Anna Bulbrook, Kerry Brown, Natasha Bedingfield, Linda Perry and Monica Zhang
Photo by Timothy Norris/Getty Images for The Recording Academy
Linda Perry, Natasha Bedingfield & More Talk Creating A Collaborative Community For Female Artists At The GRAMMY Museum
Excitement percolated through the air yesterday afternoon at the "Creating A Collaborative Community for Artists" panel at the GRAMMY Museum where GRAMMY Award-nominated singer/songwriter/musician and record producer Linda Perry, GRAMMY Award winner British pop singer/songwriter Natasha Bedingfield and attorney Monica Zhang (Reed Smith) took the stage for a discussion moderated by Anna Bulbrook (musician and founder of women-led festival and collective Girlschool).
In an hourlong talk, they talked about their youth, the necessity for artists to feel safe and supported, the rapidly changing music industry and Perry's company We Are Hear - the record label, publishing and management company she co-founded with her business partner Kerry Brown to which Bedingfield is signed.
Though Bedingfield signed her first record deal 16 years ago, when she was just 22 years old, she said she still vividly remembers her days busking on street corners at Christmastime, making no money. "I grew up with not a lot of money. It really sucks to grow up with no money and to feel beholden to people. The feeling of finally making money gave me a lot of self-confidence. I remember having student debt and feeling like it was crippling and never wanting to be in that position again." In fact, Bedingfield’s first job was stacking shelves at a pharmacy when she was just 11 years old.
Perry said that when she was 14 years old, she worked on the docks of San Diego sanding the bottoms of and refurbishing boats. When she got a little older and began working at fast-food chains, she said she’d inevitably be fired for giving her punk rocker friends free food through the drive-thru window. She recalled her first moneymaking gig in San Diego when she showed up at a lesbian bar and convinced the owner not only to let her perform but also to let Perry keep a percentage of the door's ticket sales. “She thinks ‘She’s not going to bring in anybody’ but I ended up promoting that show so hardcore that I ended up making $750 as my first pay in 1989, and that’s a lot of money.” She said that the first money garnering show was a fluke and that it took years before she began to make really good money.
As to why she started We Are Hear, Perry stressed the importance of honoring artists. "We wanted to create something that was creative, for artists to feel their vision was being heard, that we can help execute their ideas and basically be a good mentor or creative partner. All we want to do is create a community and empower all these creatives and put it in a place where people feel safe and supported."
Perry said when she sat down to start her company, which currently has just one male artist (Pete Molinari) signed to its roster, her intentions weren't deliberately women-oriented. She said she’s just organically gravitated towards women. "We didn’t think about it, like, ‘Let’s be a chick label.’ It just kind of happened and it’s kind of cool, but it wasn’t on purpose that our roster and company is very female-fronted. The artists who were showing up had a sensibility about them that was strong. We felt creatively connected and we felt like this is something we can stand behind. That’s all we look for. We’re not looking for whether you have a pussy or a dick or whatever. We're looking for who can we get together with and advance and get creative with and succeed and it happened to be women."
As soon as Perry finished speaking, the crowd broke into applause and hoots.
Accordingly, Bedingfield said she switched from a major record label to We Are Hear due to having grown increasingly disheartened with her situation. "I had always been on a major label and I had great success in that structure, but there was a lot of fear in these big corporations. They could sense things were changing and they couldn’t figure out what the new way of listening to music is. I was getting a lot of that frustration of being at big corporations that weren’t able to put their fingers on the pulse to figure it out. They’d just get new executives thinking that maybe the solution is to get a shiny new businessman. There was an emphasis on a savior, finding someone who’s gonna save us. I was feeling a lot of frustration within that system and I asked my label to let me go but, as soon as I left my label, it was, ‘Oh no, I’m out on my own.' That’s scary. I’m a team person. I love writing songs and I love singing onstage, but I need a great team and when I heard Linda started her label and management team, it felt like such a good fit."
A visionary and strong leader, Perry described herself as "macho" and said she was "born very aggressive." She said an abusive background helped her to become stronger, more focused and driven. "I just have a very strong...There’s a very sad and angry emotion that hums and rumbles through my body and that has always been my guide, my fuel, my mentor, my love, my villain, all of it. It’s helped guide me constantly to make these decisions I’ve made in my life."
Bedingfield finds solace, inspiration and strength in Perry. "We focus on those who don’t love us and people who say awful things. But there are signposts and good people around so it’s about being able to receive that. Linda’s been that at this stage of my life. I’m standing up and finding my power and she’s like, ‘Yes and you can even do more. Don’t settle."
We Are Hear’s attorney, Zhang, whom Perry described as incredibly "smart, cool, and a badass," was equally effusive about Perry. "Linda's an inspiration for me because she really, really believes in the artists and the creators."
Much to the delight of the audience, midway through the panel, Bedingfield treated the crowd to a two-song acoustic performance: her hit single "Unwritten," for which she won a GRAMMY Award for Female Pop Vocal Performance in 2007, and "King of the World," a new song she co-wrote with Perry.