Entrepreneur Lola Plaku shares the most important lessons she’s learned as she’s built her agency Lola Media Group.
Breaking into any creative industry as a woman is notoriously difficult. Women are routinely met with a lack of resources and instructional support. Some women are opting to create their own businesses directly speaking to their innate passions rather than sit and wait for their career breakthrough at a company. By doing so they’re ushering in room for future generations to follow in their footsteps.
Lola Plaku is one of these women. Originally from Toronto, she began her career as an intern at the online publication HipHopCanada, with dreams of becoming a music journalist. She would go on to make a name for herself after she produced a show for a local group in 2004. Following this, she would go on to host her own college radio show and ran her own music blog, iLuvLola.
Impromptu trips to New York were also pivotal for Plaku. Since people started thinking she was a promoter in Waterloo, she began booking gigs and getting invited to parties in New York City. In 2007, she moved to Atlanta, the hotbed of music at time. She found her way there and met The Dream, B.o.B., and Yelawolf who she wrote about on her blog.
After her stint in Atlanta, where she made connections in the industry, Plaku would go on to provide tour management, artist management, digital strategy, and production strictly for artists in Toronto. She was with French Montana for seven years and produced Big Sean and Travis Scott’s first shows in Toronto. By going with her gut she began recognizing artist’s audiences and was able to conceive successful shows.
Three years ago she relaunched as the New York-based company Lola Media Group, a marketing, branding, and artist development company. Clients include the XO Records artist roster: The Weeknd, Nav, Belly, and 88Glam. Alongside being a CEO, she created Girl Connected, a platform that includes a music mentorship program for young female professionals.
In the case that you have ambitious goals of starting your creative agency, we asked Lola for career advice and tips on about what it takes to found a company from the ground up. Here’s what she had to say, in her own words.
Know the environment you’re going into.
When I did road tour management for French Montana I had to really figure out what I had to do before I took that job. I had come across a lot of people who love the idea of being on the road with an artist or being on tour with an artist. But a lot of times don’t understand that your job 90% of the time is to keep track of the expenses from the bus driver to gas and tolls.
You also spend a lot of time doing balance sheets, booking hotels, booking travel coordinating bus routes, and doing advances for each venue. You’re also doing tickets for everyone in the artist’s crew. There’s all these things that come into that particular job and many people a lot of times want to do this role but don’t prepare themselves. You don’t want to take on a responsibility and you have no clue what you’re supposed to do.
Be able to accept failure and grow from it.
When I started producing shows in Canada, they didn’t make any money, one show did. The rest of them I either broke even or I lost money. For some people that’s a failure, for me that was a great success.
When I did French Montana’s first show in Toronto in 2011, I lost a lot of money because on my end I [gave away more free tickets] than I sold. To anybody else that would’ve [been seen] as a failure because as a show promoter you have to make money. But for me, creating something amazing was a success and it was an opportunity to keep building. He did a capacity of 3,000 people, he had never done that before. He’d never done a live performance or a show with a full 45-minute set. Moving forward after that I toured him many times in Canada.
Love what you do.
As I was coming up in the music business, interning, working, creating and taking opportunities, there was little time to have a personal life or hobbies. My life was my job. That can get pretty lonely pretty quickly. No matter how hard things got and how alone I felt at times, there was nothing like going on tour and seeing my artists perform in front of thousands of people. There was no better feeling than making a fan’s day because they met their idol or got to see a live show. There was no bigger satisfaction than saying, ‘I did that.’
The work that goes into putting an album or a project together and seeing it through with a team of people is beyond amazing. I loved breaking artists when I was doing interviews, and I loved breaking artists when I was producing shows, and I love breaking artists doing their marketing and branding now.
Learn the business aspect of whatever it is that you want to get into.
I didn’t really realize how important paperwork and contracts were in the beginning. I really started because I wanted to create amazing shit. A lot of that doesn’t start from contracts or deals, it really just starts from ideas. I rebranded and relaunched my business in 2017 with all the experience I had gained over the years in mind. A lot of the time I was creating, I wasn’t aware that I could have gotten paid from revenue made [following] an investment I did into an artist or a person a long time before that.
I didn’t understand that by creating opportunities that specific individuals were gaining wealth until much later on. As my experience kept growing and I started looking at tour contracts, booking contracts, non-disclosure agreements, and other agreements I realized these things needed to be in place in order for an artist and my business to [be successful].
To book your first client you should be sure that your experience speaks for you.
One of the first concerts I ever produced in Waterloo was [with] Big Sean in 2011. I had never done a concert, I had never done per diems, I didn’t know anything about travel permits.
I learned a lot of that stuff on the go, it was a combination of throwing parties and seeing how things operated. Sean had never come to Canada as an artist, so [first] we did an in-store at Stussy. I had not done in-stores at the time or meet and greets, I just knew that was his fan base from listening to his music, seeing the fan feedback on Twitter and going to his shows. I [also] went to his first show in New York at SOB’s and saw the crowd and felt I knew where this crowd was in Toronto. We did the in-store and then we did the show at another venue that I had done parties at but not concerts. They both were sold-out, and those experiences prompted me to do more. I aggregated a lot of gut feelings and I put that all together.
Robyn Mowatt is a staff writer at Okayplayer where she covers culture, music, and fashion. You can see what's on her mind @robyn_mowatt.