Women in the Arts: Universal Music Q&A – Decca

Ever wanted to interview your boss? As part of our recent special focus on Women in the Arts, we asked four employees at Universal Music Group (UMG) to do just that. Here’s what our first UMG interview revealed – look out for parts 2-4 on this site next week.

Rebecca Allen, MD at Decca, as interviewed by Laura Monks

When Rebecca Allen was appointed managing director of Decca Records, she made history as the first woman to head up the organisation. Laura Monks is director of digital and commercial partnerships at the label.

Laura Monks: Decca prides itself on being ‘the home of diverse music’. Has that been a particular attraction in your 16 years with the label?
Rebecca Allen: Over its 85-year history, Decca has always been a label to surprise people. We were the label that turned down The Beatles but went on to sign The Rolling Stones. We were the label that launched Pavarotti, who not only went on to be one of the biggest selling classical artists of all time, but also one of the biggest selling pop artists. We recently surprised people again by breaking a British country act into the top 10 of the album charts, the first time in the charts’ 69-year history that this has ever happened. Decca prides itself on embracing music that is diverse, and in this current noisy market we have to task ourselves with creating a proposition around our releases that really cuts through and gives our artists and albums a platform to be heard.

LM: Did it feel like a watershed moment when you become the label’s first female MD?
RA: Being made MD for this historic label is something I’m enormously proud of, but it’s something I would be proud of regardless of my gender. I started at the company 16 years ago as their press assistant, and to find myself in the position now of MD is incredibly satisfying. I may be the first female MD of Decca but I definitely won’t be the last.
Our label is full of incredible, ambitious and very talented young women. At Universal Music, 50 per cent of the workforce are women, and at Decca this percentage is even higher. I don’t look to employ woman specifically, as the best person gets the job, but currently in the music business there is an abundance of very talented woman who deserve the opportunities we can offer.

LM: Who were your mentors?
RA: I’ve been very lucky to have two very strong role models during my career. One is the legendary Bill Holland, who ran the label for over a decade. Anyone who worked for Bill will tell you what an incredible inspiration he was. He taught me to take risks, and how to interact with artists, managers, and most importantly with the media. He was a maverick who taught me that labels need personality – I think a lot about his style of management, and hope that I can replicate a lot of what he taught me in my new role.
    My second mentor is Dickon Stainer, who has literally guided my career for the last 16 years. He’s a huge influence in my life and has taught me so much about myself, and has pushed me beyond what I ever thought capable. He also respects my role as a mum to two young children. Karren Brady gave a fantastic interview on Woman’s Hour (BBC Radio 4) recently, where she described the role as a working mum in such a positive way: she said she wore the ‘working mum’ badge with pride because it represented the two things in her life that she was passionate about. I feel that Universal Music/Decca have allowed me to also wear this badge with pride, and I’m lucky to have bosses who understand the importance of this.

LM: Although you’ve been at the company a long time, you only took the helm in November 2014. What challenges has your new role presented?
RA: The music business is going through huge change, and we are all having to adjust our business models to keep things moving forward. There are challenges that come with this but I honestly believe that people’s desire for good music is as strong as ever; we just need to find new ways to engage with them. We have just launched an exciting classical streaming service called Composed, which is a joint venture with Classic FM. This is part of our future, and to be proactively creating these platforms for our consumers to enjoy our artists’ music feels like a step in the right direction for our label.

LM: What do you enjoy most about working in music?
RA: Who wouldn’t want to work with music? This is a lifestyle choice and no day is ever the same. I think I was born with a musical instrument in my hand, and always knew I wanted to be involved in music as I grew up. I was fortunate enough to study music at the Trinity College of Music in London, and it was while studying there that one of my teachers spotted something in me and arranged for me to do work experience in the press office at the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. From that moment I knew that I wanted to work in music PR, and this lead me to my very first job at the BBC Symphony Orchestra, working across marketing and PR. I have a lot to thank Trinity for, and have recently been asked to sit on the board of governors there to help shape the future of the college for the young students who have the same passion for music as I did (and still do).
The discovery of good music is always so satisfying, and although I started off in the business as a classical music specialist I have grown to love so many different styles of music, be it jazz, blues, or my new-found love of all things Nashville. I love the artists we represent and feel proud that Decca is the ‘home of diverse music’. I feel incredibly passionate about the label and the music we represent, and I’m looking ahead to setting new standards and driving the company forward.

LM: What advice would you give young women interested in breaking into the music business in 2015?
RA: I would tell them to be fearless, to find their voice and to sit at the table – don’t hide! The opportunities are there to be taken.