Risk Taker

Allison Zatarain is in the business of going after what she wants.

June 7, 2022

Allison Zatarain M.A. ’13 applied to Berklee Valencia’s inaugural graduate program in search of adventure. At 30, she had built and left an advertising career for the independent music scene in New York as keyboardist for the aughts band Action Painters, and then left New York for her hometown, New Orleans, to try a new scene.

But she didn’t find what she was looking for. She wanted something more, and felt she could find it at the Global Entertainment and Music Business program. She loved independent music, and in 2012 she arrived in Valencia, Spain, with a plan: to research the managers, labels, and publicists of her favorite artists so she could connect with people in that industry.

“I told myself, ‘Allison, you need to be indispensable. You have to make these people not know how they are going to live without you’.”

“I knew enough to write very short emails to all those people who I could find contact information for. Short email [about] why they were awesome, why I was awesome, and then [find] an opportunity to meet,” she says, remembering that she was at her parents’ house, watching an Elvis documentary with her dad, when she got an email from Scott Cohen, cofounder of the digital music distribution company The Orchard and manager of her favorite bands, Dum Dum Girls and the Raveonettes. It read, “Sure, I’d love to meet you at MIDEM [Marché International du Disque et de l’Edition Musicale] festival. I’m based out of London. Would you be interested in interning in London?” she says. “I was like, ‘What?’ I literally couldn’t believe it.” She met with Cohen and Orchard cofounder Richard Gottehrer, an industry legend, and landed an internship before entering her second semester.

Zatarain’s rise to her current position of senior director of product and services at ADA, Warner Music Group, began at that London internship. “I told myself, ‘Allison, you need to be indispensable. You have to make these people not know how they are going to live without you’.”

She did just that, solidifying her place at The Orchard while learning about label management, distribution, marketing campaigns, and artist management in the active way that has since shaped her career. In addition, she and Gottehrer launched Instant Records, under whose label she curated and produced her favorite project, the collaborative album Instant Love. Inspired by her newborn niece, Zatarain wanted to put together a series of songs in which women sang to women in an intimate, but not  necessarily romantic, way. Initially, she had to convince Gottehrer to back her, but after he heard the first song, he agreed to the larger project, which grew from one song to five to 10, each recorded by a female artist she found through The Orchard. “I’m proud of it because of the music we produced. But it also took a lot of bravery and courage and initiative and not giving up when I was told ‘no’ over and over,” she says.

Zatarain’s next steps in the industry are evolving. It’s time for her to leave New York: she and her husband want to start a family and have a yard, and she’s ready for another change. She will leave her position there later this spring. “I would love to work with artists again versus being Corporate Lady, but since I have been Corporate Lady, I can also do that,” she says. “I want to go with the flow and see where I can be used and how I can offer myself up, because I’m  forever in debt to music. I know the power of music and what it does, and I know the power of arts and what they do, and I am always going to be in service to them in some way.”

This article appeared in the spring/summer 2022 issue of Berklee Today