It’s not every day you meet a world-changer – and it’s definitely not every day you meet two in one morning.
As I sit down with Rachel Lissenburg and Emma Duffy – aka electric-pop duo, Park Fires, and founders of HER Music PR – it’s clear I’m talking to people who will stop at nothing to transform the music industry. They have power, they have style, and they have that vibrant charm that makes you want to be their best mate. It’s official: I’m a fan.
HER Music PR is a female-run, female-focused PR agency looking to bridge the gap of inequality in the music industry. They support, promote and empower female artists, and their ambitions stretch across stages, through studios and into the hearts and minds of aspiring musicians.
I meet Rachel and Emma on a damp June Saturday, ready to find out how they’re making their vision a reality.
‘We launched in September 2017, but it was March when we originally decided to set up a PR company.’ says Rachel, telling me how at one point, spending too much of Park Fires’ budget on a music video forced them to do their own PR – and how they nailed it.
‘It went really well because we were passionate about it, and we focused on the right things for us,’ says Emma. ‘There was obviously a gap for somebody to specialise in getting women publicity, and we just knew we had to do something.’
The past eight months have had whirlwind-like qualities for HER Music, with bands, artists and talent falling into place – a clear affirmation of the ferocious appetite for female-focused music PR. ‘It’s been amazing,’ says Emma. ‘We’ve had people coming to us rather than us having to find people, and everyone who’s approached us has been incredible.’
Changing perceptions is woven deep into Emma and Rachel’s work and experience – whether that’s challenging stereotypes around women in music, or debunking that disconnected cliché of the PR industry.
‘Because we’re a band ourselves, we know what artists want from their campaigns. We try to meet everyone we can, because if we have a personal connection with the artists, we’re more passionate about them and about their music,’ says Rachel, and the pair exchange a somewhat starry-eyed look. ‘You work harder for something that you love.’
At the core of HER Music is the kind of spirit that comes from standing in the face of adversity; the kind of mettle born of fighting for recognition in a world that fails to acknowledge your talent. ‘We’ve experienced a lot of rubbish,’ says Emma, ‘from the basic things like sound techs treating us differently, to artist managers telling us what to do.’
So, was there a turning point? Rachel smiles. ‘This one day, we drove for six hours down the motorway to play at a festival as Park Fires,’ she says, telling me about a sweaty tent where an all-male band were leaving the stage, happily bantering with the sound technician as they went. ‘Then we got up on stage, and the sound guy was just so rude. He kept asking us to sing up, like it was our fault things weren’t going right.’
The tent cleared out, and the band ended up playing to an audience of one, with the sound technician returning to cheeriness as soon as the next (all-guy) band got up to play. ‘I will remember that moment for the rest of my life,’ Emma adds. ‘We were gigging for our lives, doing everything we could, but that was the moment we knew we weren’t being treated the same, and we needed to do something about it.’
HER Music is currently working with six or seven clients, building a roster of bands and creating the kind of supportive environment where everyone wants the others to succeed. One of the duo’s first clients was Luna Pines, a Leeds-based electronic trio whose frontwoman, Lotte van den Berg, has recently founded alternative record label, Sixteen Records.
‘She’s got this really cool aura about her – she doesn’t have to try; it’s just there,’ says Emma, telling me how Lotte’s new business is platforming emerging artists, having just released its debut compilation album, Volume One, last month.
Also on the books are Bianca Gerald, a soulful singer-songwriter whose songs reflect the message of female empowerment; electro-pop three-piece, Loux; and former Leeds Contemporary Singers artists, Becky Bowe and M.I, whose styles range from dystopian RnB to jazzy soul-pop.
‘We’re pretty busy with everyone,’ says Rachel. ‘They’re all very different, but all amazing in their own way.’ And as for the gender question? ‘We’re looking forward to a point where people don’t ask about gender, but right now it needs to be talked about. We need to be shouting about it until we get it right.’
HER Fest 2018
Talk soon turns to plans for the rest of the year, and the excitement is palpable as I ask about HER Fest, the all-female music festival HER Music is bringing to Brudenell Social Club this October. Stealing Sheep will bring their unique brand of catchy electro-pop to the headline slot, and then Emma and Rachel let me in on a secret: London girl band The Tuts will fill the top supporting slot.
‘They’re absolutely brilliant – punky pop from three out-there feminists,’ enthuses Emma, as we reflect on how perfectly this will go down at the Brude this autumn. ‘They supported Kate Nash on her European tour, and to think we’ve got them performing at our festival now is incredible.’
Joining them in the line-up are local band, Venus; rockstar trio, Dead Naked Hippies; and artist collective, No Fixed IDentity. There’s even an open application for aspiring artists on the HER Music website, giving anyone who can provide a few links to their music the chance to perform.
It’s only been eight months, but HER Music is making sizeable waves. Sparks fly between Rachel and Emma as they describe their ambitions to keep doing this for years to come. ‘This is it for us now,’ says Emma. ‘We’re so passionate about it that we can’t see ourselves doing anything other than helping other people succeed.’
‘The dream is to grow our roster, put on more events, and ultimately for females to have equal representation in the music industry,’ they tell me, highlighting how everybody has a part to play in that vision, and when it comes to taking action, there really is no time like the present. ‘Rather than just saying you’re going to make a difference – make a difference!’ says Rachel. ‘Are you working with enough female artists? Are you putting enough women on the line-ups? It shouldn’t just be token gestures.’
As we chat, the conversation often leans towards creating a sense of camaraderie amongst females in the industry – one strong enough to make women feel like they belong, and empowered enough to follow their dreams. The duo are single-handedly changing mindsets, taking responsibility for a more equal music industry, and inspiring a revolution for talented women who need the space and the stage to dream big.
And if you’re wondering if revolution is too strong a word, then you clearly haven’t met HER Music.
HER Fest hits Brudenell Social Club on 20th October – you can find out more or apply to play here.