Podcast: From retail to record label

The Disability Download

When Grace Capaldi realised that mainstream employment wasn’t for her, she came up with a radical solution: to run a record label full time and found a recording studio. Here she tells us about that journey to being her own boss, and why the unusual schedules of the music world suit her so well.


Grace Capaldi: Being disabled, I need time in the mornings to like get into a routine and get up and about and things and it was flexible hours, but sometimes I wouldn't end up getting there till about 3:00 in the afternoon. It's like this is actually ridiculous. Like I can't function like this. Me and my husband we just sat down and we're like sure we should start our own business and couple of wines later, we were like right! Recording label and studio! Done!

Erin O’Reilly: Hello and welcome to the Disability Download. The Disability Download is brought to you by pan-disability charity Leonard Cheshire. I’m Erin O’Reilly, and on this podcast we respond to current topics, share stories, and open up conversations about disability.

Hi everyone and thanks so much for tuning in to another episode. This episode we're chatting to Grace Capaldi. After becoming tetraplegic and meeting barriers in the world of work, Grace Capaldi decided on a radical new route and changed jobs to help run an indie record label, Grinning Dog Records, with her musician husband and together, they also co-founded a recording studio. Grace tells us all about her journey through the working world with the disability and what life is like as an entrepreneur who made a big career change - all in lockdown.

So let's go over to Sam and Grace.

Sam Buckley: Grace Capaldi, thank you very much for joining us on the Disability Download! It's great to have you here.

Grace: It's lovely to be here.

Sam: Have you been keeping at this strange time? We're sort of starting to open up again now.

Grace: Yeah, it kind of. I think the weather's really had a lovely impact with that and all the restrictions lifting. It's kind of a nice feeling – everyone’s got a nice or about them and everyone seems very happy and It's been good to have, you know, it's a nice kind of relief after such a challenging year, so hopefully we're coming to the other side.

Sam: Absolutely. So Grace, what I really wanted to hear about, and you may want to correct me on this, but as far as I know, your journey was that you started to find mainstream employment quite inaccessible, just because employers didn't make adjustments -  they weren't willing to make those accommodations. You worked in retail.

Grace: Yes, yeah.

Sam: So you made the decision to found your own record label, which is really exciting. Tell me a little about what that journey was for you from start to finish.

Grace: So I used to work in retail - I think it must have been about six years. And then whilst I was working in retail I had my accident and became disabled, and it was about probably 5 months in hospital and then the rehab and stuff. So I was out of work anyway for about a year. I mean when we looked at me starting to come back, they did look at all avenues and it just wasn't going to be feasible, just because with retail you do like money handling, and when I become tetraplegic it just wasn't anything that I could still do.

Till heights and store space meant that it was very restrictive for a wheelchair to be and maneuver throughout all the different aisles and things. So I made the decision to not go back into retail, and then I ended up working in admin and doctors surgery…so yes, the basics of getting obviously into doctors. Obviously for patients and staff it's accessible, but the back work? I had to always knock on a door for someone to come do the keypad for me, to let me through and I felt myself to be an inconvenience.

You know they didn't make me feel like this, but I myself felt like I was being an inconvenience, just 'cause it meant they had to stop work and come on through, and if they didn't hear me knocking, it was always a bit like awkward and embarrassing. And I couldn't access the kitchen very well, so it was whenever anyone was doing coffees and teas, for example, I relied on them. They were really lovely and asked like when they were doing it, but you know that when you really want to drink, and it’s like they aren’t going to be doing it for another hour or something? I can't do it myself and things like that, so it wasn't the best.

We did try things. Access to Work strangely didn't come through with anything. They contacted them to help me get into the surgery itself, 'cause I needed an automatic door. And they weren't willing to provide that 'cause they didn't feel like it's enough of a need.

No, I thought, if this isn't enough of a need, just 'cause it was one person that needed it then I thought surely it would benefit everyone. Like, it would benefit patients, both them and other staff members themselves. But it just wasn’t something they [Access to Work] were going to pull through with, which really surprised me. 

And I thought…actually, this isn't going to work for me. And being disabled, I need time in the mornings to like get into a routine and get up and about and things and it was flexible hours, but sometimes I wouldn't end up getting there till about 3:00 in the afternoon.

It's like this is actually ridiculous. I can't function like this. So yeah, I kind of just bit the bullet and sat down, like me and my husband, we just sat down and we're like, sure we should start our own business! And it couple of wines later, we were like: right, recording label and studio! Done!

Sam: So, why a record label? How did that idea come?

Grace: So that was from my husband, so he's a musician himself, so he's been in the industry for Years now and he's always wanted to a new recording studio and be on the other side of the desk. So we're like, you know we're in the position where we could actually make this happen. I wanted to do my own business just 'cause I figured it would be easier for myself to do it like being in charge myself, rather than having to someone else being in charge of me. You know, reporting to someone else - I thought, that's not working, I've found that out, so I'll do it myself now. And yeah, it just kind of escalated from there!

Sam: That is really cool. So what you're saying is that when you were working, It's like the good intentions were there among managers and things, but almost inadvertently they made you feel kind of like the odd one out.

Grace: Yeah, it did feel a little bit like that - an inconvenience thing. I mean, yeah, that their intentions were lovely and they never ever set out to make me feel like that. I think it's just myself with self confidence as well, like I always feel like I'm in the way or burden or something. So I was like, well, that might be reflecting on to my feelings of like having to knocking on the door [to her workplace] and wait, but it was just it just seemed like another thing that just wasn't gonna work out, and it was kind of like this not like the biggest thing or everything, but it was like two different sies.

So you had to… on one of the sites it was flat, and it was quite easy to get into the building, but on the other site you had to go up quite a steep ramp. And I really struggled with my like work bag and my chair, especially when it was raining, to push up this ramp 'cause it was very very steep and even the staff members that were there said this is a ridiculously steep ramp for anyone, like even like you could see the patients with buggies lke pushing up there and really struggling. And for me to do it myself, It was quite hard and then there wasn't an automatic door either, so it was like this needs to be changed.

Sam: I have seen some buildings that are technically accessible, but have got these sort of concrete ramps that are about a 45 degree angle, and that's like…how? How does anyone use those?

Grace: I know! I love it. They say that it's all accessible and stuff and it can be like you have it with toilets and things, they'll say it's accessible and then you’ve got like the bin the other side of the door and you just can't get in. There's no turning circle. 
There needs to be more awareness I think, that these are the struggles that people do face and it needs to be picked up on, and that everyone you know – the helping hand needs to happen basically.

Sam: But now you have it complete control of your own routine and how did you find like that balance that works for you? What was the routine that kind of really jelled?

Grace: So I think it was because my cell phone with my disability like it can take ages to do the simplest of things, like making a cup of tea and literally take me hours. I do also get distracted by social media. Hah! Just like standard jobs as well! That also doesn't help, but like like putting on shoes and stuff and things like that it will take time and where before if there was like a meeting or something, I have to be there at like 10:00 AM. It was like that's very, um…I’d have to get up at half-five. And I know a lot of people who do that. A lot of my friends they do a full working day, they get up at 5:30 in order to get to the office for nine, then do this nine to five and then get home and probably don't get to bed until like 11. And then it all starts again. And it's a very hard way to live when you're constantly having to do that.

Sam: Because really you’re just doing that, just have the same kind of day as everyone else. No one is going to know that. No one going to know why you're so tired because… I mean anyone would get tired under a regime like that.

Grace: Exactly, yeah, you don't. I'd love to just wake up looking fabulous and ready for the day, but no one does and it does take a lot longer! I think there's some people do have a very long routine in the mornings and it's not obvious because they do just walk into work and look absolutely great and people will. Just like assume that it's just taken…well, I think it used to take about half an hour sometimes to get ready for work. And now it could literally take at a minimum of an hour and a half to two hours, and sometimes it's taken four hours.

And if it was a day where there was something important scheduled and work wanted me in definitely for like a 9:00 AM start or something, I would never know how long it would take! It's not like a set time it takes for me to get ready, in order to make allowances to be an office, do the drive, transfer in and out of the car… it would be looking like a probable 5:00 AM start with no exaggeration. That is just if I had to be somewhere, dead on nine, like in order to do the transferring, the drive in, the morning routine.

It can take that long. But that's not obvious to employers unless they know, and I think that's something that that was definitely a drive for me to become self-employed, because then I come back to my own routine. I don't have to start early. I can start later on in the day and I can finish later in the day and it's absolutely fine. I can get my hours in, I can do it to whatever suits me and I can work from home. So I haven't got to waste time transferring and getting the wheelchair and getting the wheelchair out, especially when it's raining, like it feels like when you get to the other end, all the effort that you've done and all those hours you put in to get ready, it rains through there and it's just ruined anyway.

Sam: Gosh, I can imagine. Did you ever feel able to talk to your managers about this and sort of say this is what me getting to work looks like?

Grace: No, I never did,  and that is on me as well. Where I worked was quite local to where I grew up, and I just I think I still had that barrier. Obviously you'd get employer discretion. But it's still just felt like 'cause my manager then knew my family and stuff and it was just  like I, you know, I don't really want to say those things, 'cause then in a way it they might look at my family differently. People do still do that thing where if you've got a family member that's disabled, you get the sympathy eyes?

Sam: Yeah, yeah.

Grace: You know?

Sam: Very true. 

Grace: I didn't want to impose that on…well, not impose it, on my family, but I didn’t want to change how they were looked upon if I was to say something. And not that, again, Not that I think it would, but I think that's something within me that was just always in back my of mind, I thought it shouldn't affect other people's lives. It was something that I just found it could never really bring up with my retail job and previous employment.

It was very much brought up just because they've known me before and they were trying to get me back into work after. So, and we had a brilliant relationship and they kept seeing me at my worst, they would to come to visit me in hospital weeks after it all happened and stuff and they've been there and they've seen me. So that was a different conversation, and because they'd been to hospital and had these talks, they could talk to my doctors.

They could talk to the teams around me. They could talk to my family without me directly having to say anything so they could see what it would take. But yeah, no I, I never did, erm, did touch upon that, talking to my employer, but I don't know whether there could be like training sessions or I don't know, for employers to maybe bridge that gap, and to have that in place so they would know exactly what it takes. I just feel that there is a there is something missing. There’s a part missing now that does need to be addressed. 

Sam: Yeah, 'cause it it's not so much that there's ever bad intentions. It's more just that people haven't been given everything they need to fully adapt the way they work.

Grace: Exactly, yeah, yeah. I think training in workplaces does needs to be something that comes through stronger. I know you do get get disability workshops, but it's not…it doesn't address everything. I mean it's good, the things they discuss. I think from what I’ve heard, they discuss like access and things that people might need, but it doesn't discuss like personal needs.

Sam: Would you have something you'd say to a hiring manager or personnel manager at a business? What would you kind of say to them? What would be the biggest bit of advice you'd give them in terms of accommodating disabled employees?

Grace: I think I'd say have that air of understanding, but don't let it deter you. Don't let it put you off employing anyone. I mean, we’re all intelligent, we’re all smart, we’re all human. But have that air of understanding as well, and just be a bit flexible and accommodating and realistic. You know, I suppose imagine it was the other way round and you were in that situation, how you'd want to be treated, what you expect out of a workplace. And you know, try and flip that coin and be accommodating. 

And just check you know, reach out and ask if there's anything you can do to help. Don't just think because you know you, you've done the workshops that that will be the same for everyone. Everyone is different. Everyone disabilities mean different things to them. Just understand that not everyone is going to like sing from the same hymn sheet it's all variable, it's all flexible and we're all unique. So I think that would be the advice I'd give.

Sam: That's absolutely true. Yeah, everyone is different. Moving on, I'd like to talk a bit about the record label now! Tell me about the record label.

Grace: So the record label is Grinning Dog Records. It's something that Nick, my husband, started himself about four years ago, but just as publishing himself and putting himself. We never really envisioned it come into like fruition and becoming an actual business. But it just seemed a natural way to go because we live down in Dorset and there's so much musical talent down here and it's just not,  I mean, I suppose everywhere there's hidden musical talent and we just want to be a part and play a part in actually getting like the talent out there and for people to hear all the different fun things that people can do.

Because music is so fun and so versatile and we just feel it's important that everyone just explores that talent that they've got. And if we could help play a part in someone like realizing their dreams a little bit, and then you know, we would absolutely love to do that. And because we're building a recording studio as well, it just seemed natural to have a label attached to that. So yeah, it's kind of. It's a small little record label at the moment, with only three of us working for it, but it's really fun.

Sam: It sounds really cool. It sounds like kind of a dream job so...

Grace: Yeah, yeah.

Sam: What does it actually like day to day? I'm, I'm genuinely curious now!.

Grace: Hahaha! I'll give you an honest answer, it's crazy. It's a lot of fun, so it is a fun job to have so there nothing, like structured. You can go in thinking or today I've got to do this and this release is coming out today there’s a music video coming out today say, that can take you onto a whole stream of different avenues. So you start like with the social media and then you see that someone else is doing something that you can tag into so then you use like the hashtag for that and you actually look more into doing that like into what they do, and you think that's pretty relatable to what we do, we can network here and it just ends up…it snowballs so rapidly throughout a day, so that every day is different.

You can put a day aside to do something like pure social media, pure accounts, pure whatever. Something will always come up and just change and curveball that.
So for me that works great, 'cause I do not work to structure, haha! Like I need a bit of flexibility and variability in my life, so that is absolutely fantastic. I'd say if you're into like a more of a conservative kind of job, probably not the best thing, haha!

Sam: I appreciate working with artists and musicians as well, they kind of run to their own schedules!

Grace: Yeah, so yeah I've learned that a lot! Just through Nick actually, he can like literally be up all night mixing someone’s album and I'm like don't you just need to go to sleep? It's like 2:00 AM at this point, but he's like, no, no, I'd rather power on through! You artists have a total different schedule to everyone else!

(Both laugh)

Sam: How inclusive do you find music industry is I mean obviously you're an indie, you're going to be doing things slightly differently anyway, but is it an inclusive industry, would you say?

Grace: So I was actually quite surprised with doing this line of work. It was totally new to me, so I've joined up to loads of like webinars and stuff, trying to have a grasp on what it is and actually there was a webinar the other day which I was really upset about that I couldn't attend because it was a webinar on disabled women in music and I was like this is really good and it was sort of like a main, uh, a big company that liaises with like Universal and Warner and stuff, and it was something that they'd put on.

So I was like this is very inclusive and I think the music business is starting to break out a bit and become more inclusive. And so I think the boundaries that are being faced at the moment, I’ve found are physical boundaries, so it wasn't so much that the boundaries were that people couldn't write their music and stuff it was having then somewhere to record it and to get it out, and to have that like the bridge to get into the industry in the first place. I think that was what was the main struggle, but it looks like that's all changing now, which is brilliant.

Sam: No, it's interesting - a couple of months ago we had someone on the Disability Downloads who was a musician, and she talked about sort of back in the 2000s and 2010s, she could sometimes be the only disabled woman…well, the only woman and the only person with a disability on an entire bill at a festival, for example.

Grace: Yeah, yeah, I understand where she's coming from. Like I think back in the day like I'm just done chats with people like you said it was the early 2000s and the 90s and it was a very male orientated industry, but I think it's like, it's these podcasts and things that are popping up and see and I think it is starting to change. And interestingly, there was something I saw. Again, it happened during lockdown, but there was…I can’t remember his name, but he is a disabled musician in Somerset and he has done a lot of work in the industry as a session musician, I believe, from what I’ve read, and he's like done recording with like major rappers and stuff at Boomtown Festival and stuff, and he's been there, I think it's like 7 years in a row and he's always done Boomtown. Now he's opened his own studio in Somerset, so I think it is gonna be like a mass push in getting disability and artists and everyone out there, I hope. 

Sam: And I notice sales are starting to rise as well, like the story for years was like, oh, CD sales have tanked, downloads are taking over, but now vinyl’s making a comeback, which personally I'm really happy about.

Grace: I'm glad you say that.

Sam: Oh no, I'm a bit of a hipster when it comes to vinyl, but I always have been! I did it before it was cool. Oh yeah, I think it's gonna be really nice.
You're going to see the record labels just bringing completely different things to what we have seen before. I’m sure you've got to get back to running your record label, and in just a few minutes, so I'll finish with a question which is what advice would you give to yourself in February 2020? As you got ready to go down this route based on what you've learned?

Grace: I think I would say be patient. I'm very much, if I see something happen and I want things to happen like straight away and I'm it, this doesn't work like that. I'd had no experience in February 2020, and I think I just expected it all to just fall into place. 'cause it's just like my whole mantra, kind of thing, but yeah, I think I'd say be patient, and yeah, allow you know, don't be hard yourself when mistakes happen, it's always going to happen, but if you put the hard work in and you put the time in, it will rectify and actually things will be OK in the end. It’s not the be all and end all!

Sam: I think that's advice for life, absolutely. Grace, thank you so much for joining us on the Disability Download. It’s great to hear from you. 

Grace: Thank you very much for having me. It's been a pleasure.

Erin: Huge thanks to Grace for coming on the podcast and sharing her story with Sam, it was really interesting here about her journey and just getting a glimpse into what it's like at a record label in a recording studio as well, if you want to know more about the label, I want to check it out. You can look it up on Twitter, that's @_GDRecords, or you can find it on Instagram, Facebook and YouTube just by searching Grinning Dog Records. But I will pop the links to all of those in the show notes on our simplecast website as well, so you can look them up on there.

As always, We want to know what you think of the episode. If you've got any guests, you'd really like us to interview any topics you'd like us to cover, so please do email us at disability download at leonardcheshire.org or get in touch with us on Instagram or Twitter at Leonard Cheshire. And please remember to like, share and subscribe to the podcast.

Thanks so much for tuning in everyone. Stay safe, and until next time I'm Erin and this has been the Disability Download!