Mia Van Allen: “Days are very long”

Diverse representation in music entertainment is the financially sound thing to do. The more open the industry is to hiring, recognizing and promoting POC and LGBTQ+, the greater access the industry has to members and allies of those larger communities. In other words, if members at large see people who look like them getting credit […]

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Diverse representation in music entertainment is the financially sound thing to do. The more open the industry is to hiring, recognizing and promoting POC and LGBTQ+, the greater access the industry has to members and allies of those larger communities. In other words, if members at large see people who look like them getting credit and recognition within the industry, they are more likely to tune in, purchase merchandise and promote those businesses on social media.

As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Mia Van Allen. She is a 2020 graduate of The American University in Washington, DC. Mia graduated, cum laude, from the School of Communications with a major in Public Relations/Strategic Communication and a minor in Business and Entertainment. Mia worked in her field, alongside her academics, during all four of her college summers. Mia has direct artist management experience, public relations research and writing experience, recording studio experience and vast social media/artist promotion and networking experience. In May of 2020, Mia founded Color of Music Collective, a bi-weekly virtual networking panel geared toward amplifying POC and LBGTQ+ voices in the music industry. Although not an artist herself, Mia considers herself a “music evangelist” because she believes in the calming and healing power of music in every genre.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I didn’t exactly choose Nirvana over Barney, but I did start using music to de-stress at a young age.

My “ah-ha” moment in music happened during the summer of 2015. I was invited to attend Austin City Limits with a high school friend of mine and her family. The whole week, I had nothing to do but sample great coffee and exceptional music. It was Foo Fighters that really inspired me. As a result of that performance, in spite of the fact that I don’t sing or play an instrument, I decided that I would try to make a living in the music business. A very interesting thing about that concert was that I felt like the youngest person in that audience. I was also one of the VERY FEW people of color in the audience. This realization made me realize that I could really offer something to the music industry. As a young person, I knew I would give my whole life to make a difference in the music industry. I also knew that I could bring my experience as a woman of color to an industry where I could appreciate and promote a diversity of experiences in music.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?

In 2018, my mom and I attended South by Southwest, in Austin, Texas. We got the opportunity to be front row at a small-venue, totally awesome — -Hembree concert. A year later, while working at Mystic Sons, in London, my boss asked me if I knew anything about any US bands then touring in the UK. I realized that Hembree was touring, arranged to attend the concert, went backstage to try to sell our UK press services and actually made the sale! As you can imagine, this really impressed my boss!

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? What was the “lesson learned”?

During the summer of 2017, while working as a band manager (MNOR) in Chicago, I arrived at our venue (Elbow Room on North Lincoln). A middle-aged couple had obviously been drinking at the bar for hours that afternoon. I got “the look” from the bartender and walked over to talk to the couple. The husband was really out of it so I turned to the wife and suggested that the husband had consumed a lot of alcohol and that they might want to call it a night. The wife started to get belligerent saying that her husband was “just fine.” Right at that moment, the husband fell off of his stool and crumpled to the ground. Dead drunk. A few seconds after, the wife decided to take my advice and the bartender and I helped them out of the venue and into a cab. At that moment I knew that living my dream would mean sometimes being a bouncer.

Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?

For me, as a female POC, working in the music industry has always been mentally straining. I was always the only person of color at my internships (Chicago, New York, London — everywhere). My way of coping with that stress was two-fold: First, I would seek out people who looked like me. This would include band members, venue managers and PR/marketing specialists. Second, I would seek out people who had the same passion and drive as myself — regardless of what they looked like. Throughout college and college summer work, I was able to form strong relationships that turned into key mentorships for me. Through honest conversations with my mentors, I learned how to stick up for myself and overcome the “imposter syndrome” that I came to college with. As a result, I became more and more comfortable speaking up for myself and for others who I saw being minimized.

Now, through COMC, I am able to take my experience — studying and working in the field of music entertainment — and actually pay it forward by mentoring volunteers who, like me, are either allies in the mission to amplify POC & LGBTQ+ voices, or are people of color or LGBTQ+ themselves.

Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?

Color of Music Collective, which I founded in May, 2020, relies heavily on a base of extraordinary volunteers. COMC’s first volunteer, Alana, a Filipino-American, is a rising senior at USC in the music industry program. Alana has attended many, many panels over the years, but it wasn’t until she turned into COMC that she found a panel she could really relate to. After the pandemic hit, Alana felt really weighed down by both the health concerns brought by the pandemic as well as the fear of a devastating economic downturn. Alana tells me that she is inspired by COMC’s mission and the content of our panels. Through her work with COMC Alana realizes that, although the road ahead will look different for the music industry, that she will be able to survive and thrive in her chosen field. Most importantly, COMC has shown Alana that she can be part of finding solutions to problems that have always existed but that have been brought to the forefront by both COVID-19 and a renewed focus on serious racial inequity.

As an insider, this might be obvious to you, but I think it’s instructive to articulate this for the public who might not have the same inside knowledge. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why it’s really important to have diversity represented in Entertainment and its potential effects on our culture?

In order for younger members to succeed in any field, they must be able to see that there are people, who look like them, who have succeeded before them. It is exponentially harder for a young person to succeed in the entertainment business when the representation of people who are like them (POC or LGBTQ+) are at “very few” or “none.” Once young people can see that others like them have “done it,” they start believing THEY TOO can succeed and create for themselves the energy and grit to get to success in the field.

Diverse representation in music entertainment is the financially sound thing to do. The more open the industry is to hiring, recognizing and promoting POC and LGBTQ+, the greater access the industry has to members and allies of those larger communities. In other words, if members at large see people who look like them getting credit and recognition within the industry, they are more likely to tune in, purchase merchandise and promote those businesses on social media.

The importance of diversity can clearly be seen in science. Diversity in the biological world ensures strength and the ability to fight off system-weakening disease. Think about the work that vaccines do! The same is true in social situations and in popular culture, specifically in the entertainment industry. The more people in the industry are exposed to people with different experiences and points of view, the easier it is to create a strong workplace. When people are exposed to different kinds of people and are allowed to hear their voices and listen to their concerns, everyone in the organization becomes more knowledgeable and stronger.

Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?

Increase POC/LGBTQ+ recruitment on college campuses so students see the entertainment business as a real opportunity for them

Increase PAID internship opportunities for college summers so that POC/LGBTQ+ persons can actually afford to work in their field during college summers

Understand that when you “take chances” on POC/LGBTQ+ hiring, that you are encouraging creativity in untapped communities that will show you energy and GRIT because these people truly value these opportunities and will work hard to show it.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership is organization, management and excellent communication — especially listening. One extraordinary leader, who was my first music industry boss, is Chris Schneider, of Pressure Point Recording Studios in Chicago. Chris is a 25 year plus industry veteran. Chris knows absolutely everything about what success looks like. Chris is supportive of his team in the extreme, but he absolutely does not tolerate sloppiness or disrespect. Chris is a real leader.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. That it’s the people behind the scenes that really make things happen. It is the assistants, mailroom personnel and receptionists who have their ears to the ground, attend concerts, take the stress phone calls and are on call 24/7. They are the first people your client sees when going into the office. They always see things an agent or executive might miss. They are always hustling, trying to find the next Amy Winehouse or Michael Jackson. They are always at the show trying to find their own clients. Never doubt the mind of your assistant.
  2. Every day is different so you can’t really “prepare ahead of time.” There is no point in planning your week out in the music industry. You can try, but I will bet you, your week will end up completely different!
  3. Days are very long — -you are always “on the clock.” Especially as an assistant or young entrepreneur just entering in the music business, your role is ESSENTIAL to the success of your boss’s client. You have to go above and beyond to really stand out, so you have to be prepared to constantly be “on the clock.”
  4. There are mentors who want to help, but you must be proactive and responsive in a way that school doesn’t teach. Whenever I had an internship, after work I always made sure to set up drinks or dinner with someone I looked up to in the industry and form a relationship with early on. Many of them turned into great friendships who I now have on my panels!
  5. The music industry seems large, but it is actually quite small. Everybody knows each other. This is a great aspect of our industry. I have had internships where I immediately get an interview because that person knows the status or value of each company on my resume. However, references are key. Put 110% into everything you do, if you don’t…trust me…people will know.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Color of Music Collective — — I am doing it now. The time is now.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” I heard this quote from one of my favorite professors at American University. It was a basic introductory music business course and the professor opened our first class with this. I have lived by this ever since. I have never waited for anything in terms of my career. If I want something, I do everything in my capability to make sure I achieve it. I set out to achieve the impossible.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

Ari Emmanuel. I am very interested in learning more about Ari’s personal transition from assistant to CEO. Ari is a real inspiration to me.

How can our readers follow you on social media?



Mia Van Allen on LinkedIn

@miavanallen on Instagram

This was very meaningful, thank you so much!

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