Erica Ehm — Canadian writer, actor, songwriter, entrepreneur and TV host

Erica Ehm shot to fame as one of MuchMusic’s pioneering VJs, interviewing the world’s best-known musical artists. But Erica’s career has been about so much more than that. She launched a record label and a hugely influential mommy blog. She’s a songwriter, playwright, author, and successful entrepreneur, and she has won awards all along the way. Now, she’s got a new children’s multi-platform digital series on the go called Outta The Books. In this interview, she chats with Jen and Catherine about her incredibly diverse career and motherhood and even reveals that despite her public persona, she’s an introvert at heart.

Erica Ehm

Saying “yes” to opportunities

Jennifer Stewart: You’ve got a new project on the go called Outta The Box. Can you tell us about that?

Erica Ehm: This was a gift from heaven, where I got an email from someone in L.A. asking me to collaborate on a play. His name is Brian Banks. He’s an amazing composer and songwriter. He’d written about 18 songs, each representing a fairy tale and he was looking for somebody to write a jukebox musical — someone who could take all the songs, find a premise for a show, and build characters around it. We worked on it together and came up with a show called Outta The Books. 

The problem was the play he wanted to create was supposed to launch in Scotland in Edinburgh at the Theatre Fringe Festival, and then stupid COVID hit so our dreams exploded but rather than cry in our beer, we decided to pivot and turned it into a musical YouTube series for families. We cast actors from both the U.K. and from the U.S. because now, suddenly, the show was virtual. We directed the show on Zoom and each character shot their scenes in their homes against a green screen. And then, through the magic of post-production, we edited the show together. It is really magical. It turned out way better than we thought. It’s a great example of how pivoting and being innovative can make something traditional into something really special.

Catherine Clark: How did you get into this line of work?

Erica Ehm: It happened about 17 years ago when I was working as the editor of What’s Up Kids magazine, and I was sent to interview the person who ran Tanglewood Productions. This company did the soft-seater shows for Caillou and Big Comfy Couch. I was really excited to interview them because I’m a huge musical theatre fan. And my son Josh, at the time, loved both of those shows. So when I went and interviewed this producer, I knew everything about Caillou because I had to sit and watch hours of it with Josh. And at the end of the interview for this article that I was writing for this magazine, he said, “Do you want to write the show?” And you know, the number one rule as a creative entrepreneur is always to say yes and worry about how later. So, of course I said yes. I’d never written a show like that before but it was really a spectacular experience.

If you just keep on doing what you love and say yes to opportunities, you never know what’s going to happen in your life.

Read about: Canada’s women entrepreneurs on The Honest Talk

Being honest about the challenges of motherhood

Jennifer Stewart: How did motherhood alter or impact or amplify your career?

Erica Ehm: It completely changed my career. It was the new chapter in my book, not that I’ve written one. I had no idea the incredibly huge impact motherhood would have on my life. First of all, I did not adapt well to it. I’m a type A personality; I like getting things done and making things happen on my own time. And as we all know, kids are on their own timeline. And I found it challenging. I couldn’t nurse; I was ashamed; I was humiliated.

I was plagued with many of the pitfalls that happen to modern women:  I, for sure, had postpartum depression. I was shocked that people kept asking how my kids were and people weren’t asking how I was, and I was not doing well. 

So, I came up with this idea for a TV show which would speak to the reality of being a modern mom. Not a show about parenting, because that is all about how your kids are. I wasn’t worried about the kids. I was concerned about modern moms struggling to do it all in this insane concept of balance that’s not possible. 

I started this TV show on Life Network and then Discovery Health. That show was syndicated around the world. And I’m proud of that show. I co-produced it, wrote it, and hosted it. It’s kind of kooky: like a typical lifestyle show combined with Pee-wee’s Playhouse because it was shot against a green screen and it was animated. 

When the show was over after two years, I started to feel connected with other moms because, suddenly, we could tell our stories. And so I launched my little website, and I grew it into the largest independently owned online platform for moms in this country, which evolved into an agency where I can connect brands with moms but in a non-patronizing way.

I have been very proud of what I’ve built, but more so, I’ve never been happier. Because I surround myself with like-minded women, women with kids who are highly intelligent, super-passionate, creative, and accomplished. And we built a working environment where we’ve worked at home for 14 years. I’ve been running this large agency, all from home, where women are allowed to have a career and a family. No one has to punch a time clock; they just have to get their jobs done. What an amazing group of women I’ve worked with over the years.

Catherine Clark: I found the first few years of parenting hard too. No one was talking about the reality of it, and that made me angry. When do you think moms started being honest about motherhood, and that it’s not all sunshine and roses? 

Read about: Tips for working moms from Canadian women: balancing work and parenting

Erica Ehm: Well, I’m going to take credit for it. I was very bold in talking about my challenges in adapting to motherhood and my anger at this whole discussion of balance. The website was written by moms for moms. And once you’re a mom, whatever you say is true because that’s your experience. And so the website was filled with stories about moms expressing their challenges and their successes. It was like a celebration and commiseration about modern motherhood. 

And I think when someone with a higher profile, like myself, makes a platform for people to start expressing their feelings, and other people catch wind of it, they become a little more comfortable talking about it. And I think the fact that I joined Twitter, I think it was 12 or 13 years ago, we started to have those very candid conversations on Twitter. It just starts to permeate. And people understand that suddenly, there’s more permission to speak the truth. And now, I believe every woman feels way more comfortable talking about their challenges and challenging others when they sense bullshit.

Erica Ehm — The Honest Talk

Helping women speak their truth

Jennifer Stewart: What can we do to continue that conversation? Women are starting to feel empowered to speak their truth, but we’ve got a long way to go. What else can we do?

Erica Ehm: We’re doing it. From the time I was on mainstream TV, that medium — broadcast  — was owned by these mega-companies and their strategy was to have conversations that were more autocratic where they would start the conversations but there was no way to really respond. At MuchMusic, that was a precursor to social media because the audience was so important in everything that we did.

Social media has made a huge shift in the balance of power, where large organizations no longer have the ownership of spreading important messages. So, it is social media; it is podcasting. And women now have a very loud voice. And when they sense that a brand or broadcaster is doing something potentially harmful to women, children, families, our health, or safety, we can speak up. 

The answer is to continue to use your voice in a powerful way, I would encourage people not to be trolls, not to swear, not to use anger when you’re online, but to be civil and smart and strategic in its use. You know this: when you yell at your kids, it doesn’t work. They shut down. But if you speak quietly and sanely, you can’t help but be drawn in. 

My strategy on social media, which I think is an incredibly powerful tool, is not to do what all these so-called angry people are doing by yelling at people, calling people names, etc., but rather to speak sanely and have wise, informed discussions in public to hold people accountable. That’s what we need to do.

Catherine Clark: What changes are you seeing with brands and their portrayal of women?

Erica Ehm: Well, the one thing that I tell a brand when they want to market to moms, is that their story is not the most important thing. Their brand is not the most important thing. What’s most important is the mom. So, how does your brand or service fit into their world? How are you helping them? So, when you create content, it’s always about the mom first. And I want to clarify: moms are women first, so don’t talk to a woman like she’s a mom first. Talk to her like she’s a highly intelligent, discerning woman and then explain to her how you fit into her life. And if she thinks you understand her, she will be more open to embracing what you’re offering. 

Jennifer Stewart: Erica, what do you want to be remembered for?
Erica Ehm: For helping women get what they want.

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