From USF to Hollywood, Hot Topic's Stella Mowen is really cooking
The choice: You can embrace your poli sci degree, go to law school and become an productive and upstanding member of society ... or you can head to L.A. and work with record labels and rock stars all day.
For Stella Mowen, the decision was easy. But it might not have been, if not for her four-year stay in Tampa.
“I always joke that I grew up in Chicago, but I found myself in Tampa,” Mowen, 29, said by phone from Los Angeles.
A 2004 graduate of the University of South Florida, Mowen is label relations manager for Hot Topic and ShockHound.com, Hot Topic’s online music store and network for unsigned bands. She’s even got her own Web series, Stella Can’t Cook, which features artists like Cobra Starship, Dimmu Borgir, Saosin, The Almost and Jeffree Star, above, teaching her to make their favorite recipes.
Talk about climbing the corporate ladder — Mowen’s come a long way from her college days, when she got her start working at the Hot Topic in University Mall.
But first: How did a Chicago girl like Mowen discover USF in the first place?
“Everyone from the midwest thinks Florida is the hotspot to go for vacation — Orlando and the Gulf Coast,” she said. “I applied for all different schools in Florida, and took a road trip with my mom to all of them. I loved how USF looked, all tropical — it was very exotic, coming from the midwest.”
She was into loud music when she arrived in Tampa, but quickly discovered more hardcore punk hangouts like the Orpheum and the defunct 403 Chaos, where she saw artists like Dashboard Confessional and Refused. Hot Topic was a place where hardcore fans fit in, which for Mowen, seemed like a good thing.
Back then, Hot Topic stores weren’t as prevalent around the country as they are today, so Mowen had plenty of opportunity to rise through the ranks. “Running a Hot Topic is essentially running a small business, and you can really prove yourself,” she said. “At times, you have up to 50 people working under you.”
At the time, it didn’t seem like a long-term career option. Mowen was a political science major who wanted to go to law school to become a judge — which she did, at John Marshall Law School in Chicago. But at law school, she found herself drawn back to the music lifestyle. She began focusing on intellectual property law and got an internship at Victory Records, a hardcore label in Chicago.
Late in law school, Mowen sat down and talked about her career with her mother — who, at the time, was dying of breast cancer. “We talked a lot about life, and why we do what we do, and would I be comfortable being an attorney and working that many hours,” she said. “In entertainment law it would have taken 10 or 12 years to be in the position I wanted to be, or to have my own entertainment firm.”
After her mother’s death, Mowen applied for a job in the music biz, and Hot Topic — where some of her former superiors still worked in a corporate capacity — asked her to come back and run their L.A. stores. She spent a year working on ShockHound prior to that site’s launch in 2008, and has been heavily involved with it ever since.
In her current role, she helps negotiate digital licensing with record labels — if you buy music at ShockHound.com, or if you’re able next year to download music while you’re in a Hot Topic store, that’s Mowen at work. But she also works in artist relations, such as when big-name artists record shows for Hot Topic or ShockHound. “When I was growing up, record stores were the place to go to see bands play and to discover new music,” she said. “Now, since those really don’t exist in the same environment, people are coming to our stores for that, and that’s really exciting.”
Mowen still returns to Tampa about once a year to meet up with old friends, and she still has kind words for the local scene. “I feel like the music scene back then was really when I fell in love with the music world,” she said.
-- Jay Cridlin, tbt*