Ever thought of what goes on behind the scenes of big music labels? Ever wondered who finds talents and connects them with opportunities? Whether that’s a yes or no, you’re in for a treat as Debbie Romeo takes us behind the curtain of working in the entertainment industry for 15 years. From working in A&R roles (artiste & repertoire) at Chocolate City Music to being an A&R consultant at Universal Music Group to co-founding a network for creatives called TASCK, we talk about highlights and challenges, opening doors for creatives, what makes her smile, and much more.
For people who do not know you, how would you describe yourself and what does a typical day in your life look like?
Debbie Romeo (and yes, I will be speaking of myself in the third person in this introduction) is a vibrant, passionate, and highly skilled young woman with a large personality housed in a small body that has lived many lives traveled many lands and learned many lessons that she applies daily as she follows the paths that the universe opens up to her with every new day.
Debbie lives in constant gratitude for a colorful 15-year career across radio, events curation, performance as an artiste, A&R at two major record labels and even writing, amongst other things. With a life that toes the line of entertainment and CSO engagements in a company she co-founded called TASCK, it is easy to get lost in translation and never fully feel like a part of any world – a challenge that Debbie has taken on rather happily as she marries her passion for music with her penchant for connecting creatives to opportunities that help them on their path to self-discovery and personal growth.
Yoga, music, paperwork, emails, candles, meetings, food, and fun. That’s what a day in the life of Debbie is like. On heavier days, there are also studio sessions, photo shoots, video shoots, rehearsals, recce trips, events, performances, and very detailed reports.
As a multi-hyphenate, there are no limits to where the job may lead but to Debbie Romeo, that’s what sweet dreams are made of.
What have been the biggest challenges in your industry, especially as a woman and how have you been able to overcome them? And what’s been the highlight of your career?
I’ll start off by saying it’s hard to pick one challenge when you’ve worked a range as wide as I think I have. My challenges at each stage were different. From life as a commercial coordinator in a Telco, to finding a calling on radio, to performing live 12 hours every week for over a year – it’s hard to find a constant amongst these and the other things I have done.
But I will say that as a woman, the major challenge that changed the course of my life was rooted in safety. Working late, working nights in the studio, you find yourself around a lot of ingenuine people whose selfish interests supersede their value for human safety. You never really overcome it but as you get older and make more money, you create a system around yourself that makes you feel safer, allows you the means to leave when you don’t feel safe, and affords you the power to say ‘No’ because you aren’t entirely dependent on that moment for your next pay cheque.
I have never been able to pinpoint a highlight in my career because the lights are never dim – but I will say that I have been proud of myself at the end of every year for many years and I hope that never stops.
Do you often think of a five-year or ten-year plan with your work? And why?
I am a firm believer in change so as much as I make plans, I don’t put any pressure on myself to stick to them when life offers a different path.
I make my plans based on where I want to be mentally and emotionally; happy, satisfied, and at peace. And what gives me the next level of those things? That’s where the other components come in; self-actualization via giving of myself to others, better finances, more for my family, well-rounded friendships, etc. Now when I think of my plans and work, I think about how to get to those things regardless of the path I need to take because those are the things that make me truly happy and fulfilled.
Being a manager at one of the biggest music groups and now co-founding an ecosystem of creatives at TASCK must be fulfilling but what’s your relationship with work and productivity, how have you been able to balance work with your personal life?
My work life and personal life are greatly intertwined. I co-founded a company with close friends and now it’s become this ecosystem that feeds the spaces of civic responsibility, opens doors for creatives, and blesses me with a smile when I sleep each night. I think I am very lucky to have that. Now I just need money to make my life complete. Hahaha
But seriously, I am deliberate with servicing my friendships; I make sure to show up for my friends as often as I can and this leaves the question of productivity. With a festive-looking life that many might consider a distraction, it’s quite the opposite for me because I require a good balance of social interaction and complete seclusion to be able to execute at a high level. It took years but I found my balance – I figured out how to hyperfocus & scale through a heavy workload and how to manage my friendships so they do not suffer neglect.
If you were referring to romantic relationships when you said “personal life”, I am sorry to disappoint you but I have boomeranged to and from a ring so if any changes are made to that part of my life soon, you’d have to ask again to get real information. The most I can give you is that the lack thereof is not a result of my work but rather a result of my oddly high standards for a partner.
From your work, we know that it’s a passion to connect creatives to opportunities, What would you say has been done, and what more needs to be done in giving access to women in the creative industry?
What’s been done? Women are getting shows and record deals.
What can be done? Match the money with their male counterparts.
And now, at the risk of sounding unnecessarily serious, I will go further. I believe the key to changing how female creatives relate with their art, work, and passion lies in our ability to work them through the mental blocks that come from the nurture in our society.
Most women struggle with their identity – they are who their parents told them to be, then they become who their religion has instructed them to be. They become who they see on social media, then they become whoever their romantic partners tell them to be.
They can’t tell you who they are, what they love, or why they love it. So they just keep trying everything blindly and end up frustrated and exhausted.
If we can have real conversations with female creatives early on in their careers – conversations that allow them to explore the depths of who they are without fear or shame- we would have unlocked the most powerful set of emboldened women whose limits are beyond the stars.
So, let’s do that and then give them money. The second greatest key is funding. Give more women large sums of money to make valuable mistakes with so that their mistakes expose the cracks that need to be filled.
The theme of this year’s IWD is “DigitALL: Innovation and technology for gender equality.”, how has technology influenced your work, positively and negatively?
I might be a slave to technology. I own at least 5 devices for work and personal use. I need my calendar daily, I need my emails daily, I need my yoga app, I need google, I need Pinterest for my creative boards, I need meeting apps – I could go on and on. It has helped me learn, helped me grow, helped me catch many men in a lie because e-mail trails will expose you and it has helped me connect with people from across the globe that have positively impacted my work and worldview.
From data analysis to music conversations to simply keeping up with the times as they so rapidly change for entertainment, I find that technology has been a backbone for me and I am grateful for the privilege of access.
Negatively, I can’t think of anything right now except that I get so tired of trying to keep my artistes out of polarizing conversations that add no value to their brand.
How do you like to unwind and practice self-care?
I practice self-care daily. It’s in the music I choose to listen to when I wake up, in the candles I light up and incense I burn, in the pages I follow on social media, it’s in the funny/supportive group chats I am in, it’s in my choices of what to eat and where and with whom, it’s in how I choose to decorate my home so I am comfortable in it.
Self-care is not an activity for me, it’s a part of my lifestyle.
I feed all my senses daily with things I love as a form of self-care.
When I feel overwhelmed, I ask for time off and I sleep or engage in the all-powerful act of doing nothing till my body and my brain recuperate.