BABE #91: RACHAEL PAZDAN,
Founder @ The Hum
Rachael feels like one of those Babes who - although we've never met her IRL - would be such a kickass friend to have around. We love how tactful, thorough and genuine she was in her responses to our questions; she left us excited and inspired to keep getting out there and Doing the Thing. As you'll learn shortly, Rachael lives and breathes the Arts, and she's doing a whole lot of good for NYC-based musicians (and specifically female ones) and we're excited to see what she conquers next. Thanks so much for taking the time to share your story with us, Rachael! You are most certainly a babe.
Babe you admire and why?
Amy Poehler. She does it all: writer, actor, producer, improv comedian, mom, entrepreneur, advocate, plus Parks and Rec is one of my favorite shows. I love watching talented women who always have their hands in a million different projects and stay active. She also champions other women through her Smart Girls blog and as a producer for shows like Broad City. It’s critical for women in a position of fame and power to set an example by holding the door open for other women.
How do you spend your free time?
I love to cook. A day spent making a big, delicious meal for friends is a day well spent. I'm also a big fan of weekend museum trips, beach days and yoga. One goal of mine is to learn how to play the drums this year, so I’m working on that as well!
Go-to adult beverage?
Either a tequila soda with lime or the driest glass of red wine on the menu.
What would you eat for your very last meal?
As a Chicago girl, I have to say a large Lou Malnati's deep dish cheese pizza.
Biggest pet peeve?
When people clip their nails in public, and when women apologize for everything.
If you could have coffee with anyone in the world, who would it be?
Stevie Wonder, Radiohead, PJ Harvey, Cat Power, Angel Olsen, Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Al Green, Donny Hathaway, Henri Texier, Wilco, Howlin Wolf, Tom Waits... this could take a while...
Tell us about your hustle:
I am the Founder and Producer at both The Hum and HYPNOCRAFT as well as well as the Music Director at le Poisson Rouge. The Hum is a unique all-female music series with a mission to empower and encourage solidarity in the eclectic community of women who make music in New York City and beyond. The series also aims to break down double standards in the music industry, making it less unusual for audiences to see an evening of only women on stage. HYPNOCRAFT is a platform I created for connecting artists to a broader network, presenting and nurturing the growth of new projects and bands, and producing challenging and unique performances for curious audiences. I also hold the position of Music Director at le Poisson Rouge, an NYC music venue.
What does your typical workday look like?
Producing, booking, and curating involves lots of email correspondence. Booking new shows, producing series and residencies, marketing, and show execution are all about communication. Besides email, I’m usually on a few calls a day and having meetings with artists, agents, managers and venues a few times a week. That’s daytime, but at night I’m usually at one of my own shows that I’ve booked - usually working - or to see new music.
What inspired The Hum?
I started The Hum in April 2015. It was supposed to be a one-off series, which was the way I was producing most of the shows I worked on a few years ago. I wanted to see women come together and create something that fueled and fed the community of women making music in New York. I felt that women in music needed this platform because every time I saw a concert, ladies seemed grossly outnumbered on stage. Many times, I'd see live music and not a single woman would perform all night. I’m also a sucker for collaboration and I try to produce collaborative projects whenever possible, so I was able to carve out a new opportunity: producing a project I knew was desperately needed in the landscape of live music in New York.
Have you always had a passion for music? Where do you think that stems from?
My love for music was sparked by my musician father at a very young age. He gave me some great ear training as a kid. I remember Mule Variations, The Low End Theory, and a Muddy Waters’ tape or two always in his car’s center console. My dad is the anarchist, abstract, socialist-minded and brainy artist that I have, as an adult, chosen to surround myself with in New York. I grew up as a trained dancer and one of my first dance teachers introduced me to Ani Difranco, Fiona Apple, Jill Scott, Ben Harper and so many more. The songs she played in class were a big influence on me.
Did you always know you’d build a career around music?
I actually had no idea I would end up in music; it was not the plan. I wanted to be a professional dancer for most of my life, and when that dream suddenly came to a halt, I had to go through a process of rewriting my own identity. I turned over my artist card and became someone who was more behind the scenes. I am so passionate about music, dance, and the arts, that I honestly don’t know that my heart would have let me do anything else with my life. Going to SUNY Purchase kept me around artists and ultimately led to the community and career that I have today, six years later.
How do you transition between the several different hats you wear?
It takes a lot of drive, focus, energy, and ultimately a good sense of balance to keep everything firing on all cylinders. When you’re working 65+ hours a week (day and night), it can become a huge challenge to just keep your life in balance. It’s definitely not easy! Most of my work involves the shows I book at le Poisson Rouge, and growing our reach by expanding into new venues. The Hum is almost a completely other beast; instead of just booking, I’m managing the marketing, sponsorship, branding, graphic design and maintaining the website. I also pick up freelance consulting work every so often.
What is the meaning behind the name of The Hum?
The name came from musician Hannah Epperson (three-time Hum artist). I was looking for something that didn’t have women/girl/lady in the title. I’d like to get to a place in our music culture where referring to musicians by their gender as a descriptive is less and less common. Unfortunately, I have to use “female musician” often to describe the nature of The Hum series concept, but outside of the series I try to forgo using “male” or “female” in front of “musician”.
How would you say being a woman has affected your professional experience?
Personally, I think the biggest struggle is always being so outnumbered. There aren’t a lot of female talent buyers or promoters and it tends to feel like a boys club. I don’t mind male energy at all, but it would be nice to have a balance and have more female colleagues. I also tend to have experiences in my job that I know men don’t have to deal with as often. For instance, I was once in an argument with an artist and he told me: “I won’t let a woman talk to me like that,” or, when I was settling with an artist and on our way into the office, he came up behind me and started rubbing my shoulders. Admittedly, I find myself putting a guard up to prevent those kinds of interactions.
What is the gender ratio like in the industry?
You definitely see more men working in live music. I think it’s the nature of the job. You’re working constantly, drinking, and staying out late. It can cause major burnout and take a toll on your body. Women who are pregnant or have small babies certainly can’t maintain that kind of lifestyle. In my opinion, the exhausting and rough nature of the job is why you typically see more men.
Do you ever struggle in coming up with new ideas? How do you combat creative blocks in your work?
Of course! The best combat for creative blocks is getting out there and seeing work. Seeing an awesome show can hit the recharge button and be a great source of inspiration. I also come up with ideas sometimes by just chatting with musicians in the community and seeing what they are working on, who they are listening to, etc.
How has living in New York influenced your professional life?
New York is the mecca of the music industry. Musicians want to live here, and there are so many shows to see every night. This makes it a very wonderful place to work, but also makes it feel a little oversaturated at times. Since I moved here 6 years ago, I go back and forth between thinking it’s the most glorious city on the planet and that I can’t imagine living anywhere else (the people, the shows, the adventures) or that it’s the most difficult place to live (the price, the exhaustion, the subway smell).
What’s your favorite thing about your job? Least favorite?
My favorite thing about my job is being at a show that I’ve booked and seeing the audience having the best time, while watching the artists totally crushing it on stage. My least favorite part is losing a show I really wanted to book. It can be an emotional rollercoaster sometimes when you become attached to the music.
Who are some women in your field that you look to for inspiration?
Some of my favorite badass women in the New York music scene include Mindy Abovitz, founder of Tom Tom Magazine, Ginny Suss at OkayPlayer, and Vickie Starr at Girlie Action. I look up to these women immensely and they are doing incredible work.
Which artist, musician, or performer would you most like to work/collaborate with?
I’ll answer this question by giving you my Hum dream list: Annie Clark, Patti Smith, Laurie Anderson, Erykah Badu, Savages, Warpaint, Angel Olsen, Meshell NDegeocello, Fiona Apple.
What advice would you give to a Babe trying to break into your industry?
Be persistent, do what you say you’re going to do, go above and beyond, and treat the people you work with extremely well.
What does success look like to you?
Being happy, being healthy, being comfortable financially, and loving my work.
How do you find a work-life balance?
It can be difficult. For me it’s about checking in with myself and evaluating my mental and physical health. I bike as my main source of transportation, which is a great way to do something fun and get exercise every day. I also really enjoy the time I have with my friends outside of the music industry. It’s good to fully step out of that world sometimes.
What helps you wind down / how do you manage stress?
Exercise is a great stress management tool and reading is calming. Honestly, just talking to my mom on the phone can be a relief sometimes. She is great at putting things into perspective. Beach days in the summer are probably the most relaxing thing I do for myself. I’ve been going to Beach 97 in the Rockaways for years. It’s my favorite spot.
Career and/or life advice for other babes?
1. Work at a place that you believe in.
2. Always negotiate your salary and never take the first offer; if they want you, they will work with you.
3. Don’t complain without offering a productive solution to the problem; complainers are exhausting.
4. Even when you’re tired, try to be the best version of yourself.
5. Take care of yourself. Health is wealth!
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