As a 13-year-old girl who had just moved to Canada from Albania, Lola Plaku had absolutely no idea that her career would involve running her own creative agency and women’s empowerment organization, serving as an adjunct professor at one of music’s most prestigious . schools in the world and produce the early shows of artists such as The Weeknd, Travis Scott and A$AP Rocky. An affinity for promotion, discovered during her time at Wilfrid Laurier University, led her to promote local hip-hop groups, and from there, her passion for the music industry only continued to grow stronger.
Her next decade in the music business was spent in many hats: music journalist, event promoter, concert producer and artist manager. It proved to be an important and momentous time for Plaku and the artists she managed—in addition to the aforementioned Weeknd, Scott, and Rocky, she also worked with A$AP Ferg, Big Sean, French Montana, and Belly—as she helped them build career from the ground up.
“In the beginning, you never really know what the size of someone’s career will be, but when I watched and stood on the steps of the Mod Club in Toronto (now the Axis Club) at The Weeknd’s very first concert that I helped produce, I was moved to tears ran down my face as the fans sang his songs word for word,” she recalls fondly. “Every year Abel raises himself and his craft to a new level. This latest stadium tour? Mind blowing. You have this idea of how great someone can be, and then they surpass it.”
Today, Plaku is married with a newborn son, and is the founder of the creative agency Lola Media Group (LMG) and her organization Girl Connected. She is also entering her fourth year as an assistant professor at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music at New York University. LMG was a result of her previous experience in the industry. Meanwhile, Girl Connected provides empowered and determined female professionals with the necessary framework for success and inspiration. The organization hosts in-person and online events and a global mentorship initiative, where participants develop their careers, grow their ideas and build meaningful relationships and partnerships with their peers in the music industry. More than 80 speakers have graced the Girl Connected stage over the past three years, including Karen Civil of Young Money Records, A$AP Ferg, Joey Bada$$ and Wayne Clark of Quality Control Music.
“When you’re young, you go through the motions unless you have mentors or people who inspire you and encourage you to follow your passions or dreams,” she tells HYPEBEAST. “I just kept following my gut and doing things that inspired me.”
In three words, how would you describe your job to someone unfamiliar with the music industry?
Create artist awareness.
Can you walk us through a day in your working life?
Most days are spent behind the scenes in my office, but every now and then I will be on the ground organizing an event or going to meetings. For the past few years, my goal has been to provide opportunities for new people entering the creative industry, so now instead of being on the ground myself, I bring someone on board who can help execute.
I also recently had a baby so my days and nights look a lot different than before. Most days I’m on the computer by 9 a.m. EST, make a list of all my goals for the day or week, and then spend the rest of the day executing. There’s always something going on – an artist releasing an album, an announcement, a song or video release, an event I need to produce, a creative brief to send out, and lots of calls, emails and zooms. So one day in my working life…get the crap done.
The music industry is always changing, so in order to adapt, you need to be clear about your next steps.
You also serve as an adjunct professor at the Clive Davis Institute at New York University. What are some of the most important things you want to make sure your students bring with them?
I am entering my fourth year as an assistant professor, and I have had the opportunity to advise and work with some incredible students and musicians. The most important thing for me is that my students get clarity; either in their professional career, in their general music or just in the next step after the program. It’s easy to lose focus on your goals and priorities, especially when you’re looking at social media and comparing yourself to your peers. The music industry is always changing, so in order to adapt, you need to be clear about your next steps. My job from day one has been to offer as much insight as possible.
Can you describe the work that Lola Media Group does as a creative agency?
We work with artists and their teams to execute marketing campaigns, collaborate on effective release strategies, increase brand awareness and offer the best ways to engage fans. The agency also works with brands and partners to produce creative content, offer media and tastemaker partnerships, build strong narratives and create more brand visibility. Since our launch we have worked with companies such as XO (The Weeknd’s label) and Republic Records, Atlantic Records, Warner Music, Sony Music, PUMA, Remy Martin, Amazon Music, SOHO HOUSE and many more.
As the founder of Girl Connected, how do you hope the role of women will grow in this industry?
I would like to see more female leaders. More women in management groups. More female CEOs. My program offers mentorship to 20 women who either work or want to work in the music industry in fields such as talent management, A&R, event production, marketing and more, and our goal is to give them the necessary tools, resources and introductions they need to grow their network and get to the next level in your career.
What are the necessary first steps a young person should take to start a career in music as a creative strategist and executive?
For me, the first step is research. Know your shit. No matter what the job is, you should always know the company you’re working with, their audience, their allies, their competition and the marketplace. You should have a plan in mind for how you can contribute to the growth of this company and potentially generate revenue.
If you enter a career as a young manager, your job is to create opportunities for your client that contribute to their income – and in turn, yours because you earn a percentage of it. The best way to do that is to know everything about the artist you want to work with: their fan base, the marketplace, similar artists and their stories, and who already supports them so you can continue to build those relationships. The music industry relies heavily on relationships, so your first step is definitely to gather information and expand your network.
What lessons and/or work ethic did you gain first after working in the music industry?
Relationship building guaranteed. Relationships are the heart of this business. It has always been important to me to do a good job, and that is because I want to maintain strong relationships with everyone I work with.
What was the biggest challenge you have faced so far? And how did you get over it?
I think the biggest challenge for everyone is growth, which can be difficult to achieve without stretching yourself thin. A few years ago, I didn’t have a vision for my company beyond what was in front of me. I always had great ideas for the current client or job, but I didn’t always connect with how executing on those ideas would take me a step further to my overall company goal. My husband has an incredible talent for leading people. The best advice he gave me then was to build a team, to invest the time I spent wearing all the hats in the business and finding and growing with the right people who not only believed in the company but also the work we were. do. This was how I was able to produce several incredible projects simultaneously.
After taking his advice and investing in my team, the vision became much clearer. For example, back in 2019, on the same day we produced a live concert for R&B artist SAFE at Soho House in NYC, we hosted rapper Fabolous’ private birthday dinner, and we had prepared 60 individual custom packages for PUMA to ship across the US to several tastemakers and influencers. I am very excited to continue executing these ideas and events in 2023 and beyond with our ever-growing team.
What is one thing about your job that most people would find unexpected or surprising?
There is a lot of administrative work involved. Just because you get to work with an artist or a brand you like or you get to make cool stuff doesn’t mean the job doesn’t have an administrative component. Take tour management for example. People probably think you kick it with your artist most of the time and show up at parties, but you talk to the venue reps, the promoters, security, your bus driver (if you have one) and the rest of the team around the artist to coordinate with the artist’s schedule. In addition, you must advance all the shows with the venues so that they have all equipment and artist needs in order, book hotels, flights, ground transportation, passports and tickets, and also keep a careful record of all cash and cash. out as bus driver expenses, unemployment benefits and all other orders mentioned above.
You also need to anticipate and be prepared for anything that could go wrong on a given show day. It’s a lot of work and you rarely get to “have fun”, but if you love the job, that’s all that matters. When you go to a show as a fan, you only see two hours of entertainment, which probably took months to coordinate across multiple teams and tons of emails and phone calls.
Is there a secret to longevity in this industry?
Do right by people. Follow your gut feeling. Don’t do things for the sake of gravity, but because you really believe in them. Something that takes you years to build can be destroyed overnight – keep building anyway. Build a good team. Build good relationships. And above all, build a good name.
What are some habits you follow regularly to always maintain a good headspace for work?
Take a break. Other people’s energy can really take a toll on you, so you need to give yourself time to get the right energy. Some of my days start with Zoom meetings as early as 8 a.m. EST and ends as late as 10:00 PM EST. This means talking to people throughout the day. It can be incredibly tiring. I want to make sure I’m there for my team and my clients, and the only way I can do that is by being alert and focused.
Before and throughout my pregnancy, I did a quick 30 minute workout at home, which always set me up to take on the day. Even on days when I felt like I had no energy, I pushed myself to try. If I really wasn’t up to it, I gave myself time to recover; This way I always enjoyed my workouts and never dreaded them.
I also spend time catching up with my peers and with online blogs and magazines I follow. I love discovering new people, new creatives, photographers, videographers, musicians, venues, brands – just anything that inspires me. In this way, I always stay up to date and feel excited to implement new ideas.
What does a day off look like for you?
Preferably on a beach somewhere. But on a regular basis I spend time with my husband and my son. There is nothing I would rather do.
I would like to see more female leaders. More women in management groups. More female CEOs.
How do you see your job developing with the music industry in the next five years?
For my agency, I look forward to us creating more and producing more. I look forward to us doing more creative work, executing bigger ideas, bringing visions to life and overall just making really great projects.
If not music, what would you be doing?
I would probably practice law.