Photo of Milly Groz (c) Maria Otter
Milly Groz (c) Maria Otter

In this series, mica – music austria and Austrian Music Export have collected the experiences and perspectives of women in the music business. No matter the categories, quotas or breakdowns, the goal is 100% of us working together in the struggle for feminism. MILLY GROZ is a Vienna-based pianist and rhythmist. Her work is rooted in free improvisation, jazz and connecting music and movement through eurythmics. Her avid interest in writing has given rise to her solo mumble rap project MILLYCENT.

What people / institutions / funding programs helped you along the way in the music business?

Milly Groz: I was mostly helped by people. Sara Zlanabitnig’s support was particularly outstanding – she encouraged me to audition to study jazz piano, got me involved with Fraufeld, and told me now and then how she was doing, what she was working on, and how she approached it. But talking to a lot of other musicians, too – exchanging ideas, hearing what other people are doing and how – is very helpful.

Fraufeld was a big help – to see so many musicians, to see how they work and imbibe their confidence in what they were doing. And in recent years, working with Ceren Oran [Turkish dancer and choreographer], I was able to watch how she became more professional over time. Although the dance and music scenes function very differently from one another, I observed a lot of things where I thought, “Ah, Milly, that might be relevant to you at some point.” Benny Omerzell told a lot of people about my music and encouraged me to do my thing.

Helmut Jasbar at Ö1 gave me the opportunity to play my music live on the radio; Kick Jazz and NASOM helped me with contacts and also with “official” institutional support. And finally, during a time when I was in a personal crisis and didn’t feel like I could do anything creative, I started to listen to a lot of podcasts about the music business. There’s a lot of variation in quality among them, but they helped.

Video: Mamma Fatale featuring MILLYCENT – “Vitamin D” live at Porgy & Bess

“In truth, I feel like I’m still just getting the hang of the music business.”

How and where did you get your experience in the music business? What were your biggest challenges, and how did you overcome them?

Milly Groz: In truth, I feel like I’m still just getting the hang of the music business. I organize and promote my MILLYCENT concerts myself, and I try to keep up with booking, recording, and album-making when I’m not teaching. Some of it feels inefficient, some of it much too fast, and all of it very DIY. I like that latter aspect, but I can see that I’ll have to manage my energy much better in the long term. And learn to appreciate it when multiple people are working on a project. With the Gedankenreiseorchester [a jazz and improvisation concert for children], the work is divided among four people, but similarly DIY – it’s inspiring when you see what the others are doing for the collaboration.

At the beginning, I played every MILLYCENT gig I could get – that’s easier to do as a solo act. I played in some pretty strange places and took note of everything that didn’t work, which showed me what I needed to communicate and clear up beforehand, and where my music would fit.

One more thing that helped me a lot was putting together weekly concert recommendations for Vienna. I got an overview of what bands were working, who was playing with whom and how often, and what the venues were. That wasn’t my reason for doing the job, of course, but in retrospect it turned out to be valuable. For instance, Alpine Dweller was playing a RIDICULOUS number of concerts at the time, so I’m tempted to say that Joana, Matthias, and Flora are the people to ask anything about the indie-music business. And the recommendations were free advertising for the musicians, so I got to know a lot of people for the first time.

I’ve called people up many times to ask about issues like grants, applications, crowdfunding…but before I do, I give a lot of thought to whom I ask and make sure it’s OK for them. And in return, I try to be open when other people have questions.

One big challenge for me is time and resource management – I often have a hard time estimating how much time and attention things are going to need, and whether it makes sense. I tend to get lost in activities. Also, I find it difficult to switch between business issues and “being creative” without losing sight of the latter. That’s a huge challenge for me, and right now I’m trying to rediscover the idealism in my music and let the music business run alongside, instead of putting too much energy into it.

Video: MILLYCENT – “Das Mädchen” live at Kulturcafe Max

What kind of support have you received in your career? Where would you have liked (more) support?

Milly Groz: The biggest support for my career was that my parents’ work lives, and the money I got from them, allowed me to study without having to be completely financially self-sufficient. I always had a part-time job while studying, but my parents paid for rent and food. And later, when I was already a full-time music teacher, they encouraged me to leave my job so that I could work as a freelance musician and supported me financially for about a year again.

“I would have liked to have more contact with female jazz and improvising instrumentalists from older generations when I was studying jazz.”

Did you have role models around you to look up to? What role models do women in the music business have right now? What can you pass on to others?

Milly Groz: What I find interesting about my career is that representation played such a big role. For a long time as a teenager and later, when I was at the university, the women I saw as role models, who were fulfilled in their careers and who inspired me, were all music teachers – so it was clear to me that I wanted to be one too. It wasn’t until I got to know more non-male instrumentalists (mainly via Fraufeld) who were playing (and not primarily teaching) that I started to believe I could do it too. I would have liked to have more contact with female jazz and improvising instrumentalists from older generations when I was studying jazz; I think that would have made a big difference. Monika Lang, Karen Schlimp, Elisabeth Harnik, Tanja Feichtmair, Margarethe Herbert, as well as (closer to my age and just as relevant) Verena Zeiner, Marlene Lacherstorfer, Angela Tröndle, Violetta Parisini, and – once again – Sara Zlanabitnig: the fact that I heard them in concerts and interviews in my 20s, that I got to observe them at work, got to know them as colleagues, or just heard them on CD, was a crucial reason that I do my own thing and play concerts.

picture of Millycent Kick Jazz 2021 (c) Severin Koller
Millycent Kick Jazz 2021 (c) Severin Koller

What role does age play for you?

Milly Groz: I realized a few years ago that I had never seen a grandma rapping in a concert before, and I decided then that I wanted to be one when I’m 65+ – or at least know someone who does that, whose music I like. I feel like there’s never been a better time to realize projects and try new things regardless of your age. It always makes me happy to meet musicians from other generations; their knowledge and experience makes for longer-term perspectives and is generally reassuring.

I’d like to see the last remnants of genre labels abolished, and with them, categorization.”

What would you like to see in terms of a more diverse music scene?

Milly Groz: I’d like to see the abolishment of the last remnants of genre indications, and with them, categorization. The fact that the Amadeus Awards still has the category “World Music” is weird and embarrassing.

I’d like to see more non-male promoters, bookers, sound engineers, and light technicians.

I’d like to see more financial support for music students.

And – again – more rapping grandmas.

What questions do you get asked that a man would never be asked?

Milly Groz: Fortunately, I haven’t noticed any real tendencies in that respect – just strange, isolated cases.

Translated from the German original by Philip Yaeger