Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why women-only awards are still needed in the music industry

Deborah Coughlin/Gaurdian

People say the music industry responded slowly to the internet, but this is nothing compared to the time it has taken it to react to women's liberation: at least 40 years.

Women, if you're hoping for a glamorous career in music, look away. According to the latest research, 47% of women in music earn under £10,000 ($16,988.70) a year, compared with 35% of men, and as for the NME awards, this year's award for Blondie marked only the third time a woman has been included as a winner of the Godlike Genius award. A solo female artist has never received it.

You only have a 15% chance of owning a label or becoming a manager and in 2010 PRS announced that out of all the writers on their books, a mere 14% were women.

Sexism is not limited to just one section of the music business, of course. No wonder Grimes, Chvrches and Charlotte Church all find themselves with common problems. Or that Sinead feels compelled to warn Miley that in a territory such as this, it can be hard to define what is empowering and what is exploitation.

Now, finally, something's happening. The Association of Independent Music (Aim), UK Music, Nordoff Robbins and Music Week announced a new Women in Music Awards which will recognize the 30 most influential women executives from all sectors of the UK business, while also giving individual awards in five special categories. Aim chair and chief executive Alison Wenham said the awards "will be shining a welcome spotlight on the brilliant women in the music industry".

Yet the new venture was immediately condemned by some in the industry as a backwards step, ghettoising women. Even one of the most respected female music journalists, NME features editor Laura Snapes, called it "needless and harmful segregation" in a Twitter argument.

My belief that we need these awards isn't just about the stats. Straight out of uni I went to NME for work experience, three years later I was press officer at British Music Rights (now UK Music) and by the age of 30 I'd been awarded two PRS Women in Music Grants. I've experienced sexism – being told to lose weight by one manager, having massive all-night rows in German hotel bars with bands (I Am Kloot) about whether women can drum and watching older men mentor younger lads because they remind them of themselves when they were exciting.

Could these new awards change this? Segregation is crude, but it isn't ghettoising women: as with SoundWomen in radio, SheSays in the creative and marketing industries and Women in Film & Television, segregating can be effective.

Why, though, is this not a Guerilla Girls-style attack from the outside, a punk awards? Music Week could balance the gender at their own awards and take the whole industry to task in its pages. Why are the institutions of the music industry creating an alternative when they have the clout to make the industry itself get to grips with equality?

It appears the answer is that while the law has changed in the past 40 years, culture has not. If a segregated awards event is going to provoke a debate about this sort of inequality, then it will be worth it.

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