Jess George: Program Director GBTRS + Live Event Productions
Introduce yourself to us! What do you do in the industry? Where are you from?
Hi, I’m Jess George, 23 and I was born and raised by the DMV music scene. I am the Programs Director for Girls Behind The Rock Show and I wear a variety of hats in the live event space.
How did you get your start in the industry, and how long have you been in the industry?
The very first job that I had in music was as an event staff worker at Merriweather Post Pavilion, which was a venue 10 minutes away from my house. Classic high school summer job. It wasn’t anything terribly taxing but I was able to be a fly on the wall and view how different sides of putting on a show come together. When I would be “guarding” the production office or monitoring dressing rooms backstage, I was able to be in that environment and observe how all of the moving parts come together. That was summer of 2015 so it’s been 5 years.
When did you know being in the business is what you wanted to do? Was there a specific moment where you were like “oh god, this is what I want to do for the rest of my life”?
Foo Fighters have popped up multiple times in my career to serve as reflection points. One of my most vivid memories that very first summer that I was working around live music was that I was on my feet all day, scanning tickets for the Foo Fighters 4th of July, 20th Anniversary Spectacular. My supervisor took me to the soundboard to look out at the Foos playing to 48,000 people and I just knew.
Is there anything you struggled with (or even still do struggle with) being in the industry?
Imposter Syndrome is something that I definitely struggle with, along with many of my music peers. I constantly have to remind myself that I deserve to be in the rooms that I am in. It’s this weird sense that you’re a fraud just waiting to be exposed. That’s when me and my music friends lovingly yell at each other that we’ve earned this and deserve to take up space and be heard.
What is the best part of your job? Why?
It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day stressors of a show. Whether it’s a 1200 cap club show or a stadium packed with thousands of people, I always try to take a moment to step back and take it all in. There’s nothing quite like it.
You work with one of our previous features, Shelby, at GBTRS. Can you tell us what you do there and your role?
Yes! I’m the Programs Director so I run all of our opportunities ranging from our Roadie for a Day programs, Festival Immersions, mentorship placements, all of that. All of our previous opportunities can be viewed on our site girlsbtrs.com/opportunities if you’re curious. Shelby and I joke that we’re a dynamic duo when it comes to how our strengths and weaknesses compliment different aspects of what it takes to run GBTRS. Speaking engagements? Shelby’s got it. She can speak on the fly about any and everything. Potential partnership calls are a breeze with her. I step in and coordinate as the woman behind the curtain. Collaboration is key in everything that we do at GBTRS.
You mentioned pre-COVID you were in live event production. Have you thought about exploring other areas of the industry post – COVID?
Definitely, COVID hit at a very weird point in my career (not that there’s ever a helpful time for a global pandemic to hit) when I was right in the middle of transitioning to more of a “stable” job in music, move to LA, the whole nine yards. Coachella was on the books. Obviously all of those things got a wrench thrown into them because all of them got put on hold. So basically the long answer to your question is that yes I do plan on exploring other areas, just taking things as they come during this time.
Is there anything new you dove into during quarantine?
Quarantine has allowed for me to really take time and reconnect with myself! Early on in quarantine, I was talking to some of my music friends and we were saying how sometimes our sense of self can be too tied to our job. Shows had been my whole world, and when we abruptly realized shows weren’t going to be happening for a while, it forced me to look at myself and reevaluate. I’ve been able to take up so many more passion projects outside of music -- I have a giant paint by numbers that I’ve been working on, stretching, reading, kitchen time, connecting with people I care about. The pause was forced but it’s been very helpful to reflect.
Is there someone who you consider as your mentor in the industry?
Kory Henneman at SiriusXM is the first person that comes to mind as a mentor because he immediately took me under his wing when I interned there for a semester. He is a Program Director at Sirius so I wasn’t even supposed to be directly working with him, but he opened up a line of communication and wanted to establish a relationship with me from the beginning. He gave me my first editing project by working on Tom Morello’s guest DJ spot, had me work with him start to finish on the Garbage Weekend Takeover specialty show (and introduced me to Butch Vig which still stands as one of my favorite music memories in this business), invited me to sit in on calls as he walked interviewees through liners -- I learned so much about the radio and promo side of the industry because of him and I am still so grateful for all of the opportunities and knowledge he shared with me.
There are too many good-hearted people to name in this industry who have helped me (what a lovely problem to have) but I consider all of my friends who are in a variety of different sides of this industry mentors, as we’re all hustling and cheering on each other along the way. I’m very grateful for the people I’ve met through music.
What advice do you have for women who want to get their start in the music industry?
Take as many opportunities as you can and soak up as much information as possible. The music industry is a weird place in that technically you can get a formal degree in music business, but I personally believe that the real education comes from the experiences that you put yourself into. Try working in a variety of departments. Over the years, I have worked in marketing, festival operations, production, radio, management, to name a few. I think it is so great when you take a job and realize you love it, but I think it’s an even more helpful experience when you work something and realize you don’t like working that side of the industry at all. You still walk away with that additional knowledge of how that side of the industry operates within the context of the industry at large.
Take advantage of all of the music business resources that are available online and learn as much as you possibly can. One of the positives to come out of COVID is that a large portion of the industry at large is home, many are unemployed, and so people are taking the time to share their experiences and knowledge. Yay for free music business education! Shoutout accessibility!
Some of my favorite educational resources:
-Jen Kellogg’s Concert Business Basics (jenkellogg.com)
-Amethyst Collab panels (@amethystcollab on all socials)
-Color of Music Collective panels (@colorofmusiccollective)
-The Bob Lefsetz Podcast
-One for the Road: How to Be a Music Tour Manager by Mark Workman
-All You Need to Know About the Music Business by Donald S. Passman
In general, follow along with music news and look up information when you’re curious! Usually that knowledge can be at your fingertips. When Scooter Braun made headlines for buying Taylor Swift’s masters from Big Machine, I borrowed a book from the library on artist contracts and learned more about entertainment law. Curiosity and passion will take you far in this industry.
Have you ever been turned down or not taken seriously because you were a female in the industry? What did you do when put into that position?
It is so frequent that I can’t even think of a specific instance to give as an example. It is way more acceptable for a man to fangirl about an artist than a woman. There is a constant question of towing the line between coming across like someone who works in business and has a “valid” professional opinion or being labeled as a “fangirl” (which shouldn’t be a negative term anyways). It fosters the possibility of this “cool girl” stereotype which hurts more than it helps. I still remember I had this come-to-jesus moment where an artist was soundchecking. He walked off stage and asked me my genuine opinion of how it sounded, how it was, etc. And I withheld some of my excitement over how good it was because I wanted to come across as professional, level-headed, and was nervous about being branded as a “fangirl” especially because I was a younger girl at the time. He walked away and I realized I censored myself so much when in reality he was coming to me for a professional opinion. Again I think it all comes down to reminding yourself you deserve to be in this space, you have opinions that are worth hearing. Once you feel that on the inside, you project that, and people have no choice but to believe it.
What are some of your other hobbies? What do you do in your free time (which we know can be very hard to find)?
Playing instruments -- I play piano, guitar and drums. Helps me reconnect back to the music itself. I’m a big playlist-maker as well. I do also have a personality outside of music. I’m a big book-reader, I’m big into movies and TV -- a handful of my favorite movies are No Country for Old Men, Memento, Taika Waititi’s Boy, Blindspotting, Trainspotting, and Fight Club because I’m secretly a bro-ey film buff. I guess I’m just a fangirl of pop culture in general.
Who is your all-time favorite artist?
This is a nearly impossible question so I will cheat the system and name a few.
What is something you can't live without?
Coffee, especially on show days
Go-to Karaoke song?
There is a reason I work backstage and not on-stage so it takes a lot for me to voluntarily do karaoke, but if I am forced to, I would go with a butt rock classic: Photograph - Nickelback
Tea or Coffee?
Coffee in the morning and tea in the afternoon
The US Postal Service
First concert you went to?
There’s this Irish Pop Rock band called The Corrs that my family played around the house all the time growing up. Whenever someone asks me this question I almost always get blank stares with my answer.
What’s something that you always have on you?
On show days, my trusty fanny pack
Who is your dream artist or band to work with?
James Taylor is my parents’ favorite artist and his music is something that has been a comfort in my life ever since I can remember dancing to his music in the living room as a toddler. It would be the biggest full-circle moment to work for him one day. Not to mention the satisfaction I would get to work for someone that my parents know and love because usually the artists I work for are people that my parents have never heard of or don’t listen to. Contrary to what you may believe, Dr. and Mrs. George are not massive Drake fans.
What does a typical day at work look like for you?
The fun thing about live events is that every day looks different and presents a new set of challenges. If I’m a runner for the day, I’ll arrive bright and early, get a shopping list from the touring party, set up green rooms, order meals for artist and crew, post-show food -- basically I’m responsible for making sure backstage hospitality makes artist and crew feel comforted and taken care of. If I’m working VIP, I usually arrive mid-day, set up the meet and greet space, coordinate with the Tour Manager on timing for the artist being ready, check in guests and take meet and greet pictures, and unless it’s a post-show meet and greet, I’m done before the show even starts. If I’m a Production Assistant, it’s an early start to my morning as well, and I’m basically just jumping in wherever I’m needed throughout the entire day so that the show can run smoothly. That’s a very basic outline for a handful of roles I do, if anyone is reading this and wants to have a more in-depth conversation about these or other roles in the live event space, I’m more than happy to chat!
Where do you see yourself in five years?
The exciting thing is I don’t know. There are so many areas of the music industry that I love working in, so I could see myself working on the artist team-side of things (touring, promo runs, etc. with the artist), festival ops world -- one of the things I love most about this industry is how fluid it is so the possibilities are endless. My heart is in live performance so one way or another, I know I’ll somehow be tied to that.
What do you hope to see done in the industry within the next few years?
We need more representation in all facets of the industry. I saw nearly all major music companies post about #TheShowMustBePaused in June. Great. How are we internally making changes so that we don’t look at a record label exec board and only see white men? For one, pay interns. Statistically, Black college students graduate with the highest levels of indebtedness. Nearly all major music internships are unpaid in cities with high costs of living. There are numerous ways that different areas of the industry continue to perpetuate discrimination. There were a lot of great conversations about the need for change in the music industry over these last few months, but my hope is that concrete action is taken to make these changes happen.
What are you most proud of?
I am proud of the sense of community that we’ve been able to create for non-men in the music industry through GBTRS. There have been times where I’ve had a particularly bad work day – where someone clearly tried their hardest to make me feel small. On those days, I find myself even more motivated to work on GBTRS to create opportunities where women and non-binary people who are starting out can have positive work experiences in healthy environments. It feels good to channel the emotions surrounding a bad experience into something productive.
Lastly, what saying do you live by?
I have Nipsey’s “Hussle and Motivate” stuck in my head currently so I’ll go with that. Trust the process, keep on chugging along and the right thing will find you.