MBW’s Inspiring Women series profiles female executives who have risen through the ranks of the business, highlighting their career journey – from their professional breakthrough to the senior responsibilities they now fulfil. Inspiring Women is supported by Ingrooves.
Last year, Doreen Schimk was named co-President of Warner Music Central Europe alongside Fabian Drebes, with the duo claiming the first dual leadership of a major label in Germany.
Schimk stepped up from her previous role as MD of Media & Brands at the company, having previously spent eight years as Director of Promotion and Coordination.
Since taking on the co-Presidency title, she tells us she’s been focused on building a culture of belonging for both artists and staff, as well as strengthening the label’s domestic business.
Fruits of that labour include the launch of Atlantic Records Germany, which is focused on German hip-hop. Schimk says: “We want this label to be a place for culturally relevant artists and have more of an indie, start-up mentality, rather than the typical major label approach.”
Artists signed to Atlantic Records Germany that Schimk is excited about include German/Russian rapper Vero and Austrian talent, Yung Hurn. “There is a lot more coming — we’re just about to negotiate with a lot of artists that I can’t talk about at the moment,” she adds.
Schimk has also been working on the launch of all-female rap songwriting camp, SHE, which took place in Berlin mid-April. The week offered networking opportunities and mentorship in order to help improve the representation of women in hip-hop.
Prior to Warner, Schimk worked at Sony Music Germany for nearly five years after starting her career as an intern at Edel Records in the promotions department in the late ‘90s.
She didn’t go to university and instead spent her post-school years DJing before landing in New York in search of a music industry career. “Music was the only thing I was 100% passionate about,” she remembers. “It was always about music.”
Despite not speaking any English, Schimk landed a job in New York’s Brooklyn district in a bar, where she ended up serving drinks to the likes of Spike Lee, Mary J. Blige and Queen Latifah.
She says: “This was a fancy hip bar at the time, I was the only German waitress there and I just kept saying, ‘My name is Doreen and I need a job.’ I realised everyone wanted to get into the music industry and I didn’t have a clue what kind of study or training I needed to do.”
Thankfully, a friend in Hamburg tipped her off about an opening at Edel Records back in Germany and within 48 hours of sending her CV off, she moved back home and started work.
Here, we chat to Schimk about her career to date, gender equality in music, bringing German hip-hop to the global stage, and much more besides.
Across the various different roles that you’ve held in your career, do you have any biggest lessons learned?
One lesson is that it’s good to have some mentorship or people who are there to support you. I’ve always focused on trying to surround myself with people who can support me or who I can learn from. Also, it’s very important to be passionate about the things you do as well as being courageous and ambitious. Have an open mind and get out of your comfort zone, be open to new things and keep it going.
“I’ve always focused on trying to surround myself with people who can support me or who I can learn from.”
You’re involved in running the all-female rap songwriting camp, SHE — can you tell me about the inspiration behind launching it?
Globally and locally, there’s a lack of female talent in the business; artists, songwriters and producers. We believe, with Atlantic, Warner Music and Warner Chappell, that it’s about networking. We’re living in a time where we have such a great opportunity to get connected, not just through the social media platforms, especially coming out of two years of the pandemic.
So we’re building a programme where female artists and songwriters have the opportunity to get to know each other and to learn from and support each other. As a brand, SHE could be the new home for female artists and the creative scene across Europe and globally. I see it as a huge opportunity.
Aside from mentorship and community, what else do you think would equal the balance of gender in the music industry on the talent side?
Pushing gender equality and inclusion forward. Inclusion is a very important thing that everybody should realise and it’s about being open, no matter what cultural backgrounds we have. Also, not just talking about it. I keep saying, ‘Actions speak louder than words’. It’s the little steps that make the difference — doing things on a daily basis.
“[When it comes to gender equality in music], It’s the little steps that make the difference.”
In the UK and US, there’s been quite a lot of action on the business side to get more women into leadership positions in the music industry. Is that work mirrored in Germany?
I think Warner especially does a lot of activity for gender equality. In our organisation at the moment, we have almost 50% female and male [employees] on a leadership level. There are several initiatives that we will push even more to make clear that there needs to be a lot of action.
This year, we’ve created the SHE songwriting camp but we’re also developing a lot of different formats where women can speak up about their issues, so I think we’re in a good place. But of course, there are a lot of opportunities we need to take relating to how we place a woman when it comes to festivals line-ups and certain roles, for example.
German hip-hop generally hasn’t done a good job of translating outside of its home country — how can it break through the language barrier and compete with strong markets like the US?
We see that every year, the rap genre is the most successful across Europe and especially in Germany. Of course, the language barrier is there but I think there will be new ways [for it to break through]. Especially because we are now handling the DSPs and social media platforms globally — on one hand, they will be focused on local rap but on the other, global music genres will have much more of an impact across the world.
Do you have any strategies that have proven particularly effective for breaking German music overseas?
Yes, of course, it’s about our signing strategy. But I cannot talk too much about what that is for Warner Music. There are some individual things but I don’t really want to publish that, I think they should be more discreet.
What are the biggest challenges that come with working in the music industry in Europe at the moment and how are you navigating those?
We’re really focusing on our domestic market and seeing how TikTok is influencing new artists and songs and looking at how listeners are interested in different genres. We’re in a very disruptive market situation so it’s important to realise what’s in our market, what the topic is that has cultural impact aside from the global mega trends.
How about the most exciting development happening in the music industry for you today?
I think it’s beyond our traditional recording business — we’re looking to explore new revenue streams through the entire digitalisation, like creating NFTs or avatars. Living in such a digital world now, there are a lot of new ways of exploring music and that’s fascinating.
What would you change about the music industry and why?
Pushing gender equality and inclusion forward. The more inclusive we become, the more successful we will be.
What advice would you offer to someone looking to follow in your footsteps? Is there anything you wish you’d known before you started your career?
Be patient about the things you do and also be ambitious. I think that is very important, whatever you do, but especially if you have the possibility to change things — speak up. That was something I had to learn, it didn’t come naturally.
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