Our next feature for Women In Music Focus comes from London. Her name is Melissa Kains and she’s a DJ who has played gigs at Boomtown Fair, Noisily festival and Fiese Remise in Berlin.
More importantly, she’s a Boss Lady and has established a platform for Women in Music with her baby Sisu. Sisu is an artistic community providing a platform to showcase women in electronic music. They enable this through DJ courses, events, mix series, radio shows and acting as a booking agency for artists involved. The core aims are to diversify male-dominated industries and to build accessible creative spaces.
We sit down with the founder Melissa and she lets us know the concept of the business, how she started out, and what advice she would give to others.
How did you come up with the concept of your business?
Since the age of 17, I’ve had a natural love and growing interest in cross-art events and DJ’ing, this stemmed from my love of music and my incredible sister taking me to live music events from the age of 14. Growing up in Liverpool especially around 2008 when the city was named the capital of culture the music scene was buzzing and electronic music events were filled with vibrant energy throughout the city!
After attending a few raves listening to electronic music I grew a bit of an obsession with DJ’ing. At after parties, I would wait in the queue of boys waiting to just have a go, no matter how terrible it was going to be because I didn’t have decks and I couldn’t mix; I just knew I wanted a go and I would try over and over again clanging so many mixes. I had some friends who were super supportive and the others would tell me I was shit and that I couldn’t do it. I even actually had a DJ that my mates had booked to headline their event in Manchester tell me there was no hope for me because I was trying to mix two records and couldn’t quite get he stood there and said ‘there is no hope for you’ this was something that always stuck with me.
I moved to London and landed myself a job at Southbank Centre as a Festival and Participation Assistant whilst studying Community Arts Management. A year into this magical experience one of the education programmers said to me “I would like you to programme something educational we have a bit of budget and the space for you to do so” I thought it could be a really nice experience to host something for women wanting to get into DJ’ing, she set some dates over a 6 week period and I went off to develop a course structure for a female DJ course. I can’t even tell you how excited I was at the meetings following on from that day. Sisu evolved from this DJ course which was originally called ‘Scratch’ as the idea was to teach women from Scratch.
What has pushed you to keep pursuing it?
The energy and positive impact from the DJ courses have been a huge motivating factor. The course is designed in a way that explains DJ’ing from scratch and this really has a great impact on the understanding and confidence building in the participants on the course, by the end of the course the energy is so high and everyone has such a smile on their faces from sharing the experience with like-minded people, in a music venue on equipment that they might not have had the chance to use! The community and the courses aim to create more opportunities for women to enter the music industry specifically DJ’ing and to see the courses slowly make this happen is super exciting. I also love that the DJ courses are creating opportunities for communities to connect with one another and experience cultural diversity along the way. It is a really special journey to be on, I think that surrounding yourself with like-minded people in your most loved environments really doing something that makes you happy speaks for itself!
Have you ever wanted to give up at any stage?
No, it has only just begun!
Being a woman in the music industry, have you had any issues along the way?
No, I haven’t, I found the most difficult time was trying to learn in such an egotistical and male-dominated environment. On the contrary, in London I find most people in the industry to be super friendly and I have actually had fantastic support towards what I am trying to achieve!
How can we encourage more women to enter the industry?
There is a growing support network for women out there including a lot of collectives, charities and various platforms specifically that support women that may want to enter the music industry and a there is currently a big shift in consciousness around this topic. Some of the great support networks working towards gender equality are Women in Music, Siren, Rhythm Sister and also mental health charities such as Music Minds Matter are a really great support for people involved in the music industry that might need mental health support. The more role models, mentors and groups of women out there supporting each other is a really positive guide towards giving support to women wanting to enter the industry.
What advice would you give to others who want to do the same thing?
This is quite hard! (Laughs). Starting your own business is a constant everyday learning curve both personally and professionally. I find that overcoming obstacles such as low self-esteem or lack of confidence in yourself is something to work on throughout and essentially to just keep pushing on however, I have also had to learn to take a step back some days, especially if you are doing something you love you can find yourself working every day all day and not even realise your mental and physical health needs some TLC alongside giving some time to enjoying your other joys in life. Try to give yourself time and take care of your health to keep a clear vision otherwise things may become a bit clouded and directionless. Try and create a plan in advance as this will really help in many ways including organisation, stress, time and money! Also, don’t be scared to reach out for advice and support from other people.
What’s the one thing you’ve learnt that now that you would have told yourself when you first started your company?
Plan in advance as much as possible! I personally have found this a difficult lesson to learn (as you might just want to run as fast as possible towards all of your goals) and I am still learning it along the way, however, once in place, it will create a much more harmonious workflow. The past year has been overshadowed with making moves organisationally, ensuring that everyone involved is super happy with their role and what they really want to achieve and get out of Sisu but also important elements such as building connections with venues, musicians, press and so on. Really trying to nail a structure that works well for you and everyone involved to establish that each DJ course, event, radio show, blog – everything and anything we do is done with love, care, organisation and as little stress as possible. Communicate well with everyone you’re working with throughout to make sure everyone is on the same page always super important.
Budgeting is also a huge part of starting a business something I have had to learn along the way! It is so hard to not get over excited and just run at everything you wanna achieve try to take the time to just nitpick at the finer details and be as specific as you possibly can as much as you can. It will help you and everyone involved in the short and long term.