In an industry that is constantly evolving, finding one’s place can be difficult. Katherine Forbes has embraced entrepreneurship as Founder of the marketing and design company Designing the Row and the online Facebook group, Music Biz Besties, thus solidifying her place in Music City. With a fierce drive and a passion for community, Katherine is creating opportunities for women to come together to share successes, challenges, and goals as they strive to achieve their own dreams in the music industry. She is an inspiring woman with a genuine heart. I had the pleasure of sitting down with Katherine to learn more about her journey and why building a community for women has been so important to her.
What inspired you to move to Nashville?
I was in my senior year in college when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in music, and while I didn’t know a lot about the industry, I did know I would have to move to a major music city. While I had never been to Nashville, New York or Los Angeles, I have an uncle in Sewanee, so it just made sense to explore Nashville first. When I told my uncle my passion was to work in the music industry, he helped get me connected with a number of his friends, and these connections ultimately led to my first internship at a management company. My leap of faith paid off.
You majored in piano and music performance with a music tech focus, what was it about the business side of music that intrigued you?
Most of the classes I took in college were in the studio, but it was there I also got introduced to web development. For my senior project, instead of recording a CD, I asked if I could do a web design project. I made a website that featured all of my piano performances, and sort of led me to switch things up with my own major! And then, during one of my internships in college, I got to use some of these skills and realized my design and marketing skills could be used much more broadly than just for music.
Is there anything you wish you would have better understood about the music industry upon graduating from college?
Honestly, I wish I would have known more about music industry itself, how it worked and what opportunities were really available to people like me. I just didn’t know where I would fit in. So when I got to Nashville and started at the management company, I didn’t have a clear understanding what an artist management company did or what I would actually be doing. I was so naive. It was because of my own experience that I feel so compelled to educate younger women coming into this industry and helping them realize there is a place for everyone.
What were some of the steps you took to learn about the industry so you could be really effective in your new position at the management company?
I had a Pollstar magazine and went to every website in it to figure out what a promoter was, what an agent was and who all the businesses were that made up this industry. I researched who everyone was and what they all did. I reached out to some of them when I moved here to see if I could just meet with them, learn more about what they did and just networked a lot.
Cold calling and emailing isn’t always easy! Did you find that folks were receptive?
Yes! Everyone was so nice. I am a really introverted and quiet person, so it was hard for me. But, people made it really easy, and the Nashville community really welcomed me. I just shared my story and told people what I really loved doing and they were so willing to connect with me other industry people. This has sometimes been more difficult as I have launched my company, and because I have so much experience in social media, people are sometimes quick to put me into the same bucket as others who do what I do. However, when they get to see what I have actually done, the wall comes down and people have been willing to help connect me with others in their network.
Can you describe that moment when you decided to finally take the entrepreneurial leap?
Early last year is when the light bulb sort of turned on. I had started taking on more freelance clients and realized I could make more money working for myself then working forty hours a week for my boss. I thought, “Well, why not do more of this on my own?” (laugh) That’s when I made the leap.
Why was becoming an entrepreneur and launching your company, Designing the Row, so important to you?
Having worked in the industry for a number of years, I was really just inspired to have a business that could help artists learn and see value in understanding their brand and how to continue to create their brand. I want to encourage creatives to see that doing social media and managing their online branding isn’t as hard as they might think. It’s important to me to be able to sit down with creatives and help show them how to get started. In today’s world, artist managers can only push artists so far. Artists have to be just as much a part of this as the team behind them.
Since launching your company, what has been one of the biggest lessons you have learned?
The biggest lesson I have learned is to be direct and clear with my clients and being honest with where I feel I can truly add the most value for them. So, I guess for me, it is understanding that being honest will get you a long way.
Has the way you approach building relationships changed at all now that you are building your business as opposed to when you were working directly in the industry?
I think the biggest difference has been when I moved here and was starting my career in music, I reached out to anyone. Now, people are reaching out to me to network and build relationships. I am constantly asking myself, “Why did ever stop reaching out to other people?”
Why did you?
I just got busy and super involved in work. That’s why it has been important to me to build the online community, Music Biz Besties. Building those relationships early on has fueled me so much in my career, and I want to help create that for other people too. I have learned a lot over the years, and staying connected with the community allows you to not get distracted away from what you want to be doing in the industry. It’s hard and requires an investment, but it’s worth it.
What are other ways you are building your own personal network outside of Music Biz Besties?
I recently joined an organization called Women in Music and it’s been great to see all of the women involved and get to see who is out there and what people are asking for. One of the other things I recently went to was a Designer Vaca in Palm Springs to be the designer side of me for a bit. While it wasn’t music related at all, it was interesting to see how other communities collaborate and network and how I can bring this to music. A lot of what I have been doing is stepping outside of the music business to see where I can incorporate these experiences into what I do every day. It’s fun to broaden the focus because Nashville isn’t the only place in the world where music is. I want to be inclusive and I think everyone has something to offer. We can all learn from each other.
I know a lot of younger folks in the industry are sometimes put in the stereotypical “millennial box.” How have you responded to this in your career?
Ignore it. Someone asked me a similar question about being a woman in the industry. I just try to focus on doing the best at what I can do. One thing my mentor has taught me is to do what I am passionate about and the rest will come. That’s how I push through it. I focus on proving myself right instead of trying to prove others wrong.
I love that! Is there a moment in your career where you have done just that?
While I worked at the International Bluegrass Association, I met Amy Reitnouer who runs The Bluegrass Association out in Los Angeles. Amy puts on festivals and hosts stages at Bonnaroo, MerleFest, and others, as well as has been producing the IBMA Awards Show Bluegrass Awards for the past couple of years. She’s only 30 years old! She asked me to come help produce the show with her last year and it was great. Here we were, two thirty-year-old gals telling a bunch of old men what to do and it was amazing! (laugh) My credibility with others in the industry went up after that because I was in charge. I just put myself out there and people will respond to that.
You shared earlier that you are more of an introvert. How did you find the confidence to step into a role where you were now in charge?
It is something I still struggle with because I am younger than a lot of people I work for. I am constantly learning and reminding myself, “They hired you. You are in charge.” People hire me because of my expertise and they want my advice.
Is there someone who has been an influential mentor for you?
Denise Stiff is probably my biggest mentor and I was so fortunate to work so closely with her for five years. I got to watch her in action and observe how she handled things. She would work her manager magic and was really good at getting people to make decisions she wanted them to make. (laugh)
I have talked with so many who have described the changing role of an artist manager. Given your experience working for an artist management company, what have you seen as some of the changes in the role of an artist manager?
There are so many new things managers are expected to do for their artists like managing their social media, their website, email marketing, and in the shift, their role seems to be moving away from being the idea person to the one who has to attend all of the meetings, deal with publishing, booking flights and things that are less exciting and to some extent, more administrative.
For people who want to get into artist management, do you think it’s possible for them to just jump in and start working with an artist?
I don’t know how people are able to do that because you don’t know what you don’t know. Everything is different at every stage of the career of a band from being a baby artist on up. You really need someone to be able to help you walk through each of those stages because there is so much to know and do.
What advice would you give to a young person starting out in their career in music?
Find what you are passionate about and don’t try to get the job that looks good on paper if that’s not where you really think you belong. Don’t chase the title or the company instead go after what you want to do and what you are passionate about.
What’s the worst piece of advice you have ever been given since getting into the industry?
It is less about bad advice and more about learning to create boundaries and having a healthier respect for work/life balance. When I was starting out, I would work until midnight every night. I thought that was what was expected of me. Realizing that this doesn’t have to be the case has served me well, especially now with my own business.
Where do you see yourself or your company in the next five years?
Continuing to create online courses and resources for people to grow and think outside of the box when building their brands and businesses.
What do you wish someone would ask you?
Why Music Biz Besties was important to me and wanting to understand how I got where I am today. The behind the scene stuff that goes into doing Music Biz Besties is important to me and the part that really matters. It’s what has made me who I am.