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.

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!

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.

sweetlove, goodnight, lover

sweetlove, goodnight, lover

Sweetlove’s origin story isn’t anything reminiscent of a meet-cute. The work that seems to burst and pour from the seams of this artist has resulted from a long road littered with several intense personal battles. 6 magical tracks come at us today with the release of her EP Goodnight, Lover.

Goodnight, Lover is packed with the self-discovery that comes along with growing into your skin. “Devil on Your Shoulder” should be more sinister, but as Sweetlove implores that it “feels good when you’re living free,” there’s less of a negative connotation to the aforementioned idea of anyone playing devil’s advocate in your court. The title track slows the pace of the project down a bit, a twangy love ballad that will bring you right back to your boots. (Er, roots.) It throws feelings of all-encompassing passion out into the ether, preparing you for the slow, sincere beauty of third track “The House.”

“Did You Even Know” comes rolling in with Garth Brooks-esque momentum, a song that calls for appreciation in the now. Circling back to the theme of devils, “Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead” comes in with the soft, assuring instrumentals of a light, summer song from our youth. The soundscape is simplified, a sense of loss, a beautiful song that allows you to mourn as you sing “it will get better.” “Things I Didn’t Say” perfectly rounds out the established feelings of loss through a lens nothing short of bittersweet. It’s the perfect testament to a love experienced to the fullest.

We highly encourage a glass of whiskey or wine and a night on the patio under the stars with this new collection from Sweetlove. It will help you tap into feelings you won’t recognize, and many you simply haven’t felt for a hot minute. Check it out in its entirety below.

photo by Anna Azarov

charlie treat, the comet

charlie treat, the comet

For a rip-roarin’ good time, country singer/songwriter Charlie Treat’s new album is the perfect answer to your prayers. Beginning with the amped-up energy of “I Ain’t Gonna Be The One To Do It,” he finds a way to lure the audience in with wit and a bite of nostalgia in the instrumentals. Even the slow down of pace with the second track “Drink With Me” holds lengthy, rhythmic lines, with (what appears to me to be) clear nods to The Black Crowes. (“Hard To Handle,” specifically, for those of you asking. And yes, it did take me calling the insanely talented music journalist Elizabeth Schneider to pinpoint the exact sound. Kudos to her.) Just those two tracks will have your mind spinning, but there are ten more inspired songs left to enjoy past that with this new release.

“The Two Best People” really brings the energy down, while singing of “bringing each other down.” Bluesy, beautiful energy to launch you into a light, airy “Tune As Pretty As You.” “Steamshovel Blues” brings the pace up again, but “So Much Better” lulls us back into that slow, glittering, 70’s sound. “Rain Again” comes at you with an edge off the bat, with some quick bongos and even quicker lyrics.

“Drive My Blues Away” is the most melancholic track we have yet to experience on this collection. The vocals seem very inspired, at times Springsteen, and at others Steven Tyler. The piano and whirring guitar solo make the whole thing feel like it could have been recorded in the 90s.

Thank goodness “Dollar For Dollar” brings the pace back up, as the subject matter isn’t entirely something to celebrate. However, the idea of rallying for the working man is something we can all relate to, especially after the trials the last year has presented us with. “Dancing At The Bar (The Quarantine Song)” starts out with glittering synth, and honestly we could see this track being performed alongside anything by ABBA. (Can you hear it?) “Candi” plays with dissonance before the first vocals hit, making it feel almost calmer as the lyrics set in. The whole album is rounded out quite well with “Biggest Fool,” which somehow blendsseveral of the aforementioned genres into one song. (Is that sitar? Are we in a 70’s music video? Where did that trumpet come from?)

One thing is for certain. Charlie Treat has chops. His ability to write lyrics that somehow perfectly complement each instrumental, creating new sounds that simultaneously pay homage to genre-spanning predecessors, is actually quite unique and very appreciated. The Comet should be approached as an adventure and a very appreciated leap into nostalgia.

The Comet is out on March 26.

atria, “jazz cigarette”

atria, “jazz cigarette”

Though Travis Atria has been engaged in creative endeavors for years – he is the frontman of pop-rock collective Morningbell, he co-wrote Curtis Mayfield’s official biography, and has authored other projects – his new project Atria has been gaining traction as of late. Good news, since its debut LP is set to release early next month. With the success of the project’s first two singles – “Lucky” and “Love Theme” – there seem to be nothing but blue skies ahead for this solo endeavor.

Today, we have the exclusive premiere of the third single leading into next week’s album release. “Jazz Cigarette” is a timely piece on global warming, relayed in a way that strangely calms your anxieties. While the “Temperature’s always rising / Ocean’s acidifying” (Hello, rhythmic lyricism!), he finds peace in an object. In a way, Atrias is letting us all bum a stress-reducing “Jazz Cigarette” off of him, to reduce the overwhelm of our responsibility to the planet and our future.

The accompanying video is a solid collection of city views around New York that romanticize the passing cars and gorgeous architecture. With Atrias’ soothing vocals playing over it all, it feels like a love letter to Manhattan. We dig.

Moonbrain is out Friday, April 2, on Gold Robot Records.

park the van records showcase | sxsw 2021

park the van records showcase | sxsw 2021

On Friday night (3.19) we hung out at the Park The Van Records showcase. Everyone’s own unique ambiance added to the intimate nature of each incredible performance. Johnny Aries kicked it off strong with a track and our first parking cone of the night.

Sacramento’s own Best Move followed mellowing the mood out a bit more. Their debut LP is due later this year.

Brighton-based talent Steven Bamidele came third, with a traffic cone in his own recording space. His was our favorite performance of the evening.

Fan favorite Mae Powell followed, adding back in some moody lighting to reflect the Friday night mood.

Neighbor Lady‘s set came from a very open and beautifully lit space, taking advantage of the most gorgeous natural light. The warm tones enhanced the warmth and energy of the tracks, and we found ourselves grooving during this set.

BOYO brought intrigue to the space, rounding out the evening with Park The Van Records. We are big-time fans of their energy, and looking forward to more from this project.

laces, “breaking my heart”

laces, “breaking my heart”

We got the Instagram takeover of a lifetime this week with the phenomenal LACES on our lineup. But we were also sitting on her new single all week, and are thrilled that she (finally) shared it with the world on March 19th!

Do yourselves a favor this weekend and spend some quality time with “Breaking Me Heart.” Its pace and instrumental construction make it the perfect anthemic track, really infusing an all-too-common and melancholic story with powerful energy you wouldn’t otherwise expect. The self-awareness is palpable, the vocals an extra, vulnerable form of gorgeous.

“Right now, the music I’m making feels like a conversation and an observation, and less of a judgment.” We would agree, and we’re so very grateful for this phase of her creative journey.

lo talker, a comedy of errors

lo talker, a comedy of errors

Athens, GA based collective Lo Talker has our wheels spinning as we head into the weekend with their debut album A Comedy of Errors. An album that takes a look at modern times through a humorous, and often biting, sarcastic lens. Through twelve genre-bending tracks, this quintet boasts influence and talent that makes this feel like their fifth album together, not their first. And perhaps that’s where the magic lies here.

As much personality as they’ve injected into the lyrics themselves, there is so much more to this layered work of art. For example, the meandering tone to tracks like “Heaven In Drag”, “Unkown Transmission Arrives”, and “Sift” brags on the delicacy these incredible musicians are capable of, while instrumentals in songs like “Don’t Hide That Light Pt. II” and “Two Ghosts” play with dissonance and give us more of that noisy, grunge influence despite the soft, mellifluous vocals. They even bring some 80s influence to it with “Silvery – Shadow Or Shadow”, which is dusted with glittering synth for effect.

Rhythmically, our favorite is “Nero In The News,” but “Automatic Love” could just be our new favorite (at home) karaoke banger, if not solely for the fact that you can’t help but smile while listening to it. (Nostalgia pop at its finest, my friends.)

Comedy of Errors is out now. Keep up with Lo Talker here.