PRS for Music's London hub recently hosted PRS Connects: Mothers in Music, the second instalment of our new event series for PRS's music-making and entrepreneur communities.
This latest session focused on the topic of mothers and parenthood in the music industry. Hosted by PRS Members' Council President Michelle Escoffery following an introduction from PRS for Music CEO Andrea Czapary Martin, the expert panel comprised of One Dance singer Kyla, 17Days Music's Lucy Francis, singer/songwriter Maegan Cottone and Oh Yeah Music Centre's Charlene Hegarty.
The panel dispensed a range of insightful tips, advice and support to our invited audience, who in turn candidly shared their lived experiences of balancing motherhood with working in the music industry. Here's a round-up of what we learned from PRS Connects: Mother in Music.
You don't have to choose between motherhood and your music career
After Michelle disclosed that she felt like she had to make such a choice when she became pregnant, Maegan revealed that, having embarked on her music career in 2011 ('when having children wasn’t on my radar'), she didn't actually realise she was pregnant until she hit the 12-week mark, as 'that was how busy I was'.
'[Having children] was something my husband and I both wanted by then, but me working so hard prevented that — until having a baby stopped me dead in my tracks!' she continued. 'Before I gave birth, I went into a deep depression about [the impact it might have on] my career, but I was able to strike a balance and I now have two children. Having kids changed the game for me: I didn’t do myself any favours by saying yes to everything before, but having kids meant I had to prioritise them and not waste my time. That was key.’
In Kyla's case, she planned to balance her pregnancy with her music career. 'But I had severe morning sickness, which made it difficult to perform: the realisation of what I’d done then hit me in the face, big time,' she continued. 'I found myself quite low, as I thought I’d ruined my career. But now it's about prioritising and saying yes to the right things. I had a deal with Virgin, and I told them I was only doing three days a week so I could be a mum the rest of the time. We should be able to have a career and do all of these things.’
Having 'always wanted to be a mum', Charlene, who gave birth to twins in 2020, said that her 'pregnancy journey was a pronounced thing, so I had to make decision around that'.
'I’ve had to make certain adjustments and engineer certain things in my career to allow for my desire to be a parent,' she told the PRS Connects audience. 'I want to be there to do the bedtimes and read them books, so I had to figure how I could do that [while working] in the music industry. I’ve seen a lot of women hide their pregnancies, and I felt really sad about that. So when I got pregnant, I was the most visible I could be. I know my position is different to singers/songwriters, but I wanted to continue my work in the industry while I was pregnant — it almost felt like an act of rebellion to be the most pregnant person in music in Belfast.’
For Lucy, being brought up by a single parent herself instilled the belief 'that it was possible to [balance motherhood and a career], because I'd seen my mother do it'.
'I’ve always been on the business side of music, and my first mentor was a single woman in her 30s who was pregnant at the time we met. When he was born, we’d take her baby son to record label meetings!' she said. 'I set my business up 12 months prior to finding out I was pregnant, so I had to prepare and get a part-time job in the industry so I had that financial support to go on maternity leave. I was off for five months while someone covered me for three days a week. I felt like I didn’t need to hide my pregnancy, and I was fortunate to have a really positive pregnancy experience. Though someone I knew was eight months pregnant before she told me — she felt she couldn’t share that experience while still working.'
It's OK to feel apprehensive or guilty about returning to work after becoming a mother
‘I was terrified: the fear I had was that all my clients would leave,' Lucy said, before revealing that only one of her clients did in fact leave following her pregnancy. 'So in a sense my biggest fear did come true, but then a few months later I met a client who I’ve now managed for five years. Yes I prepared, yes I was terrified — but it was OK.
'The guilt thing was real: my daughter was in nursery from nine months old, but I’m so privileged to have support from my vast, supportive family. My husband said that if I wanted to be a full-time mum, we’d make it work. Getting on a plane to LA for work for the first time after giving birth was tough. You felt guilty when you have a good day at work, too: there’s a duality to being a working mother.’
It's a sentiment that Maegan agreed with — ‘Should I be loving music this much while I’m away from my children? The fact we all love what we do is such a driving force of getting through these difficulties, though' — as did Michelle: 'Because we love what we do, our children can see that — rather than coming home miserable. It has a knock-on effect.’
Kyla added that while ‘you can have horrible mum guilt [while working], at the same time you’re ultimately helping your children through your career'. For Charlene, ‘the guilt is alive and well, and everybody feels it at varying degrees'.
'My experience was having postnatal anxiety: I didn’t want to be asked to go away on business to events like SXSW,' she explained. 'After having children, I felt differently about it: I didn’t want to be on a different continent away from them. It can, though, help you sharpen up the focus points in life. I’d have gone to the opening of an envelope pre-2019, and I do feel really proud to work in this industry. But there’s things that I don’t need to be at: [I've learned] that thing will function without me. The guilt helps curtail that impulsiveness, so I’m happy to feel the guilt in that sense.'
Lucy recalled the realisation she had ‘when I had my daughter, that I would give it all up for her': 'I suddenly created this really healthy breathing space between me and my career, so I felt slightly less guilty about having children, or asking clients to not expect an answer for me at 10pm on a Friday. [My advice would be to] try and be more present at home.
‘In the last five years, I've been really encouraged while managing women who plan to have families in the future. They already have enforced boundaries that I would’ve never had at their age: one of my clients works between 10-6, and won’t be moved from it. That ability to self-care and have self-preservation is so important, and taking those steps in advance of motherhood is incredible to see.'
Maegan agreed, adding: ‘You can feel like an island when you’re a new mum. Everyone has their own goals, but don’t be afraid of what’s to come.'
A community is growing for mothers in the music industry
Charlene told our audience that she looks up to one mother in music in particular: 'We’re living in the same era as Rihanna, and she’s showcasing her pregnancy to the world unapologetically. It almost feels like a radical act, and I hope we’ll get to a point where it won’t be – I hope it’ll be normalised.
'Taking the option to hide your pregnancy is open to anyone, but you make an island of yourself as time goes on. The frontwoman of a band I managed showcased her pregnancy during one international showcase, and she was the most-photographed person at the event! Everyone can do their best within their means, and it’s on all of us to challenge the assumed behaviours.'
Asked what can be done now for mothers in the music industry, Lucy stressed the importance of fostering a community.
'Come together as mothers, and be inspired by one another. If there’s a way of continuing this mothers in music community, there’s an opportunity for us to keep supporting one another, no matter how large or small it is.’