Women in Music: Amanda Van West

Amanda Van West

My journey into the music industry started out as a nosy teenage girl who was trying to get her older brother in trouble, but ended up discovering her favorite band along the way. Back in high school, a little over ten years ago, my family only had one shared desktop computer with a dial-up modem. Without smartphones, or the money for each of us to own individual laptops, our time connected to the Internet was limited to just a couple hours a day.

I remember this one day, when I was about 17 years old, I got home from school before my brother. I was excited to have first dibs on the computer, because it meant uninterrupted time to check out the latest webisode of Homestar Runner, chat with my friends on AIM, and snoop around my brother’s folders to see if I could find anything incriminating. He played in bands, drank beer, and hung around the skater punk kids…while I was an overweight, pimply bookworm who avoided normal teenage socializing and still said “eff” instead of “fuck.” You can imagine why I wanted to knock him off his cool-guy pedestal.

So on this day, I started clicking around his folders, and came across one entitled “The Strokes – Is This It,” which contained 9 Winamp files. I randomly double-clicked one track at random, “Hard To Explain,” and I remember this instantaneous, visceral, overwhelming sensation of being completely captivated by the sound coming out of the computer speakers. It sounded nothing like the Top 40 radio hits and MTV chart-toppers I normally listened to as a teenage girl coming of age in the early 2000s. Immediately I queued up the rest of the songs on the album, and listened on repeat until my brother finally came home, and I was kicked off the computer.

It wasn’t long before The Strokes ousted ‘N Sync as my new favorite band — lead singer Julian Casablancas was now the top JC in my life (sorry, JC Chasez). I bought every magazine with The Strokes on the cover, joined their online forum to meet like-minded fans, and went to all of their concerts when they came through town. Their music also had the effect of opening up the floodgates of music discovery. I started learning about the iconic bands that influenced The Strokes, as well as their contemporaries. Music became ubiquitous in my life. Around Santa Clara High School, I was recognized as the girl who wore a band t-shirt nearly every day, and who was always going to concerts. This prompted one of my friends in class to ask me, “Hey, why don’t you try music journalism?” Once she said that, something inside of me clicked, and I decided that I would pursue this once starting college at the University of San Francisco the following year.

Once I moved to the city, I reached out to Popscene, the local indie nightclub, to ask if I could interview bands and write up concert reviews in exchange for free tickets. To my delight, they actually said yes! After getting a few articles published, I started writing music reviews for USF’s newspaper, for a British music site called DIY Mag, and then started hosting USFtv’s music television show, Visionz.

A year after graduating, I ended up going to London to pursue an MA in International Broadcast Journalism — even though I loved music journalism, I didn’t want to study music business. I was worried that working in music would ruin my love of it, so my plan was to try and work in documentary production. After moving back home following the completion of my MA degree, I was unemployed for a few months and started to get into a depressed funk. Then my mom sent me a link to a Craigslist post from a music tech startup looking for a summer music writing intern. I looked up the company, boldly tweeted them a link to my LinkedIn profile with a message that said, “You can take down your internship posting,” and ended up getting hired as their first employee.

That company was Applauze, and I ended up working there for nearly five years. My intern status was short-lived, and it wasn’t long before I became Head of Music Content, primarily running the music discovery app, Band of the Day (which just shut down in July 2015, though the company is still going with their pre-sale ticketing platform, Applauze). Working there was like boot camp for learning the ins and outs of the music industry. I started with just a handful of publicist’s email addresses who I had set stories up with in prior years, to now having a global network of music industry connections in nearly every imaginable area.

Since Band of the Day’s closure, I’ve moved from San Francisco to New York and am currently managing a local band called The City and Horses, and consulting as a music curator and event producer. While most of my experience as a woman in the music industry has been overwhelmingly positive, it’s not without its downfalls. Like many of my female peers, I’ve experienced sexism and some harassment. What keeps me going through these hardships is talking with a supportive network of women (shout out to She Said So), and being vocal, in person and on my social networks, when I experience any form of injustice.

Finally, my top three tips for anyone who’s pursuing a career in the music industry:

  1. Network! Join Facebook groups, go to mixers in your city (organize them if they don’t currently exist), go to at least one concert a week, etc. So much of my knowledge about the music industry has come from crowd-sourcing information from people who’ve had much more experience than I have.
  2. Hustle! Be opportunistic, and don’t be afraid to reach out to people if you have an idea about something. The worst anyone can say is, “no,” and if they say that then keep asking around until someone eventually says, “yes.”
  3. Read! Part of my daily routine is keeping up with music industry news via free email subscriptions. A few I read regularly are: Music Business Worldwide, Billboard Bulletin, Alan Cross’s A Journal of Musical Things, and Beats + Bytes

It’s a crazy, volatile industry, and going through so many changes right now, but it’s also incredibly rewarding when you realize what kind of impact you’re making with bands you love. As long as you’re able to maintain a deep love and passion for music, and don’t become jaded, it can be an amazing industry to work in.

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