This is Off Beat, where we explore the careers of women who work in the music industry—just not on the beats and melodies.
Julie Adenuga got her passion for music honestly. Her Nigerian-born father was a DJ, and all three of her brothers are either artists, producers, or music writers. So it's no surprise that Adenuga would find herself in the industry as well as an host on Apple Music's Beats 1 Radio, where she hosts a daily radio show that is broadcast to millions, across several countries all over the world. Oh, and she's interviewed some of the biggest artists in the industry like Ed Sheeran, Cardi B, and Mary J Blige. It's pretty clear that she more than holds her own in the family business.
But before her career caught fire, the U.K.-based personality was just trying to figure her shit out like most young adults. She'd dropped out of college and teamed up with a friend to do a radio show. She didn't really have any experience, but she did have something to say. She hasn't stopped doing radio since.
Recently, I spoke to Adenuga about her nonstop work days, how radio is surviving the internet and streaming era, and why the inspiration for her entire career is Beyoncé's Instagram.
Radio's importance to the music industry often gets overshadowed because of the shift to streaming, and everything happening online. Can you talk about how radio has had to evolve to compete with everything else?
I think Apple launching a radio station in 2015 sort of speaks for itself... For them to create a radio station, of all the things they could have created, that's saying, "We can do anything. We created a streaming service. We look into the future, we feel like streaming is the way forward. That was the direction we were going in, but we feel a radio station is necessary for us to be able to really promote that and for us to be able to really share how much we love music and the company."
That, for me, says that radio cannot be done in any other form. There are so many different creative mediums that we have out there where people can express themselves, but radio just cannot be recreated. There are so many things that have come and gone from different mediums. But to be able to be somewhere and listen to someone tell you their love for music, listen to your favorite song on your way to work, listen to a playlist from a DJ that you love, a mix of music that you like when you're at the club—it cannot be recreated. I think music and radio will always be up there. I think people appreciate music because we can't all sit down in front of our TVs and watch music videos every day. It's not possible. We have to go out and live our lives. I think radio is just that one thing that we can all consume in different parts of our lives, in different ways. But it's still authentic, it's still very real.
Walk me through a typical day on the job for you.
My show's actually in the evening. [Adenuga is based in the UK where her show airs at 2pm, or 9am ET in the US], I'm like, I have to get up now and start my day. For me, radio starts before my actual show. Radio kind of never stops for me. I'm constantly listening to music, whether it be spending hours on social media or being out with my friends and them introducing me to stuff that they're listening to. Radio is always about me hearing things that I'm really passionate about and getting excited about playing it to people when I get on air.
So, it's like a nonstop job, really. I'm constantly thinking about what is new, what is exciting, what do I feel strongly about. It's making sure that when I do get on the air, I've got all those stories ready. I've got all the songs ready, I've got the album ready that I want to talk about, and I'm finding different ways to play that for the people that are from all over the world.
A typical day is: Wake up in the morning, maybe have a listen on the radio, or email with my team and say, "Can we get this new album?" I'm getting all these things ready for me to get to the radio and then, once I get there, it's just talking with my team and saying, "What are we doing? What did we do yesterday that was really good? What wasn't really good? What should we do tomorrow? What should we do next week? What do we care about this year? What artists do we really love and want to support this year? How do we get those artists in the studio? How do we contact their management?" If we contact them, then I think about their music and their career, and build a relationship with them.
It's a never-ending thing because I am literally delivering a live broadcast every single day. I'm really on air every single day to hundreds of countries all around the world.
I guess the calming bit about being on the radio is doing the show itself, because that's when I can just be myself—talking and playing music, having fun, responding to tweets that have been sent, looking at posts that people have put up, and seeing people that I don't know put up pictures on their Instagram stories about a song that they found on my show. That is the most relaxing time. It really is a lot of planning. I think it takes the fun out of radio, but everything outside of it is planning, planning, planning, planning, planning, planning, more planning, doing interviews, planning more stuff. I get these two hours of breathing space where I get to trade, and get to have fun. It made me realize that my job can be really stressful [laughs].
Are there Black women who have mentored you or whom you look up to in your field?
In the field, no. Black women, in general, absolutely. I'm normally inspired by people, women and Black women, in general. Then I sort of take those things that I'm inspired by and then integrate them into whatever it is I'm working on. There are so many different things that I've done that I forget that I've attributed to different people.
One of the main people, it goes without saying, is obviously Beyoncé. Beyoncé for me is someone who's inspired me so much—and not by making music. It's anything she does outside of it that inspires me. It actually is how hard she works and being a mother to three children, being a wife, juggling a career, traveling the world, being solo, and putting in so many hours to make something so perfect, and then doing that all of the time. Someone who is as big as her, she shouldn't feel the need to do that. She could even relax a little bit. She goes even harder as she's gotten bigger. That's so inspiring to me.
When I got my job at Beats 1, coming from a station in East London to a global station at the biggest company in the world, people like Beyoncé made me think, Okay, cool, now work has really started. I can do anything because I've got this job. It's really those things about her. It's how she moves, how she carries herself, and the way that she corrects herself. I think that she keeps pride in it. I always say to people when I start working with different teams and stuff, "You see Beyoncé's Instagram? That's how I want you guys to look at my career. If you guys want to work with me, if you're going to work with me, please, Beyoncé's Instagram. I want you to really take that and work that into how you present."
I want people to see what I want them to see. I want to keep things private. I want to be fully in control of what it is out there about me. And everything doesn't have to be shared even though they might be the most important things in my life. I want to share them the way I want to share them. I don't want to post something just because I feel like I haven't posted in a while and should put something on the Internet. I really want my output to be important. I want it to be tangible. I want it to be valued. I really want to make sure that anything that people see about me, that I'm behind and I'm ready for people to see it. I'm really in control of how people see me and not sort of have other people make up narratives of what they think of me. Yeah, Beyoncé's just... Beyoncé.
What are some of the goals that you still have? What's your dream job? What do you still want to learn?
I think my dreams are just my happiness. My dreams are now about me really taking care of myself, whether it being my health and my friends and family. It's about me really practicing self-care and how to be happy. For me, I'm really working on just finding that balance in my world. I'm also understanding that it's about a balance. I'm trying to have more empathy.
What advice would you give a female mentee who wanted to work in the industry?
Make some mistakes. Try everything and make those mistakes. That is the only way that you really know what you like, what you don't like, and what you shouldn't do ever again. Then there'll be a bit where you're like, Oh, I get it now, and I'm not going to put my hand in that fire because it burned me last time. I'm going to go over here and do this thing because this is the one thing that I did that really made me feel something in my stomach when I was doing it. That's what I want everybody to feel, because a lot of young people will come to me and say, "I want to be a radio presenter," and they don't. They think they do. They think they want to be a radio presenter, but it's same thing as when you buy clothes; you think you want that top, but actually, you're buying what it looks like on the model that you've seen it on. You don't really want the top.
As a mentor, you have to be willing to let your mentees make mistakes. It's very difficult to watch anyone that you care about, young women you care about, make those mistakes, but they have to feel comfortable to come to you and say they've made that mistake and you have to be supportive in that. Sometimes they don't have anyone else to go to, so in another way, you feel like you have the answers. You know the route they have to take to be successful. You have to let them see those things with their own eyes. You can't just tell them the correct route. No one ever learns anything from doing stuff correctly. We have to do it wrong.
How has being a woman worked in your favor or against you in radio?
I've actually had really positive experiences as a woman in radio for my whole career, I'm fortunate and lucky enough to say that. And I've also seen women around me have really great experiences as well. So, I started out at Rinse FM. As I started, they began to put up their presenter-based shows. At that time, there were six different presenters that came on that were all women. Every single one of us has had incredible careers in radio. It was a big deal for that station because it was a male-dominated station and there were women on the DJ spots. The majority of the lineup was men. From 2010 or 2011, I literally watched six different young presenters come to Rinse FM, learn how to be a presenter, learn how to do radio, and then move on to other national and international radio stations in the U.K.
There are loads of other women that I could name outside of that who have also gone on to build up great careers in radio. It's been such a positive year of women in radio. To see all these people in radio that I came up with, that I started presenting with from day one move on and build bigger careers from when they started in the U.K. In my peer group, women are out doing the men in terms of radio presenting. That, to me, is a really positive thing. And I've seen every single one of them also connect more women who are younger and getting into radio. I think when I'm a little bit older, in 15 to 20 years from now, I'll really see how those women have grown and developed their own careers as well.