Emma White is not one to accept inequality. With the release of her new single “Ten Year Town”, the artist also announced the launch of her female-owned label, Whitehouse Records. Based in Nashville, the label was created to satisfy the need of a company that specifically caters to female artists. Hailing from a musical background, Emma uses her songs to advocate for all females.
I had the opportunity to talk with Emma about “Ten Year Town”, Whitehouse Records, and the importance of female representation in the music industry.
What inspired you to write “Ten Year Town?”
I was feeling kind of defeated after a long day. I got home and just started singing. The first line I sang was, “This dog and pony show, I don’t really know if I’ve got what it takes.” I worked on it for a little while but didn’t know where to take it. So, I saved it in my phone as, “Dog and Pony Show.”
Sometimes being a musician and being in the entertainment business are two very different things. At the time, I was grappling with both pieces – feeling like I had to play the industry game while feeling disconnected personally. I think simply, I just felt like an outsider.
I’ll often bring a few ideas to a writing session and see what my co-writers like or if anything jumps out to them. My co-writers (Brinley Addington and Neil Medley) connected with that first line and we all realized we had similar experiences in Nashville. So, at that point, between all of our shared experiences, the lines started to come easily. Nashville is the place where you both have to fit in and stand apart. You have to literally be the same and different at once.
If you could pick any film or tv show for “Ten Year Town” to be featured in, what would it be?
I recently watched “On The Basis of Sex” and was very moved by Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s story. I connected so much with the silencing she felt and the doubt she felt from those around her, getting turned down for job opportunities specifically because law firms didn’t want to hire a woman. She had the credentials and attended top institutions, but still, her gender was the issue. It’s a beautiful story because all of that struggle prepared her for a more important job and an even bigger purpose.
I think many of us might feel like our work, day in and day out might be menial, and we wonder why we put so much effort in just to hit another roadblock. She hit countless roadblocks and somehow would begin again and again. That perseverance, the ups and downs, is something I hope we captured in “Ten Year Town.”
Talk about your songwriting process! Where is your favorite place to write?
I usually start with a melody, save it to my voice memos and work on it later. I often wake up in the middle of the night with a melody in my head. I’ll be half asleep and realize, ‘oh wait, this is a song idea I need to record.’ I usually jump out of bed in time to get to my phone and then try to go back to sleep. So, I don’t sleep that well, but I record a lot of song ideas.
Something about driving makes my mind calm down and get distracted, which I think frees up my creativity. So, I really like to write in the car. I’ll think of so many other lyric options while I’m driving. Sometimes I’ll just drive to nowhere, in particular, to listen to ideas and write.
You just announced the launch of your female-owned label, Whitehouse Records, congrats! When was the idea for Whitehouse Records first born?
Thank you! I was operating under the name for a couple of years on social media and had just officially formed Whitehouse Touring. I reached out to a firm to pitch the idea for the full company and it got rejected. Then, I felt like I just really needed another woman to talk to who might have some insight. I reached out to a friend and businesswoman I’ve always looked up to, Jennifer Coyle. We got coffee and talked, and by the end of that coffee, I was setting up a meeting with my whole team. Jennifer is now my partner in Whitehouse Records.
My musical life has been so influenced by my family, so Whitehouse is a play on my last name (I also grew up in one). Also, structurally the company is set up as an all-encompassing entity. Because the industry has changed so much, I thought it made more sense to not only be a label. I picture it as a music company that has different spokes on a wheel, with the artist at the center of that wheel. So, everything is “in-house” and quite literally, under one roof – publishing, label, management – anything that has to do with the “artist business.”
Was there a specific moment that convinced you to go through with the label? Maybe a sign or story that solidified the idea?
My dad gave me a book for my birthday this past year called “Leapfrog – The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs.” It’s written by Nathalie Molina Nino. Her words gave me a lot of validation and inspiration.
I think what propelled the idea forward for me was realizing that the feedback I was receiving wasn’t constructive. I would’ve loved to hear, “you know what, I think that you need to work on your lyric writing or your vocal could be stronger.” That could’ve been something I could work on, but I never heard that. Instead, I kept having meetings with people who would be interested, bring me in to meet and then say, “we already have a (singular) girl.” Like, there was some quota and they were maxed out at 1.
To me, the more that women are shut out from early opportunities that are crucial to career growth (publishing deals, label deals, etc.), the fewer women you’ll see on the charts or hear on the radio. That realization definitely solidified the idea.
Tell me about the significance of this label and the strength you foresee it bringing to female artists in Nashville.
Everyone needs an opportunity and a chance. You can have all the talent in the world, but to reach your potential, you need some breaks and you need the opportunity to take some shots. I hope we can give other artists their shot and give them the support to reach their potential.
What are some plans you have for Whitehouse Records? Any upcoming, exciting projects you’d like fans to know about?
We’ve just released the “Ten Year Town” music video and the next single, “If You’re In It” is out July 12th. We’re also finalizing the EP, which will be released later this summer.
Speaking of, what’s it like being a female in the music industry? Have you encountered any obstacles related to your gender? How have you dealt with them?
It’s a constant part of conversation. You’re made to feel bad for discussing it and you’re made to feel bad for not discussing it. I will always be happy to discuss it, but I also hope my actions speak louder. Stereotypes and gender norms will never define or become limitations I set for myself as an artist or the company.
What parts of your upbringing and childhood have influenced your music style and professional ambitions?
My mother is a songwriter and came to Nashville when I was a kid. We’ve written songs together and are always talking about music. My grandmother was on the TV show Route 66 and recorded her own original songs. My sister and I loved musical theater growing up, so she would often play the piano and we’d practice songs from Les Mis and The Sound of Music. They instilled that love for music and entertainment in me from the beginning.
If you could send a message to all the little girls around the world, what would you say?
Never settle and never let anyone make you think you have to. Your dreams are real and valid, and one day they might not just be dreams.
Featured Image credit Cameron Powell, courtesy of Emma White