February 2020: Melissa Woods '02

Laurel lifer Melissa Woods ’02 is always looking for the next great band. As Head of Creative Services for Third Side Music in Los Angeles, she discovers and represents amazing musicians and works with composers and artists to create custom work for TV and film. She’s passionate about the importance of female role models, supporting artists with integrity and important messages and advocating for selfcare and mental health in a challenging industry. As Lizzo (the first artist Melissa signed!) sings, “You know you a star, you can touch the sky.” Read on to find out how Melissa’s Laurel-instilled values of confidence, hard work and strong female leadership help her succeed in the music industry!

If you were to write a song title or come up with a band name that describes your Laurel experience, what would it be?
Girls Rule In Plaid :)
 
How did Laurel help develop your creative leadership skills? What activities were you involved in at Laurel?
I was involved in all sorts of activities (soccer, tennis, lacrosse, theater and choir) that helped develop my creative leadership skills. Perhaps the most impactful were leading the class song and class skit contests, as they gave me a chance to work with my peers and get creative. Presenting our class song and class skit to the school was always thrilling for me and made me want to work with creative teams in my professional career. 
 
After One Lyman Circle, you attended Boston University, earning a BA in communication and media studies. Do you have any advice for Laurel Seniors or young alumnae moving to a major metropolitan area?
My advice is to be prepared for how dramatically different it feels! It can be easy to feel lost, so I would suggest enrolling in extracurricular activities to find a smaller group where you can meet others who share your interests. It’s there you might find long-lasting friendships and connections. 
 
What led to your decision to go into the music business—did you take any classes or internships that helped clarify the career path you wanted?
Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to be in the music business. I grew up around it but many schools, including Boston University, did not offer a music business program. So, I interned at a music distribution company and a record label in Cleveland before college, then combined a BA in communications and public relations which prepared me for the entertainment side of the business. I will say that internships proved most valuable in getting my first jobs out of college and throughout my career most of our new hires have been interns. Internships are invaluable as you get to see what the job is really like. You may find it’s not what you really want to do and that’s great, too. But if you find an internship that you love, you know it’s the right place for you.
 
Now you’re the Head of Creative Services for Third Side Music. Can you share with us your journey over the past decade from landing your first job in the industry to your current role?
When I graduated, all I knew is that I loved music. I had job offers at CAA, William Morris and Concord Music Group and ended up choosing Concord. Working in its music licensing department I learned that it is somebody’s job to choose the music that goes in film and TV shows! Working in music licensing for soundtracks for movies like Knocked Up, Babel and Vicky Christina Barcelona, I realized how fun it is to represent musicians and place music in film.
 
Over time, my favorite part of the job became finding the most exciting new talent by going out to live concerts and interacting face to face with musicians. I left Concord to join ZYNC Music Group, a licensing company that specializes in finding the best new music. The first artist I got to sign was Lizzo, so it’s incredible to see how far she has come!

While at ZYNC, a lot of my job involved going out at night to see live shows and meet musicians. I loved meeting people and seeing concerts so much that I decided to produce experiential shows for a few years and was also a private showcase booker at a venue in Silver Lake. This gave me the ability to meet a variety of musicians and provide a space for artists to connect with one another, many of whom went on to collaborate and build a strong community in Los Angeles. I also discovered that live shows can be a great way to raise awareness for worthwhile nonprofit organizations.

Now that I am at Third Side Music doing Creative Services, I get the best of both worlds. Half of my day includes working closely with the artists we represent (such as Flying Lotus, BADBADNOTGOOD, Sofi Tukker, Courtney Barnett and Colin Stetson) and coming up with creative ideas alongside their management teams, as well as scouting and signing new talent to our publishing company. The other half is working with our film composers and artists to create custom work for TV, film and advertising. Music licensing and publishing is still such a lucrative part of the business. There is no better feeling than to work hard to make money for artists who are so deserving and to see their lives change because they are now able to afford a new studio or home.
 
Please describe a typical day at your job.
Every day is different, but a typical day begins with listening to new music and scrolling through IMDB, music blogs and Google alerts for the latest news in music and entertainment. From there I check emails and my all-company Slack channel to see if there is anything urgent (i.e., a film really needs a song from an artist we represent and the deadline is before 10 a.m., or a band I am trying to sign wants to meet for a last minute coffee to discuss final details before we send an offer, or our film composer is on deadline and the film production wants to make sure they have all the appropriate audio files and details before a spotting session that day). Much of my day is spent on the phone and driving around town for meetings with music supervisors, artists, producers and film studios. The middle of the day is spent catching up on emails and doing organizational support for my department and checking in with my team to see how everything’s going. Evenings there is always a concert, a dinner or an event to attend. Last week I was at the Sundance Film Festival all week, the week before was the Grammy Awards where we had a few artist nominations and events and this week is the Guild of Music Supervisor Awards where we are a sponsor. Never a dull moment!
 
What qualities do you look for when identifying new bands to sign?
I look to sign career artists with timeless appeal, artists we love. I also aim to work with artists with integrity and an important message. Life is short and there is a lot of talent out there, so you might as well promote artists who are trying to make a positive impact.
 
Would you tell us about a challenge you experienced and how you overcame it? 
When I turned 30, I decided to stop drinking alcohol and put my mental and physical health first. It has done wonders for my career and wellbeing. There was a very intense culture when I first started working in the music business where a lot of jobs involved buying people drinks, staying out late and burning the candle at both ends. I ended up finding some mentors in the industry who did not drink excessively and they seemed superhuman. They often outperformed other people in the industry, were happier and healthier, their memory and sharpness made them able to make better business decisions and ultimately led to long-term successes. My decision to put health first has been the best professional and personal choice of my entire life. We have lost so many incredible people in the music industry to substance abuse and mental health issues that I have become a huge advocate to change that.
 
Who was your favorite musician when you were a Laurel student and who is it now?
I loved Jewel, Fiona Apple and Frou Frou when I was at Laurel. I got to work with Frou Frou (aka Imogen Heap) a few years after I graduated from college, which was a dream come true. Today, I love artists like Billie Eilish, Lizzo, Tame Impala, James Blake, Rosalía, Perfume Genius, Christine & The Queens and a new singer named Yebba whom I think will be very successful.
 
Can you talk a little about the importance of female mentors? Who are your role models?
My female mentors have always been my most valuable relationships. At Laurel I really looked up to Mrs. Esselstyn, she taught us to have grit and embrace our power and individuality. I look up to my stepmom, Elaine Martone, who is a Grammy-winning music and festival producer. She showed me what it looks like to work hard and be powerful in a male-dominated environment. My mother was also a role model; she was the first female First Chair oboist in a Top 5 orchestra. She pushed boundaries and paved her way through many challenges. It was so important to see women in my life who were told “no, you can’t do that” prove the world wrong and succeed on their own terms by working hard and not giving up. I have worked for many women in my life and currently work at a company that is 75% female. The men I work with are all feminists and fantastic supporters of the equality movement as well.

On a typical weekend, where would we find you?
We just bought our first house last year, so you most likely will find me at home, gardening, organizing and hanging out with my husband, Peymon, and our dog, Squink. Besides that, I love going to a dance class called Sweaty Sundays which is taught by choreographer Ryan Heffington. I also enjoy yoga, surfing, hiking and seeing movies or stand-up comedy with my friends and extended family.

What makes you proud to be a Laurel alum?
So much! I am such a huge advocate for all-girls education. It may not be for everyone, but it was the best choice for me. In that environment I thrived and found my voice and confidence. I am proud of my long-lasting friendships with Laurel alumnae (one of whom is currently a teacher at Lyman Circle)! I love how Laurel values hard work, a great education and strong female leadership. Whenever I have a moment of self-doubt, I think about the strong values I was taught and it helps me push through and achieve the life I want to live.
 
Anything else you’d like to share?
To the Laurel Seniors this year, just know that you are so powerful and already ahead of the curve! Remember to be observant, take risks and have empathy, but, most importantly, always be true to yourself! That is the most powerful thing you can ever do.
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