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Gender Equality In Music: The Next Steps

Gender Equality In Music

Last year, I was delighted to be asked to speak on a panel at Brighton Music Conference. However, I was a whole lot less happy to find out that I was one of only two women speakers in the whole 2-day programme. So, I decided to do something about it, and put myself forward to be a member of the 2016 BMC Advisory Board – in large part to improve the gender equality of this year’s conference, and get more fantastic female speakers involved. I am privileged to know many, and determined that their talents be seen, heard and showcased. In the months leading up to BMC 2016 (which took place on 14th-15th April 2016), I worked alongside conference director Shino Allen to help get as many talented speakers on board as possible, both male and female – with the result being that women were represented in 90% of the conference’s panels. We still have some work to do – but it was a huge improvement on last year’s event, and I’m really proud of the changes that we achieved. 

As part of the BMC 2016 conference programme, Shino asked me to speak on a panel entitled ‘Gender Equality In Music: The Next Steps‘. My fellow speakers were moderator Carly Wilford (DJ and presenter), Alison Wenham (chairman and CEO of AIM), Ralf Kollmann (co-founder of Mobilee Records) and Halina Wielogorska (music and entertainment lawyer at Clintons Solicitors). The panel was aimed not only at analysing what the issues surrounding gender in music and beyond are, but also at what actions we can take in order to implement solutions, what more can still be done, and what a more gender-balanced future might look like. Given that this particular panel was included in the programme because the under-representation of women is still such a big problem at music industry events, I wanted to highlight some of the issues that were discussed, and shine more of a spotlight on some possible solutions for achieving gender equality in music. Issues such as:

1) Does the music industry still suffer from a lack of gender equality? What exactly are the problems that need to be solved? 

Unfortunately, yes, it does – even the fact that we still need to have the conversation is proof that we still have a problem. Of course, gender inequality and bias, sexism, misogyny and other intertwined issues aren’t just confined to the music industry – they are still ingrained in our society and our culture at an implicit, subconscious level, and rooted in their very foundations (more on that later). However, being an industry that’s still very male-dominated, music has more than its fair share of gender issues. You only have to look at the outpouring of stories about sexism in music sparked by Jessica Hopper of Pitchfork last August, the allegations of sexual assault by multiple women against music PR Heathcliff Berru in January this year, or the Girls Against campaign to end sexual harassment at gigs to see that sexism and violence against women in the industry is still a huge problem.

However, although it’s a hugely positive development that a spotlight is being shone on sexism and how to address it, it’s very far from being the only gender-related problem in music. Intertwined are several critical gaps between men and women that impact negatively on women’s careers, in music and in every industry:

1) The gap in the number of men and women at executive-level positions. McKinsey & Company’s 2015 Women in the Workplace study showed that women are still under-represented at every level of the career ladder — with the biggest disparity occurring in senior leadership roles.
2) The gender pay gap. In the US, women earn 76 cents for every dollar earned by a man. In the UK, women are likely to earn £300,000 less than men over their working lives, and the gap in average full-time annual salaries between men and women is 24% – more than four decades after the Equal Pay Act of 1970 was introduced. Worse still, the gender pay gap widens significantly as women get older, and can become a lifetime penalty for women who have children.
3) The credibility gap. While there’s no shortage of brilliant women entering the music industry, there’s still a lack of them in certain fields, such as engineering, production and label management. The problem isn’t a lack of interested, talented, technically-skilled women; it’s how women are viewed and treated at every stage of their careers. Where women take on more technical, or more traditionally male roles, there is still a credibility gap that comes from deeply-entrenched gender bias.

2) What does progress look like, and what initiatives are being implemented to effect change?

Even the fact that conversations about improving gender equality are so much more frequent and visible than just a few years ago is a measure of how far we’ve come, as women and men find their voices on the subject, and the confidence to address it publicly. There are also some fantastic initiatives for women in music, which are providing opportunities for networking, training and highlighting the achievements of women in the industry. For example, SheSaid.So, Music Week’s Women In Music AwardsAIM’s Women In Music initiativesPRS’ Women Make Music funding scheme – to name just a few. With women still so badly under-represented on DJ lineups and at festivals, there are now a multitude of schemes which provide training and support for women in electronic music, while feminist DJ groups like Discwoman are putting on their own festivals to showcase female talent.

Sometimes, these initiatives can seem like a double-edged sword, highlighting gender as an identifier, and seeming to provide women with special treatment. However, it’s crucial that they exist if we are to work towards achieving gender equality. Why? Because they provide opportunities for women to build their networks, their confidence and their skills, and because connecting with other skilled and successful women can open up a plethora of new opportunities. They also provide a safe space for women to grow and develop without fear of judgment, or the intimidation of being within a male-dominated environment. And the more examples we have of skilled women being successful in every field and at every career stage, the more we will inspire and help the next generation of women to follow in their footsteps. Plus, by bringing together and growing the community of women in music, one day, we will no longer be a minority. And when that happens, we will achieve the goal that AIM’s Alison Wenham stated on the BMC panel is the aim (no pun intended!) of all of the women in music initiatives that she organises – to make themselves redundant.

It’s also encouraging to see some of the big players in both tech and music taking action to close the gender pay gap, and provide more balanced parental leave and support for families. In 2015, Spotify announced that it will offer all staff globally up to six months’ parental leave with 100% pay, in recognition of the importance of a healthy work-family balance. Perhaps most importantly, Spotify said it will guarantee that a culture in which parents can take advantage of generous parental leave without negative consequences at work. Flexible working is also key to providing better support for parents, and enabling them to balance work and family commitments. On our BMC panel, Ralf Kollmann gave an example of having hired a single mother to join the Mobilee team, and then ensuring that the company provided her with flexible working conditions so that she was able to do her best both as a mother and as an employee.

Outside of the music industry, initiatives such as HeForSheWomen Not Objects and the Everyday Sexism Project are doing great work in bringing men and women together to fight against sexism, misogyny and gender inequality. In addition, the (male) bosses of companies such as Facebook, Salesforce and MasterCard have all publicly implemented initiatives aimed at achieving gender equality. At the end of last year, Facebook announced that it would be introducing four-month parental leave for every full-time employee of the company, regardless of gender or location. It has also gone on record as saying that it doesn’t have a gender pay gap, and that male and female employees doing the same work earn the same. MasterCard not only practises pay equity and provides generous parental leave – it also aims to accommodate new parents’ transition back to work. Just a couple of weeks ago, MasterCard’s president and CEO, Ajay Banga, proposed allowing employees to come back for half days at first, and to be able to bring their children to the office as they re-adjust to a work routine. Quite rightly, he also said that “both genders have to take ownership” of childcare and parenting.

Meanwhile, to get women on an equal playing field, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff directed the company to perform a comprehensive assessment of salaries to determine if men and women were being paid equally for comparable work. After finding that 6% of employees required a salary adjustment, Salesforce has since spent nearly $3 million to eliminate significant differences in pay; and reported that this adjustment has led to a 33% increase in the number of women promoted at the company in the last year.

And when Google increased paid leave from 12 to 18 weeks, the rate at which new mothers left fell by 50%.

3) Beyond the progress that has been made to date, what more can be done to achieve gender equality? 

While change is in effect in many areas, we mustn’t get complacent. There is still so much more work to do in order to close the gender pay gap, the credibility gap and the gap between men and women at every career stage. And in order to do so, we need to work together. Just as gender inequality isn’t a women’s problem, nor are the benefits of a more gender-balanced world limited to women. This is about achieving equal rights for everybody, and benefiting not just men and women, but our economy and society as a whole. Research has shown time and again that diversity is good for business and the economy. Closing the gender pay gap in the UK would not only boost female earnings in the UK by £80bn; if the UK could match Sweden’s 60% female employment rate, it could boost GDP by 9%, or £170bn.

Yes, there is more that women can do for themselves on an individual level. Women need to believe in themselves, have the confidence to advance their careers in the way that they want to, and to negotiate salaries that reflect their skills and experience accurately. But this isn’t a problem for women to solve alone; and it’s certainly not the case that women just need to ‘Lean In’ more (sorry, Sheryl Sandberg). Just as we need as many positive female role models as possible, we need more men to step up, and follow in the footsteps of Spotify’s Daniel Ek, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Salesforce’s Marc Benioff, MasterCard’s Ajay Banga and Mobilee’s Ralf Kollmann. These men are helping to achieve gender equality by making it a priority within their businesses, supporting male and female employees equally at every career stage, and working to be positive role models as business leaders, colleagues, fathers, partners, peers and friends.

And at a business and a government level, there needs to be further development in providing both men and women with equal pay, equal parental leave, and equal opportunities for career advancement. Because while the aforementioned companies are doing great work, they are still the exception, not the rule. And even companies committed to improving gender equality still have a long way to goat Salesforce, women still represent just one third of the company’s total staff, and fill only one in five technical roles.

Clearly, there is no blueprint for achieving gender equality. In the short-term, highlighting the issues we face as a society regarding sexism and gender equality, raising awareness of them, and encouraging both sexes to tackle them together is a good start. But discussion is not enough; we need action. We can only succeed in achieving a better gender balance if we all take it upon ourselves to be responsible for solving the problems we face, to work together in order to do so, and to make gender equality a priority. It’s down to individual people and companies to commit to fostering change and diversity; but if we come together in order to do so, we can amplify the impact that that change will have. We must inspire, educate and mentor each other, as well as future generations.

And it’s those future generations who will reap the biggest benefits; because in the long-term, if we are truly to solve the issues surrounding gender inequality, we must effect a seismic cultural shift in the gender attitudes that we instil in our children. It goes without saying that this is a huge challenge, and one that will take generations, but we must teach them from the earliest age that both boys and girls can grow up to do and achieve anything that they want to – whether that’s in music, STEM or any other discipline or industry that they choose – and that as a society, men and women are equally responsible for achieving gender equality.

Many people who are far wiser than me have spoken eloquently on this subject, but one recent speech really hit home for me. Ken Lay, former Police Commissioner of Victoria, Australia, worked as a police officer for 41 years, dedicating his career to responding to – and trying to eradicate – family violence. Speaking at the UN’s International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women in November 2015, he outlined how disturbing attitudes towards gender are instilled in very young children, and the cultural complacency that allows those attitudes to develop. You can read the transcript of his full speech here, and I highly recommend doing so – it’s an incredibly insightful, inspiring, disturbing, moving, passionate and sometimes painful read.

Referring to recent research that demonstrated all too shockingly the consequences that the aforementioned cultural complacency can lead to, Mr. Lay discussed our “…poisonous and deeply entrenched ideas about gender”, the “…attitudes that are so embedded that we don’t challenge them, and the fact that “…we can’t challenge them because at times we can’t see them.” He highlighted how we develop male privilege early, while simultaneously encouraging deference in girls to that behaviour; and the ways in which “…as a society, we make excuses for boys, and subtly encourage girls to do the same…we are sympathetic to boys’ behaviour and more suspicious of girls’…we ask women to define themselves relative to men…we possess double standards. Standards that are deeply ingrained, and that are a damaging outcome of our attitudes.”

4) What does the future look like?

Here’s hoping that one day, we’ll get to a point when we will have eradicated the unconscious (and conscious) bias that leads to the problems outlined above. When women will no longer be under-represented or patronised at industry events. When women in music initiatives will be redundant. When people are just people, and it’s their skills and experience which truly determine the best person for the job, as opposed to their gender, race, religion, or any other discriminatory signifier.

As Ken Lay put it, when it comes to gender equality, “We need to set the bar much higher than we are.” And whenever the issues of sexism and gender equality are raised and discussed, the most important question we need to be asking ourselves is: “What are we doing about it?”

Music Marketing

How Digital Darwinism Can Drive Dance Music

Brighton Music Conference panel

Still only in its second year, Brighton Music Conference is the UK’s only electronic music conference, aiming to become the British answer to ADE. With a packed two-day schedule of panels, Q&As and showcases attracting some of the industry’s most influential workers, DJs, producers and exhibitors, this year’s BMC went way beyond beats, booze and beach parties to shine a laser-edged spotlight on the state of the dance music industry in 2015.

The stage was set with the conference’s opening keynote, entitled ‘Protecting The Dance Floor’, in which AFEM’s Mark Lawrence outlined the manifold threats facing the electronic music industry. These include nightclubs threatened with closure, fans exposed to life-threatening substances without information or protection, creators and rights-holders denied income that is rightfully theirs, and music stolen on an unprecedented scale. The keynote called for the industry to unite, to create a platform for communication and the catalyst for change, while the rest of BMC 2015 was dedicated to exploring exactly how the industry can continue to invest in A&R, develop artists and create world-class live events and releases in a world of diminishing revenues and returns.

Of course, digital distribution and monetisation – and in some cases, a lack of – dominated the debate. Believe Digital’s General Manager Lee Morrison pointed out that streaming makes up 45% of revenues for some labels, and that it’s key for discovery – which in turn drives sales of downloads, tickets and other products – but was also critical of the fact that a lot of labels don’t embrace streaming like they do downloads. While panellists were broadly positive about the promotional powers of platforms like SoundCloud, they stressed the dangers of putting a full-length track online pre-release: “Once the genie’s out of the bottle, it’s never going back in”.

However, the clock cannot simply be turned back. The streaming genie was freed from the bottle a long time ago, and the time for windowing releases on streaming or promotional platforms in order to protect sales is over. As Merlin’s CEO Charles Caldas stated in this recent interview with Music Ally: “As the value of the streaming market grows, people are starting to realise that consumption is the new sales. Anywhere that people are listening to music is actually the end-game now.” Industry analyst Mark Mulligan nailed it in his post about SoundCloud’s transformation: “The discovery journey has also become the consumption journey but the change is happening so fast that it is easy to confuse the two. This is why we have the paradoxical situation where 10 million streams on Spotify is considered to be x amount of lost sales while 10 million YouTube views is considered a marketing success. Right now a large chunk of digital marketing activity that is driving streams on YouTube and SoundCloud is tactic without purpose. It is marketing for marketing’s sake without a clear enough sense of what the end goal is.”

Promotional platforms such as SoundCloud are becoming destinations where discovery and consumption are monetised; while monetised platforms such as Beatport and Apple are diversifying to become promotional platforms. The music industry has to adapt, and accept that the future of music marketing lies on the streaming services themselves. With new features like Apple Music Connect being introduced, there is a huge, as yet largely untapped opportunity for artists and labels to interact with fans both new and old in the time and place where that person is discovering and consuming their music; which in turn is likely to forge a much more meaningful connection than in a social network feed cluttered with cat videos. With organic reach and engagement on the likes of Facebook and Twitter increasingly becoming a race to the bottom, social features on streaming services will once again empower artists to reach all of their fans on with a simple update or notification. This is particularly crucial since further research by Mulligan shows that the abundance of choice offered by streaming is leading to more casual and fickle artist-fan relationships; features that help artists to deepen that relationship again, to keep fans on streaming services and consuming more of their music, are increasingly important.

Downloads, meanwhile, may not be dead just yet; but as industry journalist, podcast host and DJ/producer Ben Gomori noted, “People are downloading even free music much less than they used to, because streaming is becoming so all-important” – while Dave Clarke opined that “iTunes is done…even Beatport is changing…it’s all about streaming.” And it’s fair to say that nowhere is the growing dominance of streaming over downloads more noticeable than at Beatport. In a clear effort to manage the transition between the two without cannibalising its core business of the Beatport Pro download store, VP of Music Services Terry Weerasinghe confirmed that pre-orders are coming soon, across both the Pro download store and its nascent streaming service. Users will be able to stream tracks and pre-order them for purchase on Beatport Pro; and a pre-order will count as a sale on the day of purchase, not when the track goes on sale. How that will affect the Beatport charts? Will streaming drive download sales, or perhaps the other way around? How much is a stream on Beatport worth to an artist or label, compared to the likes of Spotify or Apple? Only time will tell.

It was also confirmed that Beatport is becoming a UGC (user-generated content) platform, where anyone will be able to upload their own content or a mix and content will be fingerprinted against Beatport’s catalogue. With uploads looming large, and mixes already available on the platform, there is a clear opportunity for Beatport to become as key a promotional platform as something like SoundCloud. Could it be that Beatport will become a cross between Spotify and SoundCloud, with a huge catalogue of promotional, UGC content sitting alongside licensed mixes and fully monetised releases? If anyone call fill that gap, Beatport can; but it needs to follow in the footsteps of Apple and integrate the same kind of direct artist-fan interaction if it’s going to really become a one-stop shop for dance music and maximise all of its monetisation opportunities to their full potential.

And it’s certainly not just Beatport that has work to do. Spotify data economist Glenn McDonald rhapsodised about streaming giving artists the ability to see exactly who’s listening to your track, when, where and how; but let’s face it, the data that Spotify et al currently make available to artists and labels is limited to say the least. Data that enables the electronic music industry to identify their audiences, interact with them and monetise them is where streaming’s core value lies for artists and labels, but streaming services must make it easily and freely accessible. In addition, initiatives like creating proper label profiles on Spotify and making it easier for artists and labels to identify and interact with key playlist curators would also increase the value of streaming exponentially for the music industry as a whole.

So what of streaming’s impact on the dance floor itself? Dave Clarke noted that “in the future, DJs will even stream live in clubs” – but as Weerasinghe pointed out, “DJs won’t switch to streaming until the likes of Pioneer develop the equipment, and that equipment is installed in most clubs around the world.” There’s a long way to go before streaming dominates the dance floor in the same way as it does the mobile device and the desktop – but, in time, could that development open up a whole new revenue stream for artists and DJs? In a panel on AFEM’s ‘Get Played, Get Paid’ initiative, Mark Lawrence noted that “a play in a club is worth roughly 30-50p” – a lot more lucrative than any streaming service, and a rate than could enable labels to recoup their promo investment. However, there is still approximately £100m a year in performance royalties reportedly lost or incorrectly distributed; partly due to incomplete or missing data on what music is actually played in clubs, and partly due to the fact that far too many writers, artists and tracks aren’t registered with collection societies, meaning that the organisations don’t know who to pay. A significant pay packet is being missed out on because, as Lawrence put it, “The biggest problem facing electronic music is that it doesn’t know what its problems are.” That is to say that a large part of the industry still isn’t even aware of this issue, and AFEM and the various collection societies still have a huge amount of work to do in order to raise awareness and educate artists, DJs, labels, managers, promoters, publishers, agents, retailers and broadcasters on how to make the most of this missed revenue.

In this increasingly fragmented and constantly changing digital landscape, the dance music industry faces bigger challenges than ever when it comes to marketing, monetisation and making sure that the music doesn’t get lost in the middle. Nobody has all the answers; nobody can be certain of streaming’s implications for music discovery and consumption; but it’s abundantly clear that in this period of time of transition, innovation and investment in every possible digital revenue stream is the only way to drive dance music forward. Streaming in particular is ushering in a new era of digital Darwinism at an unprecedented speed, and in order to not just survive but thrive, electronic music must not only adapt but also actively innovate in this brave new world. The last word goes to Lawrence: “You have to embrace change, follow up on every revenue stream, but your A&R has to stay true to itself.”