Women in the Arts: Universal Music Q and A – Deutsche Grammophon

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 second UMG interview revealed – see part 1 here, and look out for parts 3 and 4 on this site next week.

Ute Fesquet is vice president artists & repertoire at Deutsche Grammophon GmbH (DG). Interview by Hanna Rossmann, coordinator of international marketing and promotion at DG

Hanna Rossmann: What is it like to work at DG, such an iconic and prestigious label?
Ute Fesquet:
Amazing – ever since I joined the company in 1997, there was never day when I knew what to expect. Nothing is predictable. Yet you also feel that notion of a great tradition, of working for something that lasts. We are an art-trading business, obliged to the highest artistic standards of beauty, quality, innovation, and last but not least we’re a commercial enterprise. Sometimes that’s not an easy task, but always an incredibly exciting, challenging and very fulfilling one.

HR: What was it that led you to the A&R side of the business?
I never expected that one day I would have the honour of working in the A&R department, let alone as the head of the operation. But it was sort of a natural evolution, and I am eternally grateful for how it happened. I started as a product manager at the international repertoire centre of DG in Hamburg. This was a position in between A&R and marketing, the perfect introduction to my current role. As a trained journalist, however, I felt after a few years that while we were making fantastic recordings, the world was not getting to know enough about them. So I changed and became head of DG’s press and artists relations department, which later on was merged with international marketing.

HR: You are a cellist. Does being classically trained help you collaborate more closely with your artists?
I love to play the cello but it became clear at the very early stages that I couldn’t deal with stage fright, and that a professional career was not an option. However, the fact that I am classically trained is key: on the one hand, I have the insight and respect for what it means and takes to be an artist on stage. And, on the other, I know enough not to be just a groupie using my position to be close to the great artists I adore.

HR: What has changed during your tenure at DG?
A lot. Lately I think the “R” in A&R has become a lot more important again. In the digital world, our wonderful rich catalogues have turned into a telephone book. Digital retail platforms sometimes do not list the artists or the titles properly: all of a sudden there are hundreds of recordings of the same work available, and even a connoisseur has a hard time making a choice. Also, with the development in musical education, the idea of a new interpretation of a classical masterwork becomes a very sophisticated selling point. So we need to embrace new repertoire and unique concepts, and we need pioneers – artists who offer music that is not necessarily in the limelight.

HR: In your eyes, what is the future of the classical music business?
I totally believe in the art form, but I think it will be essential to create strong alliances and find the right partners to allow great recordings to happen. I feel a strong obligation to make sure that people feel they would miss something in their lives if this music was not there. As access to media grows, we are in a good place to reach audiences that may not actively be going to concerts. More than ever it has to be a common effort, and a deliberate initiative to make classical music as much a part of our lifestyle as any other forms of music, art, theatre, sports or literature.

HR: What advice would you give young women interested in breaking into the music business in 2015?
There is this famous piece of advice that you get to hear quite often as a woman: ‘Think like a man and act like a woman.’ I don’t like this very much because I think a lot of the reasons that men and women are not treated equally are ‘home-made’ by women. My advice to every young ambitious colleague, be they male or female, is to approach professional life as authentically as possible – be yourself and make sure you do not build your own hurdles, either by waiting for someone to discover your talent or by being too hesitant about what you can bring to the table.

HR: Have you got an example of a crazy artist-related moment or situation you’ve encountered and will never forget?
I was chasing a wonderful but very hard to get bass-baritone, trying to confirm interviews together with a press coordinator who was hired by him. The singer had asked me to meet him at a lake house an hour outside of Salzburg to discuss the overdue media plan for his new album. When I arrived at the lake he was on a raft, far away from the shore, waving and smiling – he was speechless and gave up his resistance when he saw me swimming over to the floating island to get my questions confirmed.

HR: What advantages does a classical artist have by being in Berlin?
I can’t answer this question for an artist, but I know that many of them enjoy the space and the liberty of a city like Berlin. Prices are still a bit less crazy than in other international big cities. It has major arts institutions, orchestras, opera houses and theatres. And I think musical history – especially recent history – is more present in Berlin than in any other city in Europe.