Spotlight: Gemma Mastroianni
Emma Furrier interviews The Soundtrack founder, Gemma Mastroianni, about grassroots music journalism in the age of digital media, embracing music as a lifestyle and her Halloween themed artist recommendations in this Shock and Soul Spooktacular edition of Spotlight! Join us in this conversation on women in music, BLM, and the importance of diverse representation.
RnRR: Hi Gemma! I think we should first start off by giving you the platform to introduce yourself. Who are you, where are you from, what do you do?
GM: I am Gemma of course, I work in PR by day. At night I do freelancing for a Toronto-based artist here. I do music PR, social media consulting, and here and there I will do some freelance projects with different artists. So I'll do press kits and things like that. By night I also run my blog and the concept is music as a lifestyle. For me, at the end of high school I saw the movie 'Almost Famous' and I was like "Oh my God, I want to do that!" and then in grade twelve, I decided I was just going to do it. I started doing interviews over Skype with random bands and then I worked my way up to Arkells. Max Kerman the singer called my house for it, my family home, and they were like, he'll call you at this time, and it was so weird 'cause I was still in high school. I was like, maybe this is a good sign, things are really going up. At the time, I was just posting these interviews on my Tumblr page. I started working with some Toronto-based outlets, moved to school, did show reviews, interviews and just kind of threw myself into it. I met a Toronto lifestyle blogger at a Junot Awards event. Junot Awards is like the Canadian Grammy's [laughs]. So, I didn't even know what lifestyle blogging really was but I was like, "that's sounds different from music, let's do it!" And then I kinda got into this whole influencer world and it happened very quickly. I got overwhelmed, and after a couple years after that, I was sick of it. I knew I needed a break from everything. I eventually decided to marry the two ideas because I knew I liked both things, but I didn't necessarily love the way I was executing them and I just felt like I wanted my own platform to do it, and do it the way I wanted to do it. So then, The Soundtrack was born.
RnRR: You mentioned how you're in Public Relations "by day" as an account executive. What’s that like and how does it influence your work with The Soundtrack?
GM: It helps me in terms of networking. I do influencer management, so I manage seven or eight different people across Canada, so it has given me a lot of networking skills and such. Learning how to interact with people, how to find contacts, all of that. Especially with brands, from that aspect, because I am starting to do a lot more of that. It also helps in terms of marketing. It keeps me creative working on different clients. I'll do anything from creating content, graphics, copy. I feel like I'm a jack of all trades [laughs] but it helps keep me creative and continue learning.
RnRR: You do really have to be in this field!
GM: Yes, totally! I could not agree more.
RnRR: Since The Soundtrack is a digital platform, spanning across various social media channels like Instagram, Spotify, your own website, blog, and podcast, where did that start? Was it originally created solely on one platform and then organically expanded into the others?
GM: So I started the blog and then I created social accounts for everything right away. I started it, but I didn't feel like I was ready when I started it. It was just like, "if I don't do this now, I am never gonna do it". So I just kind of did it to put it out there, then it took me a few months to find my groove, find a voice that I wanted to have on each platform. However, Spotify is a more recent thing. I can't even remember when I started it, because my timelines are all messed up because of quarantine [laughs].
RnRR: Cool! So where did your inspiration come from? Were there other accounts out there that inspired you, or was The Soundtrack created as a response to a lack of resources or public platforms in Canada for lifestyle and underground music blogging?
GM: Yeah, the thing is that I have always felt inspired by different music blogs that I worked with locally. Then there are also a lot of lifestyle bloggers that I have met in my time, that I am influenced by. However, when I look at the two, they were very much separate things and knowing that I am passionate and like to have fun with both, it just felt right to marry the two. It feels like there are blogs that do one or the other, or both but very separately, whereas I feel like you can make lifestyle content with music. And unfortunately, I wanted to do a lot of it around concert-going and I was really ready to dive into that this year, but I can't, so it's tough but it's still a thing and I think I'm still doing an okay job at it.
RnRR: After I found your account, I started discovering more pages, not that they were doing the same thing, but I could see how the influences of like— the music is your lifestyle for people who are so passionate about it. That is the life they live, and everything revolves around that such as what they wear, what they listen to, who they surround themselves with.
GM: Exactly! It's just not talked about enough and I want to continue that conversation more, and I just feel like there are somany fashion bloggers, so many makeup bloggers. In reality, I like all those things, but I don't wanna just talk about that one thing all the time. It allows me to balance between different topics about my life.
RnRR: And by combining the two as well, I feel like it makes you more of a niche market, so you can be marketable to both sides of it, yet you are still unique in your own way. That would attract an audience all in its own, because you're not competing with a million other accounts that are doing the exact same thing.
GM: Exactly, yeah, and I feel like it is a different audience. I feel like the people who follow my blog aren't necessarily following fashion bloggers or whatever. It's a whole new audience and sometimes brands have been kind of confused by that, but I guess it's just kind of niche, as you were saying. I'm just hoping to make it more of a mainstream realization, that music is a lifestyle [laughs], it sounds so cheesy.
RnRR: I myself draw a lot of inspiration from women in music. From your posts, I can tell you do as well. Whether that be the artists themselves or anyone in the industry: the writers, the photographers, even the fans. Women hold such an enigmatic power within the music industry, yet are so often overshadowed. Have you felt this in your own work? Can you share with us your experience being a young woman working in the music and entertainment industry? How have you felt that has impacted you?
GM: I can't say I have had any major negative experiences. I of course have noticed that in certain environments there are not a lot of girls around. Whether that be in the media tent at a festival, it is pretty male populated. I also interned at an artist talent agency, but it was pretty half and half. I can say that a majority of my audience is male, ever so slightly. I think it is 53/47.
RnRR: The #MeToo movement and the Black Lives Matter movement have caused a huge pivotal shift in what people are posting and talking about openly on their platforms. As well as living through COVID-19 now, how has your perspective or approach shifted when covering certain artists or songs, or even brands you promote on your page?
GM: When that whole thing happened, I realized that I was apart of the problem in a way. I looked at the photos I was sharing of artists, and it was all white people. I even just look at my podcast season, last season, I think I only featured a couple of different people of color. I really realized that I need to do a better job and I made an effort to look into the indie black musicians. There are tons of them, and unfortunately it is just not being marketed properly. It's about making that effort to go out and cover those shows, artists, all that. When things do go back to normal, I am definitely going to be making the effort to go out and do that, and discover more artists. I think it is also an issue with the way it is marketed. As consumers, especially an average consumer, they're maybe not going out and looking to find new artists. Maybe they're looking at whatever is being put in front of their faces. It's a really big issue.
RnRR: I have been thinking about that a lot too. Look at the Spotify algorithms, your Daily Mixes and recommendations. You're constantly being presented pretty much the same exact thing every single day. There is really no variety in it, and I feel like they could do a better job about that.
GM: For sure, yeah. And as someone who kind of goes and actively hunts for new music and now with this in mind, there is so much out there that isn't being shown. You bring up a really good point about Spotify algorithms, that is very true now that I think about it.
RnRR: Not even just Spotify, but digital media in general. Platforms such as The Soundtrack, Rock N Roll Reports and everyone else out there, the independent writers who are out there doing it just for the passion of music, I think that is one of the best things about it all: you go digging and looking for the artists that deserve recognition and for their voices to be heard.
GM: Yes, yeah I totally agree!
RnRR: What is your favorite memory from your work thus far at The Soundtrack? Is there a particular artist you have interviewed where you’ve had a pinch-me moment? I know you’ve had the opportunity to interview some amazing artists like Kurt Vile, Metric, and Taylor from Local Natives. How was that?
GM: It was amazing. Probably interviewing Kurt Vile, I didn't expect him to be so legitimately chill. You look at him and you're like, "oh, he's a chill dude, but when you talk to him he's probably not gonna be like that". He was literally just like the chillest, nicest dude and he poured out so much to me. He was talking about his insecurities performing. I was asking him about music festivals and those versus playing an indoor show, and he was like "Yeah, you know I like it but like I'm nervous 'cause I always mess up, and whatever" but it was such a raw, candid moment. He was also talking a lot about his struggles with alcoholism and stuff, and how his wife gives him natural cures. He pulled out this box of different oils and stuff, like it was just crazy. Then he told me he liked my hat and that was great. That was probably the most memorable thing right now.
RnRR: How do you create these opportunities? Do you put the work in yourself, reaching out to artist’s managers and agents directly, or slide into the DMs? Or have you experienced these artists reaching out to you themselves? If there’s a balance of both, how do you manage that and choose which to pursue?
GM: I get a lot of emails a day, like a lot. It's overwhelming sometimes, so I can't even always open all the emails. However, sometimes it is DM'd. For instance, my favorite band, The Antlers, I got an interview with the singer literally through just DMing him. However, when it comes to festival interviews like the one with Kurt Vile... the festival lineup drops, and I pretty much just start reaching out as soon as possible, or maybe as soon as media stuff starts going. I look at the lineup, I take note of everyone I wanna interview, I find out who their PR is and I just start sending out pitches. In short, just consistent communication.
RnRR: Since Halloween is right around the corner, what would you personally endorse as your Spooky Season jam? What song or artist really gets you in the Halloween spirit? Especially when it comes to witchy women, there’s such an archetype there. Do you find it overdone or empowering?
GM: I think it's cool, like why not? Why not embrace the season and I think music is such a good way to get into the Halloween season. I think "witchy women" is cool, let's keep it up [laughs]. My favorite witchy woman right now would probably be Luna Li who is Toronto-based. She's so cool. Another one I really like is Witch Prophet, who is also Toronto-based, name very fitting. For fall, I really like anything off the new Fleet Foxes album, I've been listening to that like every morning.
RnRR: What does the future of The Soundtrack look like? Is there anything exciting in the works that you can share with us?
GM: I'd say it's pretty TBD right now. I can't wait to get out back to shows and make a lot more content. I want to make content about what I'm wearing to the show, where I'm going to eat and have drinks before the show.
RnRR: The whole experience!
GM: Exactly! Exactly, yeah more in-person interviews, I'd love to get that up on Youtube. I'm starting my podcast back up this week. That's the future of it, but right now with quarantine, I'm just vibing, creating whatever I feel good about.
RnRR: Is there anyone you think we should be listening to? Do you have a favorite Canadian musician?
GM: Lower Dens, Steve Lacy, Teen Daze, The War on Drugs, Kid Bloom. In terms of a Canadian artist, I'm going to recommend Kay Tranada.
RnRR: With every Spotlight Interview that Rock N Roll Reports does, our very last question is always if you were going to be deserted on a desert island, and you could only bring one island with you, what would it be? What is your desert island album?
GM: Oh, it's gotta be the first Tame Impala record, 'InnerSpeaker'. It has all the ups and downs and in betweens, every feeling I need to feel. Lots of layers.
RnRR: Awesome, that wraps things up for us today Gemma, thank you so much!
GM: Thanks for having me. It's so kind of you to think of me!
RnRR: Of course! It was my pleasure. Plus, I feel like we are kind of the same person. Gemma and Emma. There we go.
GM: I couldn't agree more.
If you'd like to keep up to date with Gemma and The Soundtrack, all the social accounts are available below via the icons:
Edward Burnett sits down to talk to American powerhouse singer Valencia ahead of her new single release 'Amen'. She talks about her songwriting process, the pre-single release nerves and her love for travelling.
RnRR: Hi Valencia! How are you doing? Would you mind explaining your act and genre to readers that are unfortunate enough not to have heard your music?
VALENCIA: Hey, I’m doing fantastic! Of course not! My act/genre is Contemporary R&B. The base of it is R&B but you’ll hear a lot of different influences from sounds inspired by pop, soul, electronic, classical, and more! I love a good unique creative sound, it makes my soul happy.
RnRR: You mention that your music has many influences, who would you say were you’re biggest influences growing up and who inspired you to go professional on the music scene?
VALENCIA: Ooo, great question! I was influenced by so many dope individuals it’s hard to say. A lot of old school artists for sure like Prince and Chaka Khan. If I had to name just a few that I really obsessed over (laughs) it would be Solange, India Arie, and Janelle Monae! Also, the creativity that Missy Elliot exhibits so effortlessly visually, is so inspiring. As far as who inspired me to go professional on the music scene, first off I would definitely have to give a big shoutout to my group of loved ones who continuously encouraged me and still do even to this day. Finally, my vocal Coach Ametria Dock also, who a few years ago helped groom and build up my confidence which made me realize the direction I wanted to go in. I had never had that kind of mentorship before so it was so important for me.
RnRR: While we are talking about going professional, how did it feel when you got your first music out into the world? When it was official and you’d got your own published song out there, what was that like? Can you give any words of inspiration for artists and bands who are on that step currently, ready to make the jump or trying to?
VALENCIA: The first song I ever released was ‘Seasons’ and I don’t think words do justice to the feelings I had during the time of its release really. I was a ball of emotions and nerves. I was putting out a work that was now available for strangers and recognized faces to judge, possibly hate, or love! Yet at the same time, it was mine. My art that I had finally shared with everyone. Luckily, the feedback for the song was so overwhelmingly amazing that it encouraged me to keep doing what I’m doing. What an amazing feeling. I encourage artists and bands to leap. You have to start! Feel your feelings, both nerves and excitement, but don’t allow them to tell you to quit or not to put out your work. Also, utilize the beauty of the digital world to your advantage and share your gift with as many people you can. And finally, take the time to learn and study how to best release your music. Be a master of your craft and know that I’m rooting for you!
RnRR: On the topic of upcoming artists, who have you been listening to recently that’s caught your ears in particular? Anything or anyone during the pandemic that you’ve been playing on repeat a lot?
VALENCIA: Ah, fun question! I think I’ve had Teyana Taylor and Victoria Monet playing the most as of late! Also, I’ve had ‘My Future’ by Billie Eilish on repeat! I’m obsessed. She’s definitely one of my favorites!
RnRR: Some great picks there from some talented women in the music industry. Let’s now move onto your music personally and more specifically your latest track, ‘Vibe’. The single recently hit 100 thousand streams on Spotify. What was the thought process behind this song and what does it’s lyrics and purpose mean to you as it’s creator?
VALENCIA: Oh my god yes, that was so exciting. The crazy thing is, as much as I wish there were this unique story and process surrounding the making of it, it really was just a matter of it made me feel good as I was writing the lyrics to the music. I pretty much freestyled it and BOOM, there was ‘Vibe’! I think I completed it in like 30-45 min, if that. The lyrics basically reminded me of good times, childhood memories, and happiness. The purpose definitely became to make the listener feel good inside.
RnRR: An incredibly short writing process for such a powerful song! With that in mind, would you say that the process of creating your fresh new single was the same? What does this song mean to you know that you’ve already got a budding discography to your name? Do you now feel settled as a professional and chilled in the real ease of music or do those nerves and that sense of anticipation never leave you?
VALENCIA: Thank you! Oh I kind of wish the writing processes were the same. But my new single, ‘Amen’ was the complete opposite! There was a story behind it, and it seemed like it took forever to complete. It was one of those songs that I had to keep coming back to before finally finishing. I began writing it 01/01/2019! And here we are well over a year later finally about to see it released on 16/10/2020. Writing can be so tricky sometimes! But the process is still one I’ll never not appreciate and love. This song means “bring on the challenge!” It’s runner up after ‘Vibe’, so I think the pressure is totally different for me. I feel more settled but I think I feel more of a personal battle with myself as a perfectionist and wanting to outdo what I previously did. I know this isn’t super healthy, but that’s where I am! I don’t think I’ll ever get over the “anticipation” feeling but the nerves I had when I first released a song have definitely evolved into more of an excitement feeling.
RnRR: After the release of ‘Amen’, what does the future hold for you? Are you planning any socially distanced gigs and shows or is ‘Amen’ going to feature in a larger project further down the road like another studio album or EP?
VALENCIA: I hope to start preparing more events (digitally and social distance approved) that will allow me to continue to connect and engage with my audience. They definitely deserve that. I do have a couple already lined up that I hope you’ll stay tuned for. As far as it being a feature on another EP or an album, I won’t get any hopes up but I will say, after its release I will be in complete writers mode! I have some super dope individuals I’ll be working with— so I’m pretty excited!
RnRR: Do you find that collaborations can be the most fulfilling of musical projects? What do you see as the pros and cons of working with other artists on songs?
VALENCIA: I think they are important for several reasons. I can’t wait to do more! When collaborate with other artists I feel like the pressure is on. It’s a challenge to want to do your best. A friendly competition almost but in the best way possible. I feel like it’s always a plus to feed off another creatives energy. Which is a pro in my opinion. Another pro is being able to be introduced to each others’ audiences! That’s so important if you’re looking to expand your fanbase. I think a con could definitely be possibly not seeing eye to eye, or having a different vision. But at the end of the day, it’s all a learning experience that’s more than likely needed.
RnRR: Now moving away from the music, what would you say your biggest hobbies and interests are other than songwriting? Have you mastered any new talents during lockdown amid the pandemic?
VALENCIA: I absolutely LOVE creative writing. That’s why I enjoy directing all of my music videos. But something totally outside of music that I absolutely love is traveling! If I weren’t an artist I’m pretty sure I’d be a traveler or vlogger. Ah, during the pandemic I’ve definitely locked in on growing in my craft. I’ve been studying a lot of music business but aside from that I’ve been practicing dancing more! It’s kind of embarrassing but fun (laughs)!
RnRR: What would you say your favourite country you’ve traveled to and why? Is there anywhere you’re yet to go to that you’ve been wanting to visit?
VALENCIA: I have a few favorites (the United Kingdom being one!) but the experiences I have had in the Netherlands, Amsterdam specifically, are just irreplaceable. I go pretty much every year for King’s Day! Such a beautiful place. Yes! I’m so ready to explore places in Africa. I also want to head down to South America too.
RnRR: Finally, the most important question which I ask all our Spotlight guests, if you’re deserted on an island and you can only ever play one album ever again for the rest of your days, what are you taking with you and why?
VALENCIA: Oh my god! This is literally the hardest question you could have ever asked me. (Laughs), yikes! I would bring a greatest hits of all time compilation album because listen, I have ADHD and I need a switch up from time to time! I’ll leave it up to the viewers to decide which one it’ll be.
RnRR: A good answer to make sure the music stays fresh even when repeated continuously! Thanks for your time Valencia and good luck for the future, we will be sure to update the page of any news or releases from your camp! ‘Amen’ is available now to stream via Spotify.
If you would like to keep up to date with Valencia or find out more about her and her music, the links to all her socials are below via the icons:
Edward Burnett chats to Keiko and Floss from London based, female trio BAXTR about their latest single 'Feathers', their musical heroes and the best things about living in the English capital.
RnRR: Hey BAXTR, how are you girls doing? How best would you describe your act to new listeners?
FM: Kitsch, flamboyant, geek rock meets alt pop, with a pinch of Brit Pop swagger and new wave theatrics. Made by 3 nerdy girls.
KJ: We are a positive breath of dreamspace pop. Three friends making music together that we want to share with you. Think of us as your best friends cheering you on one song at a time.
RnRR: How did all of you meet each other? Is it your friendship that drives the band forward or the collective aim to “make it” in the musical world?
KJ: It’s always been about our friendship and also (now this might sound a bit woo woo) but the energy and magic we feel whenever we play music together. It’s that feeling of utter joy that drives us forward.
FM: I don't think you sound woo woo, Keiko! There are definitely mysterious forces at work when us 3 come together.
Many moons ago we tried to make this work, but the timing was off and what started as band just rolled into us moving to London, living together, becoming best friends, occasionally making a riotous noise and never actually releasing any music! We all went away, honed our individual crafts and now, years later, the stars have aligned, we're two singles deep and we're feeling the alchemy more than ever. Never say never, as they say!
RnRR: What’s your biggest aim when creating new music? Your latest single ‘Feathers’ has a focus on the theme of body positivity. Do you always have a message in mind when it comes to your songs?
FM: For me, writing is about being a kinda storytelling Rumplestiltskin, weaving your experience and perspective, good or bad, into something (hopefully) of worth for someone else. We write because it's cathartic and fun, and if our songs can bring joy or give someone a musical lens through which they can make sense of their experience or world, then it all feels worth so much more. Some songs will be more cryptic than others but there will always be a kernel of truth at the centre of all BAXTR songs, and that kernel will almost always be sugar coated or shared in a joyful way, whether that means energetic arrangements and instrumentation, or optimistic lyrics. I've been through a lot of ugly stuff; we all have, and we want to purge that stuff and Rumplestiltskin the hell outta it all, both for ourselves and for you. Even if a song's message is a bit heavy, we'll never be shoe gazers, as nice as our shoes may be.
RnRR: Growing up, who were your biggest musical inspirations and who convinced you all to go professional?
FM: As a kid, The Beatles, Abba and Free. As a teen, Foo Fighters, Aerosmith, Damon Albarn, Ben Folds and Imogen Heap, to name a few. I'm very lucky to come from a supportive creative family who, for better or worse (ha!), never tried to talk me out of doing music professionally. My Dad is a songwriter and he taught and inspired me a great deal, but outside of my family the first person to really help make me feel I may be able to write professionally was my friend Charlie. He works in music, heard my shoddy early demos and really held my hand as I entered the industry, giving me some great opportunities and advice.
KJ: Michael Jackson - his showmanship and attention to detail always blew my mind. The realisation that I *have* to drum not just that I *like* to was a big sign that I wanted to go pro.
RnRR: What are your future plans? Do you have any new releases on the way
KJ: Yes! We are raring to go! We have lots of songs and so it’s just a case of getting them recorded . If we have it our way you may hear two more songs before the end of the year.
FM: We have so many tunes stacked up ready to be recorded! The next two singles will be the last 2 from this first batch of four, and that will complete the first EP. We'd love to plan more, but being in a band costs money so we are pacing ourselves and doing a lot of stuff DIY for now.
RnRR: Staying on the theme of the future, where would you guys like to be in a year’s time? What’s your goal for when normality resumes following the pandemic?
KJ: We would love to gig of course and put on some really special shows. In a year it would be great to think we might have released an album.
FM: BAXTR are itching to get out gigging and want to work to make our live shows tight, magical and almost immersive. We've only been a band since June and want to continue to pump out singles, but at the rate things are going I don't think an album release is out of the question for next year!
RnRR: Speaking of the pandemic, what have you all been up to during lockdown other than music? Have you learnt any new talents or gained any hobbies?
KJ: I have been investing in my home studios and have bought a few new mics so I can record from home as best I can.
FM: I've been writing my elbows off, but other than music, I have used lockdown time to learn a bit of Japanese, こんにちは! and have become an amateur Olympic biscuit eater. I also like to make art so have been getting into some colourful messes too.
RnRR: Yes I hear they're added that category to the next Olympic Games! You guys currently live in London. What would you say the greatest thing is about English capital city and does your environment ever influence your music?
KJ: I grew up all over the place but settled in south London when I was 11 and it was great being able to go and see gigs in my teenage years.
FM: I love how culturally diverse and vibrant London is. For me the best thing about being in a bubbling hub of creative industries is being able to access and work with so many talented fellow musicians, and absorb so much live music. People and their stories mostly inspire me, but they can be found anywhere! We all live in London but we meet and make music in a place that exists between asleep and awake - Dreamspace; a metaphorical place of creativity, friendship and safety. Kinda like an omipresent joy mathmos, that looks different to each band member, but feels the same for us all. We "go" there when we make music and the idea of Dreamspace definitely inspires a feeling, which is imbued in our music.
RnRR: Finally and most importantly, the Spotlight signature question. If you were all stranded on a desert island and could only play one album ever again, what are you choosing and why?
KJ: Oooh tough one. I think because I’m a big MJ fan I would have to say 'History'.
FM: 'Jagged Little Pill' by Alanis Morrisette - not because I think it's the best album of all time, but it feels like an old friend. It's a powerful time machine for me. When I hear the opening chords I'm immediately transported back to happy times. She covers a lot of emotional ground on that album and I feel like she's singing words that I could've spoken at some point. We want our music to be a friend to people. That album makes me feel the way I'd like to make people feel with BAXTR's music; comforted, reflected, and inspired to feel as if you can be whoever, or whatever, you want to be.
RnRR: Thank you for your time BAXTR and all the best for the future, we will be sure to update our page with any news from your side of things.
If you would like to discover more about BAXTR, their socials are all down below via the icons: