Interview: Ljubov Dzuzhynska
Photo: Sasha Ptaag
What’s your background and how did it all begin?
I’ve been in music since I was 17 years old. During my student years, I worked as a sales assistant in a music store in Donetsk. It was a wonderful time! For three years, every day, all I did was listen to hundreds of CDs and read magazines – Play, Rolling Stone. Licensed CDs weren’t enough for me so on weekends I went to the “Классика” store – it looked like an ordinary bookstore and only a few knew its secret. It had a separate room filled entirely of pirate CDs – jazz, electronic, and various rare exotic findings. You could rent a CD for the price of 1 UAH per day. I think I transferred the entire store to my computer.
After leaving the “Music World”, my friend and I began to think about what to do next. We only had one asset – an incredible collection of music, which in the “pre-Internet era” was something of a wonder. We began to record selections for cafes and restaurants, armed with the new buzzword “audio branding”. We’ve significantly transformed the musical landscape of the city. In 2006-07 you could easily hear new releases from Ninja Tune or the Sonar Kollektiv catalog could in a regular pizza place on Pushkin Boulevard in Donetsk,
After graduating in psychology, I returned to my hometown of Torez and at 23 I became the art director of a very decent (for the province standards) night club called “Maximum”. During those 3 years of work, I booked two hundred DJs and introduced the local audience to good music. Today it might seem like a wild thing … Many people know Torez as a city on the outskirts of the area where MN-17 crashed, but in 2008-10, DJs like Smailov, Noizar, and residents of Kyiv’s Xlib, performed there.
Upon returning to Donetsk, I joined the Ganesha Promo group. In just a year, my partner Vadim and I made the group the best in the city. We were the first to run regular parties featuring world stars of the electronic scene. For a long time, we’ve been losing money, so we learned budget planning, grew our audience (back then VK was the most effective tool). At some point, we stopped doing unsuccessful events. We were lucky with the venue. Our parties were held at the Liverpool Club, a beautiful place! Kyiv has nothing alike. I especially remember the parties with Telepopmusik, Noze, Robert Owens, Up, Bustle & Out and Mario Basanov, who later became famous as Ten Walls.
In 2013, I moved to Kyiv. Since then, so much has happened … I could write an entire book. In short: we ran the Be Management company with Grisha Fatyanov. We’ve done a lot of useful things over the years and learned a lot in the process. In 2017, I left the company. A little later, Grisha became the head of Masterskaya, and I created Много Воды.
How did Много Воды come to life and what is the philosophy behind it?
The story of Много Воды began with a telegram channel of the same name. Since 2010, I began to grow as a music columnist. In the era of the new rave, it was trendy to lead music track blocks. It seems that this trend began with the blog Raketa 4000 ran by DJ Sasha Petruk from Yekaterinburg. Obviously, I did not lag behind! My channel was called Karaoke A Capella. I still consider this name the best among those that I came up with. For a fee, I began to write for a magazine that belonged to my friend Zhenya from Lugansk. The website was called Newseaters. Zhenya paid me 75UAH for one review. I reviewed the albums of Björk, General Elektriks, Ben Westbich, Kinshasa One Two (Damon Albarn’s had such a project) … Now Zhenya is the CEO of the British company Poptop FM. He’s gone far! Well done to him!
After Newseaters, unexpectedly for many (for myself, included), I became the editor-in-chief of PromoDJ. I lived in Donetsk, but became the “center of the universe” for the entire electronic scene of Ukraine and Russia. For the first few months, my eyes were round from seeing the names of all those people who “knocked” on my Skype. PromoDJ has become a real springboard for me. That job greatly expanded the scope of my perception. I remember sitting in the kitchen talking on the phone with Simian Mobile Disco, and Royksopp was trying to reach me on the second line. I remember the era of PromoDJ mostly by one project – I wrote a complete encyclopedia of music styles on the website. There were about 300 of them – with audio examples, a lineage, and a detailed description. The project was called Electronnica. I am proud of it today. It seems that this is still the only encyclopedia of music styles written in Russian.
Why did Много Воды morph into MOWA Group?
Because “if you want something done right – do it yourself.”
Because a music release via online media lives and lasts three days, and in the triangle framework of “digital / PR – label and a good marketing plan – getting into streaming playlists” even an indie release continues to gain momentum 4-5 months after being out.
That’s the first reason. We’ve learned to build slightly more complex cause and effect relationships instead of a “premiere of an album on LiRoom or in СЛУХ”, with all due respect to these publications.
The second thing is called the “customer base”. I drew this thesis from Matt Wilkinson’s book “The Net“. Matt says something obvious as it would seem: your business will be successful only if you learn not only to find new customers but also to keep those that you already have. That’s where the main problem lies. The first season of “Много Воды” … then the fourth season… It was fun and all but in the literal sense, I re-opened the agency 4 times. During the winter and summer periods, no one releases music so the artists just leave. And I have a payroll, an office rental, taxes. Every time you had to collect your roster from scratch.
Why are they leaving? Mainly for two reasons: either it didn’t work out, or it worked out too well. The former loses faith in “PR magic.” This is much simpler than admitting that there is something wrong with your release. The second reason – PR is no longer needed. Even your younger sister can respond to incoming requests.
How not to lose customers in such a situation? You have to grow with them. Have you made a star from scratch? A star needs marketing, gigs, bookings. Did the star outgrow the Ukrainian market entirely? Well, we now have a worldwide department. We are not able to do everything yet, but we can do a lot. We can do enough to “make a difference” for local artists, but not enough to compete with strong foreign labels and agencies yet. There is always room for growth!
What excites you the most in what you do?
It really excites me when people define my limit of growth for me. It’s this “negative fuel” that I’ve learned to melt into nitro mode. I remember how the entire Facebook feed laughed, meaning my colleagues and former employers when Karabas Live in one of their articles named me as a PR technologist. I was not offended. Back then, Vanya Klimenko and I “invented” the story of alyona alyona – the most balanced PR-technology case in Ukrainian music ever. I was inspired by the pseudo-documentary work of Ricky Gervais, by the example of Yuriy Bardash, the career of Lizzo, and even then
I understood that real hype should not be a purely musical, but it should rather be a socio-cultural phenomenon.
Overall, of course, I understand that everyone likes “Sasha the journalist” more. It’s more convenient – a smart little boy on the other side of the barricade, who blabbers beautifully, while serious people are busy doing “serious things”. I have entirely different plans for this. This is partly why I decided to take a break from journalism in 2020.
I don’t want to be a “hero of one part”. I want an Oscar for both the best comedy and the best drama film.
Overall I realized that I want a lot for a guy from the province. It’s worth contemplating …
What are the pros and cons?
Cons – multitasking that is incompatible with the capabilities of the nervous system, which led me into a deep pit and left me with a major anxiety-depressive disorder. Few people know, but I have been struggling with a serious illness for a year and a half, all the while continuing to work and to develop my business.
My psychiatrist says: “Sasha, what are you doing in life? Only air traffic controllers are close to having such symptoms. ” Well, 70-100 contacts a day – that’s pretty much how it is.
Advantages – money, creativity, self-fulfillment, authority, recognition, the ability to work with amazing, talented people. It’s an involvement in something that generates a wide public resonance – one of the forms of hidden power. Well, and music … It’s somewhere in the lower frame of the pyramid.
Was there a crucial moment for you at some point? What biggest difficulties have you encountered?
There have always been many difficulties. Mainly for the reason that people don’t pay attention to their psycho-spiritual development. Many people think that if they are professionals in their field, then self-development ends and then you can begin to teach others how to live and how to work, setting yourself an example. This is a big error.
In yoga, there is such a thing as “kosh” – shells that indicate different levels of human consciousness from the physical level to the more subtle matters. There are only five of them. Intellectual development is only the second level after the basic one. The first being people satisfying needs for food, water and reproduction.
I myself am only on my way to the third step, but I developed a sense of tact and empathy a long time ago. I will never scream like a madman at my team. I do not allow myself to rudely and sharply evaluate creative work. I sincerely do not understand why people do this. Why the sarcasm, petty pride, attempts at domination, an imperative tone? Don’t people notice how it looks on the outside, don’t they acknowledge the extent of such stupid behavior?
In general, the music industry is one continuous difficulty. There are many dishonest, egocentric, arrogant people. Many are open psychopaths, and there is a lot of passive-aggressive behavior. Nine out of ten need treatment, need to be taught self-examination, meditation.
A writer, who I do not particularly respect, Sergey Minaev once said: “Money is the degree of freedom that allows you not to talk with idiots.”
Fortunately, I have long been able to tell a client to fuck off if he or she is out of line. But then I think: “Lord, this being will go further and find some unfortunate people who will bear that nonsense. How horrible!”.
Could you tell us a bit about your team?
We have a chat called ‘eternals‘ in honor of the new Marvel franchise ‘Eternal‘. It consists of Stas, who is the company’s director, my brother Alex, who is the designer and digital specialist, and me. These are the people who are always by my side. These guys and my girlfriend Olya are people whom I can trust and whom I can count on till the very end. They never left me when I was at a loss; they suffered alongside and I value them deeply. The rest have yet to deserve such a position. I believe that this time I’ve made the right choice, although I had been mistaken in people more than once before. I’ve let those I shouldn’t have too close into my affairs. May God be their judge.
Could you share some fucked up or bizarre stories from your work experience?
I remember I once wrote a press release for YUKO and sent it to Vanya for approval. There were my notes under the text and it said something like, ‘This is complete bullshit, I would remove that part’. In the morning I’ve sent it out to everyone with that note – simple inattentiveness. Of course, I knew that our news people love the practice of blind ‘copy-paste’, but to such an extent! … We spent an entire day correcting it everywhere where it was published.
Another fun story happened in the spring of 2017. I worked on O. Torvald before Eurovision. I remember how Zhenya Galich called me and said: “Ruslana called me, she’s criticizing us. She says that we are boring and have little action going on, let’s think of something else together.” Well, I was like ‘ok‘ and create a quest on my knee.
We gather two dozen foreign journalists, get on a bus, and take everyone to Barmen Diktat. Marina Krut, then still unknown to anyone, plays the song “Time” on a bandura. Then Stas calls: “There is only foreign alcohol here!” I reply: “Run to Pervak, buy 20 glasses of liquor.” We needed to show everyone the true colors. Zhenya had drinks with everyone there, shouted “Budmo! Hey!” and drunk European journalists tag after him in Kyiv’s downtown – at first inside Arena City with a staged fan club meeting, then past Sentrum that had one single O.Torvald poster, and in the finale, Gulliver’s rooftop with a view of Kyiv.
On the way, Ukrainian journalists joined us with a dozen crew members reporting it. Photographers were running after us taking shots – beauty! We finished the raid, everyone was happy, and in the evening Lida Klov calls me and says: “Sasha, Zhenya took a bottle of local beer in Barmen Diktat and carried it the entire way with him“. The thing is, he signed a big-deal contract with ‘Chernigivske‘ for his fall tour, he even integrated his song into their ad. Oh, it was one of the funniest nights in my experience! The news reports were due to come out in the morning so we rang up everyone who had footage from both Ukrainian and foreign channels and ask them to blur that bottle of beer. The lengths you go to for a generous sponsor!
What brand irritates you the most?
Probably Martini. In the summer of 2018, I got hooked on Martini with Schweppes and didn’t notice how I became an alcoholic. With whiskey, you always know where the red line is. And it turned out to be a very deceptive drink! Behind all this glamorous Italian flair lies a serious threat of dependence, which is then difficult to control. In my case, everything ended badly: an ambulance, an IV and a long recovery. The last year and a half I barely drink.
What are some of the bizarre stereotypes around your field of work?
A personalized brand is challenging to scale. At some point, literally the entire music industry came to me for my writing. Of course, I had to delegate. Alex helps out with that significantly. He always has this long introductory part where he as if makes excuses for writing a text. And then, as a general rule, everything turns out fine. I just cut that part out and send it. As a rule, check it out! But I wasn’t the one who wrote it and after reading the text the clients asks me to write it. I ask Lesha to rewrite it a little and then I send it the second time. The response is , “oh, now that’s all better now!“. Although I must say that my whole secret of press releases is simpler than a steamed turnip. I always start off the text with a quote by the artist. First of all, the artists see their own words and it is difficult for them to object. This eliminates the initial skepticism. And then you add a bit more “glue”, stuff like “by the way” or “at the same time”. If the text cannot be beautifully “finished”, you need to address that “the release is already available for listening and streaming” and highlight this line in italic. No need to say thanks!
What is the wisest thing you’ve ever heard?
Recently I was in Rome with my girlfriend. She hasn’t watched “The Great Beauty” for a long time on purpose and it was just the right occasion! There is a phrase in the monologue of the protagonist about how he came to Rome at the age of 26 and quickly conquered it. He says: “I didn’t want to go to every party. I wanted to have the power to ruin every party. ” Deeply ironic! Perfect!
Who is or was your biggest teacher and what have you learned from him or her?
No matter how businesslike and confident I may seem, in an unfamiliar situation, I always call my mother. Of course, my mom is the main teacher and in many ways an example to follow. From her I learned to have the stamina, a strong character, the importance of intellectual work and a sense of tact. My mother is actually a French teacher.
What’s coming up for you and do you have a specific goal you are trying to reach?
My ultimate goal is to become the most successful music manager in the history of independent Ukraine and to never betray myself, my moral and ethical standards. Then I would sell everything and buy a house by the sea in Italy where you would open the glass doors in the bedroom and witness the sea view directly from the bed. When everyone finally fucks off, maybe I will write again. At 55, I have to learn Italian and have a career as a football commentator on local TV. Then we’ll see what happens next!
What piece of advice would you give to the local music scene?
I would recommend our local music industry to more frequently compare itself with colleagues from other countries, to sober themselves up with real numbers and growth indicators.
Honey is poured in our ears, we think we’re all so cool, but actually we are stuck in one place in a broader sense of things and there is no development taking place. There are stories of separate success cases, but I have not yet observed a systematic development. On the other hand, who am I to give advice to others? I’d rather quietly do what is within my power to somehow improve the situation.
If you had to choose between sex or music for the rest of your life, what would you choose?
I was both a techno-DJ and masturbated. Refusing either one of those things makes no difference, I already know what to replace them with 🙂
What question would you like to be asked in an interview and what would your answer be?
The previous one was not bad at all!
Translation: Elena Savlokhova