Some may know Jessica Vaughn as Charlotte Sometimes, JPOLND (the girl who got the big sync placement in Episode 6 of Netflix’s Bridgerton), the Alternative Pop artist LACES, or any of her other artist project names. But what you may not know is Jess is also the Vice President of Sync and Creative at Heavy Hitters Music Group and most importantly, runs her own label and creative agency, Head Bitch Music. As a part of our celebration of Women’s History Month, we sat down with Jess to learn more about her career as a multi-faceted woman in the music industry.
Liz Eason: I’d love to hear more about the beginning of your career in music and how that led you to the founding of your label & creative agency Head Bitch Music.
Jessica Vaughn: I did competitive dance when I was younger and was always really drawn to music. I started to write poetry and make melodies to it. One day I just googled how to be an artist and learned that I needed press kits and stuff, so did that and got signed. Eventually I had a not so great experience as a signed artist and realized I didn’t have a lot of agency over my decisions – I was a passenger in my own career. That was such an interesting thing to realize because everything is built around the artist. You’re technically paying the band, you’re paying your manager, paying your publisher. I just started to realize I didn’t have any power in my own career and I felt really trapped.
The moment I tried to take some of that power back was the moment I kind of got tossed away, and as a result, I realized two things in that experience. First, the importance of believing women, and second, there were no women on my team. I looked around, and I had a bunch of men in my band. I had a male tour manager. It was a very male dominated space and I realized early on that the only way to change things is to cultivate as much power as I could in the entertainment industry so that people would take me seriously, not just as an artist, but as someone who has influence. And as someone who has influence, I could actually maybe change things for other women in the music industry and at least be a safe haven for them to come to, and say ‘Hey, this thing happened. How should I deal with it, who should I talk to?’
With that agency I created for myself, I started Head Bitch Music in 2019. I created my label imprint, because I had hundreds of songs and projects and figured we should funnel them through an imprint. But then it just grew into something else naturally. People want to work with people they trust, so they just kinda reach out to you, and now I have all these badass women on the label.
LE: You work with the artists under your label in a lot of ways – from educating them on the nuances of the industry to helping them with their day to day careers.
JV: We just provide artist services and a level of dedication and understanding of what it means to be an artist in this day. We give them tools and resources to monetize their careers without being taken advantage of. My biggest thing, and my partner Ryan’s biggest thing, is empowering and educating the artists we work with so they can have agency over their careers. I think that kind of ties into what I didn’t have, and for that reason we do work with mostly women.
LE: Apart from running Head Bitch Music, you are the Vice President of Sync and Creative at Heavy Hitters Music Group and an artist/songwriter on side. How do you balance everything?
JV: Well, this morning I was doing a workout class with an AirPod in one ear while on a conference call, then I had my coffee and put a facemask on. So it’s really just about time management!
But I balance it all because I love it all. And it goes back to my initial dedication to creating a more equitable safe space for women, BIPOC and anyone who is other. I feel like I’m committed to that and so I love what I do.
The world is unpredictable. All of the sudden, you can be in lockdown, in a pandemic. If you’re only making a living off of touring, well now you have to pivot and decide how you are going to make a living. I’ve set myself up where every single job I have helps the other one. If one thing gets affected, I’m not going to end up homeless. Because I’ve already monetized all these different parts of my life, so they all kind of lift each other up. And the way to balance that is to not focus on all of it at once, you know? Maybe one day I’m more focused on my job at Heavy Hitters. Maybe the next day, I’m more focused on Head Bitch Music doing custom songs. And maybe on the weekends or at night I’m working on artist stuff. I just try to check in with myself and say, “Am I overwhelmed, am I losing it? Like do I need to sign up for virtual therapy? Do I need a glass of wine?” And I think you just have to listen to your body and if your body is telling you to slow down, slow down. I took Monday off as a mental health day after a 12 hour music video shoot and I do not feel bad about it. You have to make time for yourself.
LE: You recently saw massive streaming success after a sync placement in Netflix’s hit show ‘Bridgerton’. How did you capitalize on the virality as a result of the show’s popularity?
JV: We landed the placement because my sync rep at Modern Works Music Publishing, Casey, pitched it to the show and they loved it. I got a quote on it about a year and a half ago and then I didn’t really know much about the show because it was a secret up until like two months before it came out. I had the scene description so I knew it would definitely move the needle a little bit because it’s a very sexual scene. But when I watched the show and realized the rest of the soundtrack was only quartet music, I knew the song would stand out.
I think that’s what we’re all looking for when we land a sync, right? You’re hoping for that perfect moment where your song is going to stand out in the show. And, obviously, it started to go viral, and what we’ve done to capitalize off of that was like “Ok, we need another single in the pipeline. We need to create social media for this project.” I was open to saying yes instead of saying no. Buzzfeed reached out to me and I was like, “Yeah cool, let’s do it.” I think because I’ve been doing this for so long, my husband and I, who’s also my manager, we’re so prepared because we’ve had other songs go viral for other artists. We did a radio campaign because it was getting radio play internationally. Before work I’d do like fifty radio IDs in the morning. It’s just about saying yes, because what happens is that viral success isn’t necessarily a marathon, it’s a sprint. So if you are not participating in that sprint, then you’re going to lose all the momentum and no one is really going to pay attention. It’s really important that you give it all your passion, all your attention when it’s happening. Because, just like anything else, it will go away.
LE: You’ve written songs about your experience with sexual assault, female empowerment, and other issues women face today. Is there one song that you’ve written that means the most to you and why?
JV: If we’re going with the theme, obviously I’d say “they say” because it is about sexual assault. And when I wrote the song initially, I wrote it for a Time’s Up event in Las Vegas and other women were going to be singing it. I was listening to a lot of songs about the topic and I just felt like I didn’t really relate to any of them. I don’t know, I just always felt like they were a little too on the nose or a little disjointed for me. So I wanted to create a song that people who identified with the idea of being a survivor of something could also relate to – without also being re-traumatizing.
I think that there’s good intentions with writing a song about trauma, but if you are bringing somebody back to that space of trauma, they’re not going to want to listen to that. It’s not necessarily going to be cathartic. So I think you have to be careful. That song was really important to me because I wrote it with a good friend of mine and then I had a lot of amazing women sing on it with me and then we did a really cool womxn sound off campaign around it. So, that’s probably my favorite thematic song I’ve written.
LE: What does it mean to be a woman in music?
JV: To me, “they say” and being a woman in music kind of intersected. We did this whole story about my sexual assault when I was on tour and how my management at the time didn’t really handle that with a lot of grace…or empathy. I wanted to do the womxn soundoff campaign because I wanted to show that we can all stand in solidarity with each other. And that it doesn’t necessarily have to be about sexual assault. It’s about the fact that it’s such a unique experience to be a woman in music and it’s so important to create a community that you can trust and you can talk to about issues that come up within your job.
LE: What is your advice to young women trying to get into music, either on the artist or on the business side?
JV: My advice to get into the business? I mean, do you. Everyone thinks that they need to go find a manager or they need to go find a publisher and like that’s how they get into it. You get into it by getting good at your craft. I’m seeing so many artists skip steps because they think they should be somewhere that they’re not ready for. But everything takes time and you have to be good at your craft. So my best advice is get to know yourself. Fail a lot. Work really hard and build relationships that you don’t know what you’re going to do with them. You don’t have to angle every single person that you meet. Why don’t you just build an actual, authentic relationship with that person because you never know where they’re going to go. And you just know when you meet someone, they’re going to do big things somewhere, somehow. So start with that. Get to know yourself, work really hard, get good at your craft, and build relationships and it will all fall into place.
LE: What is your favorite quote?
JV: I don’t know if I have a favorite quote, though I will say there’s a Lisa Loeb lyric that for some reason is always in my head, ‘If I am not fun and I am not interesting, perhaps I am not interested in you.’ That’s honestly me to a tee, right? Like I’m fun. I like people. But if you don’t think I am that way, it’s probably because I already don’t like you, and I’m not showing up in an authentic way with you because I’m already checked out.
I work really hard to work with people that lift me up and that I want to lift up. I think when we try to force relationships that aren’t genuine or do not add anything to the life house that we are building it seems like a detour that doesn’t necessarily need to be taken. I think it’s important to work with people who challenge you, who are different from you. But, are they building you up and making you a better person, helping you show up authentically and to be the best version of yourself? If not, do you need their business? And if you don’t, then it’s time to walk away. And so I do think that I kind of live in that quote in a big way. I try to ask myself, “Is this someone I want to do business with forever?” Because a lot of times your relationships are forever in business.
LE: In the spirit of Women’s History Month, is there a specific woman from history or today who inspires you?
JV: Oh my gosh, so many! Probably Cher because Cher just has boss bitch fucking energy. I am so obsessed with her. Not necessarily all of her music, just her as a person. The more interviews I see of Cher, the more I’m like, oh, I’m a lot like Cher. And I mean that in a very humble way because I’m not Cher, but like someone asked her something about, do you think men are necessary and she was like, “no.” She’s really built a career for herself that is completely her own. And she hasn’t compromised who she is to have this success that she has. She lifts people up including the LGBTQIA+ community and I just really admire that. If it’s one thing that I want to do in my career, it’s that I don’t want to have to change who I am to succeed. I think that when we lean away from ourselves, we lose ourselves and we lose our place in our career. I think what makes me special is me being me.
Interviewed by Elizabeth Eason, Label & Artist Services at Vydia