Interview with Laurie Charlesworth (Part 1)
Laurie Charlesworth is a British Drum and Bass DJ who has been kicking up a storm, especially since she became the first ever female D’n’B DJ on BBC Radio 1 – a huge achievement. Her career to date is hugely impressive and having worked at 1XTRA, Asian Summer Network, Vibe FM, KISS FM, she has made quite a name for herself as The D’n’B DJ. We were thrilled to catch up with her for a Q&A session and ask if she had any words of wisdom for our Higher National students.
The music industry is very hard to get into – how did you get out there and promote yourself and did you find it hard?
I started off doing a lot of free work. I think a lot of people do. Although I studied Radio Production at (Bournemouth) University, I only did that so that I had the time allowance from the course, and the funding from student finance, to do the work experience. The music and radio industries are all about meeting people, doing as much as you can to build some skills and, I hate the word, network!
Whilst I was at University, I started a blog, writing and reviewing dance music, in particular, Drum & Bass. I went out of my way to meet as many people as I could in the industry. From writing my blog, I quickly got myself a 10 minute event section slot on a Friday night/Saturday morning dance show at a station called Fire Radio in Bournemouth. Whilst my friends were out clubbing, I was at the station, then at around 2am we’d bundle in a taxi back to our halls.
I then got an internship at Kiss FM in London. It was a one week internship but I knew that was my chance to make a good impression and then somehow find a reason to return. Everything worked out perfectly, and yet so organically. Through our mutual love for dance music, I ended up working and becoming very pally with Charlotte, the executive specialist night-time producer. At the time, she single-handedly produced 14 dance shows across the station and I could see she was completely overwhelmed by doing so. I knew I could help her, which is how I ended up staying at the station for a further 2 years. The first year and a half unpaid, the last 6 months paid. Although I got myself in over £2000 worth of debt on a credit card traveling from Bournemouth to London once, sometimes twice a week, it was totally instrumental in my success moving into the industry.
From here, I went on to do a month internship at Somethin’ Else, an independent production company who create shows, programmes and more for all of your big media homes (BBC, ITV, Sky, etc.). From doing this internship I became a freelance Assistant Producer, covering on Asian Network and BBC 1Xtra. I also landed myself a job as an assistant to Scott Bourne, who manages Andy C and Adam F and owner of RAM Records. This came through a mutual friend in the industry who put me forward for the job. I stayed in this role for 2 years.
Working in artist management and radio production and doing all the behind-the-scenes stuff meant that I met a lot of people who played an integral part of me getting myself out there as a presenter. Once you start meeting people and people know you, can see your skills from however you promote yourself online, they start using you for gigs or videos or voiceovers. It’s a slow burner, but for me, the more I did stuff and shared stuff, the more people would go ‘ah I knew who can do that’ and I’d have a message in my inbox or an email with a job proposal.
I’m lucky when I say I didn’t find it too hard. It is a very hard industry to get into. But I always knew that I could do it. It always baffled me when I was younger and people would second guess themselves, saying they can’t do XY&Z. If you’re not going to do it, someone else will. I knew it would take graft, but I was up for the challenge.
You are a self-taught DJ but also did spend some time in formal education. Can you talk us through any challenges you found in learning the skills you needed for your career and any guidance you may have for students?
The challenges that I have faced in every creative venture I have pursued, whether that be radio presenting, camera presenting, DJing, VoiceOver work, is the challenge of my managing the expectations I have of myself. For example, I kind of thought because I was a very confident person that I would be able to jump on a mic and automatically be a really good radio presenter, when it takes a lot more work than that. It takes time, more specifically, years and years of practice.
When I started out, I thought things were going really well, so why wasn’t I on Radio 1 at 22 years old? Everyone is telling me I’m really good? When actually, I listen back to those shows and cringe! Thank god they didn’t give me a show when I probably wanted one the most. I wasn’t ready. You really do grow with every DJ gig, every radio show, every guest mix. I believe it really does take years to hone any skill, well for me it did anyway.
I had to constantly reassess where I was at as time went by, look back at my journey, give myself a break and stop being so hard on myself. I still do this now. Real life happens and may possibly set you back in some way. No human will be able to escape that, even if they don’t post about it on social media. From breakups to family issues to mental health, or things as simple as just trying to make enough money pay the rent.
For me, these life events meant that I wasn’t where I thought I was going to be within the 24 month goal I’d set for myself. And that’s ok! A career with longevity won’t happen overnight. For me, it was all about building myself up to be trusted and knowledge with music. Not to be Instagram famous.
I’m still very much just getting there in terms of where I want to be in my career. But from what I’ve learnt so far, I would say to anyone trying to get into music or be an artist in some way.
You were the first female DJ to host a DnB show for BBC1. That’s huge – but also a little worrying that it took so long to get there. Diversity has been an issue in the Creative Industries, especially in some areas such as DJs. What did it mean to you, to be the first female?
It was amazing! It still feels a bit surreal to be honest. I have always been a massive fan of the show, ever since Fabio and Grooverider who were the original hosts of the show. I was offered to cover before anyone realised I was the first female to host the show. So it was cool that it came organically through my radio demo, then came the ‘this is a first for the station’ status. I was a massive fan of DJ Flight who was the first female to host a DnB show on BBC 1xtra.
It is sad that it’s taken this long. There is a lot of work to be done to make sure all stations, labels and promoters are reaching a much better level of diversity. There are so many talented females in the industry now, especially in DnB; radio stations and promoters don’t have any excuse. I do see a lack of female producers (in comparison to men) in DnB, but hopefully we see a lot more women getting on the production in the coming years.
To be continued...