Updated: Nov 15
"I truly believe that The RecordShop adds inclusivity into the music industry mix [...] we give this opportunity for free. [...] the mainstream music scene is set up in a way that excludes your ‘average Joe’."
We are a community of people in every profession and sector using music to create more value in towns and cities all over the world. In the special series #InConversationWith, we talk to accomplished members of our community and uncover their journey.
This story features Mary Otumahana, Founder, RecShop CIC
Profile at a Glance
Full Name: Mary Otumahana
City, Country: London, UK
Work Profile/Designation: Founder, RecShop CIC
Mary is a musician and entrepreneur. She founded The RecordShop in 2015, which started off as a social action project to enable young people to access free studio time. In 2017, The RecordShop registered as a company, which operates as a social enterprise that supports young people with free recording sessions, workshops, work experience and performance opportunities. During the pandemic The RecordShop relocated to The Mall in Wood Green, London and since has become a community hub and multi-purpose music space.
How did you get to where you are today, professionally?
I’ve always had a fondness of storytelling and creative writing. My favourite subjects in school were English language/literature and I loved poetry. My passion for words naturally crossed over into songwriting, then music production, sound engineering and eventually I did my first performance in 2014 as part of a spoken word/music production project by The Roundhouse called ‘Wax Lyrical’. I worked as a Youth Worker and Teaching Assistant, but my first break came from crossing paths with an organisation called ‘somewhereto_’ an initiative set up to provide free spaces all over the UK for 16-25 year olds. I utilised this opportunity to set up The RecordShop, then registered as a community interest company. Today The RecordShop has provided a platform for several young people, musicians, students and has developed into something that I could never or only have imagined. We recently held our first festival, I have been awarded for my community work and recently received a letter from the mayor of London. It’s only now started to really hit me that it's really happening and I’m so in love with it.
Walk me through a typical day-to-day working at The Record Shop
Working at The RecordShop is very fun, extra-ordinary and full of surprises, ranging from customers walking into the shop and showcasing their singing abilities on the spot, others playing their beats to me on their phone, confused expressions as passers-by try to figure out what we do here - sandwiched between ‘Burger King’ and ‘Subway’, there’s a bar, studio, vinyls, its colourful and looks inviting, yet people are always pleasantly surprised when they learn about what we do. Our core staff team is made up of volunteers, which I actively recruit daily, who dedicate their time in order for us to provide a studio space for budding musicians to record their music for free, we welcome your everyday shoppers to experience our multi-purpose music space, where we sell vinyls, serve hot drinks, cold beverages, sell merchandise, you can play pool, host an event, take part in a workshop. The RecordShop is also my office, where I have meetings, go through emails, manage, open, close, it 's my second home.
Which would you say it’s your main project right now? For those who aren’t familiar, please describe it and talk a little bit about it.
My main project now is ‘The RecFeast’, a spoken word & music piece that I'm curating for Haringey Feast, which is a festival at Alexandra Palace on the 19th of November. This production involves 4 artists performing on a banquet style set. I am also organising our monthly open mics and ukulele workshops for children at The RecShop, alongside preparing for our next festival ‘The RecFest’ 2024. I also have a few of my own gigs coming up, which includes a show in Berlin on the 12th of December.
How does your work impact the music ecosystem of your city?
This is something that I ponder on frequently, as although I am aware of the recognition I have received, as an individual you are not always fully aware of the impact that you have on your surroundings, however, I truly believe that The RecordShop adds inclusivity into the music industry mix, as with any business, finances contribute to whether a business takes off or not, similarly to a musician’s career, financial backing and investment provides access into the performance space, the studio, artistic developmental process and we give this opportunity for free. This greatly impacts how your typical musician navigates through the music scene, as even till this day, the mainstream music scene is set up in a way that excludes your ‘average Joe’.
Do you have any milestones that you’d like to share?
Running my first festival this year, ‘The RecFest’ was an amazing project that really made me step up my game as the CEO, I knew it was going to be a challenge, which is why I as intentional with it, I wrote a proposal to the Arts Council England and thought about how I wanted it to look like, who would be involved, who would perform and what the outcomes would be. This truly exceeded my expectations and motivated me to think bigger.
What would you like to see discussed more regarding music cities topics?
A topic that has crossed my mind recently is inclusivity, as I am always working with people who are at the beginning of their music journey and reach a crossroad, usually to do with not having the ability to understand the music industry and the pathways available, from a systematic and societal perspective. These moments encourage me to use my platform to break down the walls that make industry seem detached from the reality of so many, as this is a matter that can be changed, but also requires more attention.
What do you think are the most pressing topics to address?
The different journeys and paths that musicians take to get to the same place.
What are the most interesting projects that you’ve come across lately using music to improve cities/places where people live?
Mission London is a new platform that offers free DJing courses for young people - they are based in Tottenham, which is where I started The RecordShop, it's very inspiring to see the emergence of platforms that are creating space for emerging talent and I know the right people will find these opportunities very beneficial. Also, I really like community radio stations, as they bring so many parts of the music scene together - the DJs, artists, entrepreneurs, producers and I can see an ecosystem forming where so much talent is crossing paths and progressing together.
About The RecordShop:
The RecsShop is a charitable organisation with a big mission – to enable young people who face barriers to access a safe space to support them with their personal, professional and educational needs. The RecordShop was set up in 2015 to offer music opportunities in areas such as recording music, workshops, events and work experience for 11-25 year olds. Today we’re a multi-purpose music space based inside The Mall (Wood Green). It's been operating for 8 years and have established a database of over 800 young people.