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From Pop to Entrepreneur of the year: Olivia Blackwell on Blackstar’s rise to global recognition

Did you hear the news? One of our Members just picked up Music Week's Women in Music Entrepreneur Award! We sat down to find out more about their journey from start up to Entrepreneur of the year...

For those that don’t know already, please can you tell us a little bit about yourself and the story behind Blackstar? 

My name is Olivia! Hi! I lost my job a few years ago & found myself signing on at the job centre after going to interviews for jobs I either didn't get or didn't want in my heart. 

So I decided to use some of the skills I had developed in my career in music to start consulting to other companies & artists. 

So I got started, I decided to brand myself as a company because it felt more 'proper' & chose Blackstar after the Bowie Record. I live locally to Pop so I applied for a space after I hired a couple of people so we could work together. We got a supported space which helped us get moving, then things began to snowball & we just kept growing, then so did the space with us. We now have over 30 team members in London & in North America. 

My favourite moment in starting was the day I went to the job centre, told them my idea, that I had my first client & i was excited. The rep stood up & asked to shake my hand. I felt proud of myself for the first time in a long time. 

You’ve just picked up this year’s Music Week’s Women in Music Entrepreneur's award - congratulations! What does this achievement represent to you when you reflect on your journey as an entrepreneur?

I think it's a great gift to have received. I hope that by creating this award category that many more incredible women who have paved the way already (or haven't started yet) get the recognition they deserve. For me, it's back to work but with a blessing from the peers around us who have seen what we have done. Very grateful. 

What would be your most valuable piece of advice for aspiring entrepreneurs, considering everything you’ve learnt up until this point? 

If you are not prepared to be obsessed with making it work then go & get a job that pays you so you can have a work life balance. It's not sitting on a beach with your laptop it's crying at 4am because you can't work out how to align a text block on a PowerPoint presentation because you're exhausted & you're presenting in the morning. 

It's staying late to clean your space, picking noodles out the sink, mopping & spilling the bins so your team have a nice place to be. (I mean they all help too but now we can afford an amazing cleaner who doesn't just drag the rug over a stain like I do!) 

It's recognising people will not always be supportive of your journey & that they really don't have to. Don't take it personally. Move on. 

You do not need to have an investor or a backer to execute your idea. It shouldn't stop you. That's a privilege I never had & if you are prepared to get your head down, be humble, do the work it reduces the risk. 

How does your perspective as an entrepreneur compare between today and when you first started out?

I thought it would be hard but I underestimated how hard. When I started I didn't know I was being an "entrepreneur", I thought I was paying my bills. 

I guess now I better understand the definition of the word right? 

Have there ever been any moments of uncertainty along your journey? And what did you do to overcome them?

About once a week I'll have a moment saying 'why the fuck' but the development of the people in the team, the amazing artists we work with & seeing the growth is what makes me overcome my once a week 'why the fuck' & I am yet to meet any other business owner who does not admit to that. It's human, we are not machines. 

How important was it for you to have built and developed your own company without any outside investment? And are there any advantages you’ve seen on the back of this?

it wasn't a choice, it was necessary for me - where would I even start to find that? I don't know anyone with that kind of money or the networks to find money. It was an alien concept. But people always ask "who's paying" like... We are?

Now I'm starting to understand that world & I think there are huge advantages to investment in giving you stability to grow. But I think starting without means we are lean, we are adaptive & everyone gets their hands dirty because it's in our spirit but it's not something I'd actively avoid if it was essential.

Blackstar doesn’t follow the crowd: how important is it for artists to have a marketing strategy that’s innovative and stands out from the rest?

I mean it's everything. You have to cut through the noise because we are in an attention economy in music, we fight algorithms with good art & great ideas. 

The world is evolving rapidly, especially on a digital scale. The responses to the pandemic have seen digital technologies being adopted at a greater speed than ever. How does Blackstar keep abreast of these changes and what does the future of digital marketing look like to you?

We do it every day, so we are in it & we see it. We all engage with the culture around us, we are all fans of music & we all give a shit, so we keep abreast by exposure. The future of digital marketing is very broad & exciting. For me it's about digital ownership but I'm hoping there's a greater accountability for how information is shared & targeted, as well as an acknowledgement that the 'always on' mentality can really drive the possibility to escalate mental heath issues in artists as well as fans. I hope we can all work together better to find a balance. 

Find out more about Blackstar on their website, or follow them on Instagram @blackstaragency