In 1966, James Brown said, “This is a man’s world, but it wouldn’t be nothing without a woman or a girl.” It’s been 50 years since these famous words were first uttered, but not much has really changed. For the most part, it’s still a man’s world—regardless of what industry is the subject of conversation, men continue to be in the majority. However, anyone would be foolish to deny the impact powerful women have in any field.
In the music industry, as in any area of employment, women have a harder time earning the success or respect they deserve without being subjected to gender stereotypes or consistently being objectified for their image. Although women have come a very long way in terms of respect and success in this industry, we still have quite a long way to go before the “female” tag finally stops being used as a label in front of our positions.
There’s no precise answer as to how women can finally get the equality we deserve, but we asked women in various lanes of the music industry to share their own experiences and thoughts in hopes of inspiring a new generation aiming to make their mark.
Do your research.
The music industry is constantly evolving. Being aware of the trends is important, but not enough. It’s crucial to not only keep up with the changes that are happening, but also figure out ways to stay ahead of the game. Sarah J, a manager and producer who has over a decade of experience under her belt, explains the importance of staying knowledgeable about your field. “This business is forever changing, so it’s really important that you do your research,” Sarah says. “Just be on the up-and-up as far as what’s out here, different avenues you can take with your career. When different scenarios come up in music, if it doesn’t go your way it’s easy to cry about it or take it personally but at the end of the day, it’s business. You have to look at it logically and with a thick skin. Just be ready to look at things logically and be able to brush things off if it doesn’t go your way.”
Because the male to female ratio within the industry is so unbalanced, it can be common for women to feel too intimidated to question inequalities. Being grateful for a rare business opportunity does not equate to allowing inappropriate treatment to pass. “A few of the things I've personally done to overcome these inequalities is confide in other woman in the industry,” says Nikki Bennett, the Director of Publicity at XL Recordings. “Educate myself with literature on the topics of gender inequality and work on realizing my own self-worth. As Amal Clooney recently said, it's all about performing ‘everyday acts of feminism.’”
Young women looking to expand their role or jump-start their careers have the option to learn from others, even if they can’t build a support system on the job. “There is so much great literature out there and using it to educate yourself on the climate of the music industry so you are prepared once you start the job search, negotiate salaries, etc. is priceless,” Bennett continues. “I personally loved Hanna Rosin's book The End Of Men And The Rise Of Woman."
Asking for help when you need it is not an indication of weakness. “Don't be ‘too independent.’ Doing everything on your own isn't smart,” 21 Savage’s manager Kei Henderson explains. “Seek out mentors early in your career—that's something I never took advantage of—but being close to someone that has been doing this longer than you can help you avoid rookie pitfalls.”
Learning from experienced elders is a priceless education that should be cherished. As the knowledge continues to be passed down, we’re working to create a better work environment and business for not just us, but also the young women who will come after us. Julie Rene Tran, founder and director of publicity at All The Best Media, admits that she credits her success to the “network of badass, lady-bosses” who surround her. “They’re never above helping another sister out. With that said, don’t be afraid to ask questions and for help. It’s called taking initiative; it’s not a sign of weakness. Get it done, work with integrity, follow your guts.”
Having a core support group around you is important in any aspect of life, and a mentor is great resource for anyone working to further their career—having someone more experienced and established by your side to offer advice and guide you when things get rough can lessen the burden of the journey.
“I've worked with some amazing, strong women who have led the way for me, explains publicist Dana Meyerson. "And I'm lucky to work with many men who not only respect me, but also understand that there's a ‘boy's club’ that exists and are sensitive to it and make efforts to make everyone feel included."
Actions speak louder than words, and sometimes getting respect is all about embracing positions of power, demonstrating your value, and having confidence in your decisions. If you sense that your co-workers are doubting your abilities, prove them wrong.
Allyson Toy, A&R Consultant, DJ, and Red Bull Artist Marketing Manager, explains: “First step, be firm but not overly forceful and never play the victim—that is, surrender. Second, learn to understand the reality we live in and bend it to your advantage, defying others' expectations of you. In other words, stand out for the right reasons. Does anyone in the music world expect a five-foot tall, teenaged looking Asian girl to be cutting their checks? No, but by the time I hand you one, you'll already know what I'm about.”
It’s unfortunate, but there are sure to be inappropriate scenarios that will make you feel uncomfortable. However, just because these things are common, it doesn’t mean that they should be brushed off. Your dream job shouldn’t ask you to put your integrity aside. “If anyone ever says or does something to make you feel uncomfortable, it's absolutely OK to call them out on it, and peers need to respect and support that,” says Meyerson. “As a whole, women in the music industry can be complacent with inappropriate behavior because we don't want to damage relationships or be exiled into the categories of 'not fun,' 'no sense of humor,' or ‘rape police.’" Bottom line: speak up.
Work harder than the rest.
Some people may be quick to speculate how you got your job or question your level of intelligence. In order to earn the respect we deserve, women often have to work ten times as hard as their male peers. No matter how much others may want to deny it, once you’ve proven how brilliant and powerful you are, they’ll have no other choice but to give you the respect you deserve.
“Be a beast, bust your ass and don't ask for any slack,” singer and songwriter Bibi Bourelly advises. “As a matter a fact, overcompensate in your work ethic and push yourself until you get into a position where no one can deny you. By that time, you would've worked so hard that you'll be able to sustain that position forever, and then start changing shit for us.”
Trust your instincts.
“Everyone always thinks they’re smarter than you," Kristan McCann, A&R at Warner/Chappell Music, says. "You’ll hear from countless people: ‘This is what you need to do to succeed…’ And some people will give good, sound advice. But whatever that may be, don’t ever compromise yourself, your morals or well-being to ‘make it.’ There is no formula and everyone has a different experience. Trust in your journey to bring you where you’re supposed to be. Fear is normal, but you should never feel ashamed or allow any person or situation to make you think less of yourself and what you bring to the table.”