the future of women in music relies on allies: a chat with female label execs at sxsw 2021

the future of women in music relies on allies: a chat with female label execs at sxsw 2021

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.

Before the pandemic set in, a projected 15% of labels were majority-owned or operated by women. An estimated 5% of producers are female, while audio engineer numbers seem to be booming at a still-devastating 18% female. In a recent Northwestern study, only one third of the record labels polled had ever signed a female artist. Even notorious big name players like Sony, Universal, and Warner – that tout the highest paid artists, producers, and executives in the world – have debilitating gender pay gaps that average 30% on a good day. 

“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 year, the Recording Academy acquired an array of new diversity hires and the 2021 GRAMMYs were touted as one of the most diverse music award shows in history. The entirety of the best rock, country, and new artist categories were filled with female nominees for the first time in history. However, only 11.7% of Grammy-nominated artists between 2013 and 2020 were female, so it shouldn’t have been very difficult to improve. I’m still unsure why the 62 year history of the award show wouldn’t have addressed diversity sooner. And while I’m very unimpressed by how they handle racial diversity – their nominations process has always been shady – I will admit, it’s a start.

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.

king & platt | sxsw 2021

king & platt | sxsw 2021

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.”

close up: a sounds australia showcase (night 3) | sxsw 2021

close up: a sounds australia showcase (night 3) | sxsw 2021

During SXSW 2021, I had the privilege of being able to see musicians that I would not otherwise get a chance to see. One such showcase was the CLOSE UP: A Sounds Australia Showcase. Each of the three nights had six different artists, each performing two songs. As Sounds Australia said in their release, “These performances have never been seen before and all were recorded in the artists’ ‘backyard’ (however they chose to interpret that theme).” Dom Alessio and Glenny G, both of Sounds Australia, hosted from Glenny’s actual backyard.

On this third night of music, Dom kicked off the festivities by paying respects to the elders, past, present and future, and any Indigenous people. No Money Enterprise, a hip hop quartet from Logan City, Queensland, played their energetic music in what looked like a park. In a nod to their Polynesian heritage, native dances were incorporated into the set alongside the hip hop rhythms.

Hauskey, from Western Australia, was next on deck playing from a studio. Playing the first song on the piano and the second on guitar, Hauskey displayed a pop flavor and versatility that reminded me of Ed Sheeran. He was followed by Indigo Sparke, an artist from Sydney. She played a stripped down acoustic set. Indigo Sparke has a voice quality that is both sweet and haunting.

The Merindas played their set outdoors at night and I wanted to be invited to that party! The Melbourne based duo performed dance tunes that mix pop and R&B beats. Like No Money Enterprise earlier in the evening, The Merindas infuse their music with their native Indigenous language and culture.

The next artist was Didirri, who hales from the town of Warrnambool in Australia. He also played an acoustic set, using a piano for the first melancholy love song and a guitar for the second song. Didirri’s voice is raw with emotion that perfectly matches his lyrics.

The biggest surprise of the night was the appearance of Jaguar Jonze. They played a live set in front of an audience – people in the comments of the broadcast were as pleasantly surprised as I was. In all honesty, I have no idea how big the crowd was, but the people there were very responsive to Jaguar Jonze’ brand of rock music. They had an energy and stage presence that we haven’t seen since March, 2020.

I look forward to the new music that artists in this Sounds Australia showcase will be making in the coming months!

photos by meredith schneider

close up: a sounds australia showcase (night 2) | sxsw 2021

close up: a sounds australia showcase (night 2) | sxsw 2021

Thursday, March 18th brought with it some new sounds from far-off places. I was overjoyed to sit in on night 2 of “Close Up: A Sounds Australia Showcase.” Hosted by Dom Alessio of Sounds Australia, this relaxing evening featured music by Kee’ahn, Beans, Death by Denim, The Chats, and Kota Banks & Ninajirachi.

We think the photos do this showcase quite a bit of justice. The feeling of connecting with the earth and these natural landscapes while engaging with incredible international artists is absolutely captivating. Check out the snaps below, and add these bands to your next playlist!

live music in venues: what’s next? | sxsw 2021

live music in venues: what’s next? | sxsw 2021

As we all emerge out of quarantine and into what will be a more normal existence, a panel discussion at South by Southwest moderated by Andy Gensler of Pollstar broached the topic of what is next in the world of live music in independent venues. Joined by Grace Blake from Iridium, Amy Madrigali, a Troubadour agency associate, and Dayna Frank, CEO of Minneapolis venue First Avenue, the conversation offered frank ideas of what has happened and what is coming down the road.

All three venues were coming off fantastic showings for 2019 and were looking forward to great things in 2020. In fact, First Avenue was due to celebrate its 50th anniversary in April of 2020. And then, as Andy Gensler put it, “The gut punch was South by Southwest canceling.” Although talks of forming an industry association between Rev. Moose (eventual NIVA co-founder and Executive Director) and Hal Real had begun a little earlier than when the pandemic hit, the SXSW cancellation gave an urgency to the situation that led to the formation of NIVA (National Independent Venue Association). From an initial steering committee of about 30 people, NIVA has grown into an organization that has kept independent venues front of mind during lobbying efforts (#SaveOurStages Act) and fundraising, all with the goal of financially shoring up the independent venues and all of the people who are dependent upon them. Blake and Madrigali both serve on the NIVA board and Frank is the current president.

When asked about their takeaways from this year, all were quick to answer. Blake said, “We were really able to provide some comfort into how to navigate the system. We were able to say to Congress, you really need to step up and help these venues who have never asked for anything. For me, it was a lifesaver.”

Madrigali related, “To echo what Grace said, we came together. Sending 2 million letters to Congress. Showing the power of what we can do in our cities and our country. We can communicate with our government. My first lobbying call was with Representative Adam Schiff – myself and my GM. In his world, LD is Legislative Director and in my world, it’s a Lighting Director. We had great support from our representative and we are really lucky.”

Although President Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law on March 11, 2021, Frank reminds us there is much to be done, “We are waiting for the SBA to finalize rules and open up applications for grants. We are nagging them every day. We’re hopeful that an SBA administrator gets confirmed soon so someone from the administration can guide the process along. We definitely need the SBA to provide the safeguards.”

Gensler then asked about the future: “We’re seeing some southern routing opening up in New Zealand. Are things creeping back to your venue at all?

According to Blake. “New York has some of the strictest restrictions. We have to walk before we can run. I do look forward to the vaccination process to continue to happen so that, as we head to herd immunity, we can get closer.” 

When asked about Live Streams, Madrigali said, “We had the SOS Fest (October 2020). Coming up, we are doing a TV show. It’s minuscule as compared to where we were before. In November 2019, we had booked 30 nights. In November 2020, we had booked 5 live streams.”

Frank hasn’t found it financially feasible to open for less than full capacity, so summer may not be in play, but fall may be a different story, “When the fall happens – and I am going to will it into existence – we will be busier than we have ever seen.”  Blake is “cautiously optimistic”, and is looking toward the fall as well. “October is almost booked. November is getting booked, December. 2022 is looking good, especially for overseas acts.”

For those venues still trying to hang on until the fall, Madrigali recommended checking the SBA website to apply for funds. Frank recommended that artists try to get PPP loans as an independent contractor.

For more information about NIVA and the work being done, go to www.nivassoc.org. Since it can take time for grants to be issued, money is still being raised to help those venues in the most need. A donation link is provided on the website.

black fret showcase | sxsw 2021

black fret showcase | sxsw 2021

St. Patrick’s Day at SXSW 2021 was an absolute blast. The Black Fret showcase featured six Austin, Texas-based bands in their showcase, giving us some of that SXSW hometown flare we were missing from our couches. Featuring Sydney Wright, Ley Line, Motenko, Eimaral Sol, PR Newman, and Buffalo Hunt, the music was magical already without the added lunar backdrop. Peep the highlights and check out the work Black Fret does below!

Black Fret believes our local music is art, worthy of the support of our community just as the symphony, opera and ballet have been supported for generations. We are a 501(c)3 public charity whose mission is to support the creation and performance of local music. Since 2013 we have contributed over $3.6 million to the local music economy of Austin, Texas. Learn more or join us at blackfret.org.