‘I consider myself so lucky that I get to do what I love and I get to do it everyday. It’s hard and it’s emotionally draining but I think I’m the only member of my family without an ulcer,’ says Angela Dorgan, who is CEO of First Music Contact as well as being involved in multiple other projects that will be covered later in this article.
Dorgan comes from a family of fifteen and was raised in Blackpool in Cork, ‘we lost our parents when we were very young but it would be wrong to think that I then grew up in some sort of commune, our household was very normal.’
She sits in an attic office which is at the top of an old building on Dublin’s Wicklow Street, a building that is shared with other businesses. One of which being a hypnotist that stopped her smoking. Hundreds of lanyards from various gigs hang on the stair’s banister.
She shares the office with Brendan and Mo. Mo comes in on Friday’s to do their accounts, ‘we like to call her Mo money,’ they laugh. Over Dorgan’s desk proudly hangs her brother Pat’s European Special Olympics competitor number, he won gold in table tennis in 2014. Warm banter is exchanged between all three that betrays a closeness built over time.
Dorgan’s shock of tightly curled blonde hair is her favourite feature and it’s easy to understand why, it creates a positive statement before she even opens her mouth. It would be cliché to say that it symbolises her endless energy but we are not too snooty to employ lazy clichés like that at The Makers. She has a way with words that seems natural to a Corkonian, she’s a wonderful self deprecating storyteller.
You quickly get the distinct impression that Dorgan is naturally drawn to champion the underdog, her subject choice for her thesis in sociology when she attended University College Cork reinforces this. ‘I did my thesis around the racism in the language of the coverage of the First Gulf War. One of my favourite things to uncover was how the media worked. I wanted to know what happens to it before we consume it? Who’s giving it to us? A lot of people are blind to where information goes before it comes to you in a news bulletin. There are eight sides to every story. Where you get your media from is as important as the story that you’re reading. That’s probably more true now with the internet.’
When highlighted to her that she has never deviated from the stance that she took for the thesis, that is to uncover the truth she pauses to reflect on her past and agrees. ‘It’s something that stuck with me. Being socially minded rather than politically minded has definitely informed the company I run. It’s a philosophy rather than an economy. There’s a whole community in the music industry that are poorly treated and they are the creators.’
When she was living in Cork she was friends with the bands, The Frank and Walters and The Sultans of Ping. The two bands had bought a practise room and wanted it to be kept going when they moved to London. ‘I was mad about myself because I’d just finished my thesis and I thought I can do a survey,’ she says with her Cork lilt and adds, ‘I thought I can do that now because I have a masters and I’m fabulous so i did! When I think of it know I was only a baba,’ she laughs.
Her friend Murty had a fanzine so they put a questionnaire in it. ’We thought maybe we will get twenty or thirty back but we got eight hundred responses from the greater Cork area. At the time I was doing PR in the Triskel Arts Centre on a twenty hour a week Community Employment (CE) scheme. My boss gave me half of my twenty hours to plan out what would become the Cork Music Resource Centre. We answered the bands need which were around PR, design, instrumentation plus a lot more. We employed eighteen people on the scheme for about two years.’
After two and a half years they started to organise showcases for companies like Sony as well as a compilation album of Cork’s best bands at the time. ‘We started to notice that there were other resource centres around the country so began exchanges with them. I then put a proposal together to make a national organisation that would be an umbrella group for all the resource centres around the country, the Federation of Music Collectives was born. At it’s height there was twenty-six collectives, these were all local resource centres resourcing local musicians.’ When community employment schemes started to be closed down she, ‘found there was still a need for musicians to be supported so we adapted into what is now First Music Contact (FMC). We’re agenda free, we’re just here to help.’
As well as FMC, they organise Hard Working Class Heros and showcase some of Ireland’s best new music at annual global conventions with a view to exporting the music. She cites Millie Millgate of Sounds Australia as, ‘my absolute hero’ for her skills around export activity.
In the office there’s a couch, Dorgan points out that, ‘I see about thirty-five bands a month for free consultancies. They are essentially planning exercises were I give them homework. The first session is like a counseling session – hence the couch!’
Dorgan’s brightness and compassion is just the tonic for any overwhelmed musician starting out, ‘my favourite moment is to see a bands shoulders just go ahhh you know? When they realise that they’re not alone that they’ve someone to lean back on. When they realise that they don’t know less than everyone else… well that’s lovely. We take the fear out of the business aspect of it, we’ve got their backs.’
Jessica Hopper, who recently left Pitchfork to concentrate on other writing projects on the back of her very successful The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic was one year a guest at Hard Working Class Heroes. ‘We went for lunch and she asked how we (FMC) got started,’ she lets out a huge infectious laugh, ‘at different stages of my life I get ferocious imposter syndrome. You expect someone to walk in and say, you out!’
Dorgan has managed to positively guide numerous musicians with the maternal fierness of a brown bear. This has been done on a meagre budget which may be the reason that she feels an imposter sometimes. That is, constantly battling to get funding does not afford her the luxury of perceptive to take in all that she has and is achieving. She relays the time that the Arts Council cut their funding by 50% and it was looking impossible to do a Hard Working Class Heroes that year, an event that has only ever broken even twice in its thirteen year history. ‘When I was a kid I used to learn poetry by holding the book and walking around the coffee table at home. I was really worried about lack of money for the event so I got up in the middle of the night and I just walked around the coffee table in my house. I just kept walking around and around and about five laps into it, I stopped. I realised that I could do it if I got several companies to sponsor it.’
That’s what she does best, protecting the music every time it faces adversity. ‘It’s a vocation it’s not a job. I am FMC and FMC is me. I’m long past trying to achieve a work life balance but on the other hand I get paid for my hobby and that’s phenomenal.’