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#WomenToTheFore 10: Amelie Salembier

Can you tell us a little about Molpé Music and what you do?
I'm a music manager and I've been managing artists for 15 years. When I set up my company in 2009, it focused on concert production, mostly booking artists from the Mediterranean area. At the same time, I’ve developed management work.

The first band I managed was Tamikrest, from Mali. I learned the management side of things ‘on the job’, including the most difficult parts like dealing with visa problems and helping musicians to cross international borders. 

A little bit later, in 2013, I started to manage a jazz artist, Vincent Peirani. When I first started managing him, I didn’t have much of a network in the jazz industry as I’d been working in world music for 10 years. So I told him that I would help manage his schedules, but couldn’t advise him on the artistic side. But we grew together and 11 years later I'm managing four jazz musicians. 

As well as Vincent, I work with Harold López-Nussa, a Cuban artist based in France, who I co-manage with Ted Kurland, Endea Owens, a bass player based in New York City and Gauthier Toux, a newcomer and part of a new wave of French artists. So it's very different types of music and very different artists. 

I also do booking for around ten musicians from Mediterranean areas, some of whom are living in Europe now because of conflicts in their home countries, including Kurdish and Syrian artists. Stelios Petrakis, a Cretan musician, was my first client. For me, the booking work and artist management are two very separate things. 


Describe your early career and interest in music, and tell us what led you to set up as an agent and manager for artists in the jazz and world music scene?
I played the cello as a child but quit when I was 13. Every so often I try to start up again but now my cello is broken! And as a student in Paris, I helped organise shows for rock,metal hardcore bands and booked tours for some friends in the Paris area. 

Then I moved to Berlin and worked in art galleries. I had studied German language and culture and I saw an internship at the French music organisation, Le Bureau Export, based in Berlin. It was the perfect combination for me, bringing together music and my knowledge about Germany and German culture. 

I worked there for two years and met lots of people from the French music industry but also from Germany. It was a good way to start my career because I had access to funding which made it easier, as a young woman, to call any agent, any manager and start a conversation. I had a level of respect. 

But when I came back to France and started to work as a booking agent at Accords Croisés, which is a label and booking agency for sacred and transcultural music artists, it was very different. Relationships inside the team - and sometimes with artists - were difficult for a woman, but once again, I was the person in charge of the budget and the fees so it was okay. 

Much later, I started to work in the jazz industry and coming from the world music industry, it was a disappointment. I didn't know everyone, but I had experience and abilities and it counted for nothing. Now after ten years this has changed, but it was a fight everyday and still is. When I go to fairs and spend several days in the jazz industry networks - with competitive men in their fifties - it can be exhausting. I can feel it in my body and mind every time.

In world music, you make new discoveries every day and nobody can say they ‘know’ world music, because it’s global by definition and there are always new things. In the jazz industry, there’s a lot of name-dropping over dinner. I've been listening to jazz music for a very long time, but I don't know the name of a certain drummer for example. The people in world music are more open and more humble about not knowing everything. There are no big stars, with the exception of four or five big musicians that everyone knows.

How would you describe your approach and what are the qualities and skills you need to succeed in your job?
To be a successful booking agent, you need an ability to speak to people about music - not to musicians and music specialists, but to the person on the street. You need to describe music in a way that resonates emotionally with them, and expresses how it might make them feel when they listen to it. This is especially important because you’ll be working with amazing musicians, but they may not be well known. And this ability helps you to sell shows and develop the musician’s career.

So take the time to discuss the music with promoters and explain what you feel when you listen to the music, essentially what it brings to the audience.

I also take a long-term approach with promoters. If we don't work together this year, it's not a big problem because we are not in an album/ tour / album /tour process. World music is music that has existed for many centuries and millennia. We don't have to be in a rush. We can discuss this year, or next year and maybe in a few years, you will bring my artist to your festival and we’ll work out the best way to present them.

For managing, it helps to know a lot about different areas of the music industry. I worked with a lot of labels and I’ve also produced a few albums myself. So I've been working with distributors, booking agencies, PR agencies for years and I know how it works. I don't know everything in detail  - lawyers are best for contracts for example -  but I have a global view of the industry and this really helps when you want to be a manager. 

And I think adaptability is also important and availability too. A lot of people would say that you're a babysitter. I'm not a babysitter, but I can be a kind of therapist. You have to be ready to listen and not be in a rush when you take a phone call from one of your artists. It's a mix of human abilities and then a lot of organisational abilities. 

Did you have role models and mentors that inspired you and influenced your approach?
I've been working with Ted Kurland for five years. He was introduced to me a few years before Covid. Ted’s one of the biggest agents in the US and is Pat Metheny’s manager. 

I was in touch to invite him to a show, and we started emailing about Vincent Peirani who had just met with Pat Metheny. Since then we call each other regularly and now we’re working together with Harold López-Nussa. I'm learning a lot with Ted - he has this history, he knows everyone, he knows how you do things and he's always listening to what I have to say.  He listens to everyone, discusses with everyone and then tries to make the best decision in every situation. 

And before then, when I was at Accords Croisés for four years, I had a difficult relationship with my boss but I learned a lot from him too, in a totally different way to Ted. He taught me that if you want something, you have to fight for it. So you have to get up in the morning and you have to work for it. So I learned this 20 years ago and I'm still trying to do it!

What does a typical day or week look like? What are the key responsibilities and challenges you face?
On a typical day, I plan to do a lot of different things. It’s a mix of managing tasks and booking artists. But my phone rings every 10 minutes about something else. At the end of each day, I need a couple of hours to finalise all the emails that I started to write.

Typically I'm coming back home, taking care of the kids and afterwards I'm back to work. On good days I can work on the thing I planned. And on some days, since I work a lot with the US, I’m constantly interrupted in the evening as I’m speaking a lot with American artists and agents. 

There are crazy days all the time. I take some vacation two times a year, but the rest of the time I’m running to keep up.

You are operating as a company with employees, rather than a freelancer. What led you to take this route and what have the benefits and challenges been? 
I have three women working with me in production and administration. I used to have a bigger team with two booking agents and a full-time administration role. But with the pandemic it all needed to be reduced, and now I'm trying to grow again. 

I see my company as a family, and this is the same for the artists too. I like to make connections between the artists on my roster. I’ve worked with some of my team for a very long time. One I met when she was my intern in 2008 and we’ve been working together ever since. She knows my way of thinking, my way of working. So it's easy. Without my team, I couldn't work for all these artists. I would have to choose between management and booking.

You’ve got a very international roster - how do you discover new artists and bands, and what do you consider before deciding who to work with?
Endea Owens, the US bass player, was presented to me by Reno di Matteo (Anteprima production), an agent I've worked with for many years. He called me because he wants to develop her in Europe and all over the world, and asked me if I wanted to help manage her and to be involved. Her music is amazing so I said, yes. 

I’m working more and more in the US with Ted Kurland and I want to develop my work there, especially in jazz. So, I founded my company in the US three years ago to help me do this.

With Gauthier Toux, I saw him regularly at festivals and we would discuss his career. After a few years he suggested it was the right time to start officially working together.

As for Harold López-Nussa, I invited him to work with us. We met and had a good connection. The human connection is so important - I need to know there’s going to be a good fit as otherwise it’s impossibly difficult.

You are Vincent Peirani’s manager and you’ve been successful in getting him well known in both Europe and the US - it’s notoriously hard for European musicians to break through in America - what do you think was key to your success?
It's very difficult for jazz musicians to break through in the States, but Vincent is playing accordion, so this makes it easier. There are not so many accordionists in the world, and nobody in the US can play accordion the way Vincent plays. He’s one of the biggest accordion players in Europe, if not the world. So it would be a different discussion if you’re a pianist from my management roster. It's not the same, you know?

The competition is very difficult. And it takes time. We are still working on his development in the U.S. And we are working in three parallel ways. 

Firstly we’re trying the US jazz network, which is the most difficult. But we are also working through the world music network because he has this project with Ballaké Sissoko and Vincent Segal and it's easier to push European artists as world music artists in the US than jazz musicians. Plus Vincent is also playing in the classical world in Europe. He has a new album with the cellist François Salque. So I'm also trying to develop his classical career in the US.

And Vincent is special, it’s not any artist who can do this. He plays jazz, classical, world music, but has also played a lot with pop and rap musicians. He can do everything and he’s the best in every area. 


Women are often under-represented in the jazz and creative music sector. Have you faced any specific challenges as a woman working in this field? What would you like to see change?
The first thing is that you're never going to be invited to dinner at first - I’m only being invited now after a few years. And I’m always the only woman. It can feel lonely sometimes.

I met a woman a couple of weeks ago who has just started her own company. It’s great to see new female-run music companies setting up. 

Another thing that happens to me almost every week, especially when I’m with Vincent, is that programmers and journalists never say hello, or ask who I am. They assume I'm a groupie or the girlfriend, but never that I’m the manager or producer. It’s systemic. 

The men with power in the jazz sector are now spending more time finding good women artists, because they have no choice. But I’d like them to include their female colleagues in discussions, in dinners and everything else.

When you apply for grants at the Centre National pour la Musique, you need to say how many women artists are part of your programme. But when you get to the production team, there is only an option to add producteur, there is no option for productrice, so it’s as if we don't exist. Men from the festivals, agencies, conventions, they need to include us as producers, as managers, as well as artists in this discussion.

And for women to be part of this conversation, we need to know we will be respected, and supported by our colleagues. In jazz there’s a brotherhood thing. It’s not only about not being invited, but also all that info that they only share with their friends. This is what needs to change. 

What advice would you give to aspiring agents and managers interested in working with jazz and creative music artists? What do they need to succeed in this challenging field?
Always keep an open mind for everything. Sometimes you're going to feel stressed out by the artists, by the situation. But you need to find solutions and be ready to work days and nights. It's part of the job. If you want to have a social life, a family life very separate from your work, don't do this job. 

If you feel like you're able to mix everything and include your family in your way of working or thinking, and can be cool with that, then you can do it. It's a lot of work though, and a lot of being available. If your phone is ringing you’re going to have to answer it! 

And what’s the best advice you received when you were starting out?
It’s not really advice, but things I have observed and learned over the years. Like not keeping things for later. If the phone’s ringing, I take it and deal with it straight away. Face all the difficulties when they come. Don’t push them back and then later it becomes more difficult to deal with. That’s a valuable lesson for life too. 

And what are your ambitions for the future?
I would like to continue to develop working in the US and to make more connections and to understand better how things work there - to help my artists to break through. Even if it's not possible for everyone. My ambition also is to have a financial balance that allows me to work and be a manager, but not be stressed out by the financial situation. 

What are your hopes for the creative music sector over the next decade? What would you love to see happen?
More women! And that it should be a natural process. Programmers are always telling me, I need a woman for this, rather than looking at the quality of their projects and I don’t think this is good for women. 

I had this discussion with a bass player a few years ago, and she said that the idea of playing at a festival just because she’s a woman doesn't give her any incentive to play there.

I hope it's going to move to something more natural and this needs to start earlier. We need to put more support in place for artists who want to have a family, and then encourage women who are studying music in conservatoires to choose a performing career over teaching for example, because they will be supported if they have children.

Having a child should not only be a burden for the woman, but should be shared between the parents. When two musicians are in a couple, you hear about the woman quitting when they have a family and the man carrying on.

It’s something that needs to change in people’s mindsets. We need to think differently and to get support from those who hold power.

Case studies

An interview with Malwina Witkowska, booking agent and founder of No Earplugs
An interview with Sunna Gunnlaugs, pianist, composer and teacher
An interview with Mingo Rajandi, composer, musician and creator of interdisciplinary projects