Women In MusicTech #5 : Tristra Newyear Yeager
Tristra Newyear Yeager is a Strategist at music tech-focused PR firm Rock Paper Scissors, where she’s spent the last 16 years. Her day-to-day job involves talking to CEOs, entrepreneurs, artists, programmers, data scientists, and music professionals about how they work and create, how they use their experience and heritage to make something new, and what their work means in the greater context of culture, sound and business.
Yeager says the most exciting part of her job, which is based in Bloomington, Indiana, is the variety. “One day, I’ll be talking to a successful beats producer who does a lot of beats for, say, Christian hip hop, and the next I’ll be talking to a woman who is launching a new product to do with wellness and audio. There are all sorts of exciting worlds that collide and I get to hear about all of them.”
And when she's not busy with all the activies mentioned previously, she's also find time to regularly host Music Tectonics, an exciting podcast examining the new frontiers of the music tech industry.
One day, I’ll be talking to a successful beats producer who does a lot of beats for, say, Christian hip hop, and the next I’ll be talking to a woman who is launching a new product to do with wellness and audio. There are all sorts of exciting worlds that collide and I get to hear about all of them.
Can you tell me how you started your career in music and tech?
Music was always something that I was obsessed with from a very young age – I was always singing or listening to records and my first job aged 15 was at a record store in St. Louis, Missouri. After college, I was in a bunch of bands and then ended up working at a place called the World Music Institute in New York City. At the time, it was a really groundbreaking US presenter for non-Western music. I was from a very monocultural community, having grown up in a small town in the Midwest, and I was so interested in some of the things I was learning that I decided to go and pursue graduate education. Through various twists and turns, and due to my parallel life as a performer, I ended up getting obsessed with the cultures of Siberia and spent many years in Russia learning about the culture and music. After I finished that degree, I answered an advert in the newspaper for a job as a world music publicist and that’s when I started working at Rock Paper Scissors.
You've been working in the music and tech industries for a long time — have you witnessed progress when it comes to gender parity?
One thing I can speak to, as a woman who has children, is for many years I kind of had to hide that fact. Like many American working moms, I had a complicated childcare situation and Rock Paper Scissors has been amazing about accommodating and working with me to come up with solutions thanks to a very forward thinking and compassionate CEO, Dmitri Vietze. But for our clients, I felt I needed to mask the fact that I had kids. I had a lot of ridiculous exercises in anxiety and mental acrobatics trying to keep up with that.
However, a bizarre offshoot of the pandemic, where everyone has had their children with them while working from home, is that I’ve found a lot more men have become more understanding of playing multiple roles and being able to manage them all reasonably well. That has been a real weight off my shoulders personally. My hope is that continues and we don't see a return to the ridiculous attitude that a person can't be a very professional expert at something and really excel at their job, while also managing a household and caring for another human.
My hope is that [...] we don't see a return to the ridiculous attitude that a person can't be a very professional expert at something and really excel at their job, while also managing a household and caring for another human.
Over the course of your career, music has become highly digitalized and there has been many different developments from CDs to downloads, streaming and now AI and blockchain. In your opinion, what has been the key innovation?
I think one of the key innovations is the music codec that allow us to digitize music, which lies at the foundation of all of those changes. If we're thinking a little bit more recently, the other big innovation I would say is digital audio workstations (DAWs) and all of the simplified versions that have sprung from things like ProTools — the fact that there are ways you can mix, record and master using your basic laptop or even your phone now.
Speaking as a strategist, what are the new ways that we might consume or broadcast music that you see on the horizon?
Very broadly, I see that music isn't going to live in its own little silo anymore. In the 20th century, we had these very clear lanes for different entertainment but now, you’re seeing music seeping into all sorts of interesting places and that is super exciting.
We’re already seeing music starting to pop up in all sorts of new environments and the pandemic has accelerated this. It's hard to launch a workout, fitness or wellness app without a serious music plan. It's hard to imagine a retail environment, whether that’s physical or digital, without music popping up. You’re going to see more and more game- like experiences that are going to need soundtracks, whether we're talking about something like Roblox or Minecraft, or another new thing.
On the creation front, you can see the beginnings of environments where people can make music either by playing with a virtual environment or by capturing their gestures, like the MiMU gloves and the VR worlds where you can move your body and have different sounds emerge from that.
It’s also going to be interesting to see what’s going to happen to Digital Streaming Platforms. Are we going to keep just streaming music and maintain the emphasis on the importance of having a big catalogue? Consumers are kind of losing faith in that — people are more circumspect about it. ‘Do I really need all this stuff? I can't even find things that I like’.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to enter the music and tech industry?
The most successful young folks I've seen have asked for advice and help. For those of you out there who are very independently driven folks, don’t be afraid to go to someone and ask them to have a cup of coffee with you or even just a 15-minutes call or chat to ask them questions about either what they do or something that doesn't make sense to you.
The other great thing to do is find all the books and resources out there about the basics of the business and for things like publishing, there's no such thing as knowing too much. Keep learning and don't be afraid to do a research project — get a book, listen to as many podcasts as you can, dive in and become an expert to the best of your ability. What you can't find out, see if you can find someone who will talk to you about it.