The British music industry is today facing tough scrutiny over incidents of sexual harassment and abuse.
Four prominent UK music industry figures have told their personal stories to the BBC – including experiences of serious sexual misconduct by males in positions of power.
The BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire show this morning (December 18) featured testimonies from two well-known young artists – Chloe Howl and a charting singer/songwriter speaking under condition of anonymity – as well as artist manager Yasmin Lajoie and music supervisor Michelle De Vries.
You can watch a video of their interviews at the end of this article.
Lajoie, who spent nearly six years working for Sony/ATV in London from 2010, tells the programme that she was sexually abused in London at age 23 by someone working in talent management.
Lajoie, 29, says that the individual fell asleep on her sofa after a night out, but later climbed into her bed and molested her while she was asleep.
“I didn’t know how long he’d been doing it before I woke up,” she says. “He went back to sleep on the sofa and in the morning he was gone.
“It was one of the most horrible experiences of my life – I felt truly violated.”
She adds: “I went to work and I very quietly told people, [but] I was encouraged to keep quiet on the matter, because it would hurt our chances of signing this artist.
“[The accused perpetrator] actually got away with assault.”
Michelle De Vries recounts a distressing experience from early in her career after she landed an “incredible” job in the music business working abroad in her twenties.
The exec recalls that her work permit hadn’t come through and therefore she was told she would temporarily have to stay with an older, more senior work colleague.
“I had been there for a few days when small things happened – he would walk into my room in the mornings with no clothes on,” says De Vries.
“Then one night he came into the room and said he wanted to sleep with me… I was a young girl and I really didn’t know how to handle this sort of thing.”
“the lawyer said, if you report this, you will never work in the music industry again.”
De Vries says the individual increased his unwanted advances to the point of masturbating in front of her.
“I felt ashamed… I felt like a sex slave. That’s the best way to describe it.”
She says that she later called the local immigration office, only to discover her work permit had actually been approved several months before.
After moving into an apartment and continuing to work for the company, De Vries says that the same executive called her into his office alongside a female colleague. She claims he then exposed himself to both of them and asked for a threesome.
They subsequently both resigned from the company.
“We went to a lawyer and were categorically told that [the exec] had committed a serious crime. But the lawyer said, if you report this, you will never work in the music industry again.”
De Vries says the executive is still working in the music industry, and “I know for a fact he’s had other allegations against him”.
One of the British artists featured on the programme is given the fictional name of ‘Amy’, and has her true identity hidden.
The singer/songwriter claims she was “groomed” from the age of 15 by a manager working for “one of the really big music companies in the UK”, who discovered her online and signed her before she went on to domestic chart success.
However, she says that after a few years, this relationship took a dark turn when the manager “told me that he was in love with me, and that if I didn’t agree to be his girlfriend then he would ruin my career. I was 17 at this point and he was quite a few years older than me.”
She adds: “Over the next two years he continued to blackmail and threaten me to be in a relationship with him… he convinced me that I would be nothing without him and that if I told anyone, that success would go away – that no-one would want to work with me without him in the picture.”
“Over the next two years he continued to blackmail and threaten me to be in a relationship with him.”
The manager – who is still working in the music industry today – became more controlling as time went on, Amy says.
“He made a list of all the things I was and wasn’t allowed to do. It had things like showing him more affection, talking to my friends and family less, and making sure he was the person I talked to most in my life.”
Then, she says, he started sexually assaulting her.
“I didn’t want to survive any more, because it was just a horrible life… I thought ‘I’m going to get a nine-to-five job and I’ll be banned from the music industry, but I’d rather be banished from doing what I love than have to spend any more time with this man.”
She adds: “I was 15 when we met and he was looking online for a girl to manage. It does worry me that he’s still working and that this might happen to somebody else.
“From afar I check up on him to make sure he’s not managing any other young girls, and at the moment he isn’t.”
Chlöe Howl is a British singer/songwriter who was nominated for both the BBC Sound Of… longlist and the BRIT Critics Choice Award in 2014.
Howl tells the Victoria Derbyshire show that, around this period, a key member of her industry team was “coming on to me in pretty strong way… he was a lot older than me and we were meant to be professionally working together”.
She adds: “I was a teenager… as time went on he would encourage me into doing things I had never really done before like drugs, which I had no experience in whatsoever.
“He would drop me off at my hotel and then text me to say, ‘Why didn’t you invite me in?’ I would be like, ‘God, am I meant to invite this person in that I’m working with?’
“I know girls who’ve been raped, and it’s always a man in power and a girl on the rise who needs as much support as possible.”
“I would feel pressured to flirt back with him, or not make it seem weird, because I didn’t want to disappoint this guy who I thought held my career in his hands.
“He started sending me texts one night completely out the blue, telling me he was madly in love with me, [how] if he wasn’t working with me he’d be totally cracking onto me.”
“When I was 18 I remember one night he grabbed my bum and said something along the lines of, ‘I feel like we’d have really good times in the sack.’ I was a teenager and I was off my face.”
Howl, who was previously signed to Columbia Records, describes herself as “one of the lucky ones”.
“I know girls who’ve been raped, and it’s always a man in power and a girl on the rise who needs as much support as possible, whose career hasn’t started yet – maybe this is her first bit shot,” she says.
Inspired by the post-Harvey Weinstein public discussion over abuse and the #metoo movement, Yasmin Lajoie has been collecting stories of sexual misconduct from individuals working in the UK music industry.
She says: “I expected to see stories of sexual harassment – ‘he wouldn’t stop looking at my boobs, or I got unwanted compliments from him all the time’ – but what I’ve actually received are stories of rape happening on company property, men insisting on [oral sex] from young women, men seriously assaulting women, chasing them down the street, raping them in apartments owned by major music companies.”
“Sexual assault and abuse in the music industry is endemic. I don’t have a single peer in the music industry who’s never been sexually harassed or assaulted.”
She adds: “Sexual assault and abuse in the music industry is endemic. I don’t have a single peer in the music industry who’s never been sexually harassed or assaulted.”
The women featured in the programme have now kickstarted a campaign calling for changes in the way women are protected from sexually aggressive behaviour in the UK industry.
Says De Vries: “I thought [my story] was a hangover of the eighties and nineties; I thought that sort of behaviour is no longer in the business. But it’s very clear that behaviour is still going on.
“Young woman are being sexually assaulted… there are some very dangerous men in this business.”Music Business Worldwide