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Hitting the high notes

Jo Charrington, Alumni of Godolphin School and Co-President of Capitol Records tells us how her love of music was the bedrock for her stellar rise within the industry, plus offers some great tips for any aspiring young music professionals

Speaking to Jo in the boardroom of Capitol Records, surrounded by Grammys, BRITs, Ivor Novellos and MOBO awards, you can’t help but be in awe of this inspirational woman. Jo has conquered a largely male-dominated industry and is responsible for the huge successes of many of today’s most recognisable stars. From the likes of Sam Smith, Paloma Faith, Olly Murs, JLS, Liam Payne – the list goes on.

“Growing up I was surrounded by music. My mother was a session singer in the 60’s and toured with people like Roy Orbison and Lulu. Music was a big thing at home and we were always singing and harmonising and doing things in the local church. I loved pop music and had an interest in not just the artists but I also had a detailed knowledge of who produced them as well.”

After university, Jo started to temp as a secretary knowing she wanted to work in the industry. “I bought Music Week, looked in the classifieds and found a recruitment company specialising in music. I went to meet them and started temping at Music Box then owned by Virgin.”

“I learnt that you could be good and kind in business and still get to the top”

Unlike her father whose love for film was thwarted at an early age in lieu of a ‘proper career’, Jo’s parents were determined for her to follow her dreams, telling her “if that’s what you want to do then that’s what you must do and we will support you.”

Jo with Liam Payne and friends

From Music Box, Jo moved to London Records where she got a permanent job. It was an inspiring place to work with huge hits launching from the likes of East 17, Shakespeares Sister and the Communards. “I was quite lucky being in the right place at the right time.” she says. “It was a formative year for me, whatever needed doing I did it and by the end of the year I was commissioning videos. Drive and passion had landed me in the right place.”

In terms of her next career move,  Jo points out “I wasn’t thinking what will I do next – I was just in it and determined to do the best job I could and see where it led. From London Records I then went to Virgin Records working for Graham Ball who headed up the International division and during the time when Virgin had Shaggy, Meatloaf and the Spice Girls – it was an incredibly exciting year for me.”

Jo then went on to work as the Exec PA for the President of BMG, Jeremy Marsh. It was here that her career really took off. “Jeremy was affable, positive and a great person to work for. I learnt that you could be good and kind in business and still get to the top”, she smiles.

“Olly Murs is an example – the minute I met him I knew I had to sign him”

Whilst at BMG, Jo recommended her friends Tattersfield and Raphael (her current Co-President) to Jeremy who on her advice gave them their own label to produce. This prompted Jo to make the life changing decision to put her hand up and say “What about my career – what will you do for me?” After this Jo went onto manage her own artists – and the rest as they say is history!

Olly Murs, another of Jo’s stars

With regard to internships, Jo does take on a few students but warns: “You’ve got to kiss a lot of frogs to find the good ones.” Her advice is “Turn up on time, smile and make cups of tea. Do that and you’ll do really well. If you can do the basics, are nice and can get stuff done then you’ll be fine. I think it’s that simple. It’s like signing artists – our percentage is one in three and the average is one in 40 that actually go on to be successful.”

So with the odds seemingly stacked against them, just how does Jo find the next up-and-coming super star? “There is a point where we meet them and we just know that we want to sign them; it’s very instinctive. It’s based on lots of failures as much as successes and it’s the chemistry. Yes, you’ve got to have talent but you need the connection with them. Olly Murs is an example – the minute I met him I knew I had to sign him.”

We then ask Jo if there is a career path for budding artists to follow before approaching a record label: “There is a process which is important for the artists to go through; almost like a filtration. If someone sends me an email saying ‘Can I send you my songs?’ the answer is no you can’t! They need to have a manager, a lawyer, done some gigs and written some songs.”

However, in today’s digital age, it seems that almost anyone can reach huge global audiences instantly by posting on social media. This is something Jo, as an industry professional, has mixed views on: “There are more opportunities to post your own music now which is great. But, it is more of a meritocracy as there are less gate keepers than there used to be, which means there’s more music out there. It makes it harder to find the real gems.

The digital age is fascinating and we are still figuring it out. We had a way of breaking records which we’ve been doing for a long time now so learning the new world is quite a big process. Our kids are going to have a different outlook, will be more savvy than our generation and not as naive as we think. It’s great that the kids are into something and they have so much choice as there are no genre boundaries.”

Sam Smith, signed in 2012

So what advice can she give to the next generation aspiring to work within the music industry? “Don’t rush in too young. The opportunities will still be there if you are the right person for them. Keep moving forward with everything you do. Be optimistic. If you get knocked back try again. Always ask for pointers, learn from your mistakes and don’t be defensive. Take things on the chin, say sorry and when you deserve credit make sure you get it and enjoy it – don’t be embarrassed about it. This is especially true for women who are far worse at accepting credit. Work with people you can learn from and the minute you are not learning, move on.”

Finally, we ask Jo what other career mountains are left for her to climb: “America! I need to get my kids through A Levels and then really establish Sam (Smith) as a global artist.  I like to think that I’m always moving forward so long term it has to be the USA!”

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