A resource for a fairer music industry

People, Places & Programmes:

Earlier this month, some of the music industry’s biggest players (Sony, Warner, Spotify, Live Nation, AEG) published their gender pay gap reports. Though a welcome release, since it was not mandatory for companies to share their data during the coronavirus pandemic, it depicted a sobering story for the reality of gender (in)equality in music’s big business.

Shesaid.so is one organisation seeking to redress said gender imbalance through community efforts and female oriented support networks. It is a global network of women in the music industry that spans fifteen different cities and has nearly ten thousand members. Their aim is to create a space where women can openly ask for advice, share jobs and events, announce new projects and build communities.

“I wanted a sisterhood and a sense of collaboration between women working in the music industry.”

Andreea Magdalina founded shesaid.so at the end of 2014 after moving from a tech startup to Mixcloud, where she began to notice a lack of awareness regarding gender bias in the music industry.

“I started to notice that when I attended music events or meetings on behalf of Mixcloud, I would always be talking to a woman on email but then the actual meeting would be with their superior which was nearly always a white man. And this was just accepted as the status quo.

I came from the tech world, which in my opinion tends to be a little fairer compared to the music industry. It’s in no way perfect, but at that time tech firms were already acknowledging and discussing their lack of diversity whereas in music no one was talking about it.

I’d come across a few ‘women in tech’ groups but didn’t know of anything similar for women in music, so I decided to start my own. I wanted a sisterhood and a sense of collaboration between women working in the music industry. I remember knocking on a lot of women’s doors and getting rejected because, at that time, many women didn’t want to be labelled. They didn’t want to be recognised on the basis of their gender, which I completely understand, but fast forward six years and I feel really grateful for what we’ve built as a community.”

Six years on and shesaid.so’s efforts have proven to be significant. Their she.grows mentorship programme offers one-to-one peer support and has shown real life results in terms of helping women and gender minorities get promotions and land jobs at major labels. But as the recent gender pay gap report shows, there is still a way to go in terms of gender balancing on a mass scale.

“It’s not as simple as hiring one woman or black person because you don’t have any in your team. Sure, that’s a good step forward, but it takes so much more to create an inclusive culture where people feel represented and welcomed, like they’re an integral part of the team and not just the diversity hire. All of the work we’ve been doing in our mentorship programme with our brand partners applies pressure to the companies that essentially hold the key to the industry's economic ecosystem. We want them to invest in our projects, and by doing so, we re-educate them about the importance of diversity.

It’s easy to create a bubble around yourself on social media and feel like “great, everyone is talking about this, so job done” but unfortunately it’s not as easy as that. You still have to go out and demand actions to be taken to create change.

I see our work as split into two categories. One being awareness and the other being solutions. We’re at a point where everyone is aware that diversity is an issue. We used to be knocking on companies' doors asking them to change, but now those companies are knocking on our door and asking for our help, which is great. So we’re in the second phase, which is the solutions and the actions. We want to see the results of the awareness but I’m afraid to say that we are still very far from the numbers reflecting change.”

The statistics show how gender affects career trajectory, but gender reports often fail to break down the varied picture of inequality. A recent study from Women In Ctrl called ‘Seat At The Table’ looked at the make up of twelve of the UK’s key industry trade bodies. It shows that across those trade bodies, only 27% of women are CEOs. None of them are black.

“Even for the most privileged of white men, the music industry is a difficult place to navigate, and once you’re in, as a woman you realise you’ve then got these additional challenges, let alone if you’re a black woman or a gay woman, or intersex.”

The whitewashing of feminist movements has always been a contentious issue, but with the Black Lives Matter movement gaining more momentum, it feels important as ever to make sure we build an industry that serves women from all backgrounds. Andreea speaks of her own experiences and the importance of transparency in building trust.

“I’m from Romania but I went to London for University, and as a Romanian in London I was first hit by discrimination because of my accent. The moment I opened my mouth and people heard I was Eastern European I felt a sense of ‘how come you’re at university and not babysitting?’ Access is a huge problem in music. Even for the most privileged of white men, the music industry is a difficult place to navigate, and once you’re in, as a woman you realise you’ve then got these additional challenges, let alone if you’re a black woman or a gay woman, or intersex. Each of these things makes developing your career that bit harder, and I know that because I see first-hand the privileges I have as a white woman.

By being a community where we’re transparent about these things, we’ve created a safe space where women can chat to each other, which in itself is inspiring and empowering. Just being aware of what other women around you are doing gives you confidence. Confidence and imposter-syndrome is a really big factor for women, and our mentorship programmes offer women the chance to feel empowered. There’s a systemic mentality issue that we’re trying to change.”

And what about class?

“We know that class is partly organised around geography, for example a huge amount of wealth in the UK is based around London. So one of the most important steps we are taking is building chapters in other cities. We now have a Northern UK chapter and a Brighton chapter, and we’re trying to be open to people outside of gentrified spaces. This isn’t necessarily our expertise, but it’s our duty to identify who the low economic communities are and make sure our projects reach the people who wouldn’t normally hear of them.”

“Every movement starts with grassroots and local talents that are forced into experimentation because there is no other way of gaining access.”

Most now accept that structural change is much needed in music. People from all genders, class, and race need to be better represented if we are to move forward as a society, let alone as an industry, but the most difficult thing to pin down is how, exactly, this change will come. There is a sense of momentum among alternative organisations who are keen to redefine success, and Andreea believes it is the grassroots that will bring about reform.

“Change will never come from the top down because when you’re at the top you don’t see the problems the people below you have. That’s the case in all aspects of life. Every movement starts with grassroots and local talents that are forced into experimentation because there is no other way of gaining access. And it’s the same with diversity and inclusion. Change happens from the people at the bottom holding the people at the top accountable and applying pressure. There are very few companies built with good principles embedded from the start. I think Bandcamp is a great example of a company that from the start focused on compensating independent artists in a fair way, as opposed to Spotify or Facebook who are built with a business model of ads and profits. You can see that Bandcamp were authentic about it.

I’m really proud of our Alternative Power 100 List, which is a counter to the Billboard Power 100. You tend to see the same companies and faces on that list, so we created an alternative to redefine what power and success means in this industry. To show that you don’t need to be a vice president of Universal to sign an amazing artist, and highlight the work in the industry that often goes unnoticed.”

It is true that the coronavirus pandemic has put a spanner in the works for the music industry, but it has also been a time for reflection and a chance for other voices to be heard. The Black Lives Matter movement acted as a much needed catalyst and even since writing this article, volumes of women have come forward in unity to call out the entrenched ‘culture of toxic masculinity’ of Burger Records and its associated acts. Lockdown has given alternative organisations breathing space and a chance to map out a course for change. And it will be communities like shesaid.so that pave the way for a music industry that is open to all.


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