A Conversation with Nastia Barkan
By: Amanda Epstein
Nastia Barkan is the day-to-day manager at management and social impact company Friends At Work, for one of the biggest names in music, Charlie Puth. She didn’t start out working with such high-profile clients. Her history has shown that hard work and drive will pay off. She’s worked in multiple areas in the music industry and in multiple countries. Now, she works with an all-female team and wants to share her journey with other young women. She hopes her story can help others follow their passions and carve out a path for themselves.
We had the opportunity to talk to Nastia and get some insight into her journey and thoughts.
In college you were a communications major. What drew you to the music industry?
I’ve always loved music, when I was younger I wanted to be a pop star; I went to stage school and actually performed in the West End (the UK’s version of Broadway) a couple of times in variety shows, but ultimately, it was something I grew out of. My love for music did not flounder though. When I was applying to universities I looked into a majoring in Music Industry, but wanted to keep my studies broad yet still applicable to the entertainment world, which is how I ended up studying communications. It actually helped me build a great foundation in different fields like marketing, advertising, social media, and theories behind how messages translate to audiences, as well as how to deal with different personalities. All that was complemented by minoring in the Music Industry which taught me the basics of what came to be my industry! When deciding what career path I wanted to pursue, I knew I had to go into something I loved doing, and I’ve always loved music and going to concerts, so being able to be in that realm for a living seemed like a no brainer.
How did you get started working in the music industry? Can you tell me a little bit about your journey.
I started out as an intern at a management company in LA with a lot of big artists. I was there for about a year and a half and gradually worked at building trust with day to days who gave me more and more important tasks, had me working on shows, campaign ideas, music videos and TV shows. I also did a few months at a London based management company they were in partnership with at the time in between during the summer. This was a smaller company so it afforded me with a lot more experience in directly handing management tasks; advancing shows and travel, making sure websites were up to date with tour dates, managing calendars and going over contracts.
After what was close to two years in total, my now boss whom I had previously worked with, remembered me from our time working together and reached out saying she was looking for a day to day manager for her client. We met up for an informal interview and a week later I was offered the job. It’s been absolutely non stop from there! I oversee campaigns, run music video and photo shoots, execute national live performances among many, many other things; there’s really no limit to what a manager’s job entails in the music industry.
Day to day managers have to wear many hats in a day. What is your favorite part of the job?
I love touring for a number of reasons. There’s nothing like the energy of a live performance. Seeing your artist on stage is pretty amazing, it’s a lot like what I imagine it to be like watching your child do something really incredible: you get a strong sense of pride! I also love the travelling aspect of tour, as anyone would, and the chaos of executing a live show. I find it really exhilarating.
More generally speaking, I love being able to be involved in every single aspect of an artist’s career, as opposed to just one part. You get to have a direct impact on, and a hand in everything; creative, strategy, music, everything! As someone who has never liked monotony, that’s a great position to be in.
What do you find the most stressful?
I get stressed that I might have forgotten things. Not when everything is going full speed ahead, but more when we’re going through a slower paced period but are still busy. It’s easy to have something non pressing take a back seat and the next thing you know, it’s time to take care of it and you’d completely forgotten about its existence. That’s a once in a blue moon scenario, but there’s always something in the back of my mind going “have you taken care of everything, is there something important you’ve forgotten”; keeping tabs can be stressful.
The 24/7 nature of the job also comes with challenges. Finding time for yourself is difficult, and stress can build simply because you can’t find the time to decompress, so it’s important to take a break where you can; dinner with friends, a vacation here and there, find a hobby or something you enjoy doing that you can invest your time in when you’re not working in order to avoid burnout.
Can you describe a typical day in your life?
There truly is not a typical day. At the moment, given that we’re still in a pandemic, it’s somewhat more structured than it would be if we were living in normal times.
I wake up, check my emails and make coffee. Then I jump between phone calls and emails from about 9am to 7pm, these can be with the label, the agency, PR, internal management calls, pretty much everyone. I check in with my artist a couple of times a day for various bits and pieces and may head over to his if there’s something that we need to do in person. I might also work on advancing an upcoming performance or live streamed show or sort out details for a photo shoot or music video shoot.
In non pandemic times, there REALLY isn’t a typical day, it’s constantly changing. You can have a day that’s just phone calls and emails, and then the next three days you’re bouncing between cities doing shows and interviews, then you’re on a music video shoot and then you’re shooting a national ad campaign or television performance, all while prepping for a single release or promotion. The ever changing nature is what makes it so fun and what keeps you on your toes!
What are some obstacles you’ve come up against as a female in the industry?
I think the lack of respect you can come up against. This does not happen extremely often, but there have been times where people speak to you in a dismissive manner or don’t have respect for your position as the artist’s representative. This is a rarity, but it’s definitely something i’ve experienced in my career.
How did you overcome them?
Honestly, on the very rare occasions it does occur, I do my best to ignore it. There’s not much you can do about a dismissive tone. Provided the way someone is treating me is not impeding on getting the job at hand done, or not affecting my artist’s work, I can take someone talking to me in a certain way simply because I am a woman, it just forms my opinion of that person. If a suggested lack of respect is becoming an issue, I address it in a diplomatic way avoiding accusations.
I’m lucky, our team is almost entirely female. We place focus on empowering each other, so we all have a strong support system and a good knowledge of how to approach obstacles related to being female in what was, formerly, a very male driven industry.
With all of your experience, what would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned?
Being a nice person. People like working with nice people! Be tough when you need to, but being patient and pleasant goes a long way.
What is a piece of advice you have for other female professionals in the industry?
You have to have a lot of faith in yourself, and not lose that faith. Learn to stand your ground and not be affected by anyone trying to dismiss you. Keep your composure in situations where that does arise, but be firm if it becomes an ongoing issue and impedes upon you being able to do your job to the best of your ability. Chances are they’re intimidated; if they feel the need to put you down, they’re threatened, which means you’re doing a good job!
Do you find it beneficial to be on an all female team?
I do. It’s lovely to be on an all female team who lift each other up, especially my boss and our CEO. Getting to work with men who respect and support women is also fantastic. It’s a very special dynamic, and a really proactive structure to work in.
What do you think makes it different?
Women foster a collaborative environment. I think women tend to be better problem solvers than men, that is a generalisation, but I've found often it’s the truth. They bring emotional intelligence to the workplace, which is an important skill to have when you are managing an artist and their art. As i’ve said, it’s great to be in an environment where we lift each other up and support one another in our careers and in our personal lives as well. I find it very inspiring.
What changes would you like to see for the future of the music industry?
More female engineers and producers! There’s more and more female executives, agents and managers, so I hope that trend continues (and I believe it will) but I still don’t think there’s enough representation in the production world. That would be fantastic to see.
Beyond greater representation in that arena, I’m waiting for us to get past the pandemic and seeing the return of live music. Productions have made such huge strides in recent years in terms of the scale of shows and festivals, so seeing where that goes post pandemic is an exciting thought. I hope it will come back with a bang!
All that being said, the landscape of the music industry is also ever changing, and it will be very interesting to see how it continues to evolve with new social media and how more and more accessible streaming has made the consumption of music, and the platform that has afforded artists, both superstar and baby!