Amanda Ghost, musical director: she’s the boss – but don’t call her “bossy”

Amanda Ghost knows both sides of the schism between talent and costumes in the music industry. She was an entertainer, releasing a trending album in 2000, but after failing to sell the costumes, she refused to release her follow-up. She branched out into writing songs for others, co-writing James Blunt’s “You’re Beautiful,” one of the best-selling records of the 2000s. Beyoncé’s duet with Shakira, “Beautiful Liar” , was another of his charts. She also co-wrote Shakira’s single “Gypsy”.

In 2009, the Londoner was picked as the left-wing pick to run Epic Records in Los Angeles, a division of Sony Music. Her time as president was a difficult experience, lasting less than two years. American record officials reacted badly to Limey’s talent being catapulted among them. She left in 2010 amid gossip accusations of unprofessional behavior, a corporate downfall almost as sudden as her rise.

“I’ve seen it all, done it all, got the T-shirt,” Ghost says of his picaresque life of hits and misses in the music industry. Her real last name was Gosein and is now Cameron: she kept her stage name Ghost after retiring from performing. She sits on a sofa in the top floor office of a converted townhouse in Marylebone, central London. A photo of her with Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks is among the photos on a fireplace. During her time as a singer-songwriter, Ghost’s raspy singing style earned her comparisons to Nicks.

Amanda Ghost as a singer and songwriter in 2006 © Getty Images

The office is the headquarters of her production company Unigram, which she started in 2010 with her television producer husband, Gregor Cameron. Their business partner is one of the most powerful figures in the music industry: Leonard Blavatnik, the Ukrainian-born billionaire who owns most of Warner Music Group.

Unigram operates in different branches of the entertainment industry. Her ethos is the opposite of the silo mentality Ghost says she encountered when she ran Epic Records in Los Angeles, where the various suits of film, TV, and music couldn’t talk to each other.

“You really aren’t allowed out of your box at these companies,” the 47-year-old says. “But I’ve always wanted to do more than just music. I believed we were going to enter a world where you weren’t in music or film or TV anymore, you were just in content. There’s a real void in the market for someone who can help bring these different formats together.

This was the flyer she presented to Blavatnik in order to enlist his support. Their meeting came after Ghost stayed at a luxury hotel he co-owns in Buenos Aires in 2011, which she visited at Shakira’s request while on tour for the Colombian star. Ghost explained to Blavatnik that she wanted to run a company that worked across different media, with music at its heart. “Go ahead, do it,” he told her.

Two women stand close to each other, smiling at the camera
Ghost with Shakira in New York in 2009 © Getty Images

“She impressed me as someone who has valuable business experience, creativity and a vision for the future of music and entertainment,” Blavatnik said via email. His Access Industries conglomerate provides the capital for Unigram’s productions, though Ghost insists he’s not just a money man.

“Len is truly a creative partner in the business. Maybe because he’s not in the weeds so much, he can really give an overview of what we’re doing. Because we have the luxury of working with someone who funds and is heavily involved in the creation, we just make something we think is brilliant. We don’t think, ‘How are we going to wrap them on Broadway on a Friday night?’

Their first major production was a 2015 film adaptation of John Niven’s novel kill your friends, a satire on the British music industry set during the Britpop boom of the 1990s that failed to ignite the box office. Unigram is named as a joke after the film’s fictional label, a cocaine-stuffed viper’s nest of back-slashers and cut-throats.

A scene from a movie shows a tall man standing in an audience at an event, watching intently
Nicholas Hoult in ‘Kill Your Friends’, the 2015 film produced by Ghost Company Unigram © Moviestore/Shutterstock

Current projects include Tetris, a feature film about Soviet creation of the 1980s video game that will be released on Apple TV this year. They are also producing a musical theatrical adaptation of Gatsby the magnificent is set to open in New York in 2024, co-composed by Florence Welch of Florence + the Machine.

Ghost originally floated the idea of gatsby to a reluctant Welch. “No, I don’t want to write musicals: I don’t like musicals,” was the answer. But Ghost persisted. “I don’t know anyone, Flo, who can tell a story with beautiful poetry like you can with lyrics,” she recalled telling the singer. A few months later, Welch called out of the blue to say she had written three songs for it.

“The unique thing about Unigram is my relationship with the musical artists I’ve worked with,” Ghost says. She prides herself on being a designer, not a suitor – although she found the music industry fascinating when she was a performer herself. “I was probably the only artist who read my recording contract,” she says.

She grew up in a working-class neighborhood in the outer Enfield district of London. His mother came to London from Gibraltar, while his father had moved from Trinidad. A driving instructor who also worked in construction, owned stores and founded a textile company, he instilled in Ghost and his two older sisters an entrepreneurial drive to succeed.

“My father always told me, you have to work twice as hard. Once because you are a woman, twice because you are brunette,” she said. A background of racism ruined his education. A neighbor posted National White Power Front posters, dog droppings were pushed through the mailbox, people spat at her on buses and told her to “go home”. She experienced “terrible institutionalized racism” at an almost all-white school.

A woman is sitting on the stairs looking at the camera
Amanda Ghost, photographed for the FT by Harry Mitchell

“Only people who look like me and grew up where I grew up will understand that,” she says. “For me, the idea of ​​success has always been to get away from where I came from, to have enough money that I didn’t have to worry about food or where I had to live.”

His successful second act as a hitmaker for Blunt, Beyoncé, and Shakira led to the presidency of Epic Records. The label’s market share grew under his leadership, but his surprise appointment caused controversy. After her 2010 release, a hostile profile in The Hollywood Reporter portrayed her as a marijuana-smoking livewire with “a penchant for profanity and a reputation for unpredictable, sometimes violent outbursts” — all of which Ghost flatly denies.

“I’m so sick of seeing women being labeled aggressive, bossy, dominating and abrasive, and men who have the same qualities being promoted to CEOs of music divisions around the world. I’ve had enough and I want that to change” , she says.

She recently heard of a male record executive complaining, “I can’t stand Amanda Ghost, she’s so aggressive.” “And I’m like, yeah, but if I was a man, you’d give me a raise. Being aggressive is about standing up for yourself and not lying on the floor and letting someone punch you in the face. Especially if you are a brunette woman.

The artist-turned-executive is held back by these schisms, which are even deeper than that between talent and costumes. “Success for me is being able to be artistically pure in my endeavors,” she says. “As long as I keep doing this, I will never fail.”

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