Powerhouse Roxana Lissa has one of the most fascinating Made Woman stories I’ve heard to date. A true rags to riches story, Roxana arrived in the U.S. from Buenos Aires in 1992 when she was only 21 years old. She had graduated with honors from Argentina Business University but didn’t have much when she came to this country. Young but determined, she didn’t let the “take no prisoners”, American workplace intimidate her. Roxana moved from one global PR firm to another, killing the game at every stop. In 1996, it was time for her to make her first big power grab and open her first business, RL Public Relations + Marketing. Roxana quickly took center stage in the PR industry, becoming a pioneer with her work in the Hispanic market. That same year she was featured on the cover of La Opinion’s business section -- the nation’s leading Hispanic daily.
RL Public Relations is now the largest independently owned Hispanic PR agency in the U.S., with a client roster that includes Nike and Verizon Wireless to name a few. In 2003, the agency opened a New York office and launched sports marketing arm Sportivo. Lissa is considered a visionary and mentor in the Hispanic PR field and was recently honored in PR Week’s first 40 under 40 issue. Not too bad for a Buenos Aires transplant who came to this country with pockets full of only dreams and determination.
For this interview I met with Roxana on location at her newest business venture, Iobella -- a stylish and innovative body-shaping spa for women. A few minutes into our conversation, I realized that I was completely in awe of her. This woman is unstoppable! A cancer survivor, with two small children and a growing PR firm that has huge corporate clients lining up, Lissa’s reasoning for opening a second business? She wanted a new challenge. Inspiring to say the least.
Serena Watson: So let’s start here. Tell me a little bit about your background?
Roxana Lissa: I’m from Argentina originally, Buenos Aires. I came here when I was 21 years old. I studied public relations in Argentina. I was engaged to an American here, we ended up getting divorced later. I’ve always lived in Los Angeles and I’ve always done Public Relations. That has been the core of my career. I’ve worked for different agencies, global PR firms and I’ve developed an expertise in the Hispanic, Latino and multicultural markets. I opened my agency back in 1996. We have offices in Los Angeles and New York. We represent a lot of Fortune 200 and 500 brands, from Proctor & Gamble to NIKE.
SW: What was your first job in PR?
RL: My first job in PR was in Argentina, for a non-profit foundation. I was in college so I was 19. When I came here I started working at a small PR Agency, called Cooper Communications. It was great. I was an intern working for free, and I didn’t care. I took a bus there everyday, because I didn’t drive. The true immigrant story, I didn’t have a car, I didn’t know how to drive, I had $500 in my wallet.
SW: That’s amazing, look at you now. What was the transition to living in the US and being in the American professional world?
RL: You know, that was one of the things I was very happy about, my training in Argentina was amazing. So I could compete easily with the professionals here. [My education] was kind of like a doctorate in Public Relations. It’s much more thorough and comprehensive in terms of the subjects. Here’s it different. You study communications, you study journalism, but it’s not quite like that in Argentina.
SW: So flash forward a few years and you had worked at a few different agencies including Helan Althen and Manning, Selvage and Lee. You started your own agency and things were going well. What made you want to do fitness?
RL: I think after doing PR for so long, I needed a new challenge. I knew I didn’t want to be a bigger PR firm and open more offices. And then the fact that this program is very effective and really gets results for women – I’ve always felt like an advocate for women. I meet a lot of women -- there are more women in PR than anything. So if I can do something to help women feel amazing, from the inside out, I think I want to do that.
That’s kind of what inspired me. Not necessarily the fitness business, per se, that’s not what drew me, what drew me was being a supportive place for women. You come here to lose inches, but we treat women with respect and this is a place where we pamper them. We have to go through so much as women. With kids, and jobs, and all those things.
Three years ago I went to Argentina and I tried this [program] over there and I loved it. I was like “oh my God, this is great.” I did 10 sessions in 3 weeks and my results were amazing. I was able to reduce inches. And I loved it so I said “You know what, I have to bring this concept [to LA.]” It took a year and a half to put it together. And then in November 2012, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Luckily, I’m in remission now but I had to do everything; Chemotherapy, surgery, radiation – the whole thing.
SW: You’re a busy girl. How do you juggle all of this?
RL: It’s hard, it’s hard. First of all, you have to hire the right people. My manager here, Nicole is amazing. The first step so you don’t get completely overwhelmed is to rely on your staff. So you have to have an amazing staff that believes in your vision, and that believes in you. And at the same time can execute and carry out your vision. With my involvement but I can’t hold their hand. I need to have independent thinkers, good leaders that can carry out my vision. That’s kind of how I do it.
SW: Some of your clients are Fresh and Easy, NIKE, Verizon Wireless – all huge national brands. They come to you and ask you to add a dash of color, so to speak, to their campaigns. Can you talk about diversity in marketing and if you think it’s getting better?
RL: I still think there is a long way to go. There are many companies that are doing an amazing job with diversity. Verizon Wireless is one of them. Proctor and Gamble has made amazing inroads. Dominoes Pizza, for example, is another client of ours that has done an amazing job. But I think there is still a ways to go. In terms of having senior people and also advancements in the workplace. But I think it’s getting better, I think more and more companies value diversity. If you look at some of the companies that truly are successful, they have strong, diverse teams internally and that drives the company. And it starts at the top.
Now you see a trend called the total market approach. A lot of the companies are integrating and only doing one advertising campaign to target the multi-cultural markets. I think it’s a new thing and people are testing to see if it’s going to work. I think when you talk about the Hispanic market; it’s a little bit different. Language plays a big role. Again sometimes its separate, sometimes it not integrated. For example, we work with Nike and Nike is all integrated. That’s who they are as a brand.
SW: Talking more specifically about the Hispanic market and speaking directly to them, what are some of the strategies that you apply that are unique to that market?
RL: I think for the PR campaigns we develop, I think relevancy is very important. There are certain things that are more culturally relevant than others. We just finished a big event Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) it has become more of a mainstream celebration. But it’s anchored in Latino culture. This is the type of things where you can promote certain brands that have the right association while tapping into something that the Latino community is going to love. So sometimes a client will give me a general marketing campaign and ask, “can you just translate.” Sometimes that works but usually we have to look at it and say we need to make it more relevant. And that’s what we do.
SW: What was your most memorable campaign?
RL: The most memorable and the most fun was this series of concerts that we did for five years for Miller Genuine Draft and it was called Solo Con Invitation. It was so much fun. It was a series of intimate concerts – no more than 1,000 people -- with top Latino acts. I think this was one of those core programs that became a memorable program that people still talk about because it was just very unique and very cool.
One of the cool programs that we are doing right now is for “Got Milk.” We are doing the Breakfast Challenge with schools in California to make sure kids drink milk with breakfast and to highlight the importance of eating breakfast before you go to school. We try to do good programs that are going to have a good message in the end.
SW: What’s next for RL Public Relations + Marketing?
RL: Right now my goal is to also work with more entrepreneurial companies, not necessarily the biggest companies. Maybe before I was more focused on that but now I want to be more geared towards entrepreneurial brands that have a purpose. So changing the focus a little bit.
I can wish Roxana well on her goals for both RL Public Relations and with Iobella but I know that with her track record she can do whatever she sets her mind to. Oh, and I’m definitely planning to try out the Iobella workout and let you all know how it works! Stay tuned for my review and keep up with Roxana Lissa here.
Cold, sweet ice cream smashed between two yummy cookies may just sound like a great summertime snack to you, but for Natasha Case, Founder of Coolhaus, ice cream sandwiches have become dessert gold. A young entrepreneur and student of architecture, Natasha has relied on her instincts and passions to fuel her business and take her to the next level. What started out as making ice cream with her then girlfriend and later business partner, Freya Estreller, has turned into a multi-million dollar enterprise, with retail stores in LA, Austin, Dallas and New York and distribution nationwide through grocery store chain, Wholefoods.
It always fascinates me when Made Women are able to take start something on a small scale and turn it into a dream career. As Coolhaus’ founder, Natasha went from selling her unique brand of ice cream from the back of an old ice cream truck to now having a coffee table book called Coolhaus Ice Cream book, partnerships with huge brands and more. I met Natasha recently at the Tribe Talk event right here in LA and was excited to pick her brain a bit and see how she made it all happen:
SW: You didn’t always make ice cream. Tell me a little about your architecture background.
NC: I went to Berkeley for my undergraduate, I studied architecture and design. I studied abroad with Cornell in Rome. Everything they do in Italy had a huge influence on me in terms of quality, from the tailor made suits, to the food, to the architecture, and really realizing that, the best ingredients make the best product. And then I came back, finished Berkeley, and then I went to UCLA for grad school for architecture.
SW: I know that you have used some of the things you have learned about architecture to inspire design with with Coolhaus and that’s what you studied. So why ice cream? Why food? Why not just architecture all the way?
NC: I had a really fun idea that food... kind of opens up the discussion a lot more. Food is something everyone can relate to. It’s comforting, it’s fun, it’s memorable. I got more intrigued in my own architecture work knowing that.
You have to bake architectural models and I always thought, if I was making this model of cake it would never get boring. So food is fun, and then there is this light at the end of the rainbow because when you are done you can eat it. So it’s always just been a passion/hobby for me, eating and cooking. And then I had the idea of how can you combine architecture with that? What are the ways they overlap? How can you use one to talk about the other? That’s what initially inspired the concept of what we’re doing now with Coolhaus. And a lot of our flavors are named after architects and designers so it’s about building awareness and making it accessible and fun. I call that Frachitecture…. But I still very much consider myself part of both of those worlds.
SW: Right, that’s awesome. It’s just incredible how you started something new and different and it just took off. How big was your team when you guys started out?
NC: Really we started with me and Freya and now we’re over seventy people company wide.
SW: Wow, and also you recently made the Forbes Thirty Under Thirty and Zagats Thirty Under Thirty as well. Congratulations. Were these your biggest accomplishments as an entrepreneur? If not, what was?
NC: To get an acknowledgement or award like that is great but for me the accomplishment is getting into markets in Guam or reaching people with a product that I never thought we were able to reach and running the business properly and being able to reward and bonus the corporate team and also the team on the ground in the trucks and stores. Those are the things that matter to me a lot more. I mean I’m so excited to be acknowledged and that means a lot. But it’s not like, “Oh, that’s my goal is to get Thirty Under Thirty.”
SW: I’m sure it wasn’t easy to go from selling from a refurbished ice cream truck to being in 1500 grocery stores. What has been the biggest challenge through it all?
NC: I think surrounding yourself with the right people -- anyone will tell you -- is the hardest part. Because you [are dealing with] different personalities, and skillsets... And really finetuning to make sure that you have the right team in place and that everyone’s skills are being optimized. The other thing is financially scaling. It’s hard to make the jump from three Wholefoods in 2011 to now over two thousand grocery stores nationwide. Cash flow in a company like ours that is obviously very seasonal is tough. There are times when it’s difficult and how you’re gonna get through it? What kind of precautious do you have to take. You really have to plan, be aware of your budgets. That’s definitely a challenge too.
SW: I know that Freya was your business partner and she worked on the finance and operations side. What was it like for you two as entrepreneurs, co-founders, and significant others? That had to be a lot going on.
NC: Yeah, it’s a lot. I think that while it worked, it worked great because we were able to talk about the company and evaluate it all the time. Then you start to hit a glass ceiling when you say okay, there are limitations to also being romantically involved. It’s not a purely professional relationship and it becomes time to bring in an expert, someone that you don’t have that emotional complication with. So I think it was an amazing thing to do in the startup phase for the company to mature. But I think for the next step, it made sense for Freya to move on and she had other passions she wanted to pursue. So, it all worked out in the end.
SW: That’s great. Your story is very unique, I know that you drove that old ice cream truck to Coachella to launch your product. What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs that are starting out?
NC: We like to say “action not perfection.” If you want to get something out there, don’t be afraid to test the market. The market will teach you a lot about what works and what doesn’t. Don’t feel like you’re always going to have to be perfect before you launch. Because the real test is reality.
SW: You found so many other ways to monetize beyond just ice cream scoops, so can you talk about the other ways that Coolhaus does business.
NC: Yes, so the book, e-commerce that has grown to bars and other clients now, in addition to grocery stores and foodservice accounts. So, you know, I’ve been coming up with a variety of products and a variety of market channels.
SW: You also talked about partnerships, which ones are going on right now?
NC: We’ve done a big thing with Dexter the Showtime show last year. We did a pre-packaged sandwich and various event activations around it to promote it [along with] various media. This year, we have our partnership with the LA Forum. We have a special sandwich for them. It’s red velvet vanilla because they painted the Forum red. We are working on a partnership with Wholefoods and their Whole Family foundation which is in the very early stages. We have a lot of big brand activations. We are doing something with Jeep.
SW: So, how do you come up with new flavors and new ideas for that?
NC: Sometimes we are inspired by dishes we have in savory restaurants. Sometimes clients commissions us to do something interesting like make a flavor themed by a movie or a show. We did a Spongebob flavor, a 2012 flavor for the movie 2012. Sometimes we just want to push the envelope. We were the first to bring bacon ice cream to the masses and then suddenly people started doing bacon desserts. So we thought, “Okay, what’s the next flavor we can do to push the envelope?” And we came up with chicken and waffles.
SW: What’s your favorite flavor?
NC: It really depends on the day. I love our summer flavors right now Sweet Corn and Blueberry. I love the fried chicken and waffles. Our ___ are fresh and they have a touch of brown sugar.
SW: My last question for you, I know you started a company at a young age, what advice or feedback did you receive that kept you going and allowed you to get past your inexperience?
NC: I think you can walk through a wall if you don’t know it’s there. Sometimes not knowing about something makes you take a risk that you don’t even realize you’re taking and that risk can be your secret weapon because you’re going to disrupt the market and give something really cool and unique.
Love this Made Woman’s story? Join us on August 29th for a Twitter chat with her! Tweet us your questions for Natasha using the hashtag #MWChat!
1995 was a special year in Hip-Hop and R&B. Tupac dropped his classic “Me Against the World” from his New York prison. Biggie released both “Big Poppa” and “One More Chance” and had the radio on lock. D’Angelo blazed the charts with “Brown Sugar,” and TLC showed us how “CrazySexyCool” R&B could be.
That fall, a humble new group named Groove Theory released its debut self-titled album and its adorable hit, “Tell Me,” which became a staple in every DJ’s crate. The combination of Amel Larrieux’s salty and sweet vocals and Bryce Wilson’s production were the perfect match, and the two forever solidified their place among Hip-Hop’s golden era.
But in 1999, Larrieux went out on her own, created the independent label, Blisslife, and released her debut solo album, “Infinite Possibilities.” After three more revered albums and six years to tour, live life, and perfect her next album, Larrieux dropped the 16-track LP “Ice Cream Everyday”.
After last week’s shows at Yoshi’s Jazz Club in San Francisco, I got the chance to sit down with the Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter and chat with her about being independent, staying creative and relevant in today’s competitive landscape, and pursuing her next big dream.
Amel Larrieux: Well, there’s never really any big thought-out plan. Things happen, songs are written, and if they sound good together in a group and they’re viable to be an album, then that album is done. And that’s how we’ve always worked it. It’s about each individual song being an experience sitting next to another experience, and it becomes an amalgamation of experiences and feelings and emotions...and then you have an album!
AL: “See Where You Are” is just about being present. I have my own meditation practice that affords me exactly that. Just to stop and be still for minute and sometimes not even think about what’s going on. “Moment to Reflect” is inspired by the idea that in society -- and not just western society -- there are so many platforms for everyone to constantly be throwing out their opinions, and it’s easy for some people to just become…just nasty. And people get so wrapped up in opinions... I write a song and have a point of view, but I really like it when a listener takes what they want from it. So I don’t often want to get too in-depth about what I aimed for because that doesn’t really matter. It’s about what the listener gets from it.
AL: For me and (my husband) Laru, we just always try to be authentic as possible. We listen to what’s happening mainstream-wise as well as underground, but we always keep a certain distance when we’re in super creative mode because we don’t really want to get too much into something that might sound trendy...I think we’ve found that when we do it our way, for lack of a better term, it ends up fitting into my discography more gracefully and seamlessly, and it all becomes like this seamless sound. But also, following trends in the music is not very interesting and also probably not very profitable for me. And I don’t think people want that from me.
AL:I’ve never been the mastermind behind the business moves that I appear to be making. It’s really been Laru, and I got really lucky that the person I fell in love with and married also happens to be the person who produces the music I make and had the idea to go independent and spearhead all this. I’m an independent spirit. I don’t want to have my fate in the hands of someone, or a conglomerate, that I don’t think really understands what I want to do.
AL: We’ve always had a space to create. We’ve always had our own studio, a home studio, or something that’s 10 minutes from home. That enabled a kind of (creative) normalcy. We’ve been writing together, even just in the house together, for so long, so we’ve always been totally natural and we almost take it for granted because it’s just what we do. At home, you can just be writing songs and working on some music and one of us hears the other one and chimes in and says “well, what about this?” or “what if you did this to it?” It’s just beautiful that we get to make something that’s universally felt on a spiritual level. That’s how music is. It’s also work. Sometimes I wish I had a timecard I could clock in and out with, but I know it’s a luxury that at 8:00 at night I can get a song idea and go remove myself and go write for a while. Or I can do that at noon and go for a walk outside. It’s just always been a natural part of our life.
AL: Anytime I hear people say, “Oh, you can do it all!” I’m always baffled because it’s hard. Personally, when I hear them say that, I think to myself, “Well, it’s not easy for me!” Traveling from one climate to the next in one day. Or the time (zone) changes. Or getting jet-lagged and then having to do two shows in one night. I often don’t want to be in front of the cameras, and don’t necessarily always want to be photographed. Some days I’m just interested in just singing, and some days I don’t want to sing at all. Some days I don’t want to have to do mom stuff. Some days I don’t want to cook. I’m just like anyone else in that sense. But we all have to kinda “make the donuts (laughs).” Someone has to do it. I would say that’s really the common denominator. From Amel Larrieux the artist to anyone out there; it’s about the struggling. I’m sure I could do a little better with my scheduling. I’m sure that would make things easier. You do have to be good to yourself, though, and allow yourself the room and space to have a tantrum here and there, and learn and grow, and then decide where you need to make changes and where you need to adjust.
AL: Well, I think there might be something to me deciding to determine my own image and my sound and having a hand in it. It’s taken years of just being me and not trying on other people’s identity. Instead, it’s been me messing around with the organic way that my own identity ebbs and flows, musically and visually.
The other thing, and I wish it didn’t sound so businesslike, is that there are so many of us out there that do what we do and there’s so few that get to make a mark, be heard, and be able to continue to do this decade after decade and not be struggling as a starving artist. Talent has something to do with it, but it’s all relative. What really matters is who you have behind you, working what you’re doing. A mainstream label has this machine of hundreds of people doing all this stuff. This is the machine that I have: Laru and a small crew of people that we hire to pull all this stuff together for me. That’s really important. Whether you’re a visual artist or a writer, a musician, a performer, dancer, or any type of creative, it’s really important to have a manager that has an incredible work ethic or a booking agent that’s a tireless presence behind you that keeps going when everything else seems to be saying no.
AL: My biggest dream is to segue into a life of work in the service of children from one to six years old in urban low income communities with the use of art, artistic healing modalities and yogic healing modalities. I would like to teach meditation, yoga, and art and music therapy, and be involved in these communities where kids are “at risk” or don’t have the resources they need. I want to give them these tools – these spiritual internal tools to be well adapted and healed adults one day. That’s my dream. It may not have anything to do with music, but that’s really what my heart desires at this point.
Want to read the full interview with Amel? Read it here.
Follow Amel Larrieux: @amellarrieux
The veteran songstress and songwriter was well into her 90-minute set at Yoshi’s Jazz Club last night when she unexpectedly announced to the crowd that she was considering a career change. “I’ve been reading about music as a healing modality and I’m hoping that that is the next step that I can take a foray into and make part of my profession.”
The announcement was quite appropriate. Last October, Amel Larrieux released “Ice Cream Everyday,” the long-awaited and oft-delayed studio LP. It had been six years since her last studio album, Lovely Standards (jazz), and seven years since she’d released an album comprised of her own original material. Her fans were long overdue for some of her “music therapy” and rushed to the iTunes store on the release day to download Larrieux’s latest installment. So far, the album’s first single, “Afraid,” reached number 16 on the Adult R&B Songs chart.
Throughout her set on Sunday night, Larrieux seamlessly weaved through material from all six of her albums. She eased into the performance with one of her new songs from Ice Cream, “A Million Sapphires,” establishing a deep and focused tone, followed by “Magic” and “We Can Be New.”
But the energy of the show ascended to new heights with the song “You Don’t See Me,” as the music seemed to transform Larrieux from R&B crooner into a Hip-Hop lyricist. While even throwing in a couple freestyle lyrics about her ‘drink and her two-step,’ Larrieux prowled and sashayed across the stage with a swag that would’ve made Biggie pass her the mic.
And in classic Larrieux fashion, she showed her range and repertoire by performing a cover of Madonna’s “What it Feels Like For a Girl.” With only her daughter, Sky Larrieux, accompanying her on keyboards, the deconstructed version of “Girl” became exceedingly thoughtful and introspective.
She followed with two favorites from the Morning album, “Unanswered Questions,” and “Gills and Tails.” But the show elevated once again as she performed the hypnotic new song, “Danger,” a lesson in unlearning the culturally-driven ideas that create fear, hate, and devaluing of self. Larrieux fans have always enjoyed Larrieux’s ability to infuse refreshing social commentary in her disarming music. “Danger” is the latest of such works and does not disappoint.
For the final stretch, Amel brought back a couple of her classics, “Infinite Possibilities” and “INI.” But the crowd came alive with the ballad, “I Do Take,” which will undoubtedly become the new wedding song for 2014.
She followed that with the cherished “For Real,” and the show was rounded out with the iconic Groove Theory hit “Tell Me,” with the entire audience singing and dancing along.
The show was perfectly imperfect, with minor hiccups here and there. But members of the Amel faithful who have been patiently waiting for her return to the stage felt like it was well worth the wait. One concert-goer told me, “It’s amazing and I don’t know what it is about her, but now I feel totally inspired and ready to tackle my own challenges and goals. I have a big interview this week and this is just what I needed.”
We also got a chance to catch up with the singer after the show for an exclusive Made Woman Mag interview, so make sure to check out Part Two of this article later this week. But in the meantime, to get your own dose of music therapy, pick up Ice Cream Everyday. And if you’re in the Seattle or Washington D.C. area, make sure to check out one of her upcoming shows this month.
The Internet never sleeps. Day and night, content creators are writing copy they hope you want to read. Smart entrepreneurs are recognizing that businesses seem incomplete without a blog or content portion as part of their business plans. Once such entrepreneur, Shawn Amos, keyed in early and started Amos Content Group in 2009 with a team of writers, producers, designers and directors. They provided businesses with branded digital content at a fast pace. Talent shone through and business picked up quickly. The company was soon purchased by Omnicom and re-branded as Freshwire. Business was great, and when Shawn needed a chief creative director, he called in his sister, Sarah Amos. Sarah -- then senior producer at the ABC News’ “World News With Diane Sawyer”-- seemed like a cosmic fit. She had been working her way through different divisions of ABC News, including “Good Morning America” and their national news desk. But with her brother’s company taking off, she decided to take the entrepreneurial leap.
For the majority of her career, Sarah had actually tried to avoid entrepreneurship. She enjoyed the challenges and perks that her job at ABC provided. “I didn’t think I would take the entrepreneurship route. Growing up, I liked theater and storytelling,” Sarah says. Her father, Wallace “Wally” Amos, had gone the entrepreneurial route when he started Famous Amos cookies in 1975. He left William Morris, where he'd worked as an agent, to start a cookie business that grew to be a national brand. Having seen the ups and downs that her father faced, Sarah ruled owning a business as “too risky.” Instead, she worked her way up through a huge news conglomerate, making a name for herself along the way. Unafraid of a big story, she covered Haiti's devastating 2010 earthquake, the 2009 “Miracle on the Hudson” plane crash and the 2008 Bernie Madoff scandal. Sarah even earned an Emmy for her field coverage of the 2007 wildfires in California on “World News.” She worked to bridge the gap between broadcast and digital news production while focusing on creativity and telling authentic stories.
The team at "World News With Diane Sawyer" was soon knocking on Sarah’s proverbial door. For a young woman who graduated with honors from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication, this was a dream job. “[Diane] sets the standard on a daily basis. She really pushes people to go harder and tell the real story. Working to find the nuances -- the real characters,” Sarah remembers. In 2008, Sarah got to be a part of history, following Bill Clinton during the presidential campaign. “There are moments when I think to myself, ‘I’m really lucky to be a part of this.’ But I know I can always try harder, be a better producer.”
So when things are going so well, why move on? Sarah’s decision to accept her brother’s offer to join the Freshwire team speaks a lot to the state of modern news reporting. In an age where a single tweet can change everything, news sources have to be lean and quick. “You are going to see more brands as publishers and content creators… They can control what is being said, but in a fun way. The roles will continue to blur.” The Freshwire team was ahead of the curve, so over the years, they have become experts at churning out high-quality video, editorial and visual content. Sarah says that brands and corporations are hungry for this type of stuff: “For a brand to be successful they need to create content across multiple platforms and media.” Her seamless partnership with her brother works like yin and yang. She’s now grateful for the opportunity to try a new industry and challenge herself professionally.
While the size of the company she works for has changed, Sarah’s daily struggles as a digital producer have not. Just like at ABC, she has to chase the breaking stories, push herself to create authentic representations and bring passion to the creative process. “My background is in creating a story quickly… I have to jump head-first into a variety of challenges,” she says. Sarah knows that preparation is one of the keys to success. She makes sure to have three contingency plans, her shoot schedules ready and extra interview questions to ask on the fly. “You can have vision and a great idea, but if you don’t have the backbone and structure, it will fall apart quickly.” For others coming up in the content production field, she also recommends going outside your comfort zone and being free and confident in your pursuit of creativity.
In a world where everyone is embracing digital, including the major networks, a huge landscape has opened up for content producers like Sarah Amos. Her dedication to authentic storytelling is what has made her success stretch across platforms and allowed her to connect with new audiences. “So many opportunities have come from me raising my hand… You have to believe in your own worth.” As someone who is never satisfied with the status quo, there is no limit to what she can attain.
DJ Lady Sha isn’t afraid to throw off the yoke of tradition in favor of the road less traveled. She is a genre-defying trailblazer in the male-dominated world of DJ-ing. Originally set on a course to study medicine at UC Berkely, Sha bucked medical school for a life of turntables and dance floors -- and she hasn’t looked back. She is an award-winning, globe-trotting entrepreneur whose diligently cultivated and eclectic sets helped her to become the first female to win the Winter Music Conference DJ Spin-off (2008). Although based in Los Angeles, Sha’s drive and spinning prowess has taken her the world wide to New York, Miami, Jamaica, and South Africa, where in 2004 she was the first woman to spin live on South African air waves. I got the chance to chat with Lady Sha after she DJ’ed the Made Woman 2 Year event:
Lady Sha: Always, thanks to my Mom and Dad! Whether waking us up with music on weekend mornings or playing it in the car, we were always listening to something. Back then it was a mix of my mom’s favorites from Persian music to Elton John, Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, etc... or my Dad’s choice – anything on KCRW.
Lady Sha: I love such a huge range of music from pop to underground, hip hop to dance music, and even country jams that I don’t consider anything a guilty pleasure. Most days I’m digging through hundreds of new and old mp3’s to see what I want to include in my sets, so when I have time to listen to music for pleasure, I just go with whatever I’m in the mood for at that time. On my runs, I like to listen to hip hop and dance music for example. In the car after a long night, I like to listen to KCRW late-night or a country station, something completely different than what I was just playing at an event for four hours.
Lady Sha: I didn’t even know I WAS interested in DJ-ing a little over a decade ago. While I was at UC Berkeley as an undergrad studying Pre-Med & Anthropology, my neighbor happened to be DJ Phatrick. He asked me to sit in on one of his DJ courses on campus. At first I told him I was too busy – not only with school, but with my hobbies as a guitarist, singer, and member of the UC Berkeley Poetry Slam team. With his convincing though, I sat in on his class and fell in love from that moment on. Two weeks after the course ended I bought my own turntables.
Lady Sha: I think the most valuable advice I can give is to have clear focus on where you’d like to go, make sure your entrepreneurial signature is creative and original -- or improving upon what already exists -- and have a phenomenal work ethic to achieve your vision.
Lady Sha: DJ-ing more frequently and working around the clock to showcase my style and abilities at gigs and with mix CDs, my mark slowly became increasingly noticeable and present in Los Angeles. Now to expand that to the world...
Lady Sha: The pioneers of hip hop and dj-ing were male and to quote the film Miss Representation, “you can't be what you can't see”, so I think it took some time for females to break into dj-ing. I hear about so many more females DJ-ing now than 10 years ago. There’s a snowball effect of more and more females entering the industry and finally evening out the playing field!
Lady Sha: I’ve had a ton of fun at DJ gigs in New York, Miami, Rome, Vegas, and San Francisco as well as in countries such as South Africa and Jamaica. However, nothing is as amazing as a popping dance floor in LA filled with the intense energy of my friends and people that have danced to my sets over the years.
Lady Sha: Not only do musical tastes differ in club scenes around the world, but also from club to club here in LA and from night to night in each venue. One night you may have a hip hop crowd, another night a dance music crowd, and on another night, a crowd that wants to go on a genre-hopping journey with the DJ of the night.
Lady Sha: My absolute favorite thing to do when I DJ is to play for a crowd that will let me take them on a ride through different genres from hip hop to trap, dubstep, dance music, indie-rock, and hip hop and R&B jams from the 80s and 90s. I’m not happy having to stick to any one genre.
Lady Sha: Show Me Love – Robin S. The only variable is what I pair before and after the song that affect the impact the song has on the crowd.
Since her new and improved website launches in early November, it’s easy to stay up to date on all of DJ Lady Sha’s happenings including daily updates on her performance schedule and new videos and mixes. But in the meantime to get your fix, you can check out Sha on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
“Why not?” I am convinced that this phrase holds a place in the personal mantra of every entrepreneur. Everyday, people brave enough to run their own businesses, push themselves boldly into the unknown. While it can be terrifying, there’s really little room for hesitance –because, if you think only of the possibilities for failure, you’ll undoubtedly forfeit your opportunity for success. Fitness expert Samantha Monus lives by those two simple words, a positive philosophy. Her fearless attitude has launched an amazing career, which now includes a partnership with Venus Williams. A graduate of Florida State University, she fell in love with fitness. Then she did what many of us hope to, she started a business doing what she loved. Monus’ biggest challenge was saying goodbye to an established company and venturing out on her own. Her mind was full of doubts: did she have what it took to start a business from the ground up? Now, a few years later, the answer is a resounding yes.
If you go to your neighborhood gym, say 24-hour fitness, Equinox, or Spectrum, you will have a plethora of trainers available to you. In many cases, you’ll find that they focus on one or two of your needs, but may not consider your entire lifestyle. Monus succeeds in her holistic approach to fitness. She believes there are multiple branches on, what she calls, the “Fitness Tree” including but not limited to: strength training, flexibility, nutrition, and meditation. She individualizes her regimen for each client.
With the help of family, friends, mentors, and inspiring clients, Samantha Monus has made a name for herself in the fitness industry. Monus is now involved with the clothing line EleVen by Venus Williams. They even have a program called Fitness Journey, a six-month nutrition series, which follows 4 participants looking to make lifestyle changes. Additionally, Monus was a key participant in Jamba Juice’s Fit Trend Expo, this past spring. This “health crusader” works diligently to promote wellness by offering individual private training and wellness consultations. Based on her expertise and the company she keeps, it is clear that venturing out on her own was an excellent decision. Like any Made Woman, belief in herself and her abilities was paramount in building her business.
I loved meeting Dr. Monus and she was kind enough to share some tips with all of you Made Women out there:
MWM: What are your top five pieces of advice for aspiring personal trainers?
1. Be patient: It takes a long time to be good at anything. The more you engage, the better you’ll be.
2. Stay open: Many trainers close their minds to something that they were not taught or do not know or understand. Often times, their ego gets in the way. The body and mind are so complex and we are still learning so much more about it than we could have ever imagined. Never poo-poo someone else’s training method because you don’t understand it. None of us are the authority; we can all learn from each other.
3. Emphasize balance: The body needs adequate flexibility and rest. You can’t just burn out your clients - you’ll set them up for injury. Making sure the client is balanced structurally is super important. Emphasizing flexibility and therapeutics are invaluable to having top-notch athletes and clients.
4. Study nutrition (or collaborate with someone experienced in this area): I think many trainers unknowingly recommend products that are toxic and unhealthy. Though they have good intentions, they recommend artificial diet products and crappy protein powders. If it’s out of your realm, then collaborate with someone who is qualified to help.
5. Keep Learning: I’ve never stopped learning. Go out and get more certificates, take workshops, go to seminars, read every book you can in your field. Consider trading sessions with trainers or instructors from outside of your knowledge base. I’ve learned so much from this exchange. Most importantly, leave your ego at the door! Everyone makes mistakes, just learn from them.
MWM: And for those of us who just want to get fit, what do you do if you are interested in making a lifestyle change but unable to afford regular classes or trainers?
Samantha: “Check out the Internet! It's Free and if you don't like it…click to the next workout. We are so lucky in this day in age to have YouTube, NETFLIX, and social media. You can seriously get so many great workouts and motivations online. I love YouTubing workouts and trying them out. Social media provides so many amazing classes, fitness challenges, support groups and healthy recipes, all for FREE!”
MWM: How can we take care of our bodies and stay informed about our health options?
Samantha: “Eat right and avoid toxic people and food that clog your brain and mind. Learn everything you can about health, fitness, and nutrition. Don't believe the media or everything you hear. Listen to your inner wisdom. Study and be open. Read books, watch documentaries, and go to free seminars at health food stores. The more you learn, the more power you have to make healthier decisions. “
For more tips, check out Dr. Samantha Monus’ Here:
Soul artist Raquel Rodriguez is a Los Angeles native with a penchant for emotional vocal runs, a bright, driving style that will get your blood pumping, and for just being one of the ‘guys’. Rodriguez’s influences are a collection of both old and new school soul - from Sarah Vaughan to Adele -- and you can hear elements spanning the decades in all of her music. She blends the best of decades past with a modern surge. And with a seldom-seen-these-days six-piece ensemble, The Big Guys, backing her, Raquel has moved swiftly from self-titled EP in 2012 to debut LP release. An entrepreneur in her own right taking command of her career, Raquel is spirited woman with a mission to get her music out to the world. After recently releasing her first LP, Miss Me, on June 21, Raquel can take a moment to relish in her accomplishment. But just a moment, because there is no doubt that Raquel has plans to check a lot more off her to do list.
Soul music has always been a huge part of my life. My mom would only play good music while my brothers and I were growing up. In my teen years I definitely gravitated to the pop/hip-hop stuff, but as I got older I found myself going back to my roots. I started to mimic the sounds I used to love and wrote about things that were important to me.
Destiny. [Laughs] Seriously though, I met all of the (Big) guys pretty much through school. Whether it was because we had a class together or just a mutual friend, I met all of them through USC. It took me awhile to find "my band," but now that I have, I'm so grateful. These guys are what make the music what it is and they're all like family to me.
Tough question, but if I have to choose one, definitely Sarah Vaughan. I love Billie Holiday’s vibe and soul, but Sarah Vaughan has got the voice! Man, I remember when my voice teacher at USC had me transcribe one of Sarah's solos for homework, and after that I just went on a SV craze. She's dope! I definitely learned a lot from her just listening to different albums.
Change is inevitable, and whether it's good or bad, it's going to happen. I think a lot of things contributed to what mainstream music is now. Technology, politics, location, life, whatever it may be, it's all taken part in what music is today. I love that Soul music is coming back because I honestly believe that it's healthy for people. It's called Soul music for a reason.
It's awesome! Most of the time it's so easy because I grew up with two older brothers, so I'm used to having boys around. I'm definitely a little bit of a tomboy sometimes. The only thing that's tough about it is that I find myself starting to act like them a little too much. I'm pretty sure I burp louder than any of them.
The album is called "Miss Me," and it has that old school vibe. A lot of music today is so produced, which can also be cool, but we didn't want that for this album. Sam, who plays drums on the album, produced the whole thing and wrote a lot of the music, so he wanted to make sure that we recorded it right. We spent A LOT of time making sure things sounded exactly the way we wanted them to, all while keeping in mind that this record is being pressed to vinyl.
The [Raquel Rodriguez] EP was a lot more "calm" in a way, and the recording/production process was MUCH different than what I expected. The EP was made up of songs that I had written when I was younger and I wanted evidence of that. I've grown as a singer, songwriter, musician, performer, basically just as an artist all around, and I think "Miss Me" is definitely a good example of that.
Andrew Scheps was AWESOME! We learned so much from him in the one day we spent recording with him. He gave us so much advice and he was so knowledgeable and passionate about what he was doing. Definitely a huge inspiration. If you don't know what he looks like, just imagine a tall, powerful wizard with a long beard and that's him.
I dream more about playing in places that I've never been before. I want to travel all over the world in whatever venue that'll have me.
Listen to Raquel’s latest album and check out her site here.
Powerhouse vocalist Cheesa first came into our homes on last season’s The Voice. The Honolulu native swept Cee Lo off his feet at her blind audition with her rich and soulful voice. He gushed, “You could go on from here to be everything you were meant to be.” Now at 22, Cheesa has released her debut album Naked via her own independent label. It’s reminiscent of 90’s R&B/Pop vocalists like Mariah Carey and Brandy, and features catchy hooks and sweeping melodies bolstered by vibrant, unflappable beats. Her journey to entrepreneurship and the music industry was by no means an easy one. Her family was plagued by financial hardships, converting their home into an elder care facility and moving themselves into the garage to pay their mortgage. Despite her parent’s initial hesitancy and the strong Filipino traditions which pointed to a more traditional career, Cheesa’s family moved from Hawaii to Los Angeles for her to pursue a career in music. We recently caught up with her to chat about the new album and her newfound exposure.
1. You’re just back from a stint doing shows and press in Hawaii, where you’re originally from. What’s your favorite activity or food spot to hit up when you go back home?
There’s so many things that you can do and so many things that you should eat. But my favorite, and I think a lot of locals can agree, is Kahuku shrimp. You can either go to Romy’s or Giavonni’s shrimp truck. And you also have to hit up THE BEST - Masumoto’s Shaved Ice. What I like to do is go to the beach. It’s quite as simple as that.
2. How old were you when your family moved to LA? What was that transition like for you?
I just turned 16 about 2 weeks before we moved to LA. It was such a culture shock. I went to an all girls Catholic school in Hawaii, so to go to a coed public school [in LA]...I think I had way too much freedom. I kind of wilded out. It’s definitely difficult to adapt.
3. What is The Assembly?
The Assembly is the production company that I’m in. One day we just decided let’s do it; let’s produce songs, make albums, and just go full force with it. We never thought that it would become this serious, so for us to produce a full-length album is really surreal. [It’s] gratifying that we have everything on iTunes and people from around the world are appreciating the music that we put out there.
4. What is your creative experience like? Where do you find the balance within The Assembly, as far as who writes, who mixes, produces, etc?
It’s a very collaborative effort and everybody has their certain niche. I think we mesh well together because everybody has a specific role.
5. You mentioned your brother, Troy who is also a musician and music director, and has toured with the likes of Demi Lovato , David Archuleta, and Cherice (aka Sunshine Corazon from Glee). Is music something that your parents impressed upon you two growing up?
It was something we were introduced to by my dad who also sang when he was young, but it was never really an option to be a career choice. Because my dad sacrificed a lot for us, he was more expecting us to be in the medical field or in law, something more stable, and, from his standpoint, more realistic. He never really wanted to see us struggle because he knew how hard it was to struggle in his own life, living in the Philippines. But after a lot of convincing he agreed to move to LA so we could pursue music.
6. Being from a close-knit Filipino family, did your parents have a reaction to your rather provocative album cover?
[Laughs] I remember the day after we got it, I remember thinking this is really controversial and I was really scared to show my mom. But surprisingly the one that we thought was going to be more mad about it was the one who was more accepting. My dad was like, she’s not really showing anything.
7. Was there a moment or battle for you on The Voice that was particularly challenging?
It was my first time ever doing things on my own. My brother and I have been performing for quite some time as a duo. And as I was in a competition show, social media is such a big outlet for people to express themselves. It’s an open forum for people to talk negatively and positively, and it was my first time seeing all these comments. I don’t think anyone can mentally prepare themselves for that, so that was a big challenge for me. It was like a flashback to times in my childhood where I was bullied, so it was definitely challenging. It actually led to one of the songs on the album “I’m Not Perfect.” I want to inspire people to accept themselves and love themselves despite all the flaws and insecurities. You’re still beautiful.
8. Your single “Crash Boom” (my personal favorite) features Jamar Rogers from your season on The Voice. Are you still in contact with a lot of your teammates/ Cee Lo?
I just recently watched Cee Lo’s show in Vegas, Loberace. Great show! And I do keep in contact with a lot of people, Anthony Evans, Jamar obviously...we become so close being on the show. I’ve gained a lot of good friends from being on that show.
9. Where does the album title, Naked come from?
Naked was not meant to be that controversial. For me Naked meant stripping out the outside layers and the perception that people had of me. It was being able to use this album as a therapeutic journey to reveal my soft side. It was to inspire women, most importantly young girls, because society shows that women should look thin when really all sizes, all shapes, all colors should be accepted. Thats what I wanted the album to be about - for people to accept who they are and not be afraid to show it.
10. How has the post The Voice experience been for you?
I love the show. It gave me the opportunity to meet a lot of great people, Cee Lo and all the other great coaches and it opened doors for me. I would have never gotten the opportunities that I get now to travel around the world and sing, to be interviewed by people like you. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity and now I get to live out my dream.
For more of Cheesa be sure to catch her upcoming summer promo tour on both on the west coast and in Asia. More details to follow on her websites.
With an eclectic style that won’t be tamed, Dezi Paige explores a range of musical styles in her debut, the recently released, Tall Tales. Paige was born to the into a Psychedelic Rock family; she is the daughter of David Getz, the drummer of Big Brother and the Holding Company, where Janis Joplin cut her teeth. With a best friend kind of ease about her, Paige shared with me how her father’s early influence and her world travel have informed her musical styles. I recently spoke with this up-and-coming Rock/Soul artist and asked her 10 questions about her life and her music:
1. What’s in heavy rotation on your iPod right now?
One of my favorites is Tame Impala, Lonersims. Jack White. Ty Segall, with his Twins album. I am loving Beach House. My friend India Shawn released an EP called Origins and my friend Rich King is an amazing artist out here in LA and he released an EP.
2. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in a small town called Fairfax [California], which is in west Marin County. It’s this funky little hippy-dippy town. It’s really special.
3. Your dad famously drummed for the psychedelic rock band Big Brother and the Holding Company, which also featured an up-and-coming Janis Joplin. Do you find a lot of your influences come from your Dad? Or are you musically spurred by other artists that you might have grown up listening to?
That’s a great question. I think I naturally was influenced by Janis and Big Brother and the Holding Company. [My father] also started me early on The Beatles. Big Brother was probably one of my very very musical first influences. I heard the music from Cheap Thrills like Piece of My Heart, Down on Me, and all those other classic Big Brother songs, so many times just tagging along to these shows when I was little had a big influence on me. That early psychedelic rock.
4. You have this one interlude track on your mix-tape called Beginnings. It’s a clip of a little girl, maybe five years old, which I assume is you, recording with her father. Can you tell me about your first experiences playing music?
Yeah (laughs)! Yeah that’s me, you’re right. Its actually funny, I didn’t realize a lot of people would not realize it was me. I thought it was so obvious. I’m glad you got it. My memories are kind of blurry, but I guess that’s when you could say a started writing and singing. You know, I was like six years old. I would go to the downstairs of our house, that’s where my dad had all his instruments and recording equipment. I remember putting on these big ol’ headphones and sitting there and just kind of singing freestyle -- a stream of thought thing. And he still has all of it.
5. Now I read that you went to UCLA. I’m just going to lay it out there - I’m a USC Trojan, along with many of the other Made Woman ladies. So I’m just going to call a universal truce. But in all seriousness, can you talk a little bit about your time in school - were you a music major? How did you find your college experiences influenced your progression as an artist?
Funny enough I was not a music major, I was a dance major. I was accepted to the World Arts and Culture program at UCLA.
I find inspiration from all forms of art. Especially because I’ve been a performing arts person my whole life. Dance, acting, music, it’s all related to me. It definitely influenced my music. I came back into music about halfway through college. It’s hard to pinpoint and describe but college is definitely a character builder. The amazing thing that I really appreciate I got to do through this program is to go to Senegal to study dance and language there. All these things, you may not realize what it means at the time but there’s a power in it, definitely, it all is influential and inspirational.
6. The name of your debut album is Tall Tales. What does Tall Tales mean to you?
Well, Tall Tales (The Sky is Falling) is the name of one of the songs on the project. It probably is my favorite. That song really meant a lot to me and it embodied a theme that is a thread throughout the project. Tall tales a are mythical stories. They’re lies, but they contain an element of truth in them. I wrote it after I had been in a situation that left me heartbroken. Looking back on love, and the innocence with which you look at love at certain points in your life, and then having that - those dreams - crushed for you. There’s an element of truth sometimes, but it’s not what you thought it was.
7. You have a lot of musical influences on the album and you tread a lot of cover material in your mix-tape as well (Bob Marley, Coldplay). What genre do you find the most fun to perform?
I love all genres and that’s why my project is eclectic, like you said. I love mixing them all. Different styles of music speak to you at different times in your life, different days of your life and that’s why it’s so beautiful. Last year I was in a really rock n’ roll state of mind. That was what really got me going.
8. There is a lot of pigeon holing in the music business, for women especially. You know, “She’s a Britney type,”or an “Alicia Keys type,” or “A Beyonce”, etc, What do you think is important for women to do in order to set themselves apart in the business?
I think for women, it goes for men as well, to set yourself apart think about what do you have to say. What is your voice? What is your contribution? Be authentic. Be honest. I think that will always set you apart. I think there's still too much in the industry of chasing current musical trends when, in my mind, what has always won and stood the test of time throughout the history of music, is an authentic voice.
9. You’ve worked with some great artists already in a relatively young career - JR Hutson produced Tall Tales, you’ve worked with Frank Ocean who just had a huge year with his Grammy noms - Who would be a dream collaboration for you?
As far as producers go, for a long time I’ve really wanted to work with Salaam Remi and Mark Ronson, and also Dangermouse. Greg Kurston. He worked on The Shins last project and does a lot of indie and pop/rock stuff. A dream collaboration would also be Stevie Wonder. He is my idol.
10. Should we keep an eye out for any upcoming shows or tour plans?
I am currently organizing a show, that has been long delayed, for the end of March in Los Angeles. I’ll be posting details on all of my social media sites.