As much as we love covering music on an international scale, we see the value in (and need for) local artist spotlights. Since Imperfect Fifth is based in Kansas City, we have teamed up with the Kansas City Women’s Music Network to bring you artist highlights about twice per month. Our Member Spotlight today is Alison Hawkins of True Lions!
About Alison: Alison Hawkins is a writer, composer, multi-instrumentalist, and music teacher. They are an organizer for Bandwaggn KC, a music camp for girls/trans/gender-expansive youth in Kansas City. Alison dropped out of music school and dedicated their life to intersectional activism. In 2018, they created the keytar pop band True Lions, releasing two EPs in 2019 and a full-length album in 2021.
A Kansas City-based “flosspunk” alt-pop supergroup led by Alison Hawkins, True Lions meshes the band members’ backgrounds in classical, punk, jazz, folk, and blues, ultimately creating a well-rounded, unique pop sound. The band’s revolving lineup includes Elizabeth Kosko, Teri Quinn, Claire Adams, Adee Rocket Dancy, Aryana Nemati, KuJo, Iona DeWalt, and Miki P. While they’re a gender-diverse collective of women/nonbinary/trans/boi/vegan multi-instrumentalists and genre-flirts, the focus of this project is not their genders or dietary restrictions, but rather, their attitudes, imaginations, and the group’s inspiring ability to empower and celebrate one another through the refuge they create within their music. They emphasize friendships with bandmates over conventional instrumentation, and prioritize character and integrity over musical perfectionism. Combining flossy harmonies, clever metaphors, and solid hooks, True Lions confronts serious subject matter with a light and often silly approach. They maintain an anti-patriarchal agenda while still having a fun party time, calling it “carbonated honesty.” They’re known for collaborations with artists such as Calvin Arsenia, Fritz Hutchison, and The Swallowtails, and cite influences like Cibo Matto, The Go-Go’s, Sleater-Kinney, The Raincoats, and Fanny. Their debut album, The Fempire Strikes Back, releases April 9, 2021 via Manor Records.
One of the most anticipated panel discussions available on my schedule for South by Southwest in 2021 was “We Want Live Shows Again! Concerts in a Post-COVID World.” Hosted by Adam Shore (the US General Manager/Programmer of Driift, a global live-streaming company), the conversation took place between Michelle Cable (Booking Agent & Manager/Panache Booking, Panache Management) and Tom Windish (Sr. Exec/Paradigm Talent Agency) as they addressed the future of live concerts.
Adam Shore jumped right in by asking Michelle Cable what aspects she saw being different that pre-COVID, once artists begin touring again. She is sure that a lot is going to change, “The protocols are going to be a lot more specific, not going to be as relaxed. From guest lists to ordering drinks to loading in to a venue; how we structure deals and confirm shows and how last minutes changes happen because of the precariousness of the COVID situation. I think we can expect a full overhaul of the live touring industry. We don’t know what that’s going to be yet.” In addition, Cable works with Australian artists that have started playing again. They are having to check-in when they travel from state to state. If they go to the grocery store or get a coffee, they are scanning a QR code that keeps track of COVID hotspots. Additionally, venues are paying for a COVID marshal “who acts as extra security to make sure people use their masks and follow protocols.” She sees the artists and crews are going to have to provide COVID safety plans.
Things in the United States are going to be a different situation: Tom Windish thinks the artists and crews will take on COVID protocols themselves – he doesn’t see a national protocol or even a state protocol. “There may be just some regulations or guidelines for venues in certain cities or states.” Windish also said, “It is too early to see how it will pan out. I think a big thing is we don’t know yet is how will the money, the additional costs that are incurred for any sort of COVID protocol, whether government-mandated or not, will affect the artist. Unfortunately, I’m afraid it will affect the artist negatively. It will be different for every venue – it’s really too early for any venue to really know what the finances will look like. We’ve got a ways to go to figure it out.”
Shore’s next question for Cable addressed the artists’ personal lives, “How have you seen your bands take advantage of this time away from the road?” Her response indicated that it has been a fruitful time for the artists:
It’s been a different experience for most of the artists I work with. Fortunately, a majority of the artists I work with have taken this time to get really creative. Those that have been on the road for a decade have taken this time to heal and get healthy and be a little more human again. This has been a time for people to accomplish goals that are outside of touring. Some have collaborated, done more writing, producing other artists. A few artists that I have managed have started their own labels. It’s been a healing time, a time to restructure. A lot of started families during this time. People have gotten really creative with, like, their merch, like direct to consumer and fan engagement.
Shore’s next question was directed to Windish: “How do you see the agent, and the service the agent provides, being different going forward?” Windish explained:
There has been this hamster wheel for years – band makes a great song, gets interest, meets with tons of labels, signs a record deal, puts out the record, tours for like a year, and then does that again for as long as possible. How are we going to make the most on the shows, sell the most records? This time has given artists a chance to sort of step back and evaluate all the different sections of their business, all the way they communicate with their fans, gather new fans and try to make them better. There’s a lot of tools out there that most artists and their teams barely use or don’t use them very well. An example is selling merch on your website. There’s a lot more that can be done, and I’m not just talking about more products. How can you communicate with your audience the best? Also all the socials and everything.
To your question, I think a lot about services that agencies provide, or traditionally provided, versus what artists really need. Social media, for instance, is a big one. Most artists don’t have experts that are helping them with their social media strategies. Another is all this e-commerce stuff. People that help, like, look at your e-commerce or e-strategy across everything are really, really interesting. I’m talking to people that kind of go out to any creator out on the internet, podcaster, or people who have huge audiences and look under the hood of your business and see how you’re doing everything, and barely anyone’s doing it very well. Why would they? They’re experts at the thing they do. Who do you hire? There a few people that are awesome, but that’s who the biggest artists in the world are using. I don’t know that agencies will do it, but I think those are valuable additions that I think they should consider doing.
Shore’s last question addressed what happens next: “Since there seem to be so many new services, as an agent and a manager, where do you see the responsibilities lie and how do managers and agents ramp up?” Cable said:
I think what’s happening right now with live streaming where artists are doing live streaming with merch add ons, some managers are taking on this role, some agencies are taking on this role. Or creating their own platforms so there isn’t a third party that you have to pay. Some agencies have been creating streaming platforms on their own and then working directly with the artists and managers. I think that’s going to continue because artists have found that it’s a way to make money, engage with their fans more and do it well. I think the structures of hiring a social media within a booking agency or a management team, or someone who is really savvy at that has suddenly become much more real because that street marketing that we’ve been so used to, the print media is a thing of the past. Social media the sizing, the stories, the algorithms of your posting, those are all things we need to teach ourselves. The bottom line is everyone was impacted with this, especially the live entertainment industry. We were the first to shut down and we will probably be the last to open based on what we’re seeing, so we need to think about how we can all work together and of course take care of the artist and keeping them safe and happy. That’s something we need to keep brainstorming as we’re in this weird holding pattern.
I think it would great if what came out of this was artists could figure out how to make the same amount of money as they did before and have more time to focus on other things. Between song writing, and families, and doing other things, mental health is something, there has been more attention paid to it in the last few years, but not nearly enough and artists need to step back and get off the hamster wheel a lot. And I hope that this has actually been a good thing for them in that regard in a lot of ways. I know financially, it’s devastating, but I’ve talked to a lot of my clients and they do appreciate not being on the road all the time and seeing their family more often. It’s really important. If they can figure out how to do that more in the future, that would be great.
I found this conversation interesting on a lot of levels. I am very grateful that artists have been able to take this time to re-tool and rejuvenate. When you understand the hamster wheel, as Tom Windish described the musical routine, it is not sustainable for a balanced life or for an artist’s mental health. Fortunately, they have been able to prioritize themselves, which I am sure, leads to greater creativity, more output, and more money in the end.
I am encouraged that the people who are in the artist’s orbit are finding their own creative paths to support the artists without further grind. More engagement with fans is also a positive takeaway from this forum. I am anxious to see live shows again, as I am sure everyone is. However, as someone who has watched a lot of live streams this year, subscribed to more podcasts, and listened to a lot of music, I am grateful that care is being taken with the health and safety of both the artists and the audiences.
Although there have always been examples of athletes being the voice of social change, 2020 was a watershed year in the fight for social justice. The COVID-19 pandemic and the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor by police officers were three primary events that coalesced in a short period of time to bring the need for social justice to the forefront and the voices of athletes led the call. Morgann Mitchell, Senior Director, Integrated Brand Communications, Turner Sports, moderated Amplifying Athlete Voices Off The Court, a panel discussion during 2021 South by Southwest. Guests were Candance Parker, Analyst and Host for Turner Sports; Eric Jackson, SVP of NBA Digital Content Operations and Diversified Sports Content at Turner Sports; and Chris Webber, also an Analyst for Turner Sports.
When both the WNBA and the NBA returned to playing games during the pandemic, each league was separately sequestered in their own bubbles to prevent spread of the COVID-19 virus. This unique situation allowed the athletes to meet more often and formulate their responses to the deaths of Breonna Taylor and George Floyd.
Mitchell: “How in the bubble were you able to come together?”
Parker: “Preparation is in the small moments when the cameras weren’t there. I think the WNBA was built for moments like this. We are a league of women – 80% are women of color, we have all economic backgrounds, and LGBTQ members.”
Mitchell: “Chris, you were on the air the night Jacob Blake was shot – what was the response of people?”
Webber: “I have to give a shout out to Turner. Turner wanted to know if I wanted to say something. The response was overwhelming great.”
Jackson: “Black voices have been heard for years – Ali, Hank Aaron. The WNBA was great – you left out (Candace) that you were mothers, so you had to balance that as well.”
In the midst of social justice issues, there was an owner of a WNBA team (Kelly Loeffler) that was also running for a permanent seat in the Senate. She opposed the Black Lives Matter stance of the WNBA players and wanted them to keep politics out of the game. As a direct result of this, players vocally supported her opponent, Rev. Raphael Warnock. (Note: Loeffler sold the team in February, 2021)
Mitchell: “How did the senate conversations come about?”
Parker: “I have to speak on leadership of the WNBA and NBA. We have a pretty solid player’s union – in both leagues. There were times we would hop on calls, one time with Michelle Obama. Because we were in the bubble, everybody was connected. We were able to surround that message and amplify it. We could have meetings whenever we want. I really commend leadership of WNBA and WNBAPA.”
Mitchell: “What is your role in this fight?”
Webber: “I think it’s cool that the younger players are embracing what has come before them and taking leadership. I am inspired that the lessons of the past weren’t wasted.”
Mitchell: “How is social media amplifying the stories?”
Jackson: “The beauty is the youthful exuberance of having voices heard. Authenticity makes a difference with social channels. Here is a guy or a lady that looks like me, that through art and expression do their own thing with social media. It’s beautiful to watch. The older people need to get on board.”
Mitchell: “Can the younger generation do or be so much more than the glass ceilings from before?”
Parker: “It is important to see something, but so, so crucial to see someone. This generation has seen so much that they don’t set boundaries and limits. I know my own daughter is this way. They care for others. It means more for Chris Webber to sit here and talk about women’s sports. Like it means more for our white allies to talk about Black Lives Matter.”
Jackson: “I’m a girl dad, (they are in their younger 20’s) so I’m seeing their engagement in the political election. They are seeing the responsibility of voting.”
Webber: “For my son, as a Black male, I hope I don’t have to worry about how he engages with the police later in life. For my daughter, she doesn’t have any limits, she thinks she can do anything! I have twins and they are still small. I’m excited for them to live in the glory of these times. I’m optimistic for the future.”
Mitchell: “Eric, how are you building diversity in your team?”
Jackson: “This is a passion of mine. Didn’t feel good, but felt comfortable for 20 years out of 30 I have been working. I went to a HBCU (Tuskegee University). I demonstrate my work ethic, I speak out. I need to set the example so when the next guy or girl who looks like me is applying to work here, it will be a no brainer. You want to be in the room where the decisions are made – hiring, content – I’ve tried to do that.”
Mitchell: “Why was ownership so important?”
Parker: “I have to make sure that I put my money where my mouth is – to support women’s sports. (Candace Parker is part of the ownership group of Angel City FC of the National Women’s Soccer League.) I am championing women’s sports plus teaching generational wealth. I am looking forward to going on this journey with my daughter – she is on the investor calls with me!”
SXSW Summary: Athletes have been using their platform and voices for decades to bring light to social issues on and off the field of play, but 2020 brought upon new urgency when COVID-19 and the killings of Black citizens like George Floyd and Breonna Taylor coincided in the span of a few months. Bleacher Report and Turner Sports will bring together a panel of stakeholders including, Turner analysts Candace Parker, Chris Webber and Senior Vice President of NBA Digital Content Operations and Diversified Sports Content, Eric Jackson, will dive into how these brands are concentrated on raising athletes’ voices on social issues to new heights and the importance of highlighting athlete activism.
Candace Parker – Host, Turner Sports Eric Jackson – Turner Sports – SVP of NBA Digital Content Operations and Diversified Sports Content Chris Webber – Turner Sports Morgann Mitchell – Senior Director, Integrated Brand Communications, Turner Sports
**elizabeth schneider is a former employee of the NBA and NFL and qualifies as both a sports critic and aficionado.
As moderator Olivia Shalhoup, Founder and Director at Amethyst Collab, set us up for a chat about the Future of Women in Music, she dived right into the nitty gritty with her first question:
“Why do you think women have been so historically underrepresented in music business?”
You would think that in 2021, at a conference in a progressive city that labels itself as diverse and inclusive, is so largely attended by women, and so incredibly funded by the music industry, this question would be beneath us. You would look at the money women make for the industry – hand over foot, year after year – as both superstar talent and innovative project hires and assume that their role in the industry is far too substantial to warrant underrepresentation. Unfortunately, my friend, you would be incorrect.
“There’s this [idea] of [men] being decision-makers. Strong, dominant, powerful. Those are considered to be valuable traits to work in a competitive field,” explained Margaux Grober, Director of A&R at Arista Records. “That’s great, but I think men have a tendency to hire men because of those reasons even though women have shown that they can also be dominant, powerful, authoritative along with also being really intuitive and mindful and empathetic.”
Last fall, 45% of female business leaders admitted that it’s hard to get a word in edgewise in virtual meetings, specifically with their male counterparts. Even women who have broken through the metaphorical glass ceiling into integral roles within the industry often feel like they don’t have the advantage they should. Panelist Sammye-Ruth Scott, Director of A&R at Atlantic Records, elaborated, “It’s almost an uphill battle, even when we’re in the room. You almost get shut out of the conversation because [men] think your statement is invalid. We have to fight that much harder, work that much harder, and get in people’s face a little bit more in an assertive way to prove ourselves.”
Although the #MeToo movement technically originated with a statement in 2006, you would think that conversations around workplace equity would have gotten us farther since it ramped up in 2017. An industry so heavily focused on in the media with so much influence on generations of people could easily lead the way in inclusion. But it’s not. In fact, it continues to perpetuate gender bias in a way that almost encourages it.
This SXSW chat was a clear reminder that change starts from the top. People in positions of power need to be advocating for diversity in the industry, and throughout every career field. Bringing more women into positions of power will allow those key voices to place more women and people of color into careers across the industry. “I feel it will change as time goes on and we make a really concerted effort to bring more women in,” explained Grober. “But I don’t think it should just be on us to do that.” Women will champion the fight, but they need support from people who do not identify as women too.
If you have a creative project coming up, consider working with an array of diverse voices. Music projects often require videographers, editors, photographers, marketing-minded helpers, and other methods of support. Women exist in all of these spaces, and elevating their work is important. As we’ve already seen, a gainful future for women in music will, in turn, provide more opportunity for marginalized voices and people with less resources to find their artistic platform.
There was an interesting conversation tucked between movie premiers and music showcases at this year’s South by Southwest. Carole King is a Grammy Award®-winning singer, songwriter, author and environmentalist. She was joined by Jon Platt, Sony Music Publishing Chairman & CEO. Entitled Carole King & John Platt: Notes on Inclusive Leadership, the two titans of the music industry discussed their career paths and their viewpoints on inclusion in leadership.
There were several takeaways during this conversation between friends. It was interesting to hear that King, who began her career by writing songs with her then-husband Gerry Goffin, “…didn’t feel obstacles as a woman, but instead in my personal life.” Even though she entered the music business in 1960, she didn’t see barriers. Her tact was to keep her feet on the ground and do the task at hand. “If I have inspired people, I am glad and I’m glad I wasn’t conscious of it. When you are conscious, you are creating barriers to overcome.”
Jon Platt grew up in Denver during a time that there was no Black FM station. His brother listened to rock, so he grew to like it. He liked all types of music – a song is a song. When asked about the past obstacles in his career, Platt didn’t view himself as a victim. Obstacles were treated as a reason to work harder and smarter. He developed a thick skin. Additionally, he said he wouldn’t trade his journey for any other – good, bad and the ugly.
King then iterated, that when you have a goal, do the homework, be confident in it and go for it. “Like my dad, I acknowledge everybody. I didn’t get where I am without other people. Jon respects writers.” Respect the roles in bringing music to the people.
King also said that she works with a spirit of can-do – “The journey itself is amazing!”
Platt related that he tells young people when things are hard, you probably need to lean into that. At some point, it’s going to work out for you. That’s where the magic is. At 30 years old, I got the job at EMI, the lowest person at the company. I almost stopped, I was going to leave LA, go back to Denver and DJ before I got that job. The magic of leadership is do you have the ability to put others before you? When you are including people, you don’t think about what it’s doing for you – you think about what it’s doing for them. If you want to lead a team, you have to be inclusive and trust people. “My responsibility is to do a great job. When I do a great job, then I create opportunities for a lot of people.”
As much as we love covering music on an international scale, we see the value in (and need for) local artist spotlights. Since Imperfect Fifth is based in Kansas City, we have teamed up with the Kansas City Women’s Music Network to bring you artist highlights about twice per month. Jillian Riscoe – an Imperfect Fifth favorite – is this week’s Member Spotlight!
About Jillian: Any performance singer/songwriter Jillian Riscoe puts on showcases a depth of soulfulness and emotion. Performing as a solo artist, in a rock band, and with various cover groups of all genres through her years of actively performing live, she is as well versed and dynamic as it gets.
Singing and performing since the age of 7, Jillian has had her share of success. The Kansas City native has toured and performed across the United States, including the NAMM show, major sporting events, the Grammy Museum Music Revolution Project, and the CDBaby DIY Musician’s Conference. She has received regional music awards, secured national radio airplay, and opened up for artists like Pat Benatar, Rick Springfield, Lisa Loeb, Everclear, Tantric, Stabbing Westward.
Keeping busy as always, Jillian performs on a regular basis including acoustic sets and shows with the KC based cover group The Wannabes, is a music instructor of various private music lessons and classes and as of late, collaborating with Avenue Record Company, releasing original solo material exploring topics such as resilience, courage and finding our place in the world. Her latest single “People in the Real World” can be found on all digital music platforms.