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Meet Laura Burhenn of Our Secret Handshake in East LA

Today we’d like to introduce you to Laura Burhenn.

Laura, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Our Secret Handshake was founded in 2018 by myself and Jade Nazareth as an outlet for a new, more collaborative, healthy/feminine (e.g., decidedly not toxic/masculine) way of working in the music industry. I’d spent over a decade as a musician — putting out records and touring with my own band, the Mynabirds, as well as with the Postal Service & Bright Eyes.

Jade had worked with top management clients like FKA twigs, Arcade Fire & Paul McCartney. We were both proud of the work had done, but wanted to lean into something that felt more authentic to who we are — women who care deeply about amplifying under-heard voices and under-told stories, who want to help others develop their careers (or even take new turns from long and deeply successful careers), and who want to help advance the work of other women and non-binary folks, especially. I, for one, felt like I wanted to cultivate the thing for myself I wanted to help cultivate for others. So we developed a “collective” model, and we work with a stable of collaborators on various projects from video production to talent management. We’ve tried to allow Our Secret Handshake as a company live and breathe on its own, and in the past two years, we’ve watched it grow and change. It was especially good to have a flexible vision of what OSH was when the pandemic hit.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Nothing’s ever smooth, is it!? I mean, I feel like the thing that’s served us both the most is to pay attention to roadblocks and stuff that hasn’t felt good in our guts — we do a lot of intuitive business visioning. There were some projects we took on early on that were clear indications of what we didn’t want to do any more of. Those moments were good Rorschach tests, even if they did result in us crying over tea or whiskey in the kitchen, we were also sharing as roommates at the time we started OSH.

As other projects naturally grew, we just followed the good energy. What you focus on grows. I’ve learned over time to go where it’s easy, where you’re having fun, and with people who want you there with them. That kind of philosophy serves you well in business, friendships, and pretty much every area of life.

I think one of the hardest things about starting a business (especially when you’re doing it on your own without any outside capital) is figuring out how to structure your income. How do you make sure to pay yourself and your collaborators what you all deserve when you’re just starting out? How much money do you reinvest back in the company to help it grow? I have two rules of business:

1) Pay your people first.
2) Remember: You are your people.

As women, particularly women in the music industry, we’re taught to “pay your dues” or to “do it for your reel” or your discography or whatever. I want to help eliminate those bullshit ideologies from the workplace forever. Mentoring is super important to me. But I 100% don’t believe in unpaid internships.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Our Secret Handshake story. Tell us more about the business.
We have two main lines of business: production & talent management. I head up production and Jade handles talent management.

As a musician who’s made a lot of music videos, I’ve loved being on the other side of the camera, helping artists realize their visions and stay true to their authentic selves. I’ve had some nice successes (i.e., Julia Michaels & JP Saxe’s “If The World Was Ending” directed by Jason Lester just hit 100 million views), and loved working with friends on Super 8, 16mm and DV (i.e., David Bazan & Vivian Girls). But I’m most proud of the moments art has intersected with activism.

The recent live-for-Colbert performance of IDK’s “No Cable” is one of my favorites. He took his time performing on TV to draw attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, and I was incredibly proud to help him do it, especially with director Tina Vaden at the helm.

I also loved producing the first full-length exercise video for Pony Sweat, a “fiercely non-competitive” punk rock dance aerobics class led by LGBTQ folks for “every body”. That was the first thing I ever produced, and my teenage punk heart was real happy to help build body-positive community through that.

Jade helped produced WUTI’s inaugural first-year festival and managed some incredible talent, including Candace Reels and her platform Female Collective.

Art can change the world. I fully believe that.

Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
I don’t believe in luck exactly. But I do believe in the power of being around the right people. When you’re with your people, all the doors of the universe fling wide open.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:

Our Secret Handshake logo by Heather Prandini. TV copyright Candace Reels/Female Collective (and available via her merch capsule). Other images from various videos we’ve produced.

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