Next up in our Smirnoff Equalising Music series, we caught up with industry insider Sofia Ilyas, founder of FLOAT - a London-based record label and PR company, to find out what needs to be done in order to raise awareness of equalising the balance of male and female producers in the music industry.
In the interview below we look back at Sofia's formative years clubbing in London and the role models that helped inspire her to pursue a career in music. Having previously worked at Erased Tapes Records for 5 years as label manager and in-house PR, Sofia's self-run record label FLOAT has since released a highly celebrated album from Italian drummer, percussionist and composer Andrea Belfi.
Sofia has worked on album promotion campaigns for R&S, Domino Records and London restaurant brand Dishoom. She also consults for Carhartt WIP, Late Night Tales and Nura headphones. With all of this considered, Sofia is a exemplary subject for us to find out what measures are needed in order to achieve gender parity within the music industry.
This summer, Sofia plays an extended back-to-back DJ set with NTS resident and Trouble In Utopia label boss Francis Redman on Friday 6th July at the Inverted Audio curated stage "Campfire Headphase" at Farr Festival 2018.
Please can you introduce yourself and tell us what it is that you do?
My name is Sofia Ilyas, I am Pakistani, from Cardiff and I hold no degree. I am the founder of FLOAT PR consultancy agency, and I also run the FLOAT record label. I DJ and have a monthly show on Soho Radio. I was previously the label manager and in-house PR at Erased Tapes for five years.
Before working in music, what was your experience at clubs and dance events; did you feel welcome, confident and relaxed in these spaces?
My experience of clubs before I started working in music was very much clubs in London. My female friends and I would go out and dance until 6am. Amongst the many hundred fellow dancers there were on occasion a few annoying people but we had great support from staff.
I wasn’t so focused on feeling welcome, I was more focussed on the music, vibe and ensuring we had enough space to dance all night.
Over the years do you feel that anything has changed in order to get more women involved with music?
I’ve only been working in music for a relatively short time, 7 years and I think there has been a lot more attention brought to the topic recently. I see that it is making for a more comfortable environment and there is more support for those women who are already working in music, which is a really healthy thing.
I think we still need to do a lot more work to encourage more women, especially those from various ethnicities, who are likely to have little support to pursue a career in music and to be part of the industry as well. We need all types of people to create a healthy creative and progressive environment.
Do you have any role models in the industry who inspire you - if so who and why?
Two that immediately come to mind are Mary Anne Hobbs and Paul Glancy. Mary Anne of BBC6 Music has always been a real inspiration to me, I was honoured to have worked with her on the BBC Proms and to get to know her in person. She has since given me so much support and advice especially when I started the record label.
Paul who runs Late Night Tales has been in the music industry for over twenty years, yet he treats me as an equal and is always incredibly helpful.
Do you feel that festival and club programming are becoming more balanced?
I think it is but I am uncertain if the 50/50 balance is providing all the answers we all hope for. We need to ask ourselves if the promoter of that festival is genuinely interested in their chosen female acts or are they simply ticking boxes.
Ethnicity is a big focus for me too. It starts by making sure bookers are aware of more acts from various backgrounds and are willing to take a risk on a more varied line-up.
What needs to change in the industry for us to achieve gender parity in the talent pool?
Encourage more diversity in general. We need to be aware of issues, provide support and be open to change. Conversation and understanding is key but we need to ask ourselves what happens afterwards? What are we building up to ensure more permanent changes take place?
These issues are not going to be fixed over night and there is no single answer so lets all work together on improving things over time and then the change will be genuine.
How can we engage younger women and convert their passion for music into becoming DJs/producers?
Having female DJs more prominent on line-ups and female producers highlighted in editorial is a good and obvious way. We should also look to our local communities, go to the local centres, visit schools whatever we can do to encourage more young women and people from various backgrounds to turn their passion into a lifetime career.
What advice do you have to share to your former teenage self?
When I was 18 I was living with my parents and I wasn’t allowed to listen to music at all. If I could go back and tell my 18 year old self that my dream of a music filled life would one day come true, I would have perhaps avoided some heartache.
Interview by Tom Durston