AIM Women In Music Mark, Lara, Melanie C, Paul

What we learnt at the AIM Women In Music event

Earlier in January, we attended the AIM (Association of Independent Music) Women In Music event at City Hall.

AIM have been running their Women In Music events for the last decade. Hosted by Lara Baker, Marketing and Events Director at AIM, the evening kicked off with a welcome from their CEO, Paul Pacifico.

Paul Pacifico explained that the purpose of the event was to give positive and practical advice. He commented on the fact that even though women make up more than 50% of the population they are still not represented proportionately in the music industry. AIM wants to ’empower and support women as entrepreneurs but also support women in other people’s companies to break down the pay gap’. As well as championing successful women, they also want ‘to foster and encourage up and coming women to break through’.

We were then welcomed by Sharon Matheson from event sponsor INgrooves. Sharon set the scene by talking about how, in the early stages of her career, she had once been asked to sign a contract saying that she didn’t have the intention of sleeping with a man before going into business with him. Unsurprisingly she declined. She acknowledged that movements like ‘#me too’ and Time’s Up in the film industry are a step in the right direction in terms of resolving some of the inequality issues for women, but added that this is only the start. She too thought it was important that we recognise how much the gender pay gap is still affecting many women.

Paulette Long OBE
Paulette Long OBE. Photo: AIM Facebook page

Diversity is Good for You

The first keynote was by Paulette Long OBE, Co-Chair of the UK Music Diversity Taskforce. She was one of the founders of the UK Music Equality And Diversity Charter in 2012. The team ran a UK Music Workforce Diversity Survey in 2016.

The survey found that among new starters in the music industry, those who have worked for under a year, 27.5% are BAME. The proportion of BAME staff in senior positions is much lower and decreases by age. The survey finds 23.7% of BAME workers aged 25-34 are in senior roles, while between the ages of 35 and 44 the figure is 11.7% and from 45 to 64, this figures sits at 7.6%.

She touched on a range of topics that she had considered talking about for her keynote but actually what she wished she could be having a conversation about was blockchain, AI as a disrupter or how technology is changing the way we listen to and consume music. She was frustrated that in 2018, we were still in a place where we have to be talking about equal pay, and are told that it’s ‘going to take years’, and that we still have to push so hard to reach diversity in the industry across age, disability, class, race, religion and sexuality.

She finished her keynote with a pause for thought, encouraging the audience to ponder, ‘what are you doing in regards to diversity?’ and to consider, ‘what change or action will you make to enhance the area you are working in?’

Melanie C in conversation with Mark Sutherland

Next up, Melanie C was interviewed by Mark Sutherland, the Editor of Music Week. Some may think it odd at first that AIM chose to interview someone who was previously signed to a major label (Virgin), but Melanie C has released many solo albums as an independent and, arguably, if you are going to talk about women in music, you can’t ignore one of the biggest all female pop bands of the 90s.

Most of the interview was about Melanie C’s career and how she progressed incredibly quickly in the industry as a Spice Girl. Mark asked, ‘where did ‘girl power’ originate from?’ Melanie C explained that the idea of ‘girl power’ happened as a response to when they were told that girl bands didn’t sell. She said that ‘historically girl bands were not as big as boy bands’ and ‘Girl Power’ was a way of fighting back. She likes to think that the success of the Spice Girls helped to open doors for other women in the industry.

They discussed what it was like leaving the Spice Girls, who had shot to worldwide fame and success incredibly quickly, and her experience of embarking on a career as a solo artist. She released her first two solo albums on the same label she was signed to as a Spice Girl, but they didn’t do as well as they had hoped, so she self financed the release of her next album on her own label. She is now about to release her seventh album.

An audience member asked whether Melanie C thought the industry had changed or improved in comparison to when she first started out. She acknowledged that the music industry is still very male dominated and added that artists like herself could do more in terms of helping to champion other women, such as hiring more female songwriters or producers.

AIM Women in the Studio panel
Women in the Studio panel. Photo: AIM Facebook page

Women in the Studio

Then there were two panel discussions. They started with Women in the Studio which was chaired by K-Minor, producer and artist.

In the lineup was:

Steph Marziano, Producer and Engineer (Denai Moore, Mumford & Sons)
Dr Mariana Lopez, Lecturer in Sound Production and Post Production, University of York
Isabel Gracefield Grundy, Engineer (Emeli Sande, Tom Odell)
Marta Salogni, Mixer (Bjork, Sampha)
Katie Tavini, Mastering Engineer and Host of Red Bull’s #NormalNotNovelty engineering workshop
Katia Isakoff, Founder, Women Produce Music

Traditionally a very male dominated sector, it was great to hear from some highly talented women across different stages of their careers.

Steph set the scene by saying ‘6% of Music Producers Guild members are women’.

K-Minor also pointed out that ‘the PRS for Music membership (writers and music creators) is currently only 16% women. Up from 13% in 2010.’

Isabelle said that she felt that ‘people of colour and LGBT communities are massively underrepresented’.

Mariana spoke about how women in the industry should ‘support each other.’

‘One of the things that really drove me into the job was that being an engineer was very genderless – you’re actually just working on music. I always identify as a teenage boy when I’m working because you’re in that headspace, just geekary… the men that you work with are very in touch with their feminine side and nurturing.’ Isabelle told the panel.

She felt that there was less sexism in engineering and being a women could often be an advantage as you’re more memorable.

Marta had a slightly different view explaining that ‘sexism is sometimes subtle, sometimes ingrained. Sometimes in the studio people will say something that they don’t necessarily realise is sexist but you need to call it out. “Why is this happening?” Sometimes it’s exhausting because you need to be alert but make it clear to people when they are being sexist. Get them to stop and understand that that is the case. That’s an effective way to change things. To always be present for when this situation happens and to never let them slip away is very important.’

Katia continued, ‘once you’re in the studio and in the session… because you have the gear there is no ambiguity – it’s outside the studio where we have lots of work to do. It’s getting the work in the first place as people go to who they know.

‘We have to come up with initiatives. We can sit here and talk about sexism, we can all share stories and we can all be horrified and then we go home and haven’t got much further. One of the things that Women Produce Music are interested in doing is creating opportunities so women are successful, but it’s not a charity case. It’s actually because we’re good and that we can actually produce successful records and work with successful artists and we’re not a major gamble. We’re starting to see changes.

‘We need to ask why there are lots of unknown women that aren’t given an opportunity. Yes sexism exists, yes it’s male dominated, yes we’ve probably got less than 5% women that are producers… There are a lot of factors that we have to look at if we want to change it but we have to create the job opportunities.’

Isabelle added, ‘a few times recently, talking to both managers and A&R, they’ve said, “oh, I’ve got this young female artist and she wants to work with women [producers] but there just aren’t any”. We do exist and it’s more about the A&R community fostering women in the studio because we’re here doing our thing… We have to make our own power base. When I pick an assistant I think, “can I work with a woman, or can I work with a person of colour?” because I have a little opportunity to open a door for someone else and if I can I will.’

Mariana said to the panel, ‘we have a responsibility, both men and women, to stand up and say something, speak up when we hear something that is not fair or is showing discrimination. It’s very difficult sometimes to be in a group of people and stand up and say, “you know what, you shouldn’t have said that”.

‘Men also need to do it because we cannot take that responsibility all the time – it’s exhausting.’

The conversation progressed into a discussion on fair pay.

Katie explained that, ‘women have to have the confidence to say, “these are my rates – I am worth it”.’

Isabelle mentioned an initiative by Olga Fitzroy on equal parental pay. ‘If you’re in full time PAYE you can split it between you but this isn’t the same for self employed people.’ As the music industry consists of many self employed people, they may miss out when it comes to government initiatives regarding paternity and maternity pay for new parents.

Steph highlights that a lot of studio assistant jobs for people starting out ‘are now freelance for less than minimum wage’.

Katia said that they are ‘not trying to exploit engineers but the small independent studios are really struggling to earn money, even for themselves…

‘To solve gender and diversity issues, we still have to solve some of the issues about making money in music. Period. And then it will trickle down.

‘We need to focus on what we are doing to change things, not what we aren’t doing.’

Marta summed up the spirit of the evening well with, ‘the joy of meeting other women that do the same thing – I can relate to them – the joy of it is crazy.

‘The industry is still dominated by white middle class men, this is reality, but I’m seeing a change already and I’m very confident about it and I’m very excited.

‘To try and involve more women in the industry, will start to get more women interested in it.’

Female Entrepreneurship In Music panel.
Female Entrepreneurship In Music panel. Photo: AIM Facebook page

Female Entrepreneurship in Music

Panel two, Female Entrepreneurship in Music, was hosted by Amy Lame, London Night Czar.

In the line up was:

Barbara Charone, MBC PR
Abi Leland, Leland Music
Hannah V, Producer / Artist
Annette Barratt, Managing Director, Reservoir / Reverb Music

Amy began with a warm welcome from the Mayor of London and City Hall and mentioned that this year is the 100 year anniversary of some women getting the vote.

Here are our the key takeaways from the discussion:

Barbara: ‘No matter what any of us do, in any area, the most important thing is to feel passionate about what you do.’

Hannah: ‘I get to choose who I work with, so if I think someone is going to be a bit of an asshole they don’t come in to my studio. I get to make the decisions myself so I feel so in control. I love it.’

Annette: ‘It all stops with you. There’s always issues, especially when you’re starting up. You’ve got to keep it lean and mean, you’ve got to really work very hard. You’ve to put the hours in.’

Hannah: ‘You have to stay true to yourself. You have to be honest with what you are, and what you’re not.’

A trained pianist, Hannah, held back on putting piano into her songs because she thought it was uncool but once she started putting it into her songs, people started to take more interest. ‘I’m best at what I do’.

Annette: ‘Instinct and intuition, really listen to that.

‘It’s good to listen and to be able to speak up – don’t doubt your power. Support each other, that’s very important.’

Barbara: ‘Be really good at what you do, surround yourself with great people, you have to be able to sell yourself, and it’s probably essential to have a really good partner.’

Abi: ‘Know what you’re good at’ and ‘play to your strengths.

‘You need to know when to bring other people in, sometimes you’ve got to spend some money but it will eventually pay off at the end.’

Annette: ‘It is a tough call. You have to go through the motions, you have to seek out different investors. It has to feel right for you. Don’t do it if your first instinct is to go, I’m not sure about that person, I’m not sure how that is – don’t do it.’

Barbara: ‘We need more successful female artists… the more women the better.’

Amy finished up by talking about her new radio show on BBC6 Music, and how she has been putting together playlists. She is choosing female artists because ‘I have that power.

‘The more women that get into radio, the more women that are dominating every single area of the industry and the more women that have power to make those choices… that we will see things improve. We should make sure that every time we get a success, that we pull another sister up with us.’

On that note, it was time to grab a glass of wine and meet our fellow attendees!

What did we learn?

The industry has not progressed hugely in the last few years, but we are getting better at discussing certain issues. Talking about them is a great first step, but we really do need to work together and bring everyone across the industry into the same conversation in order to achieve the results we need. The wheels are in motion but now it’s all about actions. We all need to work together and act to stamp out issues such as unequal pay and a lack of diversity and protect the industry from sexual abuse. We’re in 2018 you say? Let’s behave like it!

Feature image: AIM Facebook page

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