Two documentaries caught my eye when I was planning my South by Southwest schedule in 2021. I felt fortunate to be able to see both of these as they had their world premiers.
The first of the two is Hysterical, a documentary that peeks into the lives of some of the most famous women in stand-up comedy. The cast includes Margaret Cho, Sherri Shepherd, Judy Gold and Kathy Griffin as well as many others as we learn about the beginnings of their careers and the roadblocks they experience to this day. Director Andrea Nevins moves deftly between subjects as they describe the lure of comedy. It’s an unvarnished portrayal of a life that each of these women are drawn to, but most of us can only imagine. No topic is off limits to these comediennes.
A particularly harrowing story is told by Kelly Bachman. She recalls telling jokes about Harvey Weinstein one night when someone pointed out to her that he was in the audience. People initially booed, but when she began talking about her own rape, the audience was on her side. Some of the other stories of sexism and discrimination are, unfortunately, as prevalent today as they were 30 years ago.
Hysterical is funny, poignant, and thought provoking. Exactly what you want a documentary to be. Hysterical is currently streaming on FX on HULU.
The second documentary was the eagerly awaited Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free, the story of the making of his 1994 album Wildflowers. Because of recently discovered black and white 16mm film shot during the making of the album, Director Mary Wharton was able to have Tom Petty star in his own movie. Current interviews with former band members, producer and Petty’s daughter Adria, filled in the edges with stories and explanations. Wildflowers became, to most, Tom Petty’s best album, certainly his most perfectly formed. When it was released, it sold 3 million copies, but most people didn’t realize how much unreleased material was left after recording.
As the story unfolds in the documentary, Petty wanted to record a solo album (only his second) and Rick Rubin signed on as producer. It was the first album he had produced with Petty. Eventually, most of the members of the Heart Breakers would end up being session players on the album. Although the nuts and bolts of record producing are interesting, the more fascinating angle to me was the song writing. Petty was in the midst of a failing marriage and this was laid bare in the songs on Wildflowers. The interviews that were recorded with Petty in 1994 are especially touching, since his divorce would not occur until 1996.
Full disclosure: I am a huge Tom Petty fan, so had been looking forward to this documentary. Tom Petty: Somewhere You Feel Free did not disappoint – I felt grateful that all of this footage exists and that art, in some form or another, lives on after the artist has gone.
Wildflowers and All The Rest is a 2020 re-release of the Wildflowers album, but includes deleted songs, demos and live tracks.
Hysterical synopsis from SXSW:
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Country: United States
Synopsis: HYSTERICAL is an honest and hilarious backstage pass into the lives of some of stand-up comedy’s most boundary-breaking women, exploring the hard-fought journey to become the voices of their generation and their gender. Premieres April 2nd on FX.
Cast: Margaret Cho , Fortune Feimster, Rachel Feinstein, Marina Franklin, Nikki Glaser, Judy Gold, Kathy Griffin, Jessica Kirson, Sherri Shepherd, Iliza Shlesinger, Kelly Bachman, Lisa Lampanelli, Wendy Liebman, Carmen Lynch, Bonnie McFarlane
Director: Andrea Nevins,Executive Producer: Andrea Nevins, Ross Girard, Jim Serpico, Jessica Kirson,Producer: Rebecca Evans, Carolina Groppa, Ross M. Dinerstein, p.g.a.,
Tom Petty Somewhere You Feel Free synopsis from SXSW:
Premiere Status: World Premiere
Country: United States
Synopsis: Drawn from a newly discovered archive of 16mm film showing Tom Petty at work on his 1994 record “Wildflowers,” considered by many including Rolling Stone to be his greatest album ever, “Somewhere You Feel Free” is an intimate view of a musical icon.
Cast: Tom Petty, Rick Rubin, Mike Campbell, Benmont Tench, Steve Ferrone, George Drakoulias, Alan “Bugs” Weidel, Adria Petty, Stan Lynch, Howie Epstein
Director: Mary Wharton,Executive Producer: Warner Music Films,Producer: Peter Afterman,Cinematographer: Anne Etheridge,Editor: Mari Keiko Gonzalez,This film has not been rated.
“Ah, another virtual event that I will RSVP to and not at ALL want to attend most of,” I thought, as the first electronic communications regarding SXSW 2021 came through to my device.
And, as we got closer to the start date, I thought more and more about the piles of work and other obligations that I could not take a vacation from in order to attend – like I would in a non-pandemic year where I would be physically changing locations and turning on my out-of-office messages.
But, of all the virtual events I’ve attended – and chosen not to attend – during the COVID-19 pandemic, this one was by far the most beneficial for me to attend.
And, it’s not because there were speakers/talent who looked/were like me (a white, cishet, straight female), but because there were speakers/talent who looked
NOTHING. LIKE. ME.
Sure, there were some missteps. Namely:
1. Mark Cuban – not only is he the whitest dude, but he offers no additional perspective he hasn’t already spewed across all digital/media channels
2. MOST of the speakers were pre-recorded – so, couldn’t you pre-screen some of the talks to ensure that those catchy titles that were submitted in the panel picker process actually lived up to their name? (i.e. – anything that started with “How To” should have been some sort of how to…not just “I am so successful, here is how I am so successful”. See: Every white man – including Mark Cuban).
3. Allowing ANY talks with a white man – or a group of white men – by himself. Panels, groups discussions, or fireside chats with all types of people that include a white man? SURE! But our lives have been so saturated with mediocre white dudes on a podium talking down to us for LITERALLY OUR ENTIRE LIVES that we just don’t need one more talk by a solo white guy.
And, I’m not saying that was all that was there – but, constructive criticism is important. We’ve all got to keep organizers on their toes. Because, yes, there were plenty of talks that were out-of-the-box and from traditionally marginalized speakers. There were tracks on cannabis and living outside of the gender binary and women in [insert career here]. This was, in fact, the event with the widest array of representation I have attended yet.
AND it can’t stop here.
This can’t be the “diversity year” – one and done.
I hope this year’s SXSW sets the tone for pushing boundaries and innovating and leading the charge in representation across ALL events, multimedia, etc.
I hope it continues into the next in-person conference – and I am not left sitting in a cold conference room staring 10 feet up at a million Seth Rogens all week. (As delightful as one Seth Rogen can be).
I am delighted that I “left” SXSW having heard about subjects that move me from the people who are on the ground, doing the work.
Feeling hopeful about things to come.
I didn’t leave thinking: so what?
I left thinking: what now?
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!”
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.
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.
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.”