A discussion with Maja of Queers to the Front about her mission, championing marginalized groups, working as a tour and artist manager, and running a business.
First, I would love for you to start by introducing yourself and your agency.
Sure, my name is Maja (she/they), and I run a company called Queers to the Front that is an artist management and touring agency operating in North America, UK, and Europe.
Can you describe a typical day as the head of this agency?
My typical day tends to start around- well, it depends whether I’m home or on tour but right now I’m home so my typical day will start around noon-ish, just like sort of now, I’m here with my little coffee, usually I’ll be in work mode by 1:00 PM. I will probably start by checking my emails and replying to the most urgent stuff I might make a to-do list then, or maybe I might have done it the night before already and just kind of check what I’ve got to do for the day I’ll look at the calendar what kind of meetings I have from that day and throughout the day I usually take a multitude of zoom meetings sometimes more than I would like. The zoom meetings usually start around 4:00 PM because that is when the East Coast in America uh yeah gets into the office that’s 10:00 AM their time. So yeah, I usually start meetings with the East Coast around 4:00 PM and then meetings with the West Coast will start around 7:00 PM. Throughout I do a lot of tasks like build things, uploading something to BMI for performance royalties for an artist, or going through content schedule, or looking at artworks, or listening to mixes, also preparing the meetings that I will have with each artist I manage or whatever. I usually take like two hours before each meeting with each artist to sort of prepare, do my tasks for the week, make sure I got everything, put together the agenda for the meeting, and you know, make sure they keep an overview of everything. Then what I also will do, what I try to do every day, is introduce myself to somebody in the industry that I haven’t met before. It doesn’t work every single day and that’s a pretty ambitious idea, but it usually works like, three or four times a week, so I’ll take cold e-mail zoom meetings. It’s just saying hi to people, and being like ‘this is what I do, do you have any work going’ type thing. I try to make that once a day as well so that comes into it as well. On top of that since I also work as a tour manager, there’s always a tour to be advanced somewhere, so there’s a lot of emails throughout the day going back and forth with management, and every now and then – like yesterday – I was on the move also running around running errands across town having to pick up a couple of things for tour and literally taking small meetings or calls with management whilst changing buses or something is also something that happens. So, long story short, day starts at twelve, I try to be done by midnight, doesn’t always work, and especially in weeks leading up to a tour like right now… I hate to say it, but most days usually end around two or three in the morning at the moment. It’s just so much workload and somebody needs to do it, so pretty long-winded answer, but that’s kind of what my day looks like.
Yeah it sounds like you have a pretty stacked day, especially now as you’re gearing up to go on tour. Let’s take a step back, how did you get started in the industry and how did you know you wanted to be in the music industry?
I think I knew when, alright, this is gonna sound so cheesy, but a very random dude in the UK on a family holiday gave me a CD and told me to listen to that when I was maybe twelve years old. It happened to be Dookie by Green Day and with what English I understood at the time, I listened to the CD in my parents car while they were out in a museum. Something about the energy of that music, all the swear words, how rebellious it felt, everything drew me to it and pretty much from that moment on I was hooked, honestly. Fast forward a couple years, I started my own band, my own first band, it was a Green Day cover band and all I wanted to be was like Green Day, I had the same guitar and everything. I quickly realized that the feeling of playing a show or going to a show and connecting with people through music, I very quickly realized that that is just, there’s no other thing in life that comes even close and nothing else in life really gave me much meaning at the time either. Not too much in life gives me too much meaning these days either, so not much has changed in a lot of ways. A lot has changed in a lot of ways too, but long story short, in all my life nothing has ever felt as good as being in music, so yeah, that’s really the answer. I just went for what felt right and I knew really quick that music was going to be what I do for my life and there we go.
Moving out of that, what can you, and what are you doing to push the industry to be more inclusive? I mean, your whole agency is called Queers to the Front, so clearly, that’s something that’s really important for you, bridging that gap between the music industry as it is and bringing it to be more diverse.
As you said you know the name, it’s very much there already, but so story of how that happened is I came out as transgender, I don’t know 5-6 years ago and let’s just say that, a lot of doors that used to be open for me when people thought of me as a man, a lot of these doors closed and that was really frustrating. Out of the frustration of that misery, I really wanted to double the fuck down and also, I wanted to make sure that trans people coming after me have a better time in music or have an easier coming out or something like that. So, that combined with honestly, the overwhelming reality that I had just gotten done with my job training when I came out, and I was sort of faced with the reality that being an openly out transgender person, there was no way that I could really work a regular job without major trouble, basically. Let alone, even if I got hired, there would be so much harassment and everything. I was in a very vulnerable place just having come out and a lot of things not going well, and all of that. So, I realized I both needed to pay my rent, but also, I was so vulnerable that there was no way I would be able to handle daily harassment, like fully incapable of doing a normal job at that point. One thing came to the other, throughout playing in bands and everything I sort of naturally always booked every show, booked every tour, managed every band, tour managed everything, just kind of came to me – I never thought of it, never put a name to it. People had often already said things like ‘Maya you’re doing a good job, have you thought about making this for real?’ That was kind of the moment I was like; I honestly felt a little bit out of options. I was in a terrible place, and I knew that the only place to work but also to have only a minimum of harassment and a maximum of support would be working in the music industry and being self-employed. It was very much a decision out of necessity to not just make it a project on the side, but immediately jump into it as a full-time self-employment thing, and that’s what I did. Not a great time in a lot of ways, but it helped to direct my energy to helping other people, which in return empowered me again. Just working with other trans people all day made it really normalized and helped me figure my shit out, and just kind of grow into it in ways that working a normal job would have never let me.
That’s a really interesting answer. I think community really shapes what we do. Like you said, it would be really hard to have a normal job, so being able to find your community in this industry is so – I mean, as much as you said you had a really tough time, that’s still such a beautiful thing that you were able to find that and find something that you can really pave the way doing.
Moving on, you also run a podcast, The Queers to the Front Podcast. I would love for you to explain how the podcast ties into your overall mission.
My mission has always been and will always be connecting marginalized people across the world. I particularly am on a mission in the last couple of years to not just create more diversity and inclusion on stages which I already do through managing artists and helping them find opportunities, and essentially taking on artists that likely wouldn’t be taken on by regular agencies. Since I work behind the scenes and in the crew, touring crew world myself as well, it feels like there’s a lot of changes happening on stages, but not a lot of changes behind the stages and behind the stages, those are the people that actually have the real power over things. With the podcast, I pretty strictly only invite people that work behind the scenes in music and that come from background commercialization. I interview them and give them a chance to be checked out by the listeners of the podcast. This is my way of connecting people and showing how many marginalized folks are out there. Then, hopefully through the podcast, maybe job opportunities come through for one person or the other and even a bit of visibility, you know, that’s everything.
So you kind of just started to go into my next question which is, how can you help both artists and those looking to work in the music industry?
It all really starts with visibility and just putting trust in people at the end of the day, everybody needs to be given a chance to make their first step. At some point everybody in their careers had somebody say ‘hey, let’s try this thing’ and a lot of marginalized people are actually never really given that chance. So, just giving chances to people is the move and can be in the smallest of ways; bringing them on the podcast, or having a quick consultancy session with them, or even replying to an e-mail sometimes can go such a long way, or having somebody shadow you on a job. On the next tour that I’m doing I have somebody come out to a show and shadow me for the day and there’s those little things – honestly, nobody did those things for me. I really truly worked myself into it the very hard way from the very bottom up and I want to be the kind of person that gives chances to other people, and I like to think that I have a reputation for that by now. I think that’s the way, give chances to people.
Okay, one more question for you – what are your goals for Queers to the Front?
In all reality, first and foremost, I would want it to become more viable and less of an absolute monster-of-work hour job. It would be very nice if the income would be enough to not work sixty plus plus plus hours every single week. It would be really nice if I could hire other people and actually pay them properly. It would be great if there was more people than me in this company because it’s very precarious to be the person running shit and replying to everything and having to take on so many jobs to make ends meet, and when I’m ill, or when I’m sad, and when anything happens, nobody else is there and that that’s very precarious. So honestly, I wouldn’t have enough income coming in to be able to hire other people to take off some of the workload, helping in various ways. That is honestly the biggest thing that I want, quite frankly. Very businessy answer, but that is kind of what is on my mind these days.
Well, that is all the questions I have if you have anything else that you would like to plug or mention now is your time –
Thanks for listening, thanks for the continued support. Give chances to other people and you’ll not regret it, that’s it.