Mjeema Pickett on curating music, radio, and overcoming challenges | The Come Up

The Come Up is a collaborative editorial series between Femme It Forward and Splice, focused on highlighting non-male industry executives and innovators.

For our seventh entry, we had the opportunity to speak with Mjeema Pickett, who serves as Spotify’s global programming head for R&B and soul music. Pickett, who spent over a decade in radio and video programming before transitioning to Spotify as part of the company’s push for more expert curation, oversees flagship playlists like “The Newness” and “Are & Be,” the latter of which has five million followers and is widely known as a career-launcher for young artists. Read on to get a firsthand look into her journey, advice to other female professionals, and more.

Tell us about your ‘come up’ – how did you start your career in the music industry?

My career started while I was a student at Clark Atlanta University. I secured an internship at a radio station, V103, which opened my eyes to various behind-the-scenes opportunities in the music industry. I enjoyed learning so much about the functions of a radio station that I secured another internship at WPGC, a station in my hometown, Washington, DC. My passion for curating was definitely ignited there. My first job after college was in the programming department at WPGC.

What inspired you to pursue a career in the music industry?

I’ve always been passionate about music and inspired by the arts. Growing up, I loved going through my mom’s record collection, reading album credits, listening, and just being consumed by music. I knew at an early age that in order for me to live a happy life as an adult, without knowing in which capacity, I would have to have a career in music.

What was the first big career risk you took?

I moved to New York City to work at VH1. While I did leave radio for TV, I worked on the music side so I still interacted with many former colleagues and peers. But, I also gained so many more as my network expanded, allowing me to continue building relationships within the music industry.

Tell us about one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career. How did you overcome it?

A few years ago, my job at the company I worked at for over 15 years was suddenly eliminated due to restructuring. It was like a gut punch and the rug being pulled from under me at the same time. I had just gotten home from a funeral when I got the call. Even though I had different titles at various radio and TV stations, they were under the same company umbrella – I had pretty much grown up there. I worked at VH1 / MTV for almost ten years. From working on Hip Hop Honors to the VMAs, my colleagues had become family. Devastated is not the word.

This was probably the first time since college that I actually had an extended amount of time off, and I realized that I had two choices. I could feel sorry for myself, and stew in the sadness of circumstances I had no control over. Or, I could take a step back and utilize the time off to clear my head and smell the roses. I made the decision to enjoy it. I took a road trip to my hometown. I traveled to various cities to visit family and friends. My village showed up for me. The love, support, and encouragement I received during that time was insurmountable.

Is there a mentor who supported you in your career? If not, how did you navigate the industry?

Thea Mitchem, who’s currently the executive vice president of programming at iHeart Media. When I met her, she was the programming department assistant at WPGC in Washington DC, and I was her intern. She hasn’t been able to get rid of me since.

Have you had to manage being the only female professional in a business meeting? How do you command the room?

I have had to manage being the only female, the only Black female, and the only Black person in a business meeting. I don’t know if it’s necessarily been a goal to command the room, but I’ve never felt like I didn’t belong. I’ve always felt that if I’m in a room, I earned the right to be there, I belonged there, and my perspective was important.

What would be your advice to female professionals looking to make it in a male-dominated industry?

Stay true to yourself, know your boundaries, set your standards, and move with purpose.

What do you think the future of music looks like?

It’s my sincere hope that there’s more diversity all across the board. We have to continue doing the work now to make it happen then. I’m hoping the future of music will be one where more artists from underserved regions and genres can thrive. When one looks behind-the-scenes at labels, networks, and tech companies, I’m hoping that there will be executive leadership that reflects the various cultures in our collective community.

What do you want your legacy to be?

I would want my legacy to reflect my authenticity. It’s always been important for me to be genuine as I navigate life personally and professionally, which can be difficult at times when representing and serving more than yourself.

Keep an eye out for more exclusive The Come Up interviews in the coming weeks.

February 18, 2021