Somewhere, I know a nasty security guard or maybe a box office teller is glaring at a young woman. He’s thinking it would be impossible for her to actually be on the guest list, especially not the press list. The VIP badge she needs is apparently missing and the ushers are thinking she must be some groupie. Even as she’s escorted backstage, the curious eyes of crew members are watching her every move.
Many variations of this story exist just in my and Ali’s experiences alone. Sometimes it’s a bitter man telling us we’re not on the list, but when we call the tour manager, they’re able to come out and find us on the list with no problem. Other times, it’s a creepy photographer in the pit, making disparaging comments at Ali or a security guard not letting her into the pit despite her credentials. Often, it’s a male publicist doubting our ability to do our job, even though we’ve worked with much bigger bands before. It’s the band manager leaving us in the green room alone while he goes to find the band, but making a pointed comment about “not getting in trouble” while we’re left alone with much bigger celebrities around us as if we just can’t control ourselves.
Ultimately, it’s women having to shrink themselves down, mellow themselves out, and hide their excitement in fear of being labeled as just some silly fangirl.
However, dwelling on all the bad won’t propel us forward. I genuinely believe that there are men at all levels of the music industry who want to help make the change, but don’t know where to possibly begin. So, based on our experiences, we’ll fill you in on what they can do and what some men have done for us and others.
1. Easy. Simple representation on stage goes a long way.
Four different nights of Harry Styles’s Love on Tour gave me a lot of time to think. His band was inclusive in many ways, showcasing a wide variety of identities. For myself and Harry’s predominately female fanbase, the number of women on that stage was empowering and electrifying.
Elin Sandberg (bass guitar), Sarah Jones (drums), and Ny Oh (piano) were a part of the band that brought Love on Tour to life. Seeing these women on stage showcased not only their talent and abilities but acted as a pedestal of representation for so many. It seemed like an obvious decision for Harry, too. It wasn’t a choice that he bragged about. Putting women on a tour doesn’t give you a trophy, but doing so is certainly something that is noticed, is appreciated, and is a way for a man to show allyship.
Beyond that, musicians don’t even need representation during their set. They don’t need to disrupt their established band, gut it, and replace it with women. However, when forming a lineup, including a female musician can have a major effect. For example, Spencer Sutherland recently brought Tiffany Stringer on tour. Spencer, like Harry, has a predominately female fanbase, meaning Tiffany had the chance to make a real impact. It worked. Tiffany’s set gave these women a safe space to embrace themselves and support each other.
On stage, you reach fans who can and will be inspired by your every move. Putting women on this metaphorical pedestal is a great way to decenter yourself and provide a platform for musicians.
2. Seek out female creatives behind the scenes.
A Hewlett Packard internal report found that women are far less likely to apply for a job if they don’t meet 100% of the qualifications than men. This means that while a man will assert himself into a role he may not be qualified for, women are often hesitant to do so.
What does this mean for the music industry? Female creatives — producers, graphic designers, stylists, etc — may not be the first to reach out to job posting no matter how informal it may be. While men may slide in your DMs or cold email you more frequently.
It’s not that women are less confident in their work than men, it’s that they spend their time looking for jobs that are a perfect fit rather than waste their time chasing leads that may not pay off. However, often job postings, while they list qualifications, have wiggle room especially in creative roles where your version can be refined in a more collaborative effort.
Female creatives can and will work with you if you are genuinely open to that collaborative environment that makes creative projects flourish.
As of June, only 2% of music producers are women. Imagine how that could change just by working with one woman on one track of your next project. Any experience makes it possible for that woman to grow, learn, and ultimately make her way in the industry.
3. Advocate for women on your team.
Record labels and artist management teams are sadly known for being exclusionary on all levels.
In fact, Rolling Stone reported that women executively only run 15% of the major labels. Additionally, the pay gap in the music industry is surreal. Music Business Worldwide reported that the gender pay gap in this specific industry is 18% higher than the national average.
While there are many contributing factors to this disparity, change needs to come from within. While not all artists are able to act as advocates for themselves, let alone others, many can. If a male artist finds themselves in the position to assemble their team or push for a more representative team, they undoubtedly should, but they often do not. Putting pressure on your label to encourage the hiring of more women, if only with the understanding that they will be on your team, can help shift the internal dynamic of these companies and force change.
Another option, especially for smaller artists, is to partner with female-fronted independent music labels. There’s a recent trend with these DIY labels sprouting up everywhere. Independent labels have their own benefits outside of allyship, too. This includes more creative control, consistent access to your team, and often healthier relationships with the label.
Your team is comprised of many people from your social media manager to your publicist to your radio representative to tour managers to any promoter you work with. There’s no excuse to have no women in your team.
4. Call out other men.
Many times, when we have these experiences it is in front of other people. That security guard with the gross comment? His coworker probably stands right next to him. The box office worker who gives a pointed glare? A venue manager is right behind him.
Making sure your team is prepared to help women as much as you are is so important. If they (or you!) see something… say something. Back us up when we need help.
Silence speaks volumes. Calling out each other and holding other men in this space accountable helps create a safer and more inclusive space for women.
5. Support your fans.
At some point of fame, it can become easy to see your fans as numbers and not individuals… not people.
However, your fans look up to you for a reason, and supporting them back is the least you can do. Support doesn’t just look like being nice to them when they pay for your time at a meet and greet, but a genuine connection with them where you are willing to help them with their dreams.
Teenage girls specifically are the tastemakers of the entertainment industry. Despite this, they are widely underrepresented in all facets of the business. Somewhere between that pure passion of being a fangirl and turning it into a career, there’s something going wrong.
Many artists have a strong, female fanbase, especially pop artists. Simple words of genuine encouragement can go a long way. Corbyn Besson took the time to sit down with Ali and look at her photography when she first started. Now, many of the band reposts her photos Daniel Seavey reposted many of my early articles.
However, support goes beyond exposure.
Giving back to your fans is huge. However, some artists are greatly out of touch with what that looks like. Harry Styles — who we previously praised — is even to blame. In a recent interview with Dazed Magazine, Harry says:
He’s referring to a new makeup brand he’s launched with products including a $65 nail polish set. What’s sad is products are not ‘giving back’, it’s inherently ‘taking’ when they’re for sale. Artists are welcome to go on new ventures, but painting this as a way to support their fans is out of touch.
Fans are people. While Harry’s other efforts — including encouraging fans to go to therapy and donating to charities — have been profound and no artist is perfect. However, let’s give you a new perspective on what supporting fans can really be like:
Giving that fan who’s a photographer a photo pass to shoot your show — even without a publication — can change her life. Ali and I got started because Spencer Sutherland let us cover his show before we had even started our blog.
Picking up a fan as a tour photographer, if you have the budget, means your photos will be from a fan perspective and probably land better with your following, anyway.
Referring a fan for an internship in publicity because they have a knack for social media and PR may seem daunting, but it’s the sort of industry “in” they may need. Many of us don’t have any other connection ourselves, especially if our families aren’t versed in the industry. Connecting your fans who want to grow in the industry with your team and network is so key.
When one of my favorite male musicians introduced me to his marketing manager and said “You should probably get to know each other”. I knew it meant he not only trust me as a professional but respected me enough to bring me into the loop.
Paying attention during an interview with a woman is a basic courtesy regardless of their fan status. Unfortunately, we’ve had male artists write us off from the moment we have walked through the door. If they treat the interview unprofessionally, we will not post it.
If you know a fan is going to be covering your show for the first time, taking an extra minute to make sure their name is correct on the list to help prevent hiccups can work wonders. After all, the box office is less likely to believe a woman who says she should be on the list, but that something must be wrong.
Connect that fan who wants to be a tour manager with you TM. See if they can shadow a show day with them. Hire on your artist fans to help design your merchandise.
Start seeing your fans as people. Just because they are excited, passionate, and dedicated doesn’t mean they can’t also be poised, professional, and talented. These things aren’t mutually exclusive.
Too often, women must shrink themselves. However, women’s passion can change and grow the world if you let it.
Some of our biggest supporters have been the people we admire, but, sadly, some of them have caused our biggest setbacks, too.