If you were to ask me, “Who’s the coolest person you know?” I wouldn’t even have to think about it. Kristen, by a mile. A damn mile. She’s one of the most honest, vulnerable, and self-possessed people I have ever met, full stop, which — of course — means this is one of my favorite career profiles we’ve done on the site.
From creative writing, to journalism, to making it in a male-dominated field, Kristen has so much wisdom to share. Read on for her take on working at The Everygirl, transitioning careers, and commanding respect as a young professional — slow clap for literally everything she says about how she’s treated versus her male colleagues and her personal mantra on dealing with sexism in the workplace. Plus, some seriously badass music recs along the way.
Name: Kristen Mitchell, Manager, Music Operations and Creative — SPACE & Out of Space
Location: Evanston, IL
Education: BA in Creative Writing and Spanish (DePauw University; Greencastle, Ind.), MFA in Writing (Northwestern University; Evanston, IL).
What was your first job out of college, and how did you land it?
My first job out of college was in the marketing and communications department of a nonprofit women’s organization. I graduated with a liberal arts degree and, unlike many of my friends, I didn’t have “one true calling” — I actually had too many paths I was passionate in pursuing: writing, editing, film, music, animals. I knew I didn’t want my first job out of college to pigeonhole me into a super specialized field, and I didn’t want to work in a totally corporate environment.
So, when I got an email through our alum database about this nonprofit opportunity, it seemed like a step in the right direction. To be transparent, it wasn’t one of those, “I just landed my dream job!” situations, but I knew I would enjoy the work and the people, and those have always been the top things I value in a workplace. In retrospect, I’m very grateful my career started in the nonprofit sector. Staffs are much smaller, which means departments aren’t as siloed and you’re able to dip your toes in a lot of different pools. I had a boss who was super invested in her employees’ professional growth, so she encouraged me to learn HTML and Adobe Creative Suite, even though my degree was in writing. Eventually, the Editor in Chief of our quarterly print publication left, and I put my name in the hat. I ended up staying in that role until I was about 26 and took the publication through an entire redesign.
I learned a ton about editorial print, design, and production and was very grateful for the experience, even though it’s not the field I currently work in. While working that job, I also interned at a venue (SPACE) to get my live music fix. I saw a show there one night after work, fell in love with the whole vibe of the place, and decided I wanted to be a part of it. I would go to my day job from 9-5 and hop over to the venue to work shows a few nights a week from 5 until close. There were some days I left my apartment at 7:30am and didn’t get home until midnight, but I was so fascinated by the live concert experience and was learning so much that I didn’t think twice about it. SPACE eventually hired me on part-time as a production assistant and I continued to work shows on the weekend and outside of my regular hours for a few years.
There were some days I left my apartment at 7:30am and didn’t get home until midnight, but I was so fascinated by the live concert experience and was learning so much that I didn’t think twice about it.
You worked as an Assistant Editor with The Everygirl back in 2016. How did you decide to apply?
I loved my job in print, but with the ever-expanding digital world, I wanted to dive in deeper and explore online editorial. I grew up in the same town as The Everygirl cofounder Alaina Kaczmarski and followed her personal blog before that, so I was definitely a reader and a fan of the content. As a millennial woman, everything on the site felt like it was speaking directly to me. I know many other women felt the same, which is why the site grew so rapidly and successfully.
I often browsed TEG’s job board for freelance opportunities and part-time positions to help pay off grad school debt, and one day, the assistant editor position popped up. It was one of those “ah-ha” moments. The opportunity to expand into digital — paired with the fact that it was for a successful, women-driven site with content I actually cared about — made applying seem like a no-brainer. I instantly felt a connection with the staff and a passion for what they were doing, which was a nice extension to my previous nonprofit work.
What was your biggest takeaway from working at Everygirl HQ?
So many things — it’s hard to pick just one. First and foremost, working at The Everygirl strongly reinforced my belief that the women working together is one of the most powerful things on the planet. Much of the media I grew up on portrayed female professional relationships as cut-throat and competitive, and I think a lot of women have been conditioned to believe that another female’s success will result in her failure, or that we need to “one-up” each other to get ahead. My professional experiences have proved to me over again that this is not the case. The only way we’re going to challenge the patriarchal systems in place — which currently determine women’s worth in the workplace — is by empowering one another and proving that we deserve to sit at whatever table we want. Or in the case of The Everygirl, starting our own damn tables that create content and spaces that value and speak to women.
Working at The Everygirl also proved to me that you don’t have to act like a man to be “successful” like a man — you can embrace your female qualities of empathy and sensitivity and still kill it at your job. Lastly, I met some of my very best friends through working at The Everygirl (Caitlin Brown and Kelly Etz, I’m lookin’ at you!). There’s something about the work environment that curates close and meaningful relationships — it’s the best.
Working at The Everygirl strongly reinforced my belief that the women working together is one of the most powerful things on the planet.
Less than a year into your position with The Everygirl, you made a huge decision to pursue your passion for music. How did you tackle making this decision?
It was one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. I was super happy with my role, loved my coworkers, and saw a long-term future with the company. I kinda had the best of both worlds — working part-time at SPACE was scratching my itch for live music, and I was pursuing my passion for writing and editing all day. I had resigned to the fact that music would be a side hustle, as full-time venue opportunities are few and far between. When that opportunity presented itself, I really had to consider the impact of doing a professional 180. Not only was I completely changing industries, I’d also be working totally different hours and transitioning from a female-dominated workplace to a male-dominated one.
At the end of the day, I had to go with my gut, which told me that I needed to challenge myself. Accepting this job would force me to expand professionally, utilize different skill sets, and learn about upper-level management.
You’ve always had a love for live music, but jobs in the industry can be incredibly hard to come by. How did you combat that?
Intern, intern, intern! Most people I know working full-time in the music industry started off in an unpaid role and worked their way up, especially on the venue side. Since I wasn’t making money, I knew I had to capitalize on the opportunity in other ways: I made sure to form meaningful professional connections, ask tons of questions and consistently show up with my best foot forward.
As a woman working in a male-dominated field, what has your experience looked like?
I can’t speak for all sides of the industry, but on the venue and production side, there aren’t a ton of women in the field. It’s rare that an all-female band comes through with a female tour manager and female audio engineer, and I’ve heard from a lot of touring musician friends that on-site managers are generally men. It still has a boys’ club vibe, but that’s definitely changing and shifting with a ton of kickass female agents, label heads, and talent buyers. In terms of boots-on-the-ground venue operations, I haven’t found many other venue managers who are women. That can be isolating, but I’m lucky to have supportive coworkers who I feel comfortable approaching with workplace issues and challenges.
The truth is that the way I show up for work to manage is a very different experience than that of my male colleagues. Because I’m a young-looking female, I have to put on my game face and earn the respect of customers, tour managers, bands, and audio engineers in ways that my male coworkers simply don’t because of their age and gender. One time I introduced myself to a band member saying, “I’m Kristen, the manager.” He said, “Oh, Christian is the manager? Can I speak with him?” Another time I had to cut a customer off at the bar, and when he asked to speak with the manager, I told him I was the manager, to which he replied, “You’re cute. I don’t care who you are.” These experiences tend to be the exception, not the norm, but they can still take a toll on your confidence in the workplace if you don’t step back for some perspective. Instead of focusing on those micro-moments and disappointments, I have to look at the bigger picture: if I give up or back down, they win. I want to see more women in this field, so I’ve got to stick it out, bring my A-game and show up ready to prove that I deserve to be working this job and that I do a damn good job at it.
Most people I know working full-time in the music industry started off in an unpaid role and worked their way up, especially on the venue side.
You’re the only full-time female employee at your venue. How did you handle that when you first took the job? How has your view changed after working at SPACE for over two years?
It was a hard switch going from working with all women to all men — not because my male coworkers aren’t amazing, but because there are just fundamental differences in the way women and men communicate and operate. I’ve always felt comfortable expressing my needs, though, and they’re very aware and sensitive to the challenges I face that they may not. That’s half the battle right there. Mansplaining, no more!
Do you have any advice for women experiencing subtle — and not-so-subtle — gender discrimination in their workplaces?
I came up with this personal mantra a few years ago: kill ‘em with kindness, but don’t be afraid to stomp your boots. It’s admirable to show the people around you (coworkers, customers, etc.) patience and grace or give them the benefit of the doubt, but know when they’re crossing the line and put your foot down. Advocating for yourself and your needs does not make you a bad person; it shows self-respect. I also interviewed my friend and musician Liza Anne for The Everygirl, and we chatted about not being afraid to take up space in a male-dominated industry. Realizing you are enough — and not relying on outside sources to validate that you’re capable of doing your job — is one of the most advantageous things you can do for yourself and your career.
You wear so many hats — did your position always allow for that or have you expanded on your role?
When I was hired, it was mostly in an operations sense — to oversee ticketing, manage the room/staff, and close shows. But the opportunity presented itself to get more involved in creative — and there was a big need for it when we launched our outdoor summer series, Out of Space — so design and social media marketing naturally fell into my lap. Again, I enjoy working with small teams for this reason. New opportunities for growth consistently present themselves, so you don’t ever feel stagnant or bored.
Realizing you are enough — and not relying on outside sources to validate that you’re capable of doing your job — is one of the most advantageous things you can do for yourself and your career.
Take us through a day in the life of managing a music venue. How do you organize your days?
I don’t, ha! My days definitely organize me. Time isn’t necessarily “yours” when you manage a venue. I learned this very quickly and struggled with the balance at the beginning. It’s different from editorial work where you’re at a desk and working (mostly) independently on writing articles or copy editing. Much of managing is catering to the needs of staff and customers — as it should be — so any time I think I’m going to check things off my to-do list, I get pulled in a different direction. I have to be very intentional about my time and think of my responsibilities in two sort of “modes.”
There’s “venue mode,” where I’m managing a show and barely have time to sit down and eat — walkin’ a thousand steps in my boots, loading in the band, making sure they’re taken care of in the greenroom, ensuring the staff is happy and set up for success, checking that customers are enjoying themselves, making sure that the show goes off without a hitch.
Then there’s “desk mode,” which consists of me in my office hammering out our design, scheduling social, overseeing ticketing, and helping ensure a successful show marketing cycle for artists. We do more than 300 shows a year at SPACE, so having what we call a “dark day” with no show is the exception, not the norm. That means “desk mode” is super valuable. We’re a really small team with only four full-time employees, so our hours don’t always overlap, meaning communicating via email — and sometimes at odd hours — is par for the course. These two very different sides of my job keep me on my toes and I rarely feel like two days are ever the same.
Your job means you work odd hours, including late nights. How did you adjust to this schedule? What are the best — and worst — parts of it?
I used to go to bed at about 9pm and thought I was an early bird. Times have definitely changed. People always ask what my “schedule” is and I tell them I don’t have one. In fact, I often don’t know what day of the week it is. I know in advance when I’m going to be managing at the venue and what nights I’m off, but that changes week to week and month to month based on show needs. Some weekends we’ll have two sold-out shows, so even though I’m not scheduled to be at SPACE, I’ll come in later and stay past normal 9-5 hours to help the other manager kick things off. On the nights I close, I’ll generally work from home for part of the day and come in early-to-mid afternoon before the band and staff gets there. Then, I’m on-site until the last band member walks out the door.
The flexibility my job allows is great, but not having a consistent schedule can also take a toll on your mental health and your relationships. It’s a common issue in the music industry — the work we do is fun, so it can be hard to to distinguish between enjoying yourself and overworking yourself. Reminding myself to check in, take a step back, or take a day off is important. Also, finding ways to create consistency in my days — even small things like meditating for 10 minutes or having a cup of coffee at my desk — makes me feel more grounded. Oh, and while I don’t love having to work on the nights my friends are often off, I DO I love being able to go to Trader Joe’s mid-day and not wait in line. It’s the small things, ya know?
You host live interviews with bands on Audiotree. How do you prepare for interviews? Is there a secret to sparking good conversation with musicians you haven’t met before?
Interviewing bands live is one of my favorite things, and Audiotree has exposed me to a lot of artists I’d never heard before. Having cameras around adds pressure, but I try to think of it less like an interview and more like a casual conversation between new friends. I make an effort to chat with the artists as they’re loading in, ensure they feel comfortable, and get a feel for their personalities.
My biggest “secret” to sparking convos is not asking anything I can find out through a Google search. Musicians are numb to questions like, “So, how’d you get your start in music?” or “What does your band name mean?” or “How would you describe your sound?” For the most part, those will result in a very pre-rehearsed answer. I prefer something like, “What’s the least rock-’n’-roll thing you’ve done in the past week?” It catches them off guard and some of the the responses are pretty funny.
The flexibility my job allows is great, but not having a consistent schedule can also take a toll on your mental health and your relationships. It’s a common issue in the music industry — the work we do is fun, so it can be hard to to distinguish between enjoying yourself and overworking yourself.
Outside of music, you’re also a talented writer and graphic designer. How do you flex these creative muscles?
I wish I had more time to flex these in a freelance capacity, but my hours don’t really allow for it at the moment. Luckily, I’m able to use my writing and design skills in the creative marketing portion of my job so I don’t get rusty.
Where do you see yourself and your career in five years?
I love this question because I have absolutely no idea. If you had asked me this five years ago, I certainly wouldn’t have said working at a venue. The whole way I’m living my life now wasn’t part of the “plan,” and I try to remind myself of this on days when I get too worried about my future or whether I’m taking the right professional steps. I do know this: I love the music industry, I love SPACE and the ways in which we are expanding and growing, and I love the people with whom I work. So, if my next five years are as unpredictable and exciting as the last five have been, then I think I think I’m in for a good ride. More tangibly speaking, I’m looking forward to expanding our summer series.
Learning the ins and outs of producing larger-scale outdoor shows is such a cool challenge, and the creative potential is endless. More space means more ways to fill it with unique installations, brand activations, and more. Between June 21 and August 26 of last year, we produced 11 days of outdoor concerts in unique Evanston locations. More than 20,000 people came out for sold out shows with musicians like Mavis Staples, Indigo Girls, Shovels & Rope, The Lone Bellow, the New Pornographers, Dinosaur Jr., and many more. We’re hoping to do it even bigger this year.
What’s something you wish more people knew about working in the music industry? About being the only full-time female staff member at a company?
It’s not as cool as it looks from the outside — I promise! Yes, the industry is an extremely fun one, but it’s a lot of “hurry up and wait.” Most bands follow a pretty lackluster schedule day-in and day-out — they wake up in a new city, drive however many hours to the next gig, figure out how to fit their too-big van and trailer into a too-small parking spot, load-in, wait around until soundcheck, soundcheck, wait around until showtime, play the show, load out and do it all over again in the morning.
The same goes for working at a venue. There are perks like meeting new and interesting people every day and seeing shows almost every night, but it’s also a lot of picking up empty glasses and throwing out pizza boxes and wiping down counters and mopping up spilled beer. Concertgoers see the final product, but they’re not exposed to the pre-show or post-show work where we’re getting our hands dirty. After the band loads out and the staff has gone, my workplace totally transforms from a loud room of people into a completely still and quiet space. That complete juxtaposition can be jarring and honestly a little lonely. It’s a weird lifestyle meeting new people every night, getting a little slice of their world, sending them off to their next city, and being the last one to turn off the lights. But then you remember you get to do it all over again the next day, and a little part of you gets excited. That’s the whole reason I got into music growing up. I remember leaving concerts and being so sad when they were over. I never wanted those nights to end. Now it’s my whole life.
I remember leaving concerts and being so sad when they were over. I never wanted those nights to end. Now it’s my whole life.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to take a big career risk?
Think long and hard about why you want to take the risk. What outside factors or people are influencing your decision? At the end of the day, if the choice isn’t 100 percent influenced by what you want or feel in your heart is right, then take a step back. I knew when I switched industries that there was a very real chance I’d think, “Nope. Not for me. I made the wrong choice.” BUT I reminded myself that I was taking this risk for myself and myself alone. There was no one standing behind me pushing me to jump, nor was there anyone with a safety net below. If you jump and fall flat on your face, at least you know it was driven by what you wanted and not someone else telling you what you should or shouldn’t do.
What advice would you give to your own 18-year-old self?
Easy: Don’t date musicians — even if they send you flowers and write you a love song.
Kristen Mitchell is The Everygirl…
Favorite song on your Spotify rotation?
“High Expectations” by Valley Queen, aka the anthem for single women everywhere.
Go-to late-night food order?
Pizza from Union, the restaurant attached to SPACE. Also, my love for hummus is a running joke at SPACE. My coworker got me a family-sized tub and bag of pita chips one year for my birthday. They were gone in approximately two days.
Instrument you’ve always wanted to learn to play?
I’m learning guitar right now. My fingers are calloused and I know about three chords. But hey, I’m trying.
Author you re-read every year?
Amy Hempel. “In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried” is a beautifully written piece of short fiction.
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and why?
Emmylou Harris. She was — and still is — a trailblazer for women in music. Throughout her entire career she has played by her own rules and held her ground singing with male musicians like Gram Parsons. And she’s got a bunch of Grammys to prove how much of a badass she is.