It’s one thing having inspiring creatives in the music industry, but it’s another when these people give up their time to help others climb the ladder. Lizzy Ellis is one of these individuals who is driven by a passion to support others, helping many people along the way to develop a career in the music industry at the same time as cementing her own formidable reputation as an artist manager, label promoter and staunch advocate for women in the music industry.
Over the past nine years, Lizzy has managed some incredible artists including Bonobo, Jordan Rakei and The Heavy, working as an artist manger with industry heavyweights Red Light Management. On top of that, Lizzy finds time to work with Bristol’s all-female label Saffron Records and Pinch’s globally-respected Tectonic Recordings; not forgetting playing out herself occasionally under her DJ pseudonym Proverb.
Moving to Bristol originally in 2006 to study, the multi-skilled music industry expert explains how she first got her foot in the door of the local music industry:
‘I studied for a music degree at Bristol University, but after I graduated I was working cleaning jobs, or whatever I could get my hands on. It was the worst time to finish university because it was right in the middle of the recession.
It was the worst time to finish university because it was right in the middle of the recession
‘Eventually I found Red Light Management, who had a Bristol office, so I just kept writing to them, emailing and asking for an internship or a chance to meet with them. I think it was a mixture of being persistent and having the right qualities, because it led to me getting an internship and then a full-time job. That’s why I’ve been there for so long!’
It goes without saying that artist management, particularly with artists in the leagues of Bonobo, is many people’s dream job. Though with any job that puts bread on the table, Lizzy explains some of the real-world responsibilities she has to juggle day-to-day in her role.
‘It’s really difficult to put my typical day into a nutshell. In artist management you are overseeing every aspect of the artist’s career. Whether it’s gig bookings, PR, their record label or their publisher, the manager is always the one to connect all the dots and make sure everybody is following the artist’s vision and best interests. A lot of what I do is liaising between the artists and all of these different people. One thing I know for sure is I spend a lot of in front of my computer answering emails and travelling.’
the manager is always the one to connect all the dots and make sure everybody is following the artist’s vision and best interests
Lizzy also assists with Bristol-based beast Tectonic Recordings. Run by dubstep pioneer Pinch, over the years the label has seen releases from the likes Flying Lotus, Loefah and Skream, and more recently, Mumdance and Logos’ seminal Proto. That’s on top of volunteering her time to help address gender inequality in the music industry.
Alongside a smorgasbord of ever-shifting roles including panel speaker, exhibition curator and industry conference organiser, Lizzy was one of the founders of Bristol Women in Music, who closed their doors at the end of last year due to changing personal and professional time demands of its founding members, although their Mix Nights course is still going strong, with alumni including BethBethBeth.
‘Red Light takes up a lot of my time, but I am also the project manager for Mix Nights. This is a beginners DJ course for women and female identifying people that has been running for three years now. It started off very informally in my friend Laura’s office, from Saffron Records, but over time it has evolved and I am so proud to be part of it.
‘One thing I’m trying to learn is to say no to people to try and keep a work-life balance. That can be the hardest thing about this kind of work – especially because I love getting involved in things and I love everything I do.’
Out of everything I’ve done, I am most proud of Mix Nights
Amongst all of her successes over the years, Lizzy has a lot to be proud of. But it’s the Bristol-born Mix Nights that has made Lizzy smile the most.
‘Out of everything I’ve done, I am most proud of Mix Nights. A lot of hard work has gone into it and we’ve seen some amazing results. We’ve had over 100 people complete the course in the space of three years and some of the girls have gone on to huge things. We’ve had DJs go on to perform at Glastonbury, become residents at Motion and play at places like Printworks in London. Some of the girls have even gone on to have their own radio show.
‘Seeing people get their own legitimate bookings after attending the course is just an amazing feeling. I feel like we are actually helping address the gender balance in DJing by starting from the ground up.’
we are helping address the gender balance in DJing by starting from the ground up
As we continue to talk about encouraging women to pursue their goals in a typically male-dominated music industry, we wanted to know if Lizzy experienced any negative encounters whilst climbing the ladder herself.
‘Over the years I have experienced subtle things. You have to have a bit thick skinned and really believe in yourself and what you are doing, but admittedly there has only been a couple of times where I thought “if I were a man this wouldn’t be happening”.
‘I remember during the early days, I turned up to a gig for one of my artists and before I had a chance to introduce myself to the venue crew, they immediately assumed I was a groupie. Experiences like that that teach you that you have to be quite assertive and forceful in this industry.’
Lizzy wraps up our chat with a few words on the importance of platforms like Mix Nights, Saffron Records and SisterWorks alike; which are run by women, for women to help address the industry’s gender balance:
It’s all about normalising producers, DJs and sound engineers in the industry to the point where people stop putting ‘female’ in front of a job title
‘It’s all about normalising producers, DJs and sound engineers in the industry to the point where people stop putting ‘female’ in front of a job title. Over the years it will gradually become more of a normal thing to see a woman behind a mixing desk. Right now, we need programmes like Mix Nights and Saffron Records to show younger women and girls that this is a viable option for them. It’s not just a boy’s club.
‘At some point in the future, we won’t need to do these kinds of things, but right now we are laying down the foundations by addressing the gender balance in the music industry.’
Photos by Martin Thompson // @thefacecollective