Anastasia Wright has had an impressive career in the music industry, from her time working as an intern at Def Jam to the launch of her label, IMG Agency & Records. As a part of our celebration of Black History Month, we sat down with Anastasia to discuss her journey as a Black female entrepreneur navigating the oftentimes challenging landscape of being in the business.
Liz Eason: When did you decide to branch out on your own and launch your label, IMG Agency & Records?
Anastasia Wright: The interesting part about my journey is that IMG has always been a part of my career because I started the company in college. I definitely did the whole intern thing like most people. I interned at Def Jam, Capitol Records, Alloy Media + Marketing, and with all that experience, I decided to start the company in 2009, during my senior year at Baruch College. I really started it out of necessity, I had a client before I had a company.
Fast forward to 2014, I had worked for Cornerstone, 12 major labels & Vevo and was currently in a publicity role at RCA when I decided to branch out and focus on IMG full-time.
LE: When you initially launched IMG Agency & Records, what was your mission?
AW: There are a few words that come to mind: representation, safe space, & empowerment. Those three things are important because I’m a black woman. When you look at how the equity of things are shared with us, with everything, but specifically in the music industry, I realized it’s super important for me to exist because I don’t.
Black women-owned distribution platforms or labels, sadly, are an enigma. Even if we open that question up to women-owned labels, that’s still what? 1%? Why? Why aren’t women in these types of leadership or ownership positions? I think the conversation needs to change to ownership. Giving us that space to own our narrative, get paid what we should get paid, and trust that we can steer those ships just like anyone else.
IMG is an equitable space. We accept all people, of all colors, of all creeds. We’re about excellence of self and music. I want IMG to disrupt. When someone says they’re a label owner, I don’t want them to assume it’s a white male. I want to just say ‘No, I’m a label owner. And, that’s normal. Women-owned labels. Women-owned distribution companies, women-owned publishing companies.’ That’s really what I want IMG to come in and disrupt.
LE: What does it mean to you, to be a woman of color in music?
AW: Tiring and empowering at the same time. Our equity has always been in our culture and what we bring to the table. A lot of popular music is Black music. So it can be empowering when we get the win but more often disempowering when we are not respected in the same way that our counterparts are. If you look at the historical context of the Black woman, we were taught to be seen and not heard. So it’s the constant reminder to ourselves that we deserve to be here.
LE: Last year the industry observed Blackout Tuesday. What did the event mean to you and what do you think drives real change for racial justice and equity within our industry?
AW: I won’t take away from what Jamila and Brianna started because they meant well. But historically, a lot of diversity & inclusion initiatives have been very performative. Thankfully, some companies are taking steps in the right direction. It’s tough because I want things to be equal but I don’t want to be in spaces just because I’m a Black woman. Equate me just as you would equate anybody else, but don’t take things away from me just because I’m that either. It’s a weird space. There are inequities in hiring processes but I think companies are scared to have those real conversations about race and sexism. These are real, deep-rooted, difficult topics to bring into a workplace but I think that’s the first step. Everyone’s going to have to get uncomfortable. Because the groups that are being disadvantaged, we’re already uncomfortable!
Conversation and awareness are important but the next steps have to involve dismantling systems. Sure you can remove ‘Urban’ from job titles or give money but how are we going to dismantle a system that is harmful?
To me, dismantling systems means giving equal equity and ownership in decision making. Imagine what you can bring to the table as a more diverse company? You can service everyone! You’re not going to lose, you’re probably going to gain…and gain in really big ways! Because once underrepresented groups feel safe, we tell other people that we feel safe and we bring in more opportunities and money for the business.
LE: What is your advice to young women of color trying to get into the music business?
AW: Remember you deserve to be in the room. And if at any point you don’t feel that way, please remember that you are deserving. “I deserve to at least apply.” “I deserve to be here just like anyone else.”
LE: In the spirit of Black History Month, is there a specific Black woman from history or today who inspires you?
AW: I’m on the shoulders and backs of so many women! My grandparents were immigrants from Panama and I’m extremely grateful to my grandmother for what she instilled in me. I’m grateful to have been allowed the pride and the freedom I was given in my household to really become who I am. My grandparents came from nothing and here I am two generations later with a lot, thanks to their work ethic and principles. I’m extremely grateful to be a part of my grandmother’s legacy.
On the music side, I always envision myself as being the Suzanne de Passe. A lot of people give Berry [Gordy], the Head A&R, all the credit for Motown Records but Suzanne was the goddamn marketing and vision. She was the one who created that Motown magic and she does not get the credit for the artist development, marketing, and styling. I’ve always been a huge fan of her and just knowing her role in developing iconic legends like Michael Jackson and The Supremes inspires me.
LE: What is your favorite quote and why?
AW: It’s a Harriet Tubman quote, “I go to prepare a place for you.” It’s so powerful, so simple, so self-explanatory. Not to diminish anyone’s struggles but I think about the type of time she lived through and the integrity she had to save so many people. That’s what’s so crazy we give heroes these crazy titles when they were just doing their part because they could. Harriet wasn’t trying to get 500 likes on her Instagram, she was just doing her part because she was able. To me it means, I’m going to make this road that was a little bumpy for me, a little smoother for you. Make things easier for other people because you can.
LE: How do you apply this personal mantra to your new venture of running a Black female-owned distribution company?
AW: I definitely have those fears about venturing into distribution but I know there are plenty of artists who need this type of support. A different kind of distribution experience that they probably haven’t had with other companies. Through this new venture, I hope to prepare a place and forge something that inspires future generations of people of color.
Interviewed by Elizabeth Eason, Label & Artist Services at Vydia