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Tuning in to Time's Up  by Cindy Filipenko
Tuning in to Time's Up

Canadian women in the entertainment industry have launched a campaign for greater gender parity in the music industry.

Founded in the spring of 2017 by music industry veterans Joanne Setterington and Keely Kemp, Across the Board is pushing for half of all seats on the boards of critical Canadian music organizations to be filled by women. After all, the music industry’s boards advocate on behalf of all artists, about half of whom are women.


(Tegan and Sarah pictured above)                 Setterington and Kemp, as well as the 15 other Across the Board steering committee members, are behind-the- scenes mainstays in the music industry. While they might not be household names, the bands they have worked with over the years—like Blue Rodeo, managed by steering committee member Susan de Cartier, and The Strumbellas, managed by Setterington, who is also the founder of Indoor Recess, one of Canada’s leading entertainment PR companies—are well known.

Good friends, Setterington and Kemp, who owns Culture Cap, a business service agency for creative companies, recently rented a place in Palm Springs, California, to get a break from Toronto’s winter. On a particularly stunning morning in February, Setterington remembers bursting out of her bedroom in Palm Springs into the living room to share her frustration with Kemp about a story she’d read in FYI, a Canadian Industry e-magazine. It was a story announcing the new members of Canada’s various music organizations’ boards. All of the appointees were men.

“It was a beautiful, sunny day, birds were chirping, and there I’m blowing up,” recalls the public-relations agency owner and band manager. “I’m saying, ‘Why is this happening again?’ ‘Of course, they’re the ones being nominated.’ ‘Where are the women?’” Kemp’s reaction was, if more measured, very similar:

“I thought, come on, this is enough. These boards are not representing the industry members.”

Setterington and Kemp spent their vacation day researching the composition of boards like the Canadian Association of Recording Artists and Sciences (CARAS), the group responsible for the Juno Awards, and the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers (SOCAN), the organization that collects royalties for songwriters. When the women put their findings into a spreadsheet, their suspicions were confirmed: Women were grievously under-represented in the boardrooms of 12 organizations that help to drive and to organize awards for Canada’s music industry.

“The average percentage of women on these boards was 20 percent,” says Setterington. “Some were slightly higher; some were lower. The most shocking result was a board of 14 that had only one female member.”

“The pain and shame we used to feel so often is made worse when someone

doesn’t understand.” —singer-songwriter Sarah Quinn

So why weren’t these non-profits bringing more women onto their boards? Kemp thinks the answer is selection bias.

“You tend to reach out to the people you know well to bring on and move up. What was needed was for these boards to take a moment and really consider their makeup,” says Kemp.

Back in Toronto, in March 2017, the two began calling their friends in the industry, and a grassroots movement was born. “Our meetings have a bring-your-own-lawn-chair vibe to them,” Setterington jokes.

“We have to ask around to see who has the money to make the pins.”

Across the Board launched at Canadian Music Week 2017 in Toronto. While the response was generally positive, some of the male industry representatives still questioned where

they would find “qualified” women. Kemp and Setterington took their mandate into the boardrooms of the agencies that support artists and make it possible for many to make their living in music. They made suggestions for potential nominees and gave ideas about where others might be found. The reception they received was encouraging and it showed that there was a willingness to bring greater diversity to the table, a move the Across the Board sees as essential to the health of the industry. Education and training for potential board members are also key.

“If we want a strong industry, we have to start offering governance training to everyone who has an aspiration to be on a board, so they have the tools to actually move things forward,” according to Setterington.

Eighteen months in, many of the country’s music promoters, producers, and artists—including Tegan and Sara, who called out the Junos in 2017 for its under-representation of women in the award nominations, have backed the goal of 50-50 by 2020. The year 2020 is just a year and a bit away, and while the deadline is undeniably tight, there’s a chance that the goal could be met. At least that’s what the group’s first set of statistics suggests.

Across the Board’s preliminary data gathering in 2017 identified 20 percent as the average proportion of women on music-related boards in Canada. In 2018, Across the Board began tracking an expanded data set and found the average proportion of women on music-related boards has increased to 33 percent.

If gender parity is to be reached by 2020, it will require a 50 percent improvement from where things stand now. The four cornerstones of Across the Board—which its founders prefer to call a movement rather than an organization—will need to be employed. Those cornerstones include advocacy and public awareness; the recruiting of potential board members; ensuring the transparency of the boards’ operations; and offering governance training programs for the next generation of leaders.

“It’s a monumental change,” Kemp says. “We’re seeing boards with no women suddenly have three or four women on them. There is a great growth projector. There’s been a lot of support in the industry and recruiting and nomination committees have been very transparent.”

In January 2018, the USC Annenberg School for Journalism and Communications published a 32-page report “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” that examined 600 popular songs written and recorded by female singer-songwriters.

The findings were dismal. The report found that the proportion of songs played on commercial radio stations by female artists was just 16.8 percent. When it came to songwriting, one of the more lucrative aspects of the industry, only 12.3 percent of these hits were written women. In Canada, the figure is 20 percent.

The statistics were even more dismal for producers: one in 49 music producers is female, just a hair over two per cent. In Canada, the figure is one in 20 or five percent. These numbers, for what are arguably three of the most creative jobs in the music industry are why women are speaking out.

At the 2018 Grammy Awards, actor, recording artist and frequent Grammy nominee Janelle Monáe wore a Time’s Up lapel pin and expressed her solidarity with female artists, writers, assistants, publicists, CEOs, producers and engineers.

“We come in peace, but we mean business,” said Monáe, the performer behind this year’s sensation Dirty Computer, a stunning album featuring a collection of sexually empowering songs, including the whimsical “PYNK.”

“Just as we have the power to shape culture, we also have the power to undo the culture that does not serve us well,” Monáe told the millions watching. “So let’s work together, women and men, as a united music industry committed to creating more safe work environments, equal pay and access for all women.”

Monáe’s sentiments have been echoed by other high-profile women in the industry, including singer-songwriter Kinnie Starr and Sara and Tegan. American country singer Margo Price has adopted an “inclusion rider” clause in her contracts. Inclusion riders are clauses that stipulate that diversity in casting and production staff, based not only on gender, but also on race, LGBTQ+ status and gender expression are part of an artist’s performance contract. Price asks the venues she performs at to have at least 30 percent female staff when she performs.

The equity push also involves music festivals. Vanessa Reed, CEO of the British charity PRS Foundation, is the driving force behind the Keychange Initiative. The initiative is designed to pressure music festivals to achieve gender balance by 2022. Launched in 2017, it has found support in Europe’s music community and partners in North America.

Nine months after the launch of Keychange, Reed says over 100 festivals around the world have pledged to reach a 50-50 gender balance by 2022. More than a dozen of those festivals or conferences with large music components—including Rock the Shores, Canadian Music

Week, North by North East, Mutek, Rifflandia and Halifax Pop Explosion—are in Canada, but most of the supporting festivals are in Europe. Some American festivals are on board, however California’s huge Coachella festival is conspicuously absent from the list.

Coachella has an abysmal record of featuring female artists. In the festival’s 19-year history, only three women have headlined: Björk, Lady Gaga and, this year, Beyoncé. Her electrifying performances earned the festival the nickname Beychella, after Bey’s powerful words onstage about the festival’s lack of diversity: “Thank you Coachella for allowing me to be the first Black woman to headline. Ain’t that ’bout a bitch?” (In other words: a really bad thing.) To say that it is a really bad thing that women of colour, queer women and trans people are grossly under-represented in music would be an understatement. Canada’s Sara Quinn remembers what it was like when she and her sister, Tegan, first started out in the business.

“I was always in, crying,” Quinn recalls in Play Your Gender, the documentary produced and narrated by Kinnie Starr. Play Your Gender examines the ways in which the music industry marginalizes women, LGBTQ performers and artists of colour. The documentary is part of the growing chorus calling for change. In Play Your Gender, directed by Stephanie Clattenburg, Quinn recalls frequently experiencing homophobia and misogyny in the early part of her career.

“When that happens, you are one hundred percent transported away from those people,” explains Quinn. “The pain and shame we used to feel so often is made worse when someone doesn’t understand.”

Starr, who is interviewed in the Fall 2018 Herizons issue, sees this lack of understanding in all aspects of the industry. “Many of the most bankable stars are female, yet the songs are so obviously written by a man,” Starr says in Play Your Gender.

With the number festivals committing to the Keychange Initiative growing and women in the industry making headway, the industry is facing increasing pressure to change. Whether they are behind the guitar, at the mixing board, or at the board table, women in the music industry are standing up, speaking up and spreading the message that equality in all aspects of the music industry is achievable—and necessary—within the next five years.

Cue applause.