Most Urban music fans in Britain understand the significance of Channel U/AKA in breaking a whole collection of names and really developing the independent hip hop model in this country. As part of our ten most powerful women in Hip Hop series we talk to Cat Park, the former station manager of AKA who was fundamental in the channels success.
Cat is a single mother from Carlisle, in the North of England, defying all British stereotypes associated with this music and has recently launched her own company tenLetter which already boasts some of the biggest mainstream urban talent as its clients.
In this interview she explores, amongst other things, what it takes to succeed commercially and who she feels will be the next major stars of the industry.
HOW DID YOU GET TO BE IN YOUR POSITION?
I took a few chances, worked my backside off and ended up being in the right place at the right time. If you work hard enough, the opportunities always present themselves, it’s about creating the opportunity for yourself. I packed my bags and moved myself to London. I didn’t know anyone in London but after 2 months of finding my feet and finding work I was randomly introduced to a guy. We had a bit of banter about football and then he told me to call him if I ever wanted a job. That was that and two days later I started work for Channel U answering the phones and doing admin. Within six months I was promoted to manager of the channel and 8 years later I now have my own PR company. In between all that there was a lot of hard work, stress and sacrifices but that’s basically it in a nutshell – the simple guide!
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM YOUR YEARS AS STATION MANAGER OF AKA?
I learnt so much there. The music game really became part of my life and I had an amazing time and experience. The channel and the company were very small and my boss gave me a lot of responsibility in different areas, which although stressful at times, pushed me to learn things and achieve things I would never have usually had the opportunity to. I do owe my old boss a great deal as I wouldn’t be in the position I am now without him.
I learnt about music, I met people within the industry who gave me a great deal of knowledge about music, I learnt about TV, about record labels, how to release music, how to coordinate sell out shows, marketing and I met some really great people too, people I’ve learnt a lot from and people that have supported me through all of the ups and downs which is priceless.
BEING FROM CARLISLE, WAS THAT HARD TO GET ATTACHED TO THE URBAN MUSIC MARKET?
Believe it or not we still listened to Urban Music in Carlisle! I think it’s funny that people associate a certain genre of music to a certain area. Obviously a certain genre may be more popular than others but it doesn’t mean that others don’t exist.
I listened to a really varied selection of music growing up. From Take That to the Hed Kandi House compilations to Lil Kim, Missy Elliott, Dre, Snoop, Eminem, En Vogue, Destinys Child, Toni Braxton, the list is endless. I’ve always loved music and been inspired by it, I don’t even think I could pinpoint a particular genre of music as my favourite, I’m more about whether I connect to a piece of music or the lyrics and the emotion it stirs up inside of me when I listen to it.
I think if you’re around any kind of music and can relate it to it or be inspired by it, it naturally becomes part of your life’s soundtrack and it all goes in your music library.
DO YOU HAVE INTEREST IN THE HIP/HOP , RAP MUSIC UP IN THE NORTH OF ENGLAND?
Most definitely, the scene is big in general it’s just there’s a larger concentration of people doing it in the South. Having a studio in your room or round the corner is second nature in the South but I think that mentality is slowly working its way up through the rest of the UK. The North has a great scene, from Manchester to Glasgow, there’s some great talent being recognised and promoted and I think that helps to inspire other artists to get themselves out there too.
I think it’s easy for people to say that the scene is bias towards London but you’ve just got to put yourself on the map and be consistent and persistent like all of the other artists out there!
We’ve recently worked with Geko – the 16 year old rapper from Manchester who is now part of the USG camp. He is super talented and he is constantly up and down the country on the train in the school holidays and at weekends. I have a lot of respect for his work rate and think he really stands out.
It’s great to see people like Madhat McGore getting the support that they deserve. These guys have been working for years and it’s nice to see the scene get behind them, he recently did his Fire In The Booth with Charlie Sloth on Radio 1, you can’t get a much bigger co-sign than that.
It makes me feel really proud to see my fellow northerners flying the flag! We’re taking over!
DO YOU FEEL BEING A FEMALE HAS EVER GIVEN YOU A DISADVANTAGE OR ADVANTAGE IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?
I think that whether you’re male or female in any industry there will always be advantages or disadvantages. I think it’s less to do with your gender and more to do with your work ethic to be honest. People will always find something that’s different about you but you have to be thick skinned sometimes and just concentrate on what you are doing. The industry is quite male dominated, especially in Urban music but I’ve never really seen myself as being any different to other people nor have I really been treated any different from the people that I’ve met along the way. We all have our own journeys, I just keep things moving forward and focus on with what I need to do.
WHAT DO YOU FOR LOOK FOR IN ORDER TO TELL A GOOD MUSICIAN?
Someone that inspires me. I need to be able to connect to what they’re telling me and feel it in my bones. I need to believe an artist and they need to provoke an emotion within me. Whether it is fun, happiness, sadness, excitement, I just need to be able to connect with them.
As for artists though, that’s different. I know certain people who are very talented musicians but are terrible artists. As an artist your work ethic needs to be 150% at all times. There are so many people out there all trying to achieve a similar thing these days and it takes much more than just talent to be a successful artist. If you’re not willing to give everything and believe 100% in yourself then you won’t make it. Being an artist is a lot more than being a musician.
WHO DO YOU FEEL IS GOING TO HAVE A BIG YEAR IN 2013?
I think Angel will continue to do well and I can see him becoming a household name. I think he’s so talented and got such a great appeal to such a wide audience. I was blown away by him from the first time I heard his music.
I think Chip is also set to have a big year and has worked hard over 2012 to get everything in place for it. He’s really matured in to a talented and humble guy, I think he deserves to do well. His mixtape has had a fantastic response and has achieved over 60,000 downloads in just over a week and features some amazing artists. I have a lot of respect for Chip and his team. You can’t knock their work rate and their focus.
I can also see Krept & Konan doing well and start breaking through some barriers and I think Lady Lykez will make a lot of noise in 2013 too.
Luckily for me I am getting to work with all of these guys apart from Angel and having watched them from day one it’s great to have an understanding of an artist and build up a rapport with them. It gives you a real understanding of what they’re about and where they are going.
WHAT ARE YOUR AMBITIONS FOR TEN LETTER?
I want tenLetter to continue to grow. I don’t really see myself as a “plugger” as such because there are so many different strings to the tenLetter bow. I recently helped to produce the Best of The Best M.C’s show on MTV and having had so much experience in running a record label (360 Records) I also like to campaign manage projects rather than just have a hand in sending someone’s video to TV or getting them online coverage. The tenLetter team are amazing and the work rate is second to none. I love that we work together and have passion for the campaigns we work on, it makes it exciting and it makes it fulfilling. We have a real belief for what we do and I want that quality to become something we are known for. I want tenLetter to be known for its quality and consistency and become the first name on anyone’s list when they’re looking for help to push their music and career to the next stage.
WHAT ADVICE DO YOU HAVE FOR PEOPLE WANTING TO GET INTO THE BUSINESS END OF THE MUSIC INDUSTRY?
I worked very hard for a long time to get to the point where I could even make the decision to go it alone in my own business. I am a single mum and I was completely petrified about leaving my job and a steady income. I know that not everyone is in that position but I think that no matter what, you need to have a real knowledge for something before you go out in to the big bad world and try it for yourself. You need to be hungry and you need to be passionate. Self-motivation is key and I think you need to be self-disciplined. Nobody gets anything handed to them on a plate so it is down to an individual to make it work for them. You also need to realise that there are a whole load of other people out there doing something similar to you so you have to think about how you are doing it differently, why people will come to you above someone else and how you will remain current.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR YOU?
A lot of hard work! I have a lot of work to do this year with tenLetter. Myself, Shireen and the team have built some great foundations in the last few months of 2012 and now it is time to really knuckle down and push ourselves hard. I think because I am open-minded to different opportunities that may present themselves, there are so many different routes that we can take. This is only the start for tenLetter!
FOLLOW CAT ON TWITTER:
FOLLOW URBAN KINGDOM ON TWITTER:
FOLLOW TEN LETTER ON TWITTER