Tiffany Calver: “If I can advise you to do one thing, it’s fail”

Tiffany Calver has shared her advice to aspiring music industry creatives, encouraging them to “fail as much as you can.”

READ MORE: Tiffany Calver: “The watering pool of talent for UK rap is insane right now”

Speaking on a panel in celebration of International Women’s Month, the UK rap trailblazer collaborated with Sondr to host a talk with fellow DJs and UK club titans Bossy LDN founder Izzy Bossy and Hannah Lynch of Girls Can’t Sync. The event was held at east London creative hotspot BeauBeaus and was part of the Telford native’s Tiffany Calver & Friends series – in which she highlights her talented peers.

Calver spoke about her humble beginnings in the north of England where she “started a music blog because there weren’t really any opportunities” and thought she “could use it [as leverage].” She further revealed how she got to work for the late UK rap visionary Jamal Edwards and vlogged for his seminal music blog SBTV – which she said was her “foot into the industry.”

READ MORE: RIP Jamal Edwards, an inspiration who turned SB.TV into a Black British cultural dynasty

She told the audience that the internet has made it so “there is so much at your fingertips” that can give you a fighting chance to succeed no matter where you’re from. “You have the opportunity to really self-promote yourself,” she said, “really put yourself out there.”

(From left to right) Tiffany Calver, Hannah Lynch and Izzy Bossy at Tiffany Calver & Friends International Women’s Day panel talk. Photo credit: FilmsByEks/Press

There was always a need for Calver to “find [her] own tribe,” and she did eventually in London. Speaking to the panel, she reiterated the importance of community: “Don’t look too high, sometimes look forward, look around you, look at what the people around you are building. Genuinely, those are the relationships that will keep you going, the people championing you now will take you higher and further, they’re just as important.”

Calver eventually learned to DJ on the Virtual DJ app and then had various radio shows on NTS, KISS FM and the controversial Radar. She also put on her events at the London nightclub Birthdays where she flew in international DJs with her retail salary and had the likes of Little Simz freestyle there. “I used to get all these people down to London with my little Topshop money and let them sleep on the floor of my dad’s flat,” she revealed.

All the exposure led to her being handpicked to be the face of BBC Radio 1Xtra’s Rap Show in 2017, becoming the first female presenter to host the show. Calver said the opportunity came from a random X/Twitter DM.

Speaking about when she took on the role, she told the crowd that she felt pressure to excel. “The hosts before were [Tim Westwood] and Charlie Sloth,” she said. “They were just two guys with massive egos and there is that thing, especially in rap, of that bravado you have to put on and I’m some neeky girl.

“I just loved music. It was nerve-racking to go in with that pressure and take over from [Sloth].”

Tiffany Calver & Friends International Women’s Day panel talk. Photo credit: FilmsByEks/Press

But she decided “not to create a persona or a character or have this bravado” and sought advice from Annie Mac and Clara Amfo, who both present primetime shows on the BBC. “In terms of me, there wasn’t really a woman to look at in the hip-hop space here that embodied that show,” Calver said. “It was great I had women to speak to who had already started in the career I wanted to get into.”

Her hustle led to her becoming Drake‘s resident DJ for the UK leg of his 2019 ‘Assassination Vacation’ tour and the first female to curate a mix for Drake’s OVO Sound radio show.

Explaining how she met the Canadian rapper, she revealed: “I was DJing in Toronto for a friend’s birthday party and lo and behold Drake was there. I just have to say, I had been DJing for hours. No one else wanted to DJ and then, all of a sudden, everyone’s trying to jump on the decks. I then looked up and I saw Drake and Oliver El-Khatib from OVO were there and I was like, ‘Absolutely not!’”

Despite working with one of the biggest rappers in the world, Calver explained how she still suffers from imposter syndrome.

“That is something that you have to work [on] every day,” she said. “It’s something you just have to learn to manage [because] it isn’t [not] easy to go away. It’s just part of being a human and being a creative. You’ll always be your biggest critic. You’ll always be the one that’s analysing every little thing you do or is second-guessing yourself.”

However, she said that she uses this to “fuel” and “challenge” herself. “All these things I’ve done? I’ve even got to gas myself up about it and be like, ‘I called J Hus when he was in jail and got him to come out [at one of Drake’s London concerts in April 2019] and got a trim and got him on stage’,” she said. “I am sick, but you don’t see it because you’re just trying to get to the next thing.”

Calver also revealed that it was OK to accept defeat at times – and learn lessons from it.

“If I can advise you to do one thing, it’s fail,” she admitted. “There [are] so many ways I’ve failed. My old radio shows are on Mixcloud and if I could hide them I would, they’re awful.”

She continued: “I’m a perfectionist and wanted everything to be perfect before releasing it, but there came a point where I had to learn on the spot and put my work out there and it changed my life. I’ve always learned so many incredible lessons from it, and I’ve always come back stronger. So, fail as much as you can.”

One audience member questioned whether being in their late 20s was “too late” to get into the creative industry, which Calver and the rest of the panel swiftly denied.

Calver said: “If I had to choose, [I prefer] being 29 and having all of this experience and this knowledge and wisdom. I was so naive when I was younger I didn’t know what the hell I was doing and I’m so excited to go into my 30s and just venture out into different things.

“At 28, I changed my entire career path and I [have] a fruitful career in specifically rap and I wanted to offer more than that – it wasn’t too late for me. I realised you have to do you. As long as I’m alive and breathing – and I [had] a lot of realisations of that over the past couple years too and had a lot of people I knew pass away – there is always a chance to start again and try.”

Calver has since left the 1Xtra Rap Show to host her eponymous slot on Friday nights. In addition, she is scheduled to DJ at the upcoming No Request club event in April (which she curates), as well as at this year’s Wireless Festival in July

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