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Consistency is crucial: Naina on breaking into the music industry

Naina Sethi is a radio presenter, DJ and co-owner of one of the most exciting labels in dance music - and her career started at a university open day! We caught up to explore her journey so far and find out how she broke into the music industry.

For many creative-minded people, there’s a eureka moment when the realisation dawns that they could turn their passion into a career. For Naina, her passion was music and her eureka moment was attending an open day at Southampton Solent for a specialist music journalism degree. 

Ten years on from that starting point, Naina is now the co-owner of Hooversound - working alongside her mate and rising DJ superstar Sherelle - a radio presenter on Apple Music and NTS and a DJ playing in clubs and at festivals across the UK and Europe. This trajectory was sparked by the open-day eureka moment, fostered by a community of creative mates and cultivated by an iron-clad work ethic and enthusiasm for music.

To help inspire students who are equally desperate to turn their passions into a career, or any prospective students thinking about one of our specialist music production degrees, we spoke to Naina to explore her journey and find out how she broke into the music industry.

Naina at Phonox Digital by Rob JonesCredit: Rob Jones

Hey, Naina! Please introduce yourself and your involvement in the music industry

Hi! My name is Naina. I'm a DJ, radio presenter and I co-run a label with Sherelle called Hooversound.

Was there a eureka moment for you when you thought, 'I really want to get into the music industry'?

I think I had that eureka moment when I went to an open day. In my head, I really wasn’t sure if university was for me. At the time, I was really into photography, so I thought maybe I could do something more visually. Then I came across Southampton Solent University and the degree Popular Music Journalism. I didn't even know that you could study music in that way, I thought you had to make music or be a singer. I was like, ‘Wow, I would love my job to be listening to albums and reviewing them and writing about them.’ That was my eureka moment. It was only then when I was at university meeting more like-minded people that I thought, ‘Oh, hold on, there are actually so many different avenues you can go down with DJing, or radio or broadcast.’ That opened my eyes to realising that you can have a career in music. I think the experience of university really helped me pave the way to what I wanted to do. 

What was your experience of being in a specialist environment like that, where you're learning something so niche? Naina Portrait 1

When I started the course, I wasn't really too sure what to expect, but I think it's what you make of it. We were writing reviews of albums and things like that, but then we were also doing more hands-on stuff like putting on events and filming them. Then that kind of snowballs into, ‘Okay, I'll play one of the events’, and then suddenly I’m a DJ. It all had that knock-on effect. Also, having like-minded people around you and that sense of community is so important. That could be your lecturers who you're having one-to-ones with at uni, but also it was the first time I was actually with like-minded music heads who were similar to me. They listened to everything. I remember at school, people would have their own scenes and be really big into one specific type of music, but when I went to uni, I felt connected with people who just love music full stop. I think that social element really helped and having experienced people teaching you is definitely valuable.

So, after you graduated, your route into the music industry was through radio. How did that come about?

Radio is a form of journalism, right? But I didn't think of it that way before. I really enjoyed writing and then a few people around me said, ‘Your voice is really nice. The way you articulate yourself is really cool. You know a lot about music and you've got good taste - you’d be really good on the radio.’ I thought, ‘Yeah, that would be cool, but how the hell do you ever get into that!?’ I had literally no idea. I didn't know anyone that worked in radio. It was through DJing, recording mixes and putting things up on SoundCloud, that someone from Reprezent Radio reached out to me. She was like, ‘I love your stuff, I really would love for you to do a guest mix for my show on Reprezent.’ I hadn't even heard of Reprezent because I wasn't in London at the time. I Googled it and found out it was an FM radio station run by young people, for young people. I was like, ‘This is sick, I really want to be involved in this.’ So I did the mix and just kept Reprezent on my radar. Then they did a call out for talent. I just went, ‘Yeah, I'm gonna do it. I've got no radio experience, but I've got a music journalism degree, I know how to DJ and I'm just gonna go for this.’

I planned my show and went and did the pilot. I'll never forget, one of the people there at the time said to me, ‘You're a natural.’ I got the gig and I started the show! I had the Wednesday nighttime show every week. I was building the show together myself because I didn't have a studio and I didn't live in London. Then I got relocated into London for another job I was doing - because everyone's doing creative stuff on the side and having their Monday to Friday, nine to five job. I started seeing more opportunities within music when I was doing this office job in London. Then the station manager wanted to move me to like a flagship Friday night dance show and it was live. I was so used to doing a pre-recorded show, but I just took the opportunity and ran with it. I was meeting loads of people and interviewing them and you don't realise that every week you're brushing up on your own techniques. The stars aligned and I got a freelance production role at Reprezent because they needed a hand. Suddenly, I could quit the office job, I was immersed in radio and I moved to Brixton to be close to the studio. That literally changed my life because I was getting so many different opportunities from just putting everything into that show. There was a phase where I was doing stuff on BBC, NTS and Rinse. You never know what the next step is going to be. Mine happened to be Apple Music and then eventually Hooversound and NTS.

Naina DJing PortraitGreat. So, what would your advice be? Take every opportunity that you get and dive into it?

Yeah, and be passionate. I think you have to love what you do. People used to see me in the studio and they would be like, ‘Wow, you really do love this.’ I was never doing it to make money. It was just something I loved and I was doing it on the side at first. I think that consistency of every week putting everything into that show led to more opportunities. Consistency is crucial. You want to be at a certain level and then keep growing and learning. You're never going to be the best at it. There are always things to learn and progress to be made.

Do you think becoming a radio producer helped you with your presenting role?

Yeah, absolutely. A lot of people when they're doing their radio shows, if something goes wrong, you're just like, ‘Oh, what do I do?’ The producers are there to help you put your show together and the technicalities of working in a radio studio. I could do it all, which was really helpful. I know how to put the show plan together, get the content really good and I know how to present that content, but I also know how to run a radio studio. It's a really blessed position to be in. If something did go wrong, I was able to fix it straight away or swerve it completely. The more I did radio, the more I understood the concept of radio, what radio is, what you want for the listener and stuff like that.

Would you recommend radio as a good place to start for people wanting to get into the music industry and, if so, what advice would give to people trying to break into it?

Yeah, if you're a student, radio is definitely something that you should be involved in. Have ideas that you can bring to the table, too. I remember saying, ‘Reprezent doesn't do any events. I'm going to start running some events under Reprezent’s name. Is that cool?’ My manager was like, ‘Yeah, go for it. Why not?’ You may as well try these things. If it flops, it flops. If it doesn't, you're suddenly running events for a radio station. Go in with an open mind and chat with everyone. Get involved. Immerse yourself in it. If you want to do it and you have a love for music, something positive is going to come from it. Throw ideas out there and run with them. That's how things start. If it doesn't exist, make it happen.

Hooversound Logo

So now you co-run Hooversound. How did that start?

Me and Sherelle met at Reprezent and did a radio show together for a really long time. Our energies just connected and our music tastes connected. We both loved footwork and we were fans of a lot of the same DJs and artists. I was talking to her a lot about footwork and jungle and that whole 90s hardcore, raving kind of sound and how you can fuse so many of those elements together with people who are also making sounds like that now, and she totally agreed - she knew everything I was talking about. We got an amazing opportunity through Reprezent to open up for the Prodigy at Brixton Academy. Reprezent partnered up DJs who would sound good doing a back-to-back together and then sprinkled them across the night. Me and Sherelle did one of the nights and she came to mine and we practised and we were both thinking, ‘This is such a huge moment for our careers’, and we were blending so many different styles of fast dance music. It wasn't all 160. We started slow, but it was all so left field, fusing different elements of different dance genes together and so much of it was unsigned. Bare people hadn't heard it. We did that back-to-back - it was one of the best moments - and then after we were like, ‘I think we should start a label, which focuses on rave music and this hybrid of sounds and introduce people to what we play.’ At the time, we weren’t aware of many dance labels like that being run by two women of colour. So we were like, ‘Okay, there's no one doing this at the moment,’ that might have changed now, but in our bubble in London, we were like, ‘Okay, here's an opportunity to really share our love for the scene and do it for these artists who needed a platform’ and then Hooversound was born.

So, again, by sticking it out, you got your opportunity!Naina Cut Portrait

Yeah, exactly. I wanted to start a label ages ago, but I was like, ‘I am not in a position right now’. Being black and white and very real about it, when you first start a label, you incur a lot of costs. You have to pay for the design, you have to pay for the lawyer that you want to speak to - none of this comes for free. Me and Sherelle definitely weren't in a position before to do that. I did DJing, then radio. Then because of the radio, the DJing got a bit stronger. All of that came together and then you've got a bit of a profile and then I started a label. Everyone's journey is different, but there's definitely a reason why it happened that way. The time we started the label was the perfect time for us and the position that we were in.

Broadly speaking, what's your journey been like in the music industry and how has it felt?

I'm not gonna lie, it still feels very surreal. You should never feel complacent. I'll always remember a time when I was working in an office in sales, doing a radio show on the side and trying to DJ and uploading mixes to SoundCloud. Don't ever forget that you did that. Now when people ask me, ‘So what is your job?’ and I say, ‘Oh, I'm in radio and DJ and I run a label’ and people are like, ‘But what is your job’ I'm like, ‘No, that is my full-time week. That takes up my whole week.’ Never become complacent if this is what you want to do. It's about always trying to push. I think that's what's important. The consistency is the same for me now as it was when I was doing a weekly show on Reprezent trying to break through into the industry because I've not really broken through anything yet. I'm still trying to push new things and start new ideas and throw new things out there. Change is important. Pushing things forward is important. 

Finally, what is your general advice for our students wanting to get into the music industry? What do you wish you could have done differently?

When I was starting in the industry, I focused so much on practising DJing and making sure that the radio stuff was great. I think that's super important, I don’t think you should juggle too many things at once, because you want to perfect a few things at a time, but the only thing I wish I could have done a bit more was diving deeper into Logic and Ableton. I know how to produce a radio advert, I can make you that, but making a song is completely different. So I guess I’d say keep an open mind on what you want to do eventually as well, because I would love to be able to produce music at this point. I really look back at that thinking there was a lot of time where I was learning how to use the software for one thing but actually, I could have opened my mind a little bit more to be able to learn how to use it in a different way as well.

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Want to feel your own eureka moment about the possibility of breaking into the music industry? Check out our courses and find out more at our next open day!

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