Has the music industry got a gender problem? And if so, what can be done about it? Rhian Jones heads to AIM's Women in Music event to gain some insight into the issue from some of the industry's finest.
A recent UK Music study revealed that while the gender balance in the music industry looks good at entry-level, the same can’t be said for the upper echelons. According to the report, spanning 3,000 people that work in the UK music business, 60% of interns and 54% of the 25 - 34 age group are female, but just 30% of senior executive roles are occupied by a woman. Has the industry got a problem when it comes to promoting and maintaining female talent? That and more was discussed at the Association of Independent Music’s Women in Music event in London last week, where executives and creatives shared experience and advice.
Source: UK Music
One of those was singer/songwriter Emmy The Great, who responded to stats revealing the disparity between the amount of men and women producing and writing music. PRS for Music membership is currently just 16% women, who make up a rather minuscule 4% of Music Producers’ Guild members. While Emmy initially started in music as a singer, songwriter and guitarist, she only later had the confidence to play lead guitar in her band.
Emmy The Great
Emmy explained: “If you see something that you think you can’t do, it’s just conditioning, it’s the patriarchy. You can definitely do it. I always had such reverence for the male songwriters my label was putting me in session with, but when you break down what they do they just have a mic and a computer. So I got a mic and a computer and realised they don’t have special genius that I don’t have. It’s just that people have always told them they can do this thing.”
“If you see something that you think you can’t do, it’s just conditioning, it’s the patriarchy. You can definitely do it."
- Emmy The Great, Singer/Songwriter
Another integral part in achieving a better gender balance in the writing and production world is female collaboration, Emmy added. “The second most important thing women can do is not be jealous of each other,” she explained. “Every time you see a woman succeed and you feel fear that you won’t get that space, throw it away. And if you have an opening, bring women with you. There is no time for self doubt or jealousy.”
Ever sat in a meeting, or around a desk, and felt out of place and insecure as the only woman in the room? Being a woman amongst many men can feel empowering, but it can also be terrifying. The secret to getting over that fear is taking on a fierce persona, said Stefania Pavlou, who is Media Relations Manager at PRS for Music. “I work in the more corporate side of the music industry and in the majority of my meetings [I’m the only woman]. I definitely feel there is an element of having to take on a fierce persona to enter the meeting and match the level of confidence in the room,” she said.
Songwriter Carla Marie Williams (who co-wrote Beyoncé’s Grammy-nominated Freedom) said she didn’t feel comfortable celebrating her success openly for years (an issue Solange Knowles also discussed recently), but since deciding to get known for her work, has made a point of responding to negative attitudes - helped in part by the support network she’s built via Girls I Rate. “People have said recently, ‘Oh, I can see you everywhere’. So what? I wrote an article for The Guardian about the stereotype that exists for black women in the music industry and sent it to a few of my male colleagues so they’d know it was written for them. They are a bit fearful now because I’ve got a platform. Some of them tried to make comments like, ‘Be careful, she’s dangerous this one’ and a few of my women jumped on board, ‘No she’s not, she’s inspiring’.
Carla Marie Williams
The panelists agreed that communicating confidently is important when challenging perceptions. That’s no apologies (unless truly warranted, of course), ‘justs’ or kisses on the end of emails. Said Years & Years manager Martha Kinn: “I definitely feel like women are socialised to immediately apologise. I’ve had to retrain my brain. I deserve to be here and I can state what I want. You’ve got to be assertive and not care.”
It’s being assertive that got Pavlou her first two promotions, which weren’t given, but asked for. “I’ve had a lot of male mentors and their advice to me was to ask for a promotion. Every time I’ve escalated in my career it’s because I’ve asked and not because I’ve sat and waited for someone to approach me. It took mirroring that male bravado and confidence to get to the point that I was then approached for a promotion. It wasn’t easy, it didn’t feel natural, and I really had to lean on my female peers.” INgrooves' Business Development Manager Sharon Matheson mentioned a quote from MOBO Awards Founder Kanya King to deal with others getting promoted above you: ‘Don’t get bitter, get better’.
“I’ve had a lot of male mentors and their advice to me was to ask for a promotion. Every time I’ve escalated in my career it’s because I’ve asked and not because I’ve sat and waited for someone to approach me."
- Stefania Pavlou, Media Relations Manager, PRS for Music
So what needs to happen to even out that gender balance at the top of the music industry? Williams pointed to the amount of women ‘aiding’ men’s careers as an element that could be changed for the better. “There are a lot of women who aid men’s careers and think they are at the top. But if you go in with your own business you’ll see a different response to how you are perceived. Part of it is about how we think as women, we need to ask for opportunities and build our own walls.”
"Part of it is about how we think as women, we need to ask for opportunities and build our own walls."
- Carla Marie Williams, Songwriter
Pavlou said it’s not enough for companies to hire a diverse workforce, they then need to make efforts to instill an inclusive culture. “You can have a diverse workforce but if it’s not inclusive you’re not going to hear ideas from people who have something new to say. It should be enshrined in law and policy that corporate organisations have to have a spirit of inclusivity,” she said.
For Chloé van Bergen, Senior Label Manager at Believe Recordings, inclusivity should also spread to avoiding language that divides genders. “I often struggle with the fact we have an [event] that’s called Women in Music. I don’t identify first and foremost as a woman who works in music, I am a professional who works in music,” she explained.
"I don’t identify first and foremost as a woman who works in music, I am a professional who works in music.”
- Chloé van Bergen, Senior Label Manager, Believe Recordings
“I don’t like the gender war, it needs to be an inclusive dialogue. It’s all about creating equal opportunities but I feel pitting genders against each other isn’t the way forward.”
As for the future? Matheson said she's witnessed a change in those entering the business via the Young Guns Network, who are "enthusiastic and confident". She continued: "The future generation don't seem to have the same fears as we do, they are less apologetic, more ballsy." Matheson also noted the emergence of "forward-thinking" companies like SoundCloud, that has a breastfeeding room, and her bosses at INgrooves, who are flexible about allowing employees with children work from home. "If companies continue to be forward-thinking and have that inclusive element to hiring and retaining staff, the future should end up a lot closer to 50/50."
About the author:
Music industry journalist Rhian Jones is a regular contributor to US title HITS and Music Business Worldwide. She's also written for titles including the Guardian, Independent on Sunday, Billboard, Music Ally, Company, Sunday Telegraph, The Journalist and Music Teacher.
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