It takes some people decades to figure out their life’s purpose. For others, like Moni Saldaña, her vision was clear from the start.
From the onset of her career, the Monterrey, Mexico native knew she was destined to be in the Latine music industry, with a distinctive aim towards equality and inclusivity in her work. Now, with more than 15 years of experience in the music industry under her belt, her work hasn’t gone unnoticed. In fact, she’s now a recognized name amongst the Latine music industry, specifically in the festival business.
That’s because since one of her first–and arguably, most prolific– jobs to date as the director of NRML, an innovative music festival in Mexico, she’s kept her same goal in mind. After serving as director for 15 years, she played a key role in classifying NRML as a festival that boasts one of the highest levels of female representation. Although she has moved on from the festival industry, her commitment to promoting greater representation has remained steadfast.
Currently, she’s working with Spotify Mexico as part of the Artist and Label Partnerships team. And it comes as no surprise that barely two months into the role, she’s already a part of the company’s EQUAL program that aims to elevate voices of women creators in the industry; which properly aligns with her aforementioned work intentions.
To celebrate her career thus far –— and as one of women on Remezcla’s inaugural Major Mujeres list — we talked to Saldaña to take a deeper look at her personal morals, her perspectives in ongoing women-related issues, and about the legacy she’s creating.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
When was that one moment or turning point in which you felt you were in the right space?
I was always very passionate about live music from a young age. In middle school,I was always the one that told my friends and forced them to join me for punk shows in Monterrey [Mexico].
At those shows, that’s when I discovered this passion for music and live music. I always knew that I wanted to do something related to culture, specifically in music. So, I started writing for blog, and that’s when I discovered [the festival] NRMAL. They had the most amazing flyer and all of these amazing people [involved]. I remember thinking, “I just want to be a part of this.”
So often, we see people advancing in their careers or making “big moves” on social media, but it’s rare we hear or see those introspective moments in which a person considers quitting or transitioning — did you ever have a moment like that, and how did you overcome it?
Yes, actually. NRMAL was always a very independent project, and being an independent festival, making our own decisions and committing to the type of festival that we wanted to be, iit was challenging to make things happen. In that role, I always questioned myself. Throughout all of those years, there were constant things that made me want to quit. Then, just a bit before the pandemic, I came across a moment when I was 31 and I was reflecting, asking myself, “Ok, should I keep pursuing this? Should I keep my passion? Or maybe I should just realize that this is not going to be the thing that’s going to keep me [afloat] money wise?”
I became very frustrated because I’ve always been a very optimistic person. I’ve always been very much about pursuing my dreams, but there was this constant struggle of not knowing if this is the right decision I’m making. In the end, I realized that you go through certain things in your life, and if it feels right, you should keep doing that. Because if it’s something that you personally like, if it’s something that is your personal passion, that’s going to carry through. That’s going to allow you to thrive. That’s going to allow you to find opportunities. That’s going to allow you to learn and to keep going.
Were there any mentors or other women that inspired or helped you get to where you are now?
I can name a few. For starters, Catalina Escamilla. She was part of NRMAL when I joined, and she was the one who guided me and reminded me, “You can do this.”There’s Maria Infante, who now is the production head for ECO [Live]; they’re behind the Ceremonia festival and most of the larger festivals here in Mexico.
There’s many women, and I want to mention this as well: My group of best friends. They’re just the most amazing, beautiful, powerful women that I know. We inspire each other constantly, and it’s just amazing to have them. I feel very, very lucky to be surrounded by strong women that just do whatever they want. They are so talented. I think that allows you to see things differently and to go through and carry yourself through your journey.
What’s one of the biggest hardships you’ve faced as a woman — or even as a Latina — in the music industry?
In every single meeting that I had alongside Pablo [Martinez Villagomez], the founder of NRMAL, as the director, they always thought that I was his assistant, or they never spoke to me first, even though I was the director. I also have this very specific example: This venue where we do the festival here in Mexico City was owned by the military, and they’re not accustomed to speak to women or to understand that women are in positions of power. So, in the beginning, it was always my male peers that had to go [to the meetings] because they didn’t value my word. It took a considerable amount of time to convince them that as a director, I was in charge and capable of making things happen. It’s little things like that that are just crazy.
Then you go through things on a personal level, like harassment and being a woman just in your daily life. So then it’s like, what the f*ck? I don’t think there’s just a single thing that I can point out or a major thing, but it’s just the sum of everything. It’s a constant thing that we go through every single day. And just realizing that is very, it’s heavy. It’s a lot. That’s when you realize that representation matters. You start getting more statistics and more information about how workplaces change when there are women in power; how representation in lineups or venues change where women are a part of it.
That’s the thing that makes you want to do something about it. And obviously, and I want to say that I know that I’m privileged. In the end, I’m a white woman. I get to do what I love for a living. I’ve been able to pursue my dream, and I know I come from a position of privilege, but in the end, I do live my day-to-day and whatever position of power or platform that I can be a part of, I will make sure that I can do something for the other women that don’t have that power.
What’s one of your favorite parts of where you are now in your journey?
I’ve only been at Spotify for less than two months, but I’m already, for example, able to have conversations and be part of the EQUAL Committee. EQUAL is this program that wants to elevate the voices of women creators in the industry.
I feel very excited because I feel like I can continue growing and learning from my peers and learning from my colleagues, but also, I feel very excited about the possibilities about carrying this message or carrying this legacy through bigger outlets. […] I’m thrilled about the amazing women that are able to raise their voices or have positions of power. And the changes that I’m seeing excites me. I understand that there’s a lot to be done, but I think we are in a continuous effort to try and change things. And I’m very, very lucky and grateful about the opportunities that I’ve had.
We’re seeing more and more women artists and music creatives speak out about how their work went unprotected or their trust was abused in the industry — what has been your perspective on this, if any? Is this something you’ve seen happen?
Every single day you hear stories, and not only in the music industry that I’ve been in, but in the statistics of femicides here in Mexico and the horrible things that happen on a daily basis for women here.
We, as women, want to get to a point where we shouldn’t be explaining ourselves. We shouldn’t be telling people, “This is not okay.” Right now, people don’t understand that, or males don’t understand that. So, I think raising our voices, speaking up, and talking about the things that we see are important because we need to give visibility to those things for people to understand. And for me personally, I don’t want it to be from a perspective of fear.
What do you feel can be done to make the music industry feel more safe and collective for women?
We have to understand that whatever position that we’re in, we have some responsibility in this. Every single day, we have the chance to do something about this. We tend to feel frustrated because it can be challenging and you feel like you have to change the world, but we have the opportunity every single day to change the smaller things, to change our environment, to have conversations around the things that matter to us, to actually empathize with the struggles of our peers, colleagues, artists or whomever.
We have to allow ourselves to understand that it’s not only our struggle, it’s not only our fight, that it’s not a personal thing. As women, we need to be able to hear each other, understand each other, be allies for one another, and be an actual community. It’s important that we have safe spaces around women, around our communities to talk about these things, but I think we need to start opening those conversations in bigger circles, which includes others, in this case, men, for them to understand where we’re coming from. As we start to be more proactive with that, things will change.
We have the opportunity every single day to change the smaller things.
But it’s not just men, women can also affect each other’s journey or success. Can you explain why a crabs in a barrel mentality (“if I can’t have it, neither can you”) is harmful to women?
When I started working in this business, there was this tendency of women in positions of power, [that] had to put on this tough exterior. I always found that very interesting, but thenI started understanding more. As a woman, you’re always questioned about your decisions. You’re always questioned about your feelings. So, I believe we were forced to take on these mentalities because that’s the way that we were taken seriously.
But I think that has changed a lot, to be honest. I truly see a lot of community around us, a lot of just really embracing ourselves, really looking for opportunities, looking out for each other.
What do you hope to personally change about the music industry, especially for the next generation of women in this space? Talk to us about your legacy of (the importance of) making space for others while on your journey.
We need to act now with what we have available, whatever our resources, possibilities, platforms and/or position is. Though inequality and underrepresentation are rooted problems that won’t be solved overnight, we need to make sure that our fight, our cause, our rightful demands, and our feelings are heard and seen every single day.