Alka Makwana talks to the former head of MTV Base Production
JASMINE Dotiwala is the former head of MTV Base production. Growing up in Southall along with music artists like Jay Sean, Jasmine has worked her way up into the media industry contributing to various publications and been involved in numerous music specials for MTV, Sky and Channel 4. As a showbiz reporter, radio host on Choice FM, regular BBC Radio talking head and close friend of Mariah Carey, Alka Makwana speaks to Jasmine about her 12 year career and what it takes to succeed in the media industry.
What inspired you to start a career in television and journalism?
I fell into it by accident. I did quite well at school and loved all the performing arts. I took up a degree in Theatre, Media and Dance and then applied for thousands of runner internships.
Planet 24 a TV production company who did the Big Breakfast at the time, accepted my offer called me in to be a runner for 6 months. At the company I raced around on 24 hour shifts happily making teas, buying lunches, assembling props, researching and then I stood in for an absent auditionee when the presenter role for The Word came up.
How hard was it for you to break into the industry?
I think if you persevere, are professional and work hard in everything you do, opportunities will naturally come your way although I think I was slightly lucky!
In every corporate company there is a diversity quota. When the role for ‘The Word’ came up, I know that Channel 4 must have been actively looking for an Asian female presenter because the other girls that were in the final audition with were also Asian females, so it was obvious. Whether there was a diversity clause or them thinking that it would be good for Asian female to be represented, I don’t know, but I was very grateful to obtain the job.
When did you join the MTV network?
I joined the MTV Network 12 years ago in 1997. I presented for MTV News which logically led into my interest in music. Bizarrely, as a child I had no interest in pop music at all, I wanted to be a ballet dancer!
What has been the biggest challenge for you during your tenure at the network?
I think what I find the most difficult at the company is the politics and the fact that you have to go through numerous people to get a project signed off.
You have to do a lot of convincing and selling, as working in the urban culture industry, a lot of other people may not understand it and so you have to persuade them to support the project. You also have to be resilient, keep motivated and cannot throw a tantrum every time your boss does not accept an idea. You must go back, improve it and present it again until they finally accept.
You can get a lot of knockbacks in this industry and the key is to not let it break you down, it’s a challenge. The thing I’ve learnt is to have perseverance and that is what you need to succeed.
What have been the highlights of your career so far?
There have been so many amazing opportunities. MTV is a company where if you work hard, are dedicated and pull out some extra content from artists and talent that other people cannot, you can go really far.
Opening the door for new talents and to watch them succeed by entering the Official Top 10 is definitely one of my proudest achievements.
Introducing urban comedy to MTV Base, something that they hadn’t explored before and bringing and new presenters to the channel is also a great achievement.
Having an artist approach you or write to you to tell you that you did a great interview with them, or that a special show you made about them was brilliant, and that they were mesmerised by the show I made is always fabulous. I have worked with U2, Robbie Williams and Jay Z and to have those major artists praise you is an achievement in itself.
How do you think MTV Base has changed?
I think before my time at MTV Base, people always associated the channel with American music and barely dressed females starring in videos. However, joining with other channels such as Radio1Xtra and Choice FM, we have tried to break the stereotype by showcasing new UK talent. This is a real accomplishment as Urban UK music is now being respected and recognized in the music industry.
MTV Base remains one of the most watched music channels in the UK, what do you think the reason behind its success is?
It has learnt to move with the times and has always kept high quality control on what it televises. MTV Base works very well in the industry as it is uniting with the other music channels (radio or TV) to emphasize great UK talent.
How different is the media industry today compared with when you started?
It has changed immensely, when I started it was very much who you know all in very elite circles and about contacts and now it literally is open to the world. If you have any sense of passion and talent in what you do, this is definitely the time to make it happen.
In your opinion, what kind of skills do you need to do stand out in the industry?
As well as having talent I think you need to be very professional and responsible in everything you do. I have seen many people come and go in the industry and the ones that last are the people who are determined, hardworking and passionate.
What do you think of Jay Sean’s recent success in the music industry?
The Jay Sean story is completely unbelievable. We both grew up in Southall and I remember him in a rap trio called Compulsive Disorder before he decided to go solo. When I heard that he went to number one in the US charts I was in complete shock. He was at MTV Base filming a segment at the time where he got the phone call and his face just lit up. I went hysterical for him because this is a an Asian guy making it to Number One in the American charts which I don’t think has happened for a long time. I am incredibly proud of him.
What advice would you give to youngsters who want to break into the music industry?
There are lots of ways in because it’s a new age. During low times like recession when record labels are not really in control, you are in control, so use the internet. As well as being talented and making a great record do lots of shows underground, you have to get people buzzing about you and your music.
All the major artists have had a background whether it be trying out for several auditions or performing at festivals, clubs, bars. In everything that you want to become in life you have to work for it in order for it to be a success.
What key lessons have you learnt in developing your career?
Always be well prepared in everything you do, whether that is interviewing an artist, getting an edit ready, pitching an idea to your boss, if you are not fully equipped with all the facts and the figures for the task in hand, it is the quickest way for not getting your project to happen.
You are very good friends with Mariah Carey, how did you meet?
We met at work, my boss couldn’t do the interview and I got flown to Italy to do it. In the back of my mind I am thinking she is going to be a diva, but to my amazement, we had a similar sense of humour, exchanged numbers and just clicked as friends.
Mariah is known for doing extravagant things. Have you ever had a moment where you were amazed by the situation that you were in and had to pinch yourself?
Every moment of her life out in public is extravagant.
She is a legend thinking about how much she has sold, how long she has been around, still to be this popular and to look this great, is mad.
I have so many memories, watching Mariah on the Grammy Awards, when she was singing with Pavarotti and many other events, I’m just thinking to myself, ‘Wow, that’s my mate!’ It can all be very strange.
One of my most surreal experiences when I first met her was when we were on the top deck of her yacht and she was playing her new album at the time, she would sing parts of it to me, singing and looking at me. I’m thinking “Mariah is singing to me! This is the most weird, amazing moment.” There have been lots of moments like that but this is a particular one that stands out.
How do you plan to develop your career? What is next for you?
I have been offered a lot of opportunities in the past and haven’t taken them as I was happy with MTV, but what I have come to think of is that if I don’t take these opportunities, they may never come back and I may regret it.
A couple of the opportunities that have come are just too big to say no to. I think I may have hit the glass ceiling at MTV and so this is my time to branch out.
My first Channel 4 project is funnily enough an off the wall documentary on Mariah Carey and I will also be doing lots more music projects like that with Channel 4 and the BBC.
I would also really like to continue opening doors for new talent as I feel that is a huge achievement for myself.
Are you going to continue working in the music industry?
Because of my surroundings, music is always going to be a part of my life, 10 years at MTV were at MTV International so I may go back and try other things out, but my interest will always be music, its where my expertise lies.
Interview by Alka Makwana