Introducing Mirette Seireg, Owner of MPath Music, the First Production Music Library in the World to Achieve Gender Parity
MPATH IS THE FIRST PRODUCTION MUSIC LIBRARY IN THE WORLD TO ACHIEVE GENDER PARITY
Words by KC Orcutt
As exemplified on numerous occasions, with the rise of various social and political activism movements in the age of social media, it is far easier to speak up when a topic is trending than it is to sustain discussing such important and pressing issues long term. In the music industry specifically, recent years have seen the emergence of initiatives, campaigns, organizations, brands and the people behind them who remain steadfast in their mission to raise awareness of an array of issues, including combating systemic racism, gender disparity and inequality. Among those helping lead, the charge is Mirette Seireg, an impassioned advocate, thought leader, and entrepreneur tactfully using her past experiences working toward sustainable change in the world's hardship zones to help impact the production music industry for the better.
While Seireg's multifaceted career has taken her around the world—literally speaking, she's worked with communities across over 30 countries—part of the driving force behind her impassioned work is in championing compelling stories, including those shared through music and culture. After spending over three decades working in developing countries and leading large-scale nutrition programs around the globe, Seireg's path led her to the vibrant world of production music. Such a pivot may seem curious at first glance but ultimately is one that quickly became a fitting outlet for her ongoing life mission to empower communities to thrive.
In 2018, Seireg founded Mpath Music, and as evidenced throughout the company's many achievements, has covered an incredible amount of ground in a short period of time. In addition to building a roster of over 150 diverse and highly curated artists, MPath is also the first and only production music library in the world to achieve gender parity. The statistics may be staggering, with women accounting for only an estimated 3 percent of the world's composers, but Seireg wasn't deterred by the numbers reflecting a great challenge. Instead, she rose to the occasion and made an intentional effort to seek out extremely talented women, creating a welcome platform for historically underrepresented composers to thrive. Within six months of this outreach, MPath set an industry precedent, leading by example and showcasing firsthand how achieving gender parity is plausible within the music industry.
Although there is no shortage of ongoing challenges when it comes to reimagining the notoriously competitive, male-dominated industry as a more inclusive landscape, Seireg remains focused on how to improve visibility, raise awareness and yield tangible change throughout the production music industry at large. In addition to her work with MPath, which includes creating a mentorship program for emerging composers and producing the Phenomenal Women album series with APM Music, Seireg is also helping facilitate a range of strategic partnerships between other forces in the music industry, sagely recognizing how diversity, inclusion and equality requires the collaborative and committed work of an entire village. Earlier this year, Seireg joined the Production Music Association’s newly established Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) Committee as Chair, where she aims to continue making a positive, sustainable impact on a wider scale.
While Seireg may poke fun at how this chapter of her life is her unconventional idea of retirement, her unapologetic, data-driven approach is both a refreshing and much appreciated one. From growing the award-winning catalog of MPath Music to using her resources in a multitude of ways to better champion diversity throughout the production music industry, her hard work has already begun to make a substantial difference, all while encouraging others in the field to examine their own efforts and spark ongoing dialogue. During a recent conversation with APM Music, Seireg shared more about her personal journey, the parallels between her different career paths and how, above all, embracing the broad spectrum of human emotions through music is part of what connects us all.
Is there a distinctive memory you’d like to share about when you first discovered your passion for music? What artists stand out as having an influence on you?
I have a couple of really distinctive memories. The first was seeing the Beatles in concert when I was eight years old. To see them up front and personal was just amazing. In fact, I even got one of Paul McCartney cigarette butts [Laughs]. I held onto that thing. Eventually, my mother threw it away. It was like a mother throwing away her son's baseball cards, but this was much worse [Laughs]. I saw Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and all of the big names.
Another distinctive memory, and one that separates my generation from younger generations, is that in the central living room in most homes, including mine, there was a family record player. When anybody wanted to listen to music, we all heard it, even if it wasn't something that I would go out and buy myself. My mom had a great collection of records that she would play. I remember listening to Edith Piaf, Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass, Willie Nelson. Because of my own heritage—I'm from a mixed background and am Egyptian-born—I got into ethnic artists like Celia Cruz and Om Kalsoum. When Om Kalsoum sings, the entire Arab world listens. It's like a unifying force.
There were also social movements and activist movements, which spawned protest songs ("59 cents for every man's dollar"), and artists such as Inti Illimani, Los Mejia Godoy, Norma Elena Gadea and Joan Armatrading all stood out as having an influence on me. And, of course, my husband, Michael A. Levine. I met him when I was 14. I remember him sitting down at the piano and playing his own original compositions when he was all of 15. That just grabbed my attention!
Can you share a bit more about your professional journey that led you to start MPath?
This is my idea of retirement [Laughs]. I'm 65 years old and I'm starting a music library for the very first time. I've never worked in the music business before. It's nuts [Laughs]. But I will say, crazy risk-taking has always made my life richer, more interesting and has forced me to stay a lifelong student, which I appreciate.
For those who are curious, I had a 35-year career working to improve conditions in extremely impoverished countries, mostly living in working in the world's "hardship zones." You could say that my mission in life is to facilitate positive change by forming teams to set that change in motion and bring it to scale – usually with a backdrop of civil unrest, economic instability, oppressive regimes, and natural disasters. I've been through volcanic eruptions, tsunamis. You name it, I've seen it. Being able to stay resilient in the face of difficulty has always been my passion, my mission in life.
To be totally honest with you, I had spent five years battling cancer and was doing a lot of remote work. The economy-class commutes to Africa got to be a bit much, but I wasn’t ready to retire. I went to a Guild of Music Supervisor’s (GMS) event with my partner, who is a music composer and a two-term Governor of the Television Academy (Emmys), and I ended up waiting in a VIP room at some point throughout the evening. I was with Adam Taylor of APM Music and we got to talking. I told him about my life story and he told me about his. During our conversation, he looked at me and said, Have you ever considered production music? And I was like, Are you out of your mind? [Laughs] However, the more I thought about it, the more it seemed to make sense. I could work side-by-side with my husband and I was already surrounded by the best of the best in the music business – we are family. I love music and I am surrounded by amazing music all the time. One thing led to another and here I am!
What are some of the parallels you've found between your work with MPath and your background outside of music?
In my past work, gripping stories revealed commonalities, sparked collective innovation, created visions and inspired action. Music is a powerful, universally understood form of storytelling and unlocking solutions. It is the emotional core of the story.
In terms of my personal career, one of the biggest parallels is that it requires tapping into what you already know but always learning something new and adapting. The more I learn about music and the music business, the more I realize how elusive an understanding of this business can be. It's also really important to know what you don't know, because that allows you to create awareness around the need to seek better understanding. You learn more and understand better when you surround yourself with people who know more than you do. There's always someone who knows more than you do.
The communities I worked with were hugely impoverished, where malnutrition was rampant and human suffering was rampant. There would be people who were uneducated but would know things that really provided a key. If you listen for that, you can unlock incredible human potential. That's another huge parallel. Here in the production music industry, there are always keys to unlock answers through knowledge, and most importantly, through the sharing of experiences. What works? What doesn't work? What would we do differently next time? The process of continuous improvement is a commonality.
While working throughout Africa and Central America, did you observe or experience firsthand how music played a role in shaping the various communities you worked with? If so, in what ways?
Totally. In fact, there are songs that are sung to children in just about every culture that I've worked in. It's both poetic and healing at the same time. Music unites and plays a central role in every single village I’ve worked in. I saw how music created movements, overthrew governments, provided relief and strength during tremendous hardships, motivated, inspired, united and touched every soul. Interestingly enough, especially with my women composers who I know quite intimately, many of the women composers on our roster have suffered from life-threatening illnesses or accidents and turned to music for healing. To get geeky on you, listening to music can release oxytocin, which is a feel-good hormone. When you release that hormone, it actually promotes healing and well-being. When you listen to music that makes you happy, you become more resilient to whatever it is that's challenging you.
In my past work, one of the roles that I played was to visit a lot of different communities and see what they were doing that was working. I would ask, What works? What doesn't work? And how will that inform our next steps? In one of these remote, very rural health clinics in the boonies I observed a nurse who was only semi-literate herself but would use music as part of her practice. When a child came in for their vaccination, she would sing to them and it worked like magic. Once I identify something, a process that works, then you look for ways to accelerate that process in other communities and get some traction out of that. That was working, and it was working beautifully. It also made mothers far more willing to take their children to get vaccinated. A mother would see, Oh, there's a nurse that sings to my child. This is a good person who cares, who understands my child and who would not do anything to harm my child. In this instance, music helped the vaccination campaign get underway and save the lives of many children.
Another example that comes to mind; there were these incredible women in Zimbabwe. One of the things that I look for in my work is what is called a positive deviant, where, in other words, people are doing things that are different from everybody else and it works amazing. I heard about these women who had been able to eradicate malaria in their village. I wanted to meet them and talk with them and see what they were doing. It took three days to get there by Jeep on a dirt road and it was quite the journey getting there. When we did arrive, I remember the clouds burst and it was just pouring rain. We were all huddled under a thatched roof. These women got up and started singing and dancing and clapping. It was like, Wow, what a welcome. I felt so honored to be there. What they taught me was how inspired I was by that. Just amazing African beats and sounds and rhythms. It was a bonding experience and I'm fortunate to have many stories like this one. They spoke tribal languages that I did not, but we totally understood each other.
What would you say is the biggest challenge the music industry at large faces when it comes to tangibly supporting and encouraging the careers of women?
Awareness, good governance and forming strategic alliances.
I have a really good anecdote to share. There are two younger fish swimming in the water, and an older fish comes by and says, "Lovely water we're having today?" And swims off. Then, the two younger fish look at each other and say, "What's water?" It's an awareness issue. But it's just a short-sighted awareness issue. That's one of the reasons why I was so keen on working with the Production Music Association, especially in regard to membership. If you're leaving out half the world's pool of composers, you're losing membership. If we invited in women composers and made them feel welcome, and actually helped them to start careers because it's so hard to get into this business if you're a woman, it would double your membership and double your pool of highly talented composers. You bring in another perspective. I've noticed some differences along gender lines and behavior that I find really fascinating. I'm looking forward to addressing these observations in my position as chair of the Diversity Inclusion and Equality Committee for the Production Music Association.
In my previous life, I always had to prepare reports, and this is part of my training that has remained a constant with MPath. I'm constantly being guided by metrics and trying to make sense of them. After we were about a year into the business, I started looking at our roster of composers, just as a quick exercise. I was horrified that only 18% of the composers working with MPath were women. Then, I did some digging and realized in the music industry as a whole, it's less than 3%. From there, my whole change management mode went into high gear. Within six months, we had achieved gender parity at Mpath. So, I know it's possible for the entire industry. The whole line of Oh, but there are no women composers. It's like, have you ever tried looking? Of course there are! We have seen the beginnings of a conscious effort to produce all women’s albums, as well as great collaborations and community, as exemplified by the Alliance of Women Film Composers; She Is The Music; WBENC; WBEC-West; CEO Success Community; The 3% Movement and numerous blogs.
Good governance is foundational for any systemic change, giving a voice to the voiceless and shedding light on mysterious gatekeepers who either resist change or who simply don’t see what others see. For there to be good governance, we need to make sure the right structural framework is in place. You need a foundation, otherwise you can't build anything. That conversation, addressing infrastructure and good governance, needs to happen first. Industry-wide, I do see improvement and I will continue to push for elections [on the board of the PMA] because we need the forum for that dialogue. Until more people learn about the change process, and we help guide that process, and really stimulate these types of conversations, it's not going to happen. Right now, it's vogue, it's trending. I'm not into trends. I'm into evergreen issues. I think one of the biggest challenges is that something else will come up and that will take everybody's energy, which is why there needs to be true leadership that keeps the spark alive and keeps the conversation going. There has to be some structural things in place in order to support equality and diversity initiatives long-term.
What has been the most rewarding part about working as an industry leader in terms of gender equality and inclusion?
Sisterhood and family. The most rewarding part is the amazing people I've met on this journey and the community that we've formed. Hands down. And all of us holding onto the same vision. Creating a welcoming community that encourages strategic alliances, mentorships, collaboration, learning together and improving together through mutual support.
What would you say helps guide your curation process at MPath?
The first thing is putting together a really good brief and being really specific about what we're looking for. It has to work for the album we're curating, and it has to be conceptually interesting; that's really important to us. One of our core values is that our music is not clichéd. Unique sounds and exquisite delivery is also really important. Above all, it's got to be professionally produced. We will send it back if it's not. We view sonic storytelling as an art form that resonates emotionally, evokes an engaging feeling and takes the audience to a place that they've never quite visited before but that they'll be glad they did.
What are some upcoming projects to look out for?
Specifically in terms of the music, we're formed an alliance with a differently-abled foundation that has amazing composers. We're going to be producing an album composed entirely of differently-abled composers. We're also fleshing out our artists series. Given that time is a scarce commodity for women, we've only had individual tracks, but I'm beginning to identify women artists who will be producing their own albums. I just signed with a woman in Nigeria that we found, who has a unique voice like nothing you've ever heard before.
I'm also hitting some of the pain points. Now that I'm getting to know corporate better, I'm offering really good hold music. It's a niche that no one has exploited properly. We did an interesting project where we worked with Berklee School of Music's audio engineering department. We identified the frequencies that are most compatible with different transmission frequencies and discovered the optimal range where it doesn't matter which device you're on hold with, it'll sound good. Virtual conferences are another niche that has been unexplored and we're jumping on. Even once we're all vaccinated, national conferences are here to stay and will be generally going to a hybrid model, with 60% attending by Zoom. I've got playlists for the awards, playlists for the openings, playlists for when there's technical glitches [Laughs]. I'll also be working on the PMA’s DE&I committee initiatives, which I’m looking forward to.
What is some life or career advice that has stuck with you over the years? Do you have any words of wisdom you'd like to pass along to someone first starting out in production music?
I think the biggest piece of advice is to begin with the end in mind. Visualize. Get your head around your vision: Where are you now with your music and how does that translate into sync placements? Where do you see yourself in five years? How are you going to get there? It's all self-discovery and self-awareness really. Can you keep your ear to the ground and intuitively understand your special niche and magnificence in a vast ecosystem? For example, APM has over a million tracks. What is your unique differentiator? What do you have to offer that no one else does? You have to have courage and confidence in order to come up with that. You also have to trust that you have something valuable to offer.
Develop a way to communicate with the rest of the world. Address client needs for high-quality tracks that are clean (original/authentic, well-defined ownership, no re-titling, no risk of copyright infringements, etc.), user-friendly and easy to customize, understand how your music holds or elevates feelings, moods and emotionally tells a story. Improve upon your strengths and understand your weaknesses. There's a trust formula I like to refer to: trust equals integrity plus competency. On top of that, you have to know yourself. Channel your creative inspiration fully into your music and keep a watchful eye on where it goes. The more feed your vision, the more likely that you’ll get where you want to go.
When a creative inspiration knocks on the door, invite it in as a welcome visitor. Be curious about what happens and enter into a vortex of creative intimacy. Do what you need to liberate whatever it is that you’re channeling and boldly take your work to the next level. There’s always romance involved in placing your music in a bottle, releasing it and seeing when and where it lands. Above all listen to your spirit, lead with your heart, and stay true to the friends and collaborators you meet along the way. It is a soulful journey.
To learn more about the MPath Library, please see https://www.apmmusic.com/libraries/mpath-mpath.