Award ‘lights a fire’ for city music CEO Misfit Music founder named top entrepreneur
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Elise Roller doesn’t mind being a squeaky wheel in the Canadian music scene — and she has a stack of strongly worded letters to prove it.
“People say you need to be diplomatic,” says the founder of Winnipeg’s Misfit Music Management. “But I think it’s more important to be transparent about what’s really going on and hold people accountable than it is to be diplomatic.”
Leading with conviction has been a winning strategy for the musician-turned-artist manager, who was named Entrepreneur of the Year at the inaugural Women in Music Canada Honours award ceremony in Toronto earlier this month. Winnipeg’s Ashley Bieniarz, owner of Songsmiths (a songwriting mentorship platform), also made the award’s honour roll.
For Roller, the accolade is motivation to keep working to make the music industry a more equitable place.
“It definitely lights a fire under my ass,” she says. “I feel like every woman — and it’s not just in the music industry, but the workforce in general — has to work twice as hard for half as much. Being on the same list with other women who have had the same difficult journey that I’ve had was really meaningful.”
Roller is well-acquainted with the barriers to success that exist for women and gender-diverse musicians.
Originally from Calgary, she moved to Winnipeg in 2015 and spent several years fronting local heavy metal grunge band, Solhounds, before joining Manitoba Music as the organization’s industry development co-ordinator. She started her career as a single mother and gave birth to her second child six months after launching Misfit in 2021. Navigating entrepreneurship with a newborn has been another lesson in inequity.
“The world wasn’t really designed for mothers,” she says.
“I feel like every woman — and it’s not just in the music industry, but the workforce in general — has to work twice as hard for half as much. Being on the same list with other women who have had the same difficult journey that I’ve had was really meaningful.”–Elise Roller
Roller was attending a conference in Sweden with her youngest in tow, when she learned about the Women in Music Canada award nomination. Her daughter is still breastfeeding and has accompanied her mom on many work trips in the last year.
While Roller is able to access business travel grants through provincial and national arts organizations, that funding doesn’t cover child caregiving costs — a necessary expense when trying to balance networking and parenting on the road.
“I understand that they can’t fund family vacations, but I will tell you from travelling with a breastfeeding baby, it’s actual hell and nobody would do it if they had a choice,” she says.
“My baby won’t take a bottle and she’s still young, so for my family’s health I know I have no other choice than to bring her.
“Unfortunately, that means a sacrifice for my business because I’m paying out of pocket to… fly a caregiver out — and that expense is not tax-deductible,” Roller adds. “There’s still a lot of work to be done to make that an accessible workspace for mothers.”
In addition to shining a light on systemic issues at the executive level, Roller is passionate about advocating for artists who might not feel like they have a voice. During her award acceptance speech, she challenged industry bigwigs to do more for marginalized music professionals.
“It is possible to focus on all marginalized demographics at the same time,” read her speech, in part. “Most are looking for the same thing: not another panel, not another promise, but the actual removal of barriers that prevent us from having equal opportunity to grow our businesses.”
Misfit’s management roster currently includes Manitoba musicians Leonard Sumner, Mise en Scene, Sierra Noble and Super Duty Tough Work. The small company also facilitates coaching, mentorship and professional development for artists across western Canada.
Roller has accomplished a lot in less than two years as a business owner. She’s only getting started.
“My intention is to always be a great leader and a great entrepreneur,” she says. “This (award) has put me on the map on a national stage. It’s given my company more visibility.”
“My intention is to always be a great leader and a great entrepreneur… This (award) has put me on the map on a national stage. It’s given my company more visibility.”–Elise Roller
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Eva Wasney is a reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press.
Updated on Thursday, March 23, 2023 4:57 PM CDT: Updates deck