Victoria Monet & More Discuss Indie Artist Journeys, Female Managers – Sounderground

Thursday (March 31) marks the last day of Women’s History Month, but the celebration and support of women in the music industry must persist. Valeisha Butterfield Jones, co-president of the Recording Academy, said, “There is a culture in music today of women supporting women, and women lifting other women up” while responding to the Recording Academy, Arizona State University (ASU) and Berklee College of Music Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship’s inaugural “Women in the Mix” study published earlier this month. And that culture is ever-present in the relationship between independent female musicians and their female managers.

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“Oftentimes, women are pit against each other and they feel like we can’t co-exist, we’re too catty,” Victoria Monét says. “And I think daily, we prove those things wrong — and it’s such an amazing bond to have someone who understands. There’s just something about speaking to another woman. We get each other.”

After a couple of stints at record labels, and an impressive songwriting resume that includes two Sounderground Hot 100 No. 1s with Ariana Grande‘s “Thank U, Next” and “7 Rings,” Monét has made a name for herself as an equally impressive artist and performer. Rachelle Jean-Louis, her manager and former A&R at Keep Cool, connected with her during her music supervision gig when she helped place Lucky Daye and Monét’s “Little More Time” in the third season of HBO’s hit series Insecure. She calls working with the hitmaker “easily the most immersive experience in artist management.”

After years of working at big labels like Interscope and top management companies such as Maverick Management, Hannah Peale and Hannah Hicks stumbled upon what Peale calls the “most exciting thing that I’ve seen in the industry”: DJ_Dave, a synth-pop artist who produces and performs music through live-coding, a huge component of the algorave community. Each song she releases “is meticulously coded and recorded live in a process that has never been used before in a pop-sensible context,” according to her website. From performing at Elon Musk and Grimes‘ 2021 MET Gala after party and starring in Logitech’s “Defy Logic” campaign along the likes of Lizzo, what once was Dave’s school project has already started flourishing as a worthwhile career.

As for pop/R&B singer Thuy, school almost took precedent so she could become a doctor and appease her Vietnamese immigrant parents. “At first, it was really hard for me to step outside of the medical field and do music because I was so afraid of what my parents would think,” she recalls. “And eventually, I got to a mindset where I was just like, ‘You know what? I don’t care what they think, because I want to be happy.’ And they were seeing that I was so persistent at music to the point where they can say anything and it would not deter me. I think that that’s where I’m at now.”

Her career has taken off in recent years, with more than 60 million streams worldwide and her first tour coming up in May in celebration of her debut project i hope u see this. The timing was right when she met her manager Anh Vu, who worked her way up from the mailroom at CAA to spending five years at Universal Music Group on royalty operations and litigation support — and specifically wanted to work with an artist who was also a woman of color. “I literally feel like you’re my sister,” Thuy says of working with Vu.

Sounderground spoke to Monét, Thuy and DJ_Dave — as well as their managers — about the similarities and unique differences in their indie artist journeys, and the “amazing bond” they have with their predominantly female teams.

What inspired you to become an artist, and when did you realize you wanted to take the independent route?  

Monét: I was always surrounded by music. My grandpa plays a bunch of instruments, my mom and my grandma sing. So it felt like a natural thing for me to fall in love with. As far as me wanting to be independent, it’s just been trial and error for me in the music industry. I moved here as a teenager and I got signed to a record label — and I’ve also signed to a producer, and through that producer, signed to a record label. I’m having those experiences not be as dreamy as I would have liked, so I decided to actually beg my last record label to let me go.

At the time, I was just investing all of my savings and things that I would earn from writing into my artist career, and managing myself and playing each position that a record label would have. I learned the ropes the independent way, and it felt freeing and gratifying to be able to carve my own path. Definitely very difficult, but it just felt like a better fit for me as far as even just happiness is concerned.

Thuy: I’ve always known that I wanted to sing, but school was more important and my parents put an emphasis on going to college and possibly being a doctor. But I felt like my real passion in life was music. After I graduated, I was juggling and changing jobs so often that I was like, “I’m so bored of this.” So I decided to quit and move to Los Angeles.

As far as the independent route, I’ve always had this underdog mindset of knowing that I could do it on my own as long as I work hard and am consistent and have the talent and the gift to show people. In high school and junior high, I used to wrestle. Every time you would get the seeds [in competitions], I would always be ranked lower than what I thought. But I was like, “It doesn’t matter, because I’m just going to keep working hard and prove them wrong.” And I’d always win. When I first moved, it was like, “Being signed would be cool.” I felt like that was the benchmark for success. Eventually, I stopped worrying about that — and just seeing that you could do it on your own has really been pushing me to keep being independent for as long as possible.

Dave: Deep down, I always wanted to become an artist. I was always really career-focused, and being an artist isn’t the most stable career you could ever go into. So it wasn’t what I set out to do initially, but when the opportunity presented itself, I was like, “This is what I need to do.” It felt like everything was falling into place all at the same time. That all kind of happened in the middle of the pandemic, when the music industry was figuring out what it was going to do and how everyone was going to get through this. Obviously, I was just starting out, so it wasn’t even a question if I was going to be independent or not. I’m literally at my mom’s house, I’m not going to be doing anything crazy right now.

How did you start managing your artist?

Vu: I had just got out of managing a male artist, and it was a very traumatizing experience — like, emotionally and verbally abusive. That’s when I told Jamie, our friend who connected [Thuy and me], that I wanted to work with a woman, a woman of color. I’m passionate about it. I have never chased a guy, but I was chasing [Thuy] for a month, like, “Let’s get on a call!” And then on that two-hour call, I had my whole outline of what I would do: branding, live strategy, social media. She remembered it was a great vibe, and I’ll take that. Because at the end of the day, you’re going to be working with this person for all hours of the day, every day. You have to have that sense of camaraderie.

Peale: A friend of mine found Dave through a college streaming platform called Quadio. It just had artists that were still in college and they were putting their music up. I first heard Dave’s music and thought it was so, so dope. And then I found out she coded it and was like, “This is literally the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.” We started working together, but it was mid-pandemic, so we were figuring out what that would look like — because obviously a huge part of her project is being live. I ended up bringing in Hannah Hicks, and we’ve worked together on some other artists in the past when she was managing the producers and I was managing the artists. We had different backgrounds and skillsets that fit with Dave, and that’s how we all got connected.

DJ Dave

DJ_Dave and her managers, Hannah Hicks (left) and Hannah Peale.
Noah Reardon

Hicks: I was just trying to find dope, especially non-male, producers and artists. So when Hannah brought me Dave and was like, “Hey, this could be a really cool thing that we could work on together,” it really clicked. It took me a while to find people that believe in themselves as much as I believed in them, and co-managers who shared that similar work ethic and vision.

Jean-Louis: I actually met Victoria because I helped put this song of hers and Lucky Daye’s in Insecure, and met her on set with Lucky and had no idea in terms of wanting to manage her. I just knew that she was super-talented, and loved her voice and obviously her writing. We met up and I had every intention of [being] like, “I just really want to sign you because you’re so underrated. How do we work together?” And that didn’t work out, but it was a blessing in disguise that it didn’t work out in that way, because there was something undeniable of wanting to help a person that was investing so much in themselves. It was definitely a kind of serendipitous thing, of just being really passionate about her and her music and seeing the drive that she had. I just wanted to help and learn everything along the way.

Victoria, you were previously signed to Motown Records with your girl group Purple Reign, and then signed to Atlantic Records as a solo act. What has been the biggest adjustment for you as an independent artist?

Monét: Spending is a lot different. With labels being corporations, they have a lot more flex financially. So just making sure that whatever it is that you’re doing is something that you’re completely sure about, because it’s oftentimes coming from you. Why I’m able to be independent is because I have an amazing manager who’s able to help me put our heads together and make the right moves. When I was doing it by myself, people who have followed my music before my project Jaguar, they’d see the creative differences, they would see how things were coming out and how I was moving. I was spreading myself really, really thin. It’s a huge difference, and a lot more freeing for me to have a brilliant manager on my side to help me navigate a lot of the things that I was just kind of freestyling before with my own cash.

Thuy, Khloe Kardashian played your single “day dream” on her Instagram Story and Lisa from BLACKPINK put “in my bag” on her playlist. How influential are celebrity co-signs in terms of promoting your music?

Thuy: I get excited in the moment, but I definitely don’t depend on that to break my career. I just keep going regardless. But sometimes it’s nice to have those moments, like, “Damn, you’re going in the right direction. Your music is traveling very far.” I feel like [Lisa’s co-sign] might be more impactful for me because she’s an artist, too. For me to get co-signs from other musicians, I think that’s cool — because it’s like camaraderie within the industry.

Dave, you produce and DJ music with live-coding. When did you find your niche in straddling both the music world and the tech world?

Dave: When I was first exposed to live-coding, I just had this vision for it. There were so many opportunities it wasn’t being used for. It was honestly really exciting, because it made a lot of sense where I could see this in places it hasn’t been before. And I am really blessed to be the first one that gets to bring it to these to these different spaces.

For the managers, when you’re working at a label, sometimes you might be stuck in the day-to-day or coordinator positions without seeing much room for growth toward an artist manager level. What advantages do you see working with an independent artist over someone who’s signed?

Jean-Louis: Everything really falls on you, right? It’s their career, but you’ve been tasked with the responsibility of making sure that you steer it and that you’re advising them in the right direction, and making sure that they’re supported in every way as possible. When you’re independent, you literally are building their company. So every aspect of the team, you have to go out and find and interview and figure out who makes the most sense. You can’t really escape that part of it, it’s so crucial.

Peale: It’s really interesting because I’ve worked with people at the very top and I’ve also been managing developing artists. It’s like two different skill sets, a much different hustle, different relationships, different thinking. You have to make things happen with little to no budgets. But because [Hannah and I] love A&R, too, we love to see things grow. With Dave’s project being the most exciting thing that I’ve seen in the industry — and pretty much anybody that comes across it feels the same way — it’s the most rewarding thing I could be doing.

Which opportunity did you feel like was the turning point of your career?

Monét: I was scheduled to go on tour – I’m not going to even say what tour I was scheduled to go on – and I was super excited about it. It was at the time where as a songwriter, I felt like I had peak level of success [because] it was when “Thank U, Next” and “7 Rings” were really successful. Rachelle was like, “I don’t think you should go on this tour.” It was a really big opportunity. And I’m like, “What? What do you mean?” And she was like, “My gut’s telling me you need to have the opportunity to create the music that you want to make with the people you want to make it with.”

So I sat on that idea. I was kind of bummed about it because I was really excited to get out in the world and do my thing. But it was the smartest, most eye-opening thing for me, because I feel like in those weeks of sessions – that’s actually where Jaguar was created – I had so much fun, I felt so free and seen and creative. And I was so proud of the work that we were able to come out of that crucial decision in my career. And I think that’s where the foundation of my sound as an artist has come from. Shout out to Rachelle for that call.

Victoria Monet

Victoria Monét & Rachelle Jean-Louis
Courtesy Photo

Dave: When I first learned about live-coding, I could just see it on a festival stage. It’s such a visual practice, like you have your code up on the screen, you have people interpreting what you’re writing. I want this to be a huge production, like I want to see it on an LED screen with a big audience. That’s my dream for this: to see it reach its fullest potential and being able to include other artists, like visual artists. I got booked for my first festival this summer, Electric Forest. So that was a turning point – being like, “Wow, this is the dream I had for it.”

Dave, I read that you use samples from tracks by female artists in your live-coded algorithms to show off the power of female collaborations. How has the algorave community embraced women?

Dave: When I first went into it, I was not expecting to see that many women in it because the majority of people in STEM are not women. I was thinking that I was going into this male-dominated space, and globally, that is the case in live-coding. The people that coined the term “algorave” is like a group of 25-year-old white men. In other cities, it’s like 99% guys. But in the New York algorave community, for some reason, it’s a very mixed bag of people. There’s a lot of women, a lot of non-binary people, a lot of trans people — a lot of diversity, which is really cool. I feel very lucky to be in this city doing algorave.

For the managers, I’ve heard lots of harrowing accounts, like not getting an introduction in the studio when all the men in the room do, or being hit on while on the job. How do you demand respect in your position? 

Vu: Sometimes it’s literally just standing tall and taking up space in the room. I remember one time I went to my artist’s listening session and it was all dudes. He introduced me to this other artist/producer, who shook my hand and was like, “Oh, wow, you didn’t tell me your manager was cute.” I literally dropped my jaw, and I was still shaking his hand and I just firmly gripped it.

It’s little microaggressions like that, so sometimes it has to be physical — like taking up space, speaking a little louder. Sometimes I don’t put she/her in my email just to see if I’m reacted to differently, because my name is Vietnamese and unisex. And I hate to depend on co-signs, but I’m grateful for people who speak on my behalf. I’ve had people having to pull somebody aside and be like, “That’s my manager. You should treat her with more respect.”

Thuy

Thuy & Anh Vu
Charles Charron

What are some of the biggest blessings and challenges you’ve encountered in your journey?

Monét: My biggest challenge has been patience. If you would have told me when I moved to L.A. as a teenager that it would be this many years before you get to checking off this one goal, I would have been discouraged by the timeline. My biggest blessing is finding synergy in my team, a team full of women, especially Rachelle heading that. I’m really thankful to be surrounded by really fire women. 

Dave: The biggest challenge has been rewiring my brain to decide that I’m doing this. I was a very career-focused person, and stability was important to me. So taking the jump to not having that was an adjustment. But the biggest blessing was that I stumbled upon this idea of using live-coding in a mainstream context that has made it really easy for me to enter the music industry.

Thuy: Blessings: being able to touch so many people with my music. To see my music being played in Indonesia, Australia and all of these places that I’ve yet to even visit is insane to me. Challenges: funding. When you take money from people, obviously you have to give up some type of ownership. That challenge has pushed me so much to be resourceful and creative in terms of the music video aspect. We’re going to think outside of the box and see what can we do with this amount. It’s great to be able to do that early on because then when you have the big budgets, then it can be even bigger.

Victoria, you were known as a hitmaking songwriter and producer, especially for Ariana Grande, before your own music really started to take off. How were you able to finally get music fans and the music industry to understand and respect that duality?

Monét: That definitely took a lot of work for me, because I worked so hard as a songwriter to be recognized for my work, which I loved. But when it trumps something else that I’m doing, it can be kind of discouraging. So I just had to realize that no matter what you do in life, sometimes people try to pigeonhole you to whatever they met you as first. I think it comes down to what they see you doing more of, and they’ll get acclimated to it. Just don’t be discouraged by people’s limited ideas of what you’re capable of. I’m passionate about both things, and I have to worry a little bit less about how people perceive me and what they want to try to contain me as.

Thuy, I read that the medical field was your plan B. When did you realize that you could pursue singing full time? Victoria and Dave, what was your plan B if you had one, and when did you realize that you didn’t have to take that route?  

Dave: When I graduated, I had a job lined up as a graphic designer (which is what I went to college for). When Hannah Peale found me, she was like, “Do you want to get on a call?” And I was like, “Sure.” I had literally just released a couple of songs as part of a school project. On the call, she was like, “Where do you see this going?” And I was like, “I don’t know. I have a job.” And she was like, “Would you ever quit your job?” And I was like, “No, this is what I studied.” As time went on, I was like, “Oh, this could be a thing.” It was a dream that I had never entertained for myself. Eventually, my job started annoying me and music started really working out. And then it made sense for me to quit my job and pursue music full time. And I haven’t looked back, it’s been great!

Thuy: When I first moved back after college, I was going to school at a community college to finish up some credits so I could go to P.A. school. In the meantime, I was working at a dental office and I got bored of that. Then I moved to another dental office, moved to dermatology, moved to optometry and then I was shadowing a physician’s assistant. I was making music during that whole time, too, and I felt like I was getting bigger than where I was at. I was like, “I need to make a decision.” The P.A. application was coming up, and I had missed the application deadline by one day. My parents were already asking me, “What are you doing with your life?”

And it’s funny because when I would go to the studio, I would never tell my parents. And then a couple rooms opened up in Los Angeles [with] an engineer that used to engineer me when he was living back in San Mateo. And I remember being like, “Hey, you guys want to move to Los Angeles?” to my friend, who was a DJ and an artist, and my boyfriend, who’s also an artist and my co-writer. And they were like, “Yeah, f—k it.” I put in my two weeks, and it was the best decision I could have ever made for myself.

Monét: No plan B. This is what I love to do.

For the managers, what were your plan B’s if you had one, and when did you realize that you didn’t have to take that route?

Jean-Louis: No plan B. I’m either working in music or there is no alternative.

Vu: After five years at Universal, I left the music industry completely for two years. I thought about going into non-profit, but I was like, “No, I f—king love music, and I want to do something that’s very impactful.” My plan B was using my business degree and going into music tech or something on the corporate side of music, but more in marketing or something that would help artists. But then the pandemic happened and it makes you realize how do you want to spend your time? I think me putting it out into the ecosphere that I want to manage and I want to manage an artist who’s a woman just manifested itself.

Peale: I had no plan B to be honest. I studied business in college, which was sort of my parents’ plan B. In retrospect, I’m definitely very glad I did it. It’s not directly applicable, but it helps me with my work ethic more than anything.

Hicks: My plan B is interesting – I was going to be a park ranger and wilderness trip leader. I actually led groups of young girls on like 19-day wilderness trips. I was like, “Yo, this is fire. I could just be out here in the woods, and the world is over there.” It taught me a lot about physical and mental strength and testing what you think you’re capable of. The only thing I miss about being out of the wilderness is I can’t really listen to music. There’s no outlet in the trees. I couldn’t really choose both, but I’m definitely happy I chose to be in civilization and in the music industry.

What’s something on your professional bucket list that you’d like to cross off soon?

Thuy: I always set little goals for myself just to keep myself motivated. My next thing is I really want a plaque. I really want to go gold, and it’s going to happen. I want to keep touring and go everywhere, like global.

What advice do you have for fellow Asian, Black and queer women who have aspirations of becoming a full-time musician?  

Monét: There’s really no way around the work. It seems like people just blow up overnight and there’s this viral thing that you feel like you can make happen. But I think opportunities like that may be short-lived, because you can’t hide the fact that you haven’t rehearsed or you haven’t done the work or you didn’t invest the time in yourself. I would say, with balance and self-care, there’s just no way around that 10,000 hours. If you’re serious about it, drop that plan B and really pursue it. It’ll get you places.

Thuy: I feel like I’m the bigger sister to a lot of Vietnamese Americans. A lot of them come up to me and say, “I want to make music, too,” or “I want to create art,” and they’re afraid of what their parents think. My advice to them is to not care what people think, whether that’s your mom or your dad — because at the end of the day, they’re going to love you. I felt this immense pressure to make them proud and do something that they can feel like all their sacrifices were worth it. But I wasn’t doing something that was fulfilling to me. My advice would be to follow our gut and do what fulfills your life.

Dave: Believe in yourself. There’s nothing different about being a woman, you can do all the same s–t. And people can react differently to it, but that doesn’t mean that anything you’re doing is different from what your male counterparts are doing. Trust that your judgment matters and your opinions matter and your taste matters. Just go for it.