“That’s What She Said!”
PHOTO CREDIT: @antenna/Unsplash
Why We Need to Put More Women in Positions of Power in Music
ALMOST every day…
IN THIS PHOTO: Maggie Rogers/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
there is some incident involving sexism or misogyny in the music industry. Indeed, as I write this (21st October), Maggie Rogers has made the music news. I know there are a lot of gigs and events around the world so, invariably, you will get cases where someone steps over the line or offends an artist. The incident Rogers was subjected to is becoming too frequent and, every time it happens, it makes me wonder whether those in charge are doing enough; are venue bosses and those in boardrooms ensuring we stamp out sexism, sexual abuse and the what Rogers and many of her peers endure? Pitchfork explain what went down:
“Last night, Maggie Rogers performed at Austin City Limits Live at the Moody Theater in Austin, Texas. The concert was one of Rogers’ final stops on her Heard It in a Past Life tour. Earlier today (October 20), Rogers took to Twitter to respond to an unfortunate occurrence of verbal harassment that took place at last night’s show.
According to Rogers, a male audience member yelled “take your top off” during an acoustic performance of her breakout hit “Alaska.” Another man allegedly chimed in, shouting, “you cute though.” “I was stunned. Furious. Fuming. Confused,” Rogers wrote. “And also—on a really basic level—it really hurt my feelings.” She added: “I want to use this moment to be very very clear. There is no space for harassment or disrespect or degradation of any kind at my show.” Find Rogers’ full statement, which was also posted to her Instagram account, below.
PHOTO CREDIT: Matt Martin
Every night before the Alaska acoustic encore, I speak about gratitude and growth and change. It’s the most vulnerable part of the set. Just me and a guitar before I say goodnight.
Last night, in the middle of this speech a man yelled ‘take your top off.‘ Another joined in and yelled ‘you cute though.‘
I was stunned. Furious. Fuming. Confused. And also—on a really basic level—it really hurt my feelings.
I step on stage every night and give every part of me. And my community shows up every night and together, we create a safe space to amplify each other. To allow relief. To allow release. There’s a deep amount of trust there.
I step on stage every night with a deep reverence for the stage, my craft, and the privilege that is making music for my job. I’ve been writing and producing music for 10 years—my body is my greatest tool for communicating that work.
I want to use this moment to be very very clear. There is no space for harassment or disrespect or degradation of any kind at my show.
Be kind to each other out there.
I know one can say that a very small minority of men are letting the side down but, like racism in football, there is no place for this kind of vulgarity anywhere I music. I have written features before that call for bans being handed out to any men who catcall, harass or abuse women – why would you want them at your venues? Not only does this sort of thing degrade women, but it means performers are going to feel less comfortable and safe on stage. It is not only the stage where women face abuse and assault; look online and you will see so much sexism and abuse that, for the most part, goes unchallenged. I know it will be hard to infiltrate social media and ensure people caught abusing women are banned – it is clear something has to change in the music industry.
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We have known for years that there is a problem with equality and women are not being encouraged into studios and boardrooms. I do think more female producers are coming through but, when you look at the executives and the make-up of organisations, labels and regulatory bodies, the majority are still men. Look at festivals and, whilst there are female bosses and some men promoting equality, a lot of those in power are your white, middle-aged types who are stoic, unflinching and unsympathetic to the gender imbalance at festivals. In terms of governance and those who can help eradicate misogyny and abuse at festivals, gigs and other areas of the industry, there is still a sea of male faces. That is not to say the men in power cannot make changes but, as it is 2019, why are we still seeing so many cases of abuse? Why is there still so much inequality and why are women not being encouraged into boardrooms and executive positions? There are some who say women need to step up and need to be more proactive. We can all see the incredible music being made by women; how they are putting out some incredible work. When it comes to getting into positions of power in music, it is not as easy as simply putting in more effort and shouting louder. I found an article from 2017 where leading women in music say there is intimidation and barriers imposed on women from childhood:
“Leading female musicians and industry figures say the intimidation and exclusion begins in childhood, with girls not being encouraged to play guitar or join bands. Many shared anecdotes of the frustrations and vulnerabilities they’ve felt as female artists: “An old manager told me that he wouldn’t be sending out my music, he would just send out my photo to labels,” recalls writer and musician Emma-Lee Moss, known as Emmy the Great. “But you just have to battle through that.”
IN THIS PHOTO: Emmy the Great/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
“If you prevent women from seeing any examples of them achieving, then it prevents them from believing they can achieve it,” says guitarist and singer-songwriter Laura Marling, who addressed gender inequality and its effects in her podcast Reversal of the Muse.
“In my experience there are surface visible things, like touring on my own and then realising that all the people I perform with are men. Or that I wasn’t encouraged as much to play the guitar as men,” says Marling. “For women to achieve they have to go around that bump; they have to be as good, if not better, than their male counterparts.”
Predictably, this gender disparity is evident right up to the highest levels of the industry. Of this summer’s festival headliners in the UK, eight out of 10 were male; on the business side, just 30% of senior executive roles are occupied by women.
In the UK, the PRS Foundation launched Women Make Music in 2011, a programe to encourage more female songwriters and composers to come forward for music-related grants, after they discovered just 16% of applications were from women. Dice, a gig listings app, started Girls Music Day in 2016: a series of talks to inspire young women to get involved in the music industry. And this year, PRS Foundation and Festival Republic launched ReBalance: a Leeds-based programme to offer studio time for female-led bands, and promote female producers and engineers”.
IMAGE CREDIT: HearHer Festival
Maybe we need to start right at the start and bottom of the pyramid. As music is being sucked out of the curriculum, it is hard to encourage girls into music from a young age. Instead, we do need to look at studios and why so few women are visible. There are so many great female producers, yet it seems like there is this environment and culture that puts focus on men rather than women. Attitudes are changing as time goes on, but I still think we need to be more proactive regarding highlighting great female producers and making the studio a much more equal and less male-heavy environment. When that happens, I think that will spill over into other areas. Great female festival bosses like Emily Eavis (Glastonbury) are rare. There are some great new female-led festivals like HearHer Festival, but they are in the minority. As this article outlines, there are some hugely influential women making waves in the industry:
Principal, Music Partnerships and Operations, Twitch
Already hugely popular with the gaming community, live streaming platform Twitch is making big breakthroughs on the music side: In February, 27 million people watched Marshmello perform in the game “Fortnite.” “We really want the music community to know we’re here for them and we want to help break artists,” says San Francisco-based Charles, co-founder of Women in Digital Media, based in New York. “At Twitch, I am encouraged as we have a female COO, and CFO, and several of the other senior roles are filled by women. That said, the entertainment industry has a long way to go in terms of parity in numbers, and respect for and real understanding of the unique contributions of women.”
IN THIS PHOTO: Marlene Tsuchil/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Co-Head of International Touring, CAA
Tsuchii has a talent for nurturing a quality that is hard to come by in the music biz: Loyalty. Some of her oldest clients accounted for her biggest success stories this year, such as Beck, with whom she’s worked for a quarter century. “It’s so exciting to see people like that maintain their level of success and integrity,” says Tsuchii. She orchestrated a deal with Korean K-pop label SM Entertainment. Among her other points of pride: Grammy nominee H.E.R., Ariana Grande and Maggie Rogers, whom Tsuchii signed a couple years ago and is already selling out Radio City Music Hall”.
Women are doing their part when it comes to making music and, from P.R. companies, festivals and small businesses, women are making their voices heard and asking for change. I still fear that, if you look across the board, there are scandalously few women in charge and in a position where they can affect change. With female artists and songwriters still in the minority, it is time to look at the top of the chain and make changes. From the government to labels, there are so few female faces. It might come back to that issue of intimidation or a poverty of expectation. Regarding ability and skill, there is no doubt women are more than capable and ready to make effective change in the industry. Whilst the Rt. Hon. Nicky Morgan is Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, I wonder whether there should be a position created that is dedicated to music and gender inequality; someone who can tackle everything from sexual abuse and disclination and help make boardrooms and studios more balanced and open.
PHOTO CREDIT: @joewthompson/Unsplash
Some would say we need to extend this fight to other areas overlooked such as racial discrimination. I would agree with this, but it is clear what is in place now is not good enough. It is hard to know where to begin because, as we know, there are borders and issues at the very bottom and very top. Not enough is being done at school level to get more women into the industry; the male-dominated boardrooms and positions of power are inflexible. In the middle, there are female artists, broadcasters and figures who are creating fantastic work and calling for equality. I do believe there are small progressive steps being made yet, from the sort of abuse Maggie Rogers and her peers face at gigs to the lack of women at festivals and in the studio, worries me. I appreciate that, if we are going to see more women in power and represented across the board, we have to address the other side of the argument: Is the talent pool deep enough to make that possible? This article from The Independent explores the subject:
“Yet these quotas can result in women’s recruitment to less influential positions. In countries where gender quotas for company boards are already mandatory, it is not uncommon to find women in non-executive positions where their power is limited – impression management rather than real change. We can see this happening at Glastonbury, too.
Another criticism of diversity quotas is an assumption that choosing people because of their gender – whether to perform at a festival, or lead a company – means ability and talent matter less than getting enough of the underrepresented group to meet the target. This tick-box view has damaging effects for everyone.
PHOTO CREDIT: @vidarnm/Unsplash
But this is where it gets interesting. Because in music, as with many other creative and tech industries, the talent pools are far from equally sized. A recent report from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative studied 700 popular music songs released in the US between 2012 and 2016. Women made up 21.7 per cent of artists, 12.3 per cent of songwriters and only a tiny 2.1 per cent of producers, suggesting that as creative roles become more techie, already low female participation rates fall sharply.
So 50/50 lineups do provide a great opportunity for female artists, by inspiring girls and women to pursue musical careers. But they also risk reinforcing difference through the divisive nature of quotas. That is not to say we should abandon the idea, but we also need longer term solutions to break down stereotypes about music and technology.
Offering safe spaces to learn, connect with other women for support, to network and get noticed: these are things that will create sustainable change for a more inclusive music industry of the future”.
I appreciate change at the very top will only come when we start at the roots and look at sustainable change. I feel the only way we will see less sexism and abuse of women is by having more women in top positions; there will be more women booked for festivals and headliners when we see more women leading festival organisation. I agree we also need to look at the breakdown of female artists and songwriters when compared with the men. Progression is too slow and there are far too many cases of women being abused and overlooked; of there being a gender imbalance and few women holding huge roles in the industry. Bringing more women into the industry and creating a better environment is the only way we will see effective change and balance. It is very clear that action and that change…
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NEEDS to happen now.