Live In Conversation: Lara Baker (Part 2)

Lara Baker

General Manager (UK & IE), FUGA

Lara was named in Billboard's International Power Players 2022, Music Week’s Women in Music Roll of Honour and SheSaidSo's Alternative Power List. She is passionate about improving diversity, gender balance and inclusivity in the music business, having sat on UK Music’s Diversity Taskforce, supported the Love Music Hate Racism campaign and organised regular women in music and diversity-focused events.

Supporting Independents and Championing Diversity in Music

#HowWeListen Live: In Conversation with Lara Baker took place on Wednesday, October 4th, 2023, live from London, UK

The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.

Miss part 1? Head back here to read!

In Part II Lara talks about a different struggle. Trying to even out the scales when it came to representation in the music industry that she was working with and in. Things like the music industry gender pay gap and Women in Music. Lara also explains how she got in at FUGA (it had only been 6 months). 

Marc Brown: Could you also explain what you noticed happening with AIM the longer you were there? You mentioned that the people there and those steering the organization weren’t as diverse as the labels you were representing.

Lara Baker: Absolutely. One of the things we noticed quite early on was that our board was very male and very white. Our CEO was a woman, so we started work quite early on trying to improve the diversity of the membership and at the board level. One thing we did was throw a networking reception for women in music. We had this room full of women and Allison (the CEO) talked to them and asked why they weren’t on the board and members of our organization. It’s generalizing, but we noticed that women working in music were often waiting to be invited to be a part of things because there’s a lot of imposter syndrome. So we started offering training and events and gradually we saw our board become more diverse. These days, the board is a fantastic example of diversity in terms of musical genre, ethnicity, gender, age, etc. 

Marc Brown: Have noticed any resistance to that change over time? 

Lara Baker: Not really. What we noticed more was the problem of that “imposter syndrome” that I mentioned before. We constantly need to encourage people and show them that they are welcome and that we want to be more diverse. 

Marc Brown: Did you find that there were a lot of women in senior positions in music at that time?

Lara Baker: Not so much back then. I think that has improved massively, particularly in the past few years. It was a different landscape if we go back 15+ years. A lot of the founders of the independent labels were white men which meant that the boards were not diverse either. 

Marc Brown: You’ve also worked on other things besides AIM. Can you tell us about the Women in Music Awards?

Lara Baker: Myself and Allison, came up with the idea of the Women In Music Awards over 10 years ago. We thought it was something that was needed, but we didn’t want it to just sit within AIM because it’s not just about indie labels, it’s about recognizing women across the industry as well as in behind-the-scenes roles who are all doing incredible work. We took the idea to Music Week and they loved it so they’ve been doing it for over 10 years now! I’m still part of the Steering Committee, and we’re working on the awards that will be happening in London next month (November). We’ve celebrated women across the music ecosystem from labels to the DSPs, publishers and more.

Marc Brown: You also mentioned mentoring. What kind of mentoring and support is there for younger people?

Lara Baker: I love mentoring – I think it’s so rewarding. It’s also a two-way street because I learn a lot from the people I mentor as well. There are two streams that I’ve done, one was organized by the PRS Foundation as part of their Keychange program. It’s a program that supports women and gender minorities in the music business. The second is an organization called shesaid.so which is a fantastic program full of women in music. For someone who hasn’t done it before, it might be hard to set up that sort of mentoring relationship but I’ve found that even outside of those programs, most people are usually willing to mentor and help out where they can.

Marc Brown: For sure. Overall, it seems within the music ecosystem things are going well now, but you have also said that some things are still not great. Can you elaborate?

Lara Baker: One of the things that really bugs me is the music industry gender pay gap. It’s different in other countries but in the UK any company that employs over 250 people has to publicly declare its gender pay gap figures each year. In the music industry, that means that only major companies with over 250 employees have to comply, so it’s not super representative. What we can see from the stats is that the gender pay gap isn’t closing that much, and a few big companies have wider pay gaps today than they did in the past. We are seeing lots of women getting promoted to leadership positions, but it takes a long time for these actions to filter through into systemic and measurable change when it comes to things like pay. It’s also important to note that most of the music companies are smaller than that and therefore don’t need to report on it, so we don’t know. There are also ethnicity pay gaps that don’t need to be reported on legally at all, so we have no data about that. 

Marc Brown: Has the ethnicity pay gap been talked about at all? 

Lara Baker: I think there are a few companies who report on it voluntarily. 

Marc Brown: I wonder if many other countries force companies to report on their gender pay gap.

Lara Baker: I’m not sure – I think it is unique to the UK.

Marc Brown: My first thought is: that’s a great system to have. But if there is no action taken that is super frustrating. What do you think the reason is for the fact that companies post these numbers year after year but they always come up short?

Lara Baker: I think it goes beyond the actual gap, it needs to be thought of in a much bigger sense. There needs to be things like more family-friendly policies for families and caregivers, and changes in recruitment to remove bias. There also needs to be better training and education for managers and leaders within companies so that they can focus on change and inclusivity. 

Marc Brown: Right. What do you think are the music business-specific reasons for the gender pay gap?

Lara Baker: I don’t know if I can think of specifics for the gender pay gap, but I can think of a few surrounding the music business in general. The first is the notion that working in the music industry means going to gigs a lot and being on tour and out at night. It doesn’t sit within the 9-5 work-a-day hours, which isn’t very family-friendly. There’s also a systemic problem in this industry surrounding harassment and assault of women, both artists and workers. 

Marc Brown: Absolutely, I also read a report that tracks board members, and I read that a lot of major companies have boards that are not even close to diverse. 

Lara Baker: Exactly. A lot of the data that exists on diversity in the industry shows that at an entry level, women and men are pretty much equal but once you get further up into leadership positions, women occupy less than 30%.

Marc Brown: Can I say that at least the foundation is there?

Lara Baker: Yeah, sure. It suggests that maybe over time it’ll equal out, but it also suggests that women could be dropping out before they get to the more senior levels or that the opportunities aren’t being given to them. 

Marc Brown: We also talked about socioeconomic status at the start. Do you feel that plays a big role in music? 

Lara Baker: Absolutely. If you look at it from a business sense, there has always been this tendency for companies to look for university or college degrees when the positions don’t always need them. There’s also a lot of nepotism in the music industry. Even on the artist level, having musical instruments and lessons is expensive, so that’s a barrier to entry right there. We absolutely need to find ways to become more inclusive on every level as an industry. 

Marc Brown: What do you think are the big things that need to change in music from a diversity and equality point of view?

Lara Baker: I do think it all comes down to more diverse leadership. If leadership is diverse, systemic change can trickle down from there. It also gives young people entering the industry something to look up and aspire to. They can see themselves in the leadership and can aspire to it.

Marc Brown: Agree. So to move to a completely different topic, can you tell us how you made the switch from AIM to your new job?

Lara Baker: There were quite a few years in between, I had my own company and did consulting for a while after I left AIM, and then I went into publishing which I hadn’t done before. I was doing that for about 4 years up until earlier this year. I feel really lucky that I got to learn the publishing side of things and that I can now learn a new sector within the distribution side. I work with so many of the indie labels that I knew through my AIM years, which has been great. FUGA is all about finding the best deal for each label, which usually means that no two deals are the same, keeping it interesting.

Marc Brown: That sounds very chaotic for you as a company to have all of these different possibilities that have to be tailored to each independent client! What are some of those challenges?

Lara Baker: 10-15 years ago FUGA was established and known initially as a supply-chain company that delivered music to respective platforms. Nowadays, there is more music being delivered than ever so what you need is to be able to stand out from the noise and find your audience and your fans. FUGA has a big marketing team now to have those conversations and to pitch to DSPs and get artists on playlists and whatnot. It can be challenging for artists to get on the map and find their fanbases, so you need a complex strategy. Our team helps with that and we also have other services that artists and labels can tap into as needed.

Marc Brown: All that coordination and pitching, do labels pay based on the services?

Lara Baker: Every deal is different. We take a percentage of the distribution fee and then it depends on what services are needed.

Marc Brown: Oh, you guys did The Hives record right?

Lara Baker: Yeah! I take no credit whatsoever for that because the deal was already done when I joined, but they did a fantastic job. It was exciting because it was a big, new release and we proved that we can support artists at every level.

Marc Brown: Another thing that impresses me about this mindset and way of working is that back in the day, labels thought that they had to own the music for a determined time. It seems that things have sort of worked themselves out to where artists are actually in a lot more control than they used to be, yet it’s still profitable for the artist partners.

Lara Baker: Absolutely, that’s a great thing. One of the things that we’re quite focused on is catalogue marketing. Surprisingly, the vast majority of streaming is actually for catalogue music, so the distributor wants to work hard to surface that catalogue and make sure that it continues to be discovered, listened to and appreciated.

Marc Brown: It kind of seems like catalogues weren’t a big deal 5 years ago, right?

Lara Baker: I don’t know actually, but it’s very important now. Especially as people now can shout to Alexa “Hey play the Beatles” or whatever, it’s catalogs that people are more often than not searching out so it’s really important to focus on that as part of the streaming strategy.

Marc Brown: So do you feel as a company that you’ve figured out a way to move the needle to market catalogs on streaming platforms?

Lara Baker: That’s not my area of the business so I can’t say, but there are things you can do to increase it. One strategy is focusing on tent pole moments, things like anniversaries of albums, an artist’s birthday, culturally specific moments, and stuff like that. 

Marc Brown: I find that fascinating. Things change so quickly, we were all so focused on new music a while ago but now it looks like it’s shifting to catalogues again – that’s what makes the business so interesting. It’s great to hear that it’s going so well though, when you first entered the industry it was kind of a dark age in music, wasn’t it?

Lara Baker: For sure, things are better, but there is always something to fight for. Today’s debate is regarding streaming payout rates and all that. What is interesting about the time we live in is that each time someone streams your album or song you’re generating revenue. Back in the day, once you bought the album that was kind of it.

Marc Brown: That’s right! The last thing I wanted to ask about was your plans relating to your work on sorting out the diversity problems that still exist.

Lara Baker: I definitely want to get more involved in that work again. There are a few organizations that are active in that space like Black Music Coalition, Women in CTRL, SheSaid.so and more. There are so many great initiatives going on right now, and I’d love to throw myself back into it since it’s a very important topic for me. It’s easy to get complacent or frustrated with how long it’s taken, but we just need to keep going with action. 

Marc Brown: That’s great, let’s end there. Thanks so much, Lara, it was so nice to chat with you.

Lara Baker: Thank you for having me!