How this worker bee went from an assistant to calling the shots in the music industry for your favorite rappers
In a world where hyper sexuality is praised; Chelsea shows that money moves and respect can be earned if you’re willing to put in the work
Chelsea Donini has worked with Def Jam, Island Records and other labels behind some of the music industry’s greatest artists. Although she didn’t have the resume for some positions, she had the work ethic to get her to the top. Starting out as a digital marketing assistant, she now manages some of Hiphop’s heavy hitters. Check out our interview with her below where she talks about her journey as a woman thru the male dominated music industry:
How did your journey in the music industry begin? I’ve been working in music for about 10 years. I applied for a position with Island Def Jam as a publicity assistant but I didn’t get it. They called me back later and offered to give me a shot as an assistant for the digital marketing position. I didn’t know what I was doing but I “faked it until I made it”. I literally Googled everything until I knew how to do it and acted confident every step of the way. I kept that same mentality as I went higher up the ladder into different roles with other labels such as product management, marketing, consulting, and now artist management. I started managing Peezy and than Payroll Giovani and now I’m working with Rio da Yung OG.
As a female, what advice would you give in dominating such a masculine industry? You have to play the game. You have to play on the fact that women are seen as emotional and inferior. You have to kind of play on that and be as black and white as possible. Be more a listener than a speaker first. I don’t speak much unless I have something to say. Let’s be honest, men like to hear themselves talk. So I give them the floor. I always watch, take notes, and the whole time I already have the plan in place. When you do speak, be as direct as possible. Everyone feels like they have something to prove, we don’t have to be like that. We can be calculated, strategic, etc. attention isn’t what’s important. Most of the time the artists won’t even realize that you’re already getting things done and finishing because you’re quietly in the back doing the work. As long as you’ve done your research and it’s a solid plan, they’ll listen.
A lot of times people see the glitz and glam of the music industry. What’s it like to experience it from the inside? I am very grateful to work with everyone. I consider them a part of my family, I speak to them probably more than I speak to my mom sometimes. It’s great watching people’s dreams come true and being apart of the execution. However, I don’t think people realize how exhausting mentally and physically the job can be. I work 7 days a week, I only get paid for 5. I’ve missed major life events because of my job. I travel 3-4x a week. If I have a chance to sleep I try to do it. You’ll see me at the concerts, award shows, parties, etc. but I always have to be on point. I’m always sober because I’m problem solving, making connections, and putting out fires. I can’t just sit back because I’m making sure everyone is good and I have to look good while doing it! Imagine running around all night dolled up in heels at the party but not really being a part of the party. That’s just the footwork, when I am home I’m probably on the phone between 5am - 4am the next morning just networking, talking, coordinating, etc. After awhile you end up not wanting to talk to anybody just being in your pajamas with your cat watching Law and Order.
What advice would you give on reaching out to executives, recording artist, etc. and networking? The one thing I have to say I’m known for is that I am always respectful. I might be frustrated but I always get more done being as polite as possible. Even if things aren’t going my way, I remind myself that this isn’t my World. I have to keep faith that everything is going to workout. People take me being friendly and kind as a weakness but I see it as my strength. I can remain calm under any situation no matter the loss. You are so much more at peace and have a healthier state of mind if you take everything as is. So don’t let the No’s or unanswered messages bother you. Project peace, help someone even if it doesn’t benefit you. You’ll eventually receive what you’ve been putting out. No matter how many No’s I get; I know with what I project to the universe I will eventually receive it.
Does representing artist who rap about drugs, street life, etc. ever become challenging? I work with about 25 artist; out of all of them I can tell you they are true story tellers. They are telling experiences and it’s a coping method for them. It’s a form of expression, we’ve definitely had a lot of doors shut in our face because of assumptions. I tell my guys though that we are all trying to provide for our families but our past will always be there to haunt us. We’ve lost a lot of endorsements because of they understand they cannot get frustrated. Those experiences made them who they are. When we experience a missed opportunity we just find another one. A lot of my guys can’t participate in label opportunities from blogs to brand sponsorships due to the context of their music. That just means there’s a different avenue that’s for them. Different strokes for different folks. Can it be challenging? Yes. Is it going to stop us? Never.
What’s your favorite song? Alright I’ve got Allstar JR he put out this EP and I got my first shout out on “Where should I start” so I’ll never forget that. Than there is, “Crime Stoppers” on No Hooks 2 by Peezy. That song had a really smooth beat and he went hard on the lyrics. We did a video on it that was like a mini movie. Super dope concept. The last one would be “305” by SMB DZ x Sada Baby it’s my favorite turn up song.
Any advice to women trying to break into the music industry? When you’re breaking into the music industry from any aspect, don’t expect instant gratification. I worked for free for years, I was always a “yes” woman. I was running errands, cleaning, etc. anything I could do to make connections, be at the right place at the right time, etc. Walk in with the perspective that you want to help and fit in at that moment. Know that your ideas, knowledge base, etc. will eventually get you where you need to be. It’s ok to start off as an intern than work your way up just to get the experience. There’s no shame in that. Everyone thinks you instantly have to be the most poppin, certain things are beneath them, etc. be humble and patient. Give it your all and do whatever is necessary to be a team player.
Is it necessary to always portray yourself as a sexual being as a woman in the industry? No. I always dress to impress at all times. I always looked good at all times. We are viewed by the way we represent and people respect us. You don’t have to be sexual about it. Sometimes I dress down but I always look like a representation of my artist and what I represent. It doesn’t matter your size a heel never hurt nobody.
To keep up with Chelsea you can follow her on IG @babythugga. You can also follow Detroit’s hottest rappers who she also happens to manage @payrollgiovanni, @peezy_te, and @riodayungog