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.
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