Is it time to move on from ‘women in music’?

The lack of power that women generally attain in the global music industry has been a key talking point in the business over the last few years.

We know there’s little diversity amongst those in top decision-making positions, female acts have made up a relatively small percentage of festival line-ups globally, and men make most of the music that hits the charts.

To shed light on inequality and celebrate those in the minority, there are gender-specific award ceremonies, power lists, panel discussions and articles. But when will it become time for the segregation to stop?

Could there come a day when the issue has been given enough airtime to ensure no-one has an excuse not to be inclusive – and women consistently rise to the same platforms as men, rather than existing in a category that could be perceived as ‘other’.

These questions were at the center of a heated discussion at Reeperbahn Festival in Hamburg last Thursday (September 20) – featuring songwriter and We Are Hear co-founder Linda Perry, producer Tony Visconti, musician Kinnie Starr and music marketing specialist Pat Carr debating how to combat inequality with action.

Said Perry: “I get asked all the time, why do you think there are not enough women [in music]. How about just get rid of the label? We’re almost putting the label on ourselves as branding that we are not equal because we have our own thing going on.

“It’s like gay people marching in a gay area. Who cares if you’re gay here, everyone is, get out there into the real world. If you want to march about being equal you are going to have to go downtown where all the straight people are.

“We’re almost putting the label [women in music] on ourselves. We have to find solutions and move forward.”

linda perry

“We’re doing this thing within our system that is just recycling over and over and it’s going around and around and not moving. We have to find solutions and move forward.”

Carr agreed: “Can we stop having women in music panels? I think that’s a target.

“Women not being equal needs to be [considered] as something that [used to be] weird. That should be permeated into people’s psyches.”

The solution to inequality starts with education and mentorship, said Starr, who teaches children in Canada to write beats and songs, encouraging them to hone their skills instead of chasing fame. 

She explained: “We’re taught in the music business that success is fame. A lot of kids [I work with] watch TV and want to be famous, and I’m like, No, you want to be able to write and produce amazing music because then you’re going to feel good about yourself.

“We need to get rid of the idea that fame is the goal because that allows us to create our own pathway, and change is created anytime you have a tool kit and give it away.”

“We need to get rid of the idea that fame is the goal because that allows us to create our own pathway.”

kinnie starr

Perry is currently working on a monthly show with YouTube where she invites women producers and songwriters into her studio across different cities.

“We’re not going to talk about why there is no women, we’re going to discuss our favourite mics and our favourite drum sounds,” she said. 

“It’s fun to be in the studio and I think girls need to see how sexy it can be to pick up a mic and mic a drum set, or [for those who] don’t think about engineering to want to get out there. Then you’ll start seeing change.”

Visconti said the corporate culture of today’s music business is partly to blame for inequality, and encouraged musicians to remain in control of their careers.

“Labels today are more corporate and focused on the bottom line than ever before, and while they will sign women, I don’t know if they’d sign a rebellious woman,” he said. 

“I encourage people to say what they’ve got to say independently. Why prostitute yourself if you’re an artist? Be proud of your work.”

tony visconti

“They even like to control females at that level by having them dress scantily — a guy does not have to appear on stage in a jockstrap, that’s how ridiculous it is — so women who are very serious in music might come up against that barrier.

“That’s why I encourage people to say what they’ve got to say independently. If you’ve got 100,000 sales, which is amazing nowadays, a label will come and offer you a lot of money. It’s tempting but I think if you go that far you can go further on your own.

“Why prostitute yourself if you’re an artist? Be proud of your work.”

Carr agreed: “If it’s only about the bottom line in music, nothing is ever going to change. As artists or managers, if you come up against people with [dated] attitudes, go elsewhere, do it yourself, make your own luck.

“That’s about women and it’s about good music and the future of great music, whether it’s written by women or men, something different, something quirky, and something that… might not get on the radio!”

The final word of advice? Support and respect others. 

Carr, a consultant who has previously worked with the likes of alt-J, Blink 182 and Annie Lennox during her years at BMG and 19 Entertainment, said: “I’ve been disappointed with the lack of support frowomen. Just because we’re the same sex doesn’t mean we have to all love each other, we’ll disagree and you’ll compete with other women and that’s fine, but it’s about respect.

“There’s an advert running in the UK right now highlighting female executives who’ve been overlooked at award ceremonies, and the way that came together was really interesting and good.”

“I’ve been disappointed with the lack of support from women. Just because we’re the same sex doesn’t mean we have to all love each other, but it’s about respect.”

pat carr

Perry concluded: “We are in a very troubling time right now in the world and the particular person who might be heading these problems [Donald Trump] has brought all the bad to the table.

“It’s no longer underneath the carpet. As fucked up as this dude is, it’s creating a community reaction and we are able to hold each other’s hands. I’m seeing more support across the board than at any time.”

Perry added: “Women [can be] assholes, they don’t support each other, especially the girl artists who are all jealous of each other. But lately is the first time I’ve been seeing female musicians get together and support each other and it’s all because of that motherfucker.

“We are wide awake, it’s now time to be active and pro-active and show them what we’ve got.”

Music Business Worldwide

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