Sharon Bako on taking risks, navigating the music industry, and more | 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 third entry, we had the opportunity to speak with Sharon Bako, who is the R&B and Afrobeats Music Lead for Amazon Music. Overseeing the creation of original R&B and Afrobeats content for the platform in addition to serving as an artist relations manager, Bako finds joy in leveraging her position to highlight the works of talented Black creatives who may get overlooked otherwise. 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?

I started my music career at the office of Scooter Braun. I was in the TV / film world originally, and used that as a way to get my foot in the door at SB Projects. I transitioned into music from there, which was always my end goal.

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

Music has always been a pillar in my life – I used to consider myself a mini-A&R when I was younger. I turn to music for healing and inspiration, but I come from a strict Nigerian background where pursuing a creative career isn’t necessarily encouraged. I knew though that as long as I kept my work ethic on overdrive, I could make it happen.

What was the first big career risk you took?

When I first started off in a junior role, I began cold emailing music execs to discuss potential partnerships. I would fly out to take meetings and strike deals, but I didn’t necessarily ask for permission. It was pretty uncommon for someone who was as early as I was in my career, but I knew that once I got face-to-face, I could create meaningful relationships from there.

What’s one music industry anecdote that you love to share?

I meet with artists weekly (if not daily) as part of my job. My female coworker and I tend to take meetings together and get comments from a lot of teams on how nice it is to meet with women execs, and we love to cultivate a welcoming environment for all artists. One artist got so comfortable that she took her bra off mid-meeting and took the rest of the meeting without it.

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

From my experience, saying no is harder than saying yes to even the biggest opportunities. I had a significant opportunity that I had to say no to, and it was a challenge to navigate that, especially in an industry where execs and major artists only hear the word ‘yes’ at a certain point in their careers. Navigating this was challenging, but I had to trust my gut to see it through.

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

I haven’t had one specific mentor, but I do use every conversation as a learning opportunity. I navigate the industry by making sure every interaction I have is authentic and I’m fully present – you’d be surprised by how much you can learn by genuinely getting to know someone.

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

Because I work in the intersection of music and tech, this happens so often that I hardly notice anymore. I would take meetings with my male coworkers, and we would all walk into a room together, but for some reason, I would get singled out with questions like, “Oh, who do you work for? How do you know these guys? Are you an artist?” My existence would be invalidated as soon as I walked in the room.

I had to learn to carry myself in these rooms like I would anywhere else, and to not shrink under the scrutiny. As the saying goes, no one can make you feel small without your consent.

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

“KTSE” – keep that same energy. Have all the audacity that your male counterparts have, and don’t wait for permission.

What do you think the future of music looks like?

I think the future of music, specifically artist trajectories, will be far less traditional. This year, because the world has had to pause, it feels like the doors have widened a bit for newer artists to shine through (especially in female rap, for example, where you see rappers like Flo Milli to Megan Thee Stallion, Bree Runway, Mulatto, and others occupy the rap space simultaneously). We’re seeing that more than ever, artists are able to use authentic fan engagement and digital platforms to take their careers to the next level, and I believe we’ll see way more of that in the future.

What do you want your legacy to be?

In the words of Michelle Obama, “Constantly raising the bar for everyone.”

If there were one job in the industry you’d love to have, other than your current job, what would it be?

I’ve always wanted to be a background dancer / choreographer – Miss Boom Kack part II.

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

December 31, 2020