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The Music Industry’s Darling : Sheniece Charway

Afoma Andrea

By Afoma Andrea

Afoma Andrea

30 Oct 2022

It’s not everyday that you get to meet your idol so when an opportunity was raised to meet Sheniece Charway, I nabbed it with both hands.

Often quoted as the ‘Music Industry’s Darling’, Sheniece Charway is a name of high importance. Acting as Artist Relations manager for YouTube Music, Charway has played a hand in a number of campaigns that have definitely pushed Black British culture to the forefront worldwide. Excellence brunch, Legacy series, we could be here all day listing the countless collaborations Charway has spearheaded in just this year alone!

Recently we sat down with the busy woman to reflect on her career and the journey to becoming a poignant figure within Black British music culture.

I’ve heard a few descriptions about you, for example the ‘Music Industry’s Favourite Influencer’, but how would you describe yourself in five words?

I’ve never heard this so that’s actually really nice. I would describe myself as a hard working, driven, loving, caring, very bubbly, happy kind of individual. I think my personality is a big piece of me and I’ve been lucky enough to not having to change myself in my environment. So I think I would describe myself as just being an all round happy person and really wanting to help people. I think thats a big part of me.

I would even add determination because when looking at your career, especially from 2016 up to now, there has been some major changes. Let’s time travel back to 2016. I think you were still in media planning. When did you make that dip to marketing?

So 2016, wow that seems like so long ago. I always wanted to work in music. I wasn’t sure how I would do it, I didn’t really have anyone that worked in the music industry or had any connections. Until I actually spoke to my mom, maybe a couple of years ago, she actually let me know that she used to be a secretary at EMI. Which was quite interesting to find out. I used to love finding new music, going to gigs. I just didn’t know what I wanted to do but I knew I wanted to help artists in some capacity. So when I was at university, I did my dissertation on Hip Hop and Black women, and how that’s affected how people perceive Black women, especially in the US. In 2016 I was like, okay that dissertation didn’t to do anything. I’m at this media agency, which was great to get transferrable skills and understand the landscape of media but it wasn’t what I wanted to do. So I started a blog, it didn’t really work and then 2016 One of my best friends Chris, he hates me telling this story [laughs]. He Facebook chatted me and was like Shen look at this job at Sony Music, it’s an internship, and I was like there’s no way I’m getting that. So I applied for it, hoping and just praying and then I actually found out I got it because they sent me another email saying, are you sure you don’t want to go forward with the interview. I didn’t look at the first email, I was like oh my gosh, no, I definitely do. Then it was about six to eight months of interviews. I think it was like eight interviews, so I had different departments that wanted to speak to me. Then in 2016, Columbia Records offered me the job as a marketing assistant intern, which was amazing.

Wow, eight interviews! How did you keep up with your morale? Because I know that can be quite daunting.

Yeah, I’m very religious. So God is a big part of my life and I was like, whats for me won’t pass me. I always thought, if this is something I really want to do, whether I didn’t get any of the eight interviews and had to go again. I just knew that was part of my calling, to be able to help artists and work in that space. So it was hard, I’m not gonna lie to you. You know, I was praying every day, but it was determination. I wanted a new challenge as well and I wanted to understand. I think sometimes when you end up in couple of jobs, your just like what do I want to do? Where’s my passion? Where’s my drive, and it was always around music and discovery. So I think that’s the way I kind of kept going.

You mentioned about not having connections. Thats one thing I personally relate to. How did you like get over that hurdle?

Yeah, I guess I love meeting new people. I love hearing about other people’s stories and their journeys. Why they’re passionate about what they do and why they do things. I think I was lucky enough at Columbia Records to work in the marketing team. So I was able to work on an array of artists, because you’re in the Sony building, you were able to walk around the building and make connections with artists and managers that are coming in.We had an internship that allowed us to make friends with people with different labels, different departments and I think that was super key for me to be able to say, okay I want to talk to this person about this. Have they had the same experience at their label? How do we help each other and I think I was able to build my connection that way. I was always willing to help, which I think is the one thing that people say, Sheniece you always go above and beyond or you don’t not reply to an email. It’s always that you want to show up wherever you can. I think that was really helpful for me to make connections. I meet someone and their like you should meet this person. That’s kind of how it worked for me. I didn’t realise how much your connections are your currency until I came into my role at YouTube and was like, okay, having these connections, and these relationships with people across the board was really helpful for my role now for sure.

Moving to 2017, I know that was a big year for you.

2017 I think I took on Rick Ross, maybe at Columbia Records. I was obviously converted to a marketing assistant, which was amazing. I appreciate Columbia Record’s till this day for allowing me to have the opportunity. A lot of internships don’t turn into full time jobs after, and there was a moment where Rick Ross was coming to the UK. They needed someone to come and interview him, I got someone to do that. Rick Ross came in and he was really grateful. I then ended up taking in a marketing manager aspect which was great. Then thats when I was able to pick up a little bit more projects on my own, and kind of helped me grow as a person and understand that I could do this and move out. I mean, that was a big year for me to kind of show what I was capable.

Even though we’re definitely seeing a lot of changes, the industry is a bit male dominated. How did it feel taking on that role and in general, how does it feel being a Black woman in this industry?

I think I’m very lucky to be in the industry, where there’s people that look like me across the board. I know, there’s still a lot that needs to be done. There’s still only one or two of us in certain buildings. However, I feel like I got a little bit more of a safe space, to be able to talk about my problems or be able to get support outside of my current role, or having allies across the board, which is great. I know it’s a very male dominated industry but I have a lot of male colleagues and friends within this industry that have supported me from day one, which is great. For example, I know Kwabz very well and he’s always supported me since the day I met him and has never made me feel like actually, he’s not gonna respect me because I’m a woman. Just like Posty or the twins at Def Jam, no one has ever seen me as obviously just a little girl. It always been very supportive of me. That actually helped with my growth, I know, it’s a very male dominated industry but I think we’re seeing changes. We’re seeing a lot of Black women coming through, across the board which is so exciting to me, because it’s nice to be able to see people that look like me. Especially because Black music is popular music right now and I think it’s really important to make sure representation is at every space that we’re in.

I like that you said, ‘Black music is music right now’. Just shows how much we do need our community leading things behind the scenes. I want you to tell me more about the PRS Foundation’s vibe power up.

It’s a great initiative that PRS started. I think it’s been in the second year running now. I was lucky enough to be an ambassador for a second year in a row. So we usually pick 20 Black executive and 20 Black artists that are trying to get into the industry or are in industry and want funding for a project or an idea that they’ve had. There’s a lot of people that are doing businesses on the side, as well as being at the forefront of a lot of these artists campaigns. So it’s a really great and very vital organisation and initiative that we have. I’m lucky enough that YouTube has been able to support for the last few years, I think it’s super key for us to have these things because I know a lot of people that don’t know how to get into the music industry. They don’t know how to get funding or don’t know anyone, it gives them a circle and a community as well. So when you sign up to it, there’s a lot of things that go behind the scenes and I think it’s nice for them to create a group and I love meeting new people. I think it’s been great to see the class grow, super exciting!

Wow! I’m curious to know, with all this going on, have you ever experienced impostor syndrome?

I do all the time! I think I’ve just been so blessed. It hasn’t been an easy road for me to just come into this music industry but like, the support I have across the board has just been amazing. Being able to be in a space is like [pause] not that I don’t feel the pressure but I just want to make sure that I do the best job properly. Yet also I’m like, am I really here? Am I doing enough? Then I get into the imposter syndrome and start wondering if I should have a seat at this table. I get into it quite a bit, sometimes I’m like I need to get out of my own head. I don’t know if that’s something as a Black woman where we always feel like, are we not doing enough or are we supposed to be here. My colleagues have been able to kind of help me with those things, which has been getting me out of it. By having imposter syndrome just shows that you’re grateful for where you are as well. Sometimes I think if I’m like yeah, I’m supposed to be here, I think it could really affect me. I know that I’m definitely someone that is all trying to grow and learn. I think having a imposter syndrome can can be quite detrimental but it’s something that I’m trying to work on. It is really hard.

I remember in a previous interview you were asked if you switch off from music? And you said it’s part of your life that it’s hard for you to switch off. How do you maintain the boundary between work and your personal life?

I’m still trying. My friends and my colleagues have got me better, so I don’t need to be out five times a week, have time to yourself. I didn’t think burnout was a real thing. They were like, oh, you could burn out. I’m like what does that mean? How do you burn out? I’m not a candle I can’t burnout [laughs]. Then I realised you’re doing 1000s of things on a weekly basis. Then all of a sudden it’s like I can’t even get up or I’m tired. I adore my friends and I adore my family. I’ve got nieces and nephews that I adore so much. So I try to spend as much time with them. I’ll FaceTime my mom, when she doesn’t answer I get upset, but I will FaceTime her. I try and have these boundaries of who is Sheniece outside of YouTube. I try and ask myself that all the time because I want to make sure that if I have to leave this organisation or leave to, Godwilling, have a baby in a couple of years that people remember Sheniece as Sheniece as well as Sheniece that works at YouTube. So I try just making sure that I have passions outside of this because my passion was music. Now I work in music, so what do I like to do that keeps me going and keeps me driving. That’s what I’m trying to figure out. I’m trying to do new things, which is quite exciting, but work life balance, I’m still working on it.

Speaking about YouTube, when was the year you made the transition?

So 2019 was the year that I started at YouTube and 2020 was the year that I got converted to a full time employee which was something I wasn’t expecting and I’ve just been really happy.

Well deserved because you have been behind a number of collaborations that has definitely led to pushing Black British music even more global. What was it like working on those types of collaborations?

Yeah, it was super fun. So the Excellence brunch was in 2020, I believe. I was lucky enough to work with Irene, which I think a lot of people know. It was one of the first things that Youtube kind of done in the UK on a wide scale for a celebration of Black British culture, which was great. Then I actually spearheaded the idea of the Legacy series, which is celebrating Black culture and music in the UK. So we do like panels, dinners, events, just kind of showcase. Sometimes we feel like we don’t celebrate all that success and amazing things about Black British culture, and the music that we have right now is allowing us to do that. We’re here, we have culture and are great at what we do, let’s celebrate it. I think at YouTube, we’ve been lucky enough to work with some of the most amazing Black artists. The upcoming ones and the established ones, it’s something that I’m super excited about. I want to make sure they’re celebrated and they create a legacy. I’m very keen on like working with artists all the time, not just hey heres a campaign see you later. I want it to be an ongoing relationship. I want to be able to be a big part of your legacy whether thats at the end or the middle. I think it’s very important for us as a community to talk about legacy a little bit more rather than Black excellence, which I feel is very much in the moment [laughs]. I’m not too keen on the term all the time, just because I feel that puts a lot of pressure on us. When we talk about legacy I feel like it’s a bit more broader. You can be excellent all the time but you can also build on things and have breaks. I think that goes back to me. Sometimes you feel like, if I take a break, does that mean I’m not excellent anymore? It’s just trying to deal with those balances.

I love this! I feel sometimes we forget that we have greats here. We’re always looking at other industries. So I really love that, but even outside of Black British music, I know you’ve worked on other things as well, including with Wizkid. That one was major. Out of all of them, what was your favourite?

It’s really hard because I’ve just been very blessed to be able to work on really exciting projects. So the Wizkid one is one that people say to me like, we were all in lockdown at home. It was just something that I didn’t see coming in as like, what cool projects am I gonna do that year? It was definitely one so that was exciting. I did a fashion type music event with Westfield and GUAP. It was exciting to have that vision and it to come to life. I think there’s just been so many things, I love all the marketing packages out on YouTube that we get to work with artists. Black voices fund, I think it’s just an incredible initiative here at YouTube. I could be here for days, like its just been a great experience here.

We must add another success to the mix, you just won an award!

[Laughs] Thank you.

Did that silenced the imposter syndrome?

I think for me it was just like I couldn’t believe it. So when I knew I was like oh wow, okay, this is really happening. I think with me, if you know, my friends will say I don’t feel like I’ve done enough in the industry. So I was like, is this for me? Does this make sense? I was like, okay, God is saying this is for you. Take it, go with it. I think seeing the testimonials from the likes of Aitch, Pa Salieu and even my old boss Ferdie, I was like oh, wow. These are all the people that really cared and actually thought, you know what, you actually really deserve this. I think it was just really nice, because I was then like, actually, I do work really hard. I really try to help artists and make their lives easier in these spaces. So it was really nice to kind of get it but I think till this day it hasn’t hit me. I don’t know if it will, it’s still a bit of a shock to be honest.

From the outside perspective, it was well deserved. I hope you at least enjoyed it the next day.

[Laughs] It was a great night, it was really nice. My team were just so sweet. They got some drinks for me after, it was really really nice. It was a day I’ll remember for my life.

Unfortunately my time with you is drawing to a close. My last question is a two part. What will be seeing with the partnership between YouTube and Black British culture in the next coming years. And then for you personally, what’s the next year look like?

Okay, great question. I think we at YouTube, we’re gonna continue to support Black British artists, which has been incredible. I don’t think that will never slow down. Which is great and I think it’s just us continuing to build relationships with all the artists and knowing that we’re here to support and we want their voices to be heard on YouTube, on and off the platform. We value your opinions, we want you guys to be embedded in what we’re creating here. We never want anyone to feel like it’s just a momentary thing, we support Black artists across the board all the time, which is great. I think for me, the next year is more exciting projects. I’m really excited about next year, I think one of my favourite projects that I did this year was obviously the Legacy party but also working with Wireless. That was great and I think because I’ve been going Wireless since I was 14. I was like oh, wow, I’m now actually part of what they’re doing here which was great. I think you guys will see some exciting stuff so watch this space.

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