels in general are in such a difficult position to be in, because there’s so much less money in the industry now. Before it was all about album sales and you would make all the money you spent on the album back in a week. Now, because nobody buys music and everything is streaming, there’s way less money to be made. Labels are more particular about what they spend their money on.
Yeah, it’s all made from shows and merch now.
Yeah! How much merch do you really think people buy? Not that much. And an indie artist probably makes more tour money on the merch than the tickets.
The lack of money is the biggest part.
That’s why I feel like it’s hard to get into it just for money, honestly. You have to get into it if you’re passionate, because if you’re passionate, you’ll be better and more genuine and fans will gravitate towards you anyway. And that’s when you’ll make your money. You have to be as genuine as possible. If you’re manufactured or corny, that’s on you. People will see right through you.
Even though the music industry is becoming less male-dominant, do you find it hard to get ahead or be taken seriously as a young woman?
I would say that it’s not easy, that’s for sure. I’ve been very lucky to have some incredible mentors, who mostly happen to be women, and I’m really thankful for that because they’ve given me the best advice and guidance. I recently realized that a lot of the really senior people in the industry that I admire and have a lot of respect for are somehow mostly all men, and it turned out that was a great motivator for me. On the other hand, I’ve had kind of the opposite experience, where people I work with on a daily basis are mostly women, which is so encouraging. I’d be really interested to see how many CEOs we have in 10-20 years as all of us become older and more experienced. I really firmly believe that women in the industry should support each other.
But there is kind of the reality of younger women not being taken as seriously as men, which I don’t think is limited to the music industry. I found that reading Lean In really helped me. In music, part of the problem is the perception. If you’re around a band, you’re a groupie. You can’t be their friend, you can’t be working with them in any capacity, you have to be with one of the guys. Have you read Pamela Des Barres’ book (I’m with the Band: Confessions of a Groupie)?
Yeah! My friend and I both did last year.
I love her! I love groupies. There’s nothing wrong with being a groupie, but the meaning it’s taken on is stupid. I want to be taken seriously and have a long career, so I kind of have to be careful in that way. I’m not convinced that men run into that same problem.
Since you work and play in the New York music scene, which bands should we watch out for?
Number one, The Britanys! They are the best people, they’re so fun, and they’re the nicest guys in New York. Two, The Mystery Lights, if you like more psych, garage stuff. They’re amazing live. And Ron Gallo is so awesome. I saw them open for another band, I wasn’t even there to see them, and I just stood there and I felt like I was in a movie. They started playing and I basically walked up in a daze.
I love when that happens with openers, it’s the best.
Yeah! I used to get to shows early to catch the openers and I would really research because I wanted to catch the next big cool thing, but I don’t do that as much anymore… But I’m glad that one time I was there to see them.
How would you describe your personal style?
A little punk, a little disco. Like if Joan Jett, Marc Bolan, and Cher had a love child. There’s a lot of glitter and fur involved.
Dream concert lineup?
In no particular order, Daft Punk, The Strokes, The Libertines, and reunited Led Zeppelin. I’d also kill to see The Runaways in their prime.
Current music faves?
Honestly, ANTI. I have not stopped listening to it. Also, I’m on a Marina and the Diamonds kick right now.
What does being a Modern Girl mean to you?
Being a Modern Girl is working hard, and doing whatever you want that makes you feel empowered.
Yasmine by our modern girl Megan!
Interview by Kristen // Pictures provided by Yasmine