Danielle Lee took a circuitous route to her global vp role at Spotify, with stops at Showtime, AT&T and Vevo along the way. Danielle has had a charmed career, but only because she made it that way by raising her hand, outworking her peers and overdelivering on results. Read on to learn how Danielle cultivated her career and how she has successfully created more opportunities for women in music.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
I lead the go to market strategy and commercialization of all music, podcasts and content on Spotify in an effort to grow our media platform. We are helping advertisers unlock the power of Spotify’s streaming intelligence (our first-party data and insights) to understand people through their music and podcast streaming behavior, in order to connect with them in relevant moments. We are pushing the boundaries on the creative possibilities of audio and reimagining the role it plays in the marketing mix.
How did you get to where you are today? What pivotal moments did you face along the way?
I have always been attracted to what’s next in technology, media, and entertainment. Launching new technologies that transform consumer behavior and drive business growth is what I do best. I started my career in digital launching AOL and AIM client software to help consumers get online back in 2000. After getting my MBA, I then joined Showtime to lead acquisition marketing for Showtime On Demand and Showtime HD as those products came to market. Following Showtime, I joined AT&T to launch mobile advertising and build a multi-million-dollar media business across mobile, online and TV. I then turned my sights to digital video and helped Vevo expand into branded entertainment. Now I have the pleasure of bringing streaming and creativity to the world with Spotify while helping to shape culture-at-large.
With every move, I immersed myself in learning the business, raised my hand for the impossible projects, outworked my peers and consistently delivered results. The playing field is not level, especially for black women in business, so I had to 1) make sure that my impact was undeniable, 2) articulate my ambition with clarity, and 3) connect it back to the needs of the business and my superpowers. Doing this consistently takes focus and preparation.
What do you see as the major opportunities and challenges for women today?
"Women feel more empowered to speak their truth and demand equity in the workplace."
There hasn’t been a better time for women in business. There is more sisterhood and a greater sense of community. The myth that there can only be one has largely been debunked. There's also less silence. Women feel more empowered to speak their truth and demand equity in the workplace. There is more dialogue about gender equality and the importance of fostering a sense of belonging for everyone. That wasn’t the case 20 years ago.
That said, the challenges are still very real. Women are not ascending to the leadership level, specifically the C-Suite and at the Board level. In 2018, women made up only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs. Beyond leadership, gender inequality is pervasive in the entertainment industry and music is no exception. It’s estimated that less than 5% of all audio professionals are women.
How is Spotify creating more opportunities for women in music?
We have launched some initiatives to create more opportunities for women in music. Last August, we created the Equalizer (EQL) Residency in partnership with Berklee College of Music. This program supports hands-on career development for female studio engineers. During their six-month paid residencies, participants received support and mentoring from an impressive group of female Berklee department chairs, giving the EQL recipients a unique opportunity to explore, work, and grow. Last month in celebration of Women’s History Month, the three residents gathered with reggaeton royalty Ivy Queen to reimagine her anthem “Quiero Bailar” with a women-led team.
Beyond music, there is an opportunity to amplify diverse voices in podcasting. Podcasting is an exciting storytelling format and while women of color have been breaking ground in podcasting well ahead of the latest boom, there’s plenty more to be done. A recent study showed that only 22% of podcasts are hosted by women, and even fewer when it comes to minority women. Spotify created ‘Sound Up’ to bring more diverse stories and voices to the platform. We hosted the first weeklong intensive for aspiring female podcasters of color last summer. We received more than 18K applications and named three grand prize winners, who received funding for their podcast pilots. I’m a huge fan of the Dope Labs podcast and I’m excited that 3M came on board as a sponsor of the series. The program has expanded across the world, with programs in the U.K., with a continued focus on women of color, and Australia, amplifying the voices of First Nations creators.
What advice can you share?
"They have to be comfortable shifting the power and giving “others” a seat at the table."
By now, we’re all well-versed in the studies and reports that show that companies with more diverse teams, across race, ethnicity, gender, religion and other dimensions deliver stronger business results. Business leaders need to set an intention to have representation at the executive and board level. They have to be comfortable shifting the power and giving “others” a seat at the table. It is really that simple.
Who helped you in your journey, and what advice did they give you that really shaped your thinking?
I’ve had incredible sponsors and generous mentors throughout my career. Too many to name. However, one piece of advice that has shaped my approach is to never look a gift horse in the mouth. When given an opportunity to lead a project, don’t inspect it to make sure it meets some standard that you have. Instead, jump in with enthusiasm as you don’t know what it will lead to and how it is preparing you for the next opportunity. Some of the most influential leaders in my career had a vision for me before I recognized it for myself. This advice taught me to be open to the possibilities.
What one thing would you have done differently early in your career if you had the right bit of advice?
I would have pursued my passion for media and entertainment from the start instead of pursuing law to satisfy my parents. Growing up, the options for financial security were limited to becoming a lawyer or a doctor. Education offered me a clear path into either field. There was too much risk and uncertainty in other career paths. Think about the advertising industry in the 90s. You had to have the right networks for doors to be opened for you. As a result, I was strongly encouraged to be a lawyer. Play it safe. It wasn’t bad advice. In retrospect, knowing what I know now, I would have explored other paths through internships and informational interviews. Life is too short not to spend it doing what you love.
If you weren’t doing what you’re doing now, money or talent would be no object, what would you be doing?
I would be making movies and telling untold stories. Stories that expand the way we view black people in America. I love storytelling and there are so many dimensions of the black experience yet to explore.