Interview and illustration by Megan Schaller
Yasmine Panah is a girl just like you, and she’s living your dream. Meet the 21-year-old mega-babe living in New York City who turned her lifelong love of music into a badass career. Most recently, she worked as a marketing & management guru at Cult Records, Julian Casablancas’s (yeah – that Julian Casablancas!) NYC indie record label, and just started working at a media agency called WMA in Brooklyn, NY. Read on for career advice, feminist dogma, and stories from behind the scenes of the music and entertainment biz.
What – or who – inspired you to pursue a career in the music industry?
So many women in music inspired me, but I would say Joan Jett was the biggest influence. I was, and still am, SO obsessed with her and The Runaways. I dragged my mom 3 hours away to a Joan Jett show when I was 16 and waited outside the backstage door for hours before Joan took pity on me and let me come in and take a photo with her. I was so starstruck I couldn’t speak at all, but I got my photo, and cried the *entire* way home. Debbie Harry, Janis Joplin, Kathleen Hanna, and the Riot Grrrl Movement were also huge for me.
I was so obsessed with music (I have notebooks FILLED with detailed notes) that I literally couldn’t imagine doing anything else. It just felt like a natural progression that I decided to work in the music industry!
How did you put yourself in a position to pursue jobs in music/label management and marketing?
The original dream was actually to write for Rolling Stone and interview the bands I was obsessing over. I was always into writing and then, I’m cringing as I say this, when I finally saw Almost Famous, it was cemented for me. When I first got to NYU, I started writing for the music section of the school’s paper, basically just to see cool bands for free. It wasn’t until after I started interning at Cult that I changed my mind and decided to get into the business side.
For the past few years, you worked with Julian Casablancas’s label, Cult Records. What do you love about working with an indie label?
Indie labels are the best because the people there truly care about the music and the artists. Cult was such a nurturing environment for me, especially since I started when I was only 18. As a young person trying to learn about the industry, it was such a valuable experience because I not only got to observe, I also got to contribute ideas and actually help with music videos, album releases, touring, and anything else that came up.
Backstage at The Strokes’ “comeback” show at Capitol Theater in 2014.
What are were some of your duties at this label?
I got to do a bit of everything, but I mostly worked on marketing and sales, running social media, the street team, and our web store.
What is it like working so closely with such an influential musician, and so many other brilliant artists?
Obviously working with Julian closely was a dream come true for me, especially since I was a huge fan. He really cares about the music and the people who work at the label, so it was a good example from me to learn from, and I’ll always appreciate that. Cult is a small office of people who really care about the music and the bands, so it turned into a family over the years.
What are some of the coolest opportunities that you got from your position at Cult?
Honestly having the opportunity to meet some of my favorite musicians has been amazing enough, but I think my favorite is when I met Daft Punk at FYF in LA a few years ago! We were surrounded by all these amazing musicians backstage, and I was already freaking out a bit, but then suddenly I ended up in a conversation with the Daft Punk guys…It’s been a goal of mine to eventually work with them, so it was surreal!
Backstage at Jimmy Fallon for The Voidz’s Late Night performance.
…and what are some of the most unexpected – or weirdest – things that have happened to you because of your work with in the biz?
One thing that I wasn’t really expecting were all the friends I made and the people I met. I met some of my best friends through Cult, but it was also cool to connect with fans from all over the world!
While working with Cult, did you learn anything about the industry – or the people in it – that surprised you?
I know it’s supposed to be common knowledge that the entertainment industry is a bit of a boy’s club, but I was honestly shocked to find that out on my own… (not to say that every man I worked with was like that). A lot of them were extremely supportive and valued what I had to say, but I did find myself in certain situations where I had to take a moment and realize that I was *clearly* a woman, and others who were treated differently were men. It’s more subtle, but definitely more common than you think.
What has your experience been as a young female label coordinator in an industry so famously dominated by (old) men? How has your womanhood and youth empowered you, and made you better at what you do?
It’s so easy to get bogged down by that, but I’ve met some amazing women who have taught me so much and I found that it really helps to have that support system. I think it’s SO important to know your value, and be confident in what you’re good at.
At Cult Records, you managed the label’s Tumblr, Snapchat, Twitter, and Instagram. How have you seen, and how to you continue to see, social media shaping the music industry?
When I first suggested Cult join Tumblr a few years ago, no one in our office knew what it was, and it had already been around for a while! There’s a weird disconnect between the music industry and tech, but I think we’ve all seen how integrating the two can be successful. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve found out about a new band through Twitter or Tumblr. Ultimately, the goal is to connect artists to fans, so we have to keep innovating to figure out the best way to do that.
So often, young, female fans of musicians are ridiculed and branded as “fangirls”, simply for being passionate supporters of music. What do you have to say about the “teen girl” market and fanbase?
The amount of times I’ve heard “You only like that band because you think they’re cute!” is actually absurd. For some reason, teenage girls aren’t allowed to like bands for their music and how they make us feel – we apparently just have to want to sleep with the lead singer. In reality, young women are the best fans you could ask for. When they get excited about bands, they tell their friends, buy the merch, buy the records, and come out to the shows! I hate when people talk down to young women, and it’s just another way older men, and even women, try to minimize our opinions and make us feel unimportant. It’s bullshit.
If you could book your dream show, who would play it and where would it be?
TWIN PEAKS, HAR MAR SUPERSTAR, THE STROKES! At my most favorite spot, Baby’s All Right.
What advice do you have for other young women who want to turn their passion for music into a career?
Don’t be afraid! There’s no harm in sending an email and trying to reach out to people. Be nice to *everyone*, work hard, and support other girls. There’s room for all of us! ✿