Lola Plaku Believes That Clarity Is Key in Adapting to the Ever-Evolving Music Industry
The LMG and Girl Connected founder, creative strategist and adjunct NYU professor shares how she rose through the ranks.
As a 13-year-old girl who had just moved to Canada from Albania, Lola Plaku had absolutely no idea that her career would involve running her own creative agency and women empowerment organization, serving as an adjunct professor at one of the most prestigious music schools in the world and producing the early shows of artists like The Weeknd, Travis Scott and A$AP Rocky. An affinity for promotion, discovered during her time at Wilfrid Laurier University, led her to start promoting local hip-hop groups and from there on, her passion for the music industry only continued to grow stronger.
Her next decade in the music industry was spent wearing many hats: music journalist, event promoter, concert production and artist manager. It proved to be an important and significant time for Plaku and the artists she managed — besides the above-mentioned Weeknd, Scott and Rocky, she also worked with A$AP Ferg, Big Sean, French Montana and Belly — as she helped them build careers from the ground up.
“In the beginning you never really know what the magnitude of someone’s career will be, but when I watched and stood on those stairs at Mod Club in Toronto (now Axis Club) at The Weeknd’s very first concert which I helped produce, I had tears running down my face as fans sang his songs word for word,” she fondly recalls. “Every year, Abel elevates himself and his craft to a new level. This past stadium tour? Mind-blowing. You have this idea of how big someone can be, and then they surpass it.”
Today, Plaku is married with a newborn son, and is the founder ofcreative agency Lola Media Group (LMG) and her organization Girl Connected. She’s also entering her fourth year as an adjunct professor at the Clive Davis Institute of Recorded Music in New York University. LMG was the result of her prior experience in the industry. Meanwhile, Girl Connected provides empowered and determined women professionals with the necessary framework towards success and inspiration. The organization hosts in-person and online events and a global mentorship initiative, where participants evolve their careers, grow their ideas and build meaningful relationships and partnerships with their fellow peers in the music business. More than 80 speakers have graced the Girl Connected stage in the past three years, including Karen Civil of Young Money Records, A$AP Ferg, Joey Bada$$ and Wayne Clark of Quality Control Music.
“When you’re young, you go through the motions unless you have mentors or people who inspire you and encourage you to follow passions or dreams,” she tells HYPEBEAST. “I just kept following my gut and doing things that inspired me.”
In three words, how would you describe your job to someone who isn’t familiar with the music industry?
Create artist awareness.
Can you run us through a day in your work life?
Most of my days are spent behind the scenes in my office, but every now and again I’ll be on the ground facilitating an event or going to meetings. In the past few years my goal has been to give opportunities to new people entering the creative industry, so now instead of being on the ground myself, I bring someone on board that can help execute.
I also recently had a baby, so my days and nights are looking a lot different than before. Most days I’m on the computer by 9 a.m. EST, creating a list of all my goals for the day or week, and then I spend the rest of the day executing. There’s always something happening — an artist releasing an album, an announcement, a song or video release, an event I have to produce, a creative brief that needs to be sent out, and lots and lots of calls, e-mails and zooms. So a day in my work life… getting sh*t done.
The music industry is always changing, so in order to adapt, you need to have clarity about your next steps.
You also serve as an adjunct professor at the Clive Davis Institute at New York University. What are some of the most important things you want to ensure the students will carry with them?
I’m entering my fourth year as an adjunct professor and I’ve had the opportunity to advise and work with some incredible students and musicians. The most important thing for me is that my students gain clarity; whether in their professional career, in their overall music or even just in the next step post-program. It is easy to lose focus on your goals and your priorities, especially when you’re looking at social media and you compare yourself to your peers. The music industry is always changing, so in order to adapt, you need to have clarity about your next steps. My job from day one has been to offer as much insight as possible.
Can you describe the work that Lola Media Group does as a creative agency?
We work with artists and their teams to execute marketing campaigns, collaborate on effective release strategies, increase brand awareness and offer the best ways to create fan engagement. The agency also works with brands and partners to produce creative content, offer media and tastemaker partnerships, build strong narratives, and create more brand visibility. Since our launch, we’ve worked with companies like XO (The Weeknd’s label) and Republic Records, Atlantic Records, Warner Music, Sony Music, PUMA, Remy Martin, Amazon Music, SOHO HOUSE and many more.
As the founder of Girl Connected, how do you hope the role of women will grow in this industry?
I’d love to see more women executives. More women on the leadership teams. More women CEOs. My program offers mentorship to 20 women who are either currently working or aspire to work in the music industry in fields like talent management, A&R, event production, marketing and more, and our goal is give them the necessary tools, resources and introductions they need in order to expand their network and get to the next level of their career.
What are the necessary first steps a young person should take to enter a career in music as a creative strategist and executive?
For me, the first step is research. Know your shit. No matter what the job is, you should always know the company you’re working with, their audience, their allies, their competition and the marketplace. You should have a plan in mind as to how you can contribute to the growth of this company and potentially generate revenue.
If you’re entering a career as a young manager, your job is to generate opportunities for your client that contribute to their income — and, in turn, yours because you make a percentage of it. The best way to do that is to know everything about the artist you want to work with: their fan base, the marketplace, similar artists and their stories, and who already supports them so you can keep building those relationships. The music industry is heavily reliant on relationships so your first step is most definitely to gather information and expand your network.
What lessons and/or work ethics did you only pick up after working in the music industry?
Relationship building for sure. Relationships are the heart of this business. It has always been important to me to do a good job, and that’s because I want to maintain strong relationships with everyone that I work with.
What was the biggest challenge you’ve had to face so far? And how did you overcome it?
I think the biggest challenge for anyone is growth, which can be hard to accomplish without stretching yourself thin. A few years back, I didn’t have a vision for my company beyond what was in front of me. I always had great ideas for the present client or job but did not always connect how executing these ideas would take me a step further to my overall company goal. My husband has an incredible talent for leading people. The best advice he gave me then was to build a team, to invest the time I was spending wearing all the hats in the business and to find and grow with the right people that believed not only in the company, but also the work we were doing. This was how I was able to produce multiple incredible projects at the same time.
After taking his advice and investing in my team, the vision became a lot clearer. For example back in 2019, on the same day we produced a live concert for R&B artist SAFE at Soho House in NYC, we hosted rapper Fabolous’s private birthday dinner, and we had prepared 60 individualized custom packages for PUMA to be shipped across the US to multiple tastemakers and influencers. I am really excited to continue to execute these ideas and events in 2023 and beyond with our ever growing team.
What is one thing about your job that most people would find unexpected or surprising?
There’s a lot of admin work involved. Just because you get to work with an artist or a brand you like or you get to create cool things doesn’t mean that the job doesn’t have an administrative component. Take tour management for example. People probably think you are kicking it with your artist most of the time and turning up at parties, but you’re talking to the venue reps, the promoters, security, your bus driver (if you have one) and the rest of the team around the artist to coordinate with the artist’s schedule. On top of that you have to advance all the shows with the venues so that they have all the equipment and artist needs in order, book hotels, flights, ground transportation, passes and tickets, and also keep meticulous records of all cash in and cash out like bus driver expenses, per diems and all other bookings mentioned above.
You also have to anticipate and be prepared for anything that may go wrong on any given show day. It’s a lot of work and you rarely get to “have fun,” but if you love the job then that’s all that matters. When you go to a show as a fan, all you see is that two hours of entertainment, which probably took months to coordinate across multiple teams and a ton of emails and phone calls.
Is there a secret to career longevity in this industry?
Do right by people. Follow your gut. Don’t do things for clout, but because you genuinely believe in them. Something that takes you years to build can be ruined overnight — keep building anyway. Build a good team. Build good relationships. And above all, build a good name.
What are some habits you follow regularly to always maintain a good headspace for work?
Take a break. Other people’s energy can truly take a toll on you, so you have to give yourself the time to get your energy right. Some of my days start with Zoom meetings as early as 8 a.m. EST and end as late as 10 p.m. EST. This means talking to people throughout the entire day. It can be incredibly draining. I want to make sure that I’m present for my team and my clients, and the only way I can do that is by being alert and focused.
Before and during the entirety of my pregnancy, I did a quick 30 minute workout at home, which always got me ready to take on the day. Even on days when I felt like I didn’t have the energy, I pushed myself to try. If I really wasn’t up to it though, I gave myself the time to recuperate; this way I always enjoyed my workouts and never dreaded them.
I also spend time catching up with my peers and with online blogs and magazines I follow. I love discovering new people, new creatives, photographers, videographers, musicians, venues, brands — just everything that inspires me. This way I always keep myself in the loop and feel excited to execute new ideas.
What does a day off look like for you?
Ideally on a beach somewhere. But on a regular basis, I spend time with my husband and my son. There’s nothing I’d rather do.
I’d love to see more women executives. More women on the leadership teams. More women CEOs.
How do you see your job evolving with the music industry in the next five years?
For my agency, I look forward to us creating more and producing more. I look forward to us doing more creative work, executing larger ideas, bringing visions to life and overall just creating really great projects.
If not music, what would you be doing?
I’d probably be practicing law.
Stay tuned for more features with music industry professionals — from managers to sound engineers, stagehands and others; the people who make the music world go round without standing behind a microphone.