INTERVIEW: Poppy Tohill - CRS Music
This New Zealand Music Month we wanted to draw attention to some of the talented people working behind the scenes of the NZ music industry.
We sat down with 23-year-old Poppy Tohill from CRS Music to talk about her experiences working in the New Zealand music industry, and how she managed to launch her career at such a young age.
To start off, can you tell us a bit about yourself and what you do?
I work at CRS Music Management and we’re a small company, so we all do a lot of different things. But my main role is in the online side of things. I do a lot of online logistics for our artists and tours, so there’s a lot of organising and working with the artists on their schedules. I’m kind of like an assistant artist manager. We’re also a promotions company so we run events, concerts and festivals. There, I do a lot of artist liaison work and mostly the organisational side of the music world; working for artists and then in terms of shows, running around and making that everyone in the crew is happy and everything is running to time, and with the artists as well.
I have also done quite a lot of music journalism, so I interview a lot of artists and write articles about things that are happening in the music world. Everything I do is very music focused.
Is that just for your own blog or do you also write for other publications?
I started with my own blog initially, so a lot of that was just for me. Then when I was 16, I got picked up by some publications and started writing for a bunch of online blogs and New Zealand Musician magazine. I still write for them occasionally, but I’ve got two of my own publications going now.
One of those publications is Kicking Roses, which you’ve just launched. Can you tell us a bit about that?
It’s going to be all online to start with, then we want to put out at least one physical copy a year, like a limited-edition kind of thing. It’s going to have an arts, music and culture focus, but we want it to be a community as well so it’s like its own little brand, instead of just a magazine. We eventually want to put on events, workshops or panels, to turn it into more of a community that people want to be a part of and that sort of thing.
When did you decide you wanted to get into the music industry and what was the first step you made to make this happen?
I’ve always loved music and it’s always been my biggest passion, but I was never interested in being the person up on stage because I didn’t like everyone looking at me or being the focus point. So when I was about 12 I told my parents that I wanted to be a music journalist. I didn’t even know if it was actually a thing, I just decided that I liked music and I liked writing so I wanted to put the two together. That’s when I started what was my own version of a music blog, which was basically just shoving all of my favourite artists down people’s throats.
The biggest step up from that was meeting Gin Wigmore when I was 13. She was my favourite artist at the time, and she saw me pushing her music across social media and thought what I was doing was really cool. I got in touch with her about doing an interview for a school assignment and that was what really sparked the beginning of our proper relationship. After the interview she brought up the social media stuff I was doing and asked if I would be interested in helping her out. Obviously, I was keen and wanted to help and do whatever I could, so that was the first step into doing something, not at a professional level, but the first experience I had working with an artist.
You started working for CRS Music quite young, how did that opportunity come about?
From about 16 to 18, I did as much voluntary work as I could just to get the experience and try to meet new people. I’d just say yes to everything. Then when I was 18, CRS were looking for someone to help with social media, they didn’t advertise though, they were just asking around. But because I had done all this volunteering and networking, I kind of knew a few people in the industry by then so my name kept popping up. I didn’t even know it was a job interview, they just asked me to come have a chat about social media, and I was like “cool, yeah, sweet!”. I thought I’d just go in and give them some ideas and then walk out and that’d be it. By the end they’re like, “oh cool so would you be interested in working here, we’d like to offer you this job”. I started off part time for a couple of months but then things got busier they asked me to go full time.
That was a pivotal moment in my life. I’d only just turned 18 and it was a big risk for them to let me into their company and be like “you’re still a teenager but we want to give you a go”. So I look at my two bosses that run the company, they really launched my career on a professional level. I knew there’d come a point where I’d have to stop saying yes to everything as a volunteer because I had to start making money somehow. I was very lucky that it happened to me in that way.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
I guess there’s kind of two sides to that. In terms of putting on a show and the promotional side of CRS as a company; the best part of organising a show and getting the artist over is as soon as the artist takes the stage, your job is done, then just seeing the excitement and joy on everyone’s face as the artist takes to the stage. Then at the end as well when everything’s gone to plan and everyone’s had an awesome night. Because a lot of work goes into putting on these shows, there’s no better feeling than just seeing it all come together in that one moment.
For artist management it’s kind of a similar thing. I guess when you start working with an artist from the beginning stages, Bene is a good example, because I started working with her right before anything happened and anyone knew who she was. So, each day when more and more stuff keeps happening or you organise something else, even if it’s just an interview on the radio, just to see those things happen and be with the artist on those stepping stones and to sit back and look back at what we’ve achieved. Even though she’s the one that gets all the glory, I still get to sit back and be like “woah I made this happen”. I love all the organisational stuff, I’m an organised freak, so I love getting everything together and then just sitting back and watching it all happen and realizing that you’ve made that stuff happen for that person. It’s kind of like an artist can do so much but being behind the scenes and seeing what happens, you have so more respect for the artist and the other people behind them because you see everything that they do.
You’ve posted on social media saying you’ve been to almost 400 gigs, what was the first gig you went to?
My very first one was – and I laugh about this with my friends now because a lot of my friends still like emo/pop-rock kind of stuff and you know how lots of people go through that emo music loving stage? I was only in it for a very short amount of time, maybe two months and then I moved on – but my first concert was Fall Out Boy, on my tenth birthday. My brother took me, and at the time I was in love with Pete Wentz, and it was in this crowded room, it was packed. My brother put me up on his shoulders for most of the show cause I really wanted to see. He almost fainted because it was so hot and he had me on his shoulders for the entire time. Then the best moment, that’s still ingrained in my brain, is when Pete took his shirt off and pointed at me. That was that, we were going to get married for a while there.
Do you have a favourite gig you’ve been to?
I get asked that a bit but it’s such a hard question because it’s one of those things where I’ll think of something and I’ll answer it and then I’ll go away and be like “oh I forgot about this one” or it changes all the time depending on what mood I’m in. But, all bias aside, Gin was doing really well in New Zealand and then we went over to the US and did a tour and she’d been living there for a while so people were kind of starting to know who she was. It was her first ever sold out US show, in Seattle, and we’re in this dingy kind of grubby pub that wasn’t massive, it was maybe like 200 people there, which was pretty big for a New Zealand artist that was still fairly new to that scene. So we’d been on this whole tour and played all these shows and that was the last show of the tour and it was sold out, and it was one of the first ever international tours I worked on as well, so it was just a super emotional moment. So, the whole night was just super memorable.
The music industry has a reputation for being quite male dominant. As a young female who’s been working in the industry for several years now, what have you noticed about this, is it getting better?
People always talk about how there’s not enough women in music, but if you actually look at it, especially now, there’s a lot more women in the scene than there used to be. I remember back when I was younger, my assignment that I did on Gin was all about the gender imbalance and looking back since then, there’s been a massive shift. I’m not saying there’s no longer that imbalance there, because there definitely are more guys in the more powerful roles, but there are a lot more strong women stepping up.
For me as well, growing up and the way I got into the scene, most of my role models, like Gin, were strong women. I could look around and they were the ones that made me realise that there are strong women out there that can do this. So, I’d see them and they were supporting me so I’d be like oh okay maybe it is possible, you know there are actually women out there doing this, it’s not so scary anymore, it’s not all old white men. And yes, there are a lot of those, but there are also people like Amy Shark who are coming through and doing incredible things with her music. Then behind the scenes there are lots of female publicists and a tonne more female managers now as well, compared to what there used to be. It’s getting there.
Looking at tour managers and roles that are more on the road, there’s definitely still more men. In the technology side of things it goes down again though. I know maybe two female sound engineers, so they’re out there but it’s definitely still an imbalance with men. I think it’s more about girls getting interested from a young age and looking around being like oh cool I can do this, I can go study sound engineering and make a career out of it. You’ve got to build it into them from a young age that it is something girls can do.
Were you given that kind of support in school that helped you develop your interest in getting involved in the music industry?
I was lucky growing up that I had lots of supportive people around me. I did have one teacher though who was just like “you’ll never do this, you’re going to end up doing some shitty job” and he knew that at the time I wanted to be a journalist and he was like “oh well I’ll keep an eye out for your name in our local newsletter that I wrap my fish in”, and he said that to my face and I’m like I’m going to go out and do this specifically for you so I can shove it back in your face. He was in love with the NZ Herald and read it religiously, and then one day I got asked to write a piece in the Herald and I’d left school by that stage but my friend that was a few years younger than me was still there, so she went to his class and glued my article on his whiteboard and circled my name and left it there – best photo I’ve ever seen.