The WiMN’s Front and Center is a weekly column that showcases accomplished women who work in the music and audio industries. We spotlight successful female performers, manufacturers, retailers, educators, managers, publicists, and everyone else in between. Want to be featured? Learn how here.
Front and Center: President of Women In Music, Jessica Sobhraj
By Myki Angeline
Jessica Sobhraj is a woman of action. She serves not only as the President of the non-profit organization Women In Music, but also as the CEO for Cosynd, a company that educates and assists creators in protecting their content. Sobhraj loves giving back to her community, especially when it comes to helping out women in the music industry who still battle with issues such as the wage gap, discrimination, and harassment.
She spoke with us recently on how she came to volunteer for WIM, and how much the organization has effectively impacted the music industry in the U.S. and around the world since it’s humble beginnings nearly 32 years ago.
WiMN: What was the initial inspiration for the creation of Women In Action?
JS: Women in Music (www.womeninmusic.org) is a 32 year old non-profit that is dedicated to supporting women in the arts. It was initially formed by a group of women in New York that wanted to host casual gatherings for women in the music industry to network with each other. Over the years, WIM developed into the largest and most far reaching organization for women with a mission to advance the awareness, equality, diversity, heritage, opportunities, and cultural aspects of women in the musical arts through education, support, empowerment, and recognition. Today, the organization is operated by a volunteer staff of 60+ with chapters established all over the world to support thousands members.
WiMN: What are your primary responsibilities as the President of this non-profit organization? How did you become involved initially?
JS: Serving as President of WIM has been one of the most personally fulfilling times of my career. Before I became President, I served on the board from 2012-2015 as the Co-Chair of Fundraising. I’m fortunate enough to be in a position to give back on a large scale to a community that faces discrimination, harassment, scarcity of opportunities, the pay gap, and more.
As President, I work very closely with our Board of Directors to set the tone for the organization and to determine the goals that we will collectively work towards each year. There are some responsibilities that are constant and predictable like certain administrative tasks and others that are more spontaneous and creative like structuring partnerships or collaborating on new programming. I’m most happy when I get to roll up my sleeves and tackle something with each of our different committees (membership, communications, fundraising, events). They keep me on my toes and ensure that I never have a “typical day” – I’m so grateful for that!
Personally, I like to think of myself as “Chief Empowerment Officer” of WIM. I get to work with the most talented, altruistic, and incredible people in our industry to support an amazing cause. It’s my responsibility to ensure that our Board members, advisory board, and volunteers all feel empowered and engaged by the organization to accomplish the things that are dearest to them. We all joined WIM to support women in our industry and we all captain specific initiatives that we’re passionate about – it’s my job to define the resources and processes to make those passions reality within the scope of WIM’s mission. For an all-volunteer organization, I’m very proud of the fact that we have very little turnover and attribute that to the dedication our mission inspires within our community.
WiMN: How many chapters are there currently? What kind of impact have you seen with the expansion of WIM?
JS: Domestically, WIM has chapters in New York, Boston, Chicago, Nashville, and Los Angeles. Internationally there are both established and developing chapters in Canada, Great Britain, Northern Ireland, Barbados, and Brazil. We are working on launching four other international chapters in 2018.
WIM has always served as a hub to locate any resource imaginable. Our members use our group to find advice on any topic, career opportunities, housing opportunities, discounts to conferences, referrals to professionals, gear and space rentals, and more. By launching new chapters, we’re able to help our members access new markets and expand their individual networks on a larger scale. WIM is a truly supportive community in a myriad of ways.
During our rapid expansion, we have also remained focused on improving our infrastructure and our dedication to providing valuable programming. Over the last year, WIM has launched a new membership platform, hosted several high value events in major music markets such as our executive brunch at Midem for 100 hand picked executives across 22 nationalities, and crafted a suite of new membership programming in a relatively short time.
WiMN: Do you play an instrument? Who have been your role models?
JS: I grew up in Toronto, where access to the arts was very important in early education, so I had access to most common instruments. I’ve played both guitar and clarinet…I remember just enough to embarrass myself should the occasion call for it!
There are definitely people in my life that I would have called a role model or mentor at one time or another, but they have since become part of my inner circle of trusted friends – that’s the goal, after all! Mentorship is most fruitful when the relationship can grow organically to a point where there is a genuine desire to want to help each other. Asking my mentors “What can I do to help you?” has always led to a more solid relationship. If I had to highlight (and thank) just one of my mentors, it would be author and angel investor, Kelly Hoey. I met Kelly a decade ago when I interned for her at a major law firm. Now, she is an advisor to Cosynd and a great friend to WIM! Kelly literally wrote the book on networking called Build Your Dream Network. Check it out!
WiMN: You are also the CEO of Cosynd. Can you share with us what Cosynd is about and why it is so important to content creators?
JS: Cosynd (www.cosynd.com) is a simple, cost-effective, and legal way for creators to protect their content. We make it easy for them to create agreements that collectively establish ownership of their content. Our users can also register works with the Copyright Office, and the performing rights organizations, and propose monetization opportunities to their collaborators.
Our founding team and advisors have decades of experience in intellectual property and the hurdles of establishing and documenting ownership of content. We were able to collectively build a powerful, but easy-to-use tool to help creators protect themselves without having to spend a large amount of money (some creators neglect to take this step because they believe it is too costly). Ultimately, establishing ownership is a necessary step that creators have to take if they intend to monetize (license, sell) their content via a service. Doing so early on reduces liability and the potential for conflicts between collaborators when a deal is actually on the table – that’s when things can get really messy!
Similarly there are benefits to registering works with the Copyright Office. For example, registration ensures that there is a public record of your ownership of the content. Registration is also necessary if you intend to file an infringement suit and will permit you to pursue statuary damages as well as attorney’s fees from litigation.
WiMN: Have you experienced any struggles or hurdles as a woman in this industry? If so, how have you overcome them?
JS: Yes, I’ve experienced nearly all of the common hurdles, unfortunately!
Our sister organization, WIM Canada, has actual data on what has been most beneficial to women in overcoming these hurdles. Of the women that participated in their study, they indicated that the following solutions had the most impact on their progression in the music industry:
- Providing women with more access to networking opportunities
- Implementing an overall workplace culture that is supportive and sensitive to the needs of women
- Providing women with more access to mentors
We have also found the following methods to be successful in contributing to the progression of women worldwide
- Creating a community for women to network
- Making a conscious effort to hire more women in executive capacities and providing internal support
- Celebrating our leading female experts
- Providing educational resources
- Encouraging and engaging men to support these initiatives too
Within Women in Music, our members will find instances of all of these solutions.
WiMN: Can you share with our readers some fun facts about you?
JS: I’m a dog mom to a feisty pup that hates the clothes I force her to wear. Yes, I’m one of those people.
WiMN: Do you have any advice or recommendations to women wanting a career in the music industry?
JS: Fear, insecurity, and doubt are the common enemies that we all have, regardless of our career status. Fear in particular can lead to crippling complacency if it’s not addressed. We’re often told to “not be afraid”, but fear is such a natural emotion to have – you can’t help it! It’s our internal gauge that something we’re doing is either a mistake or something truly worthwhile. If you’re afraid, be afraid, but also be fiercely brave too. Keep going until you’ve got clarity on whether you’re on the path to a mistake or your next great adventure…and if it turns out to be a mistake, so what? Mistakes often turn out to be the greatest teachers.
Lastly, I would highly recommend joining Women in Music. For women, it is a highly supportive and beneficial community both personally and professionally. There, you will find a tribe of women that have expertly overcome the very same fears, insecurities, and doubts that you may be grappling with!