Music industry

The music industry still isn’t safe for women – but they’re working on it

Calls for change in the music industry have become louder than ever. Jessie Moss finds out what needs to be done.

It’s been a quiet and frustrating year for the music industry. Concerts postponed and cancelled. Pending recording sessions. It has also been a year of recalibration and reflection for many working to improve the industry; in particular, how to make it more secure.

years of media and personal stories documenting the abuse of women in the industry, and the high rates of women leaving the music industry altogether, shows that there is an urgent need for change.

But a year after the impact of the 2020 Gender Diversity Report from APRA and Massey University, Amplify Aotearoa, what tangible progress has been made? With musicians back on stage this summer, will their workplaces and audiences be safer?

Singer Katie McCarthy-Burke says she was often bullied. When playing privately, she explains, “there’s no security, there’s no St. John’s. Because it’s a private party, there’s a lack of accountability. People will behave as they want. She says alcohol and drug use is common at public and private events. “In this situation, I already feel a loss of control. As a performer, this environment is quite dangerous.

APRA’s report showed that 70% of its registered female writers experience prejudice, discrimination and disadvantage because of their gender; that’s seven times the rate of men surveyed. Additionally, nearly half said they felt unsafe in places where music is produced and performed. Of all the disparities the report has highlighted, it is the findings on how dangerous and precarious women are in the industry that are the most obvious and pressing.

Catherine Hoad, a lecturer at Massey University, and Oli Wilson, an associate professor, the authors of the report, grew concerned when data from the Tertiary Education Commission showed that enrollment in first-year music studies at the nationwide were led by men. “We were attracting a certain demographic to study music,” says Wilson.

Hoad added that the trend in college studies in other fields is slightly in favor of students who identify as women; the field of music is an anomaly. Wilson says that upon viewing the data, they immediately had an interest in correcting it. “We are driven to achieve the best results for our students to work towards a fairer industry. That’s why we called APRA.

Hoad says the numbers 60% men for 40% women in first year of studies send a clear message. “It’s a widespread problem, and we have numbers to back it up. We need to take a serious look at what we are actually doing to change the conditions on the ground for women and gender-diverse people working in the industry. »

Tami Neilson attends the 2021 Aotearoa Music Awards at Aotea Center wearing a dress protesting the treatment of women in the music industry. (Photo: Dave Rowland/Getty Images)

RadioActive program director Harri Robinson says her team always strives to stay abreast of “current societal sentiments on nuanced issues”. She is committed to making her community safer and says the job is never done.

“We have a 40 year history and a very dedicated fan base. With this comes the social responsibility to ensure that we maintain ethical, inclusive and opportunistic environments as much as possible. This kaupapa is never done.

When entering the station, you cannot miss the signage clearly indicating their position on sexual violence. “What does the intervention of the spectators look like?” reads a poster. “When you see sexual harassment #do something”. The team are clear on their policies and Robinson says no one is above reproach. “No one in this industry, regardless of intentions in this space, is above things that go wrong. It’s about making sure that if things go wrong, we take the ‘one person first’ approach. who has been harmed”.

She knows it’s a difficult subject to talk about. “No one likes to talk about people being hurt, especially in such a tight-knit and close industry like New Zealand. It’s so important to give people safe spaces to talk. I’ve found a whole lot of new foundations help that I hadn’t heard of. I thought, if I haven’t heard of it, maybe neither have our listeners?”

Promoter Lucy* works hard to clarify her organization’s expectations and policies. Prioritizing the success and well-being of women has become central to her career.

After being in promotions for many years and seeing the failings of the industry, Lucy found herself driven to run her own festival to create more opportunities for women, both on and off stage. In addition to finding women to perform, her festival’s security team was made up mostly of women to reduce intimidation and increase accessibility.

Lucy is very open about what she does. “We are not going to hide it. This year, we developed a code of conduct and a complaints handling process. We hire young women, [so] we need to have things in place for them to feel safe, a professional boundary. We set expectations. We have zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

Promoters, like venues and management, need to consider both musicians and audiences, as musicians’ workspaces are often public recreation spaces.

McCarthy-Burke often feels that audiences don’t view music as work, and that’s a problem. “We have the same rights as anyone in an office building. It’s work. I don’t need people coming and trying to kiss me while I’m doing my job. Whether it’s other musicians or the crowd, it’s inappropriate and it’s not safe.

For the past year, the music industry action group SoundCheck Aotearoa conducted training workshops on professional respect with the aim of “developing and growing our industry through a safe and inclusive culture”. One of its objectives is to enable musicians to know their rights and responsibilities at work; while most are self-employed, that doesn’t diminish the fact that anyone who hires a musician is an employer. Both have a responsibility to keep workplaces safe, including preventing and addressing sexual harassment and harm.

There is an employer-employee relationship between musicians, venues and all other staff at a concert. (Photo: Getty)

However, dealing with workplace harassment and harm is not as easy as knowing your rights.

When she was harassed, McCarthy-Burke appealed to her bandmates. More than once, she was left alone to deal with situations. “If no one in your group does anything to protect you, you get this message that no one cares about you, so get on with your job.”

She says the message was clear: “Don’t make a scene. You’re just there to sing and shut up. I’m placed in a position where I have to choose whether I want to be considered a boat rocker or keep my head down.

She knows women in the industry suffer more, expressing frustration that “it doesn’t happen to you guys.” She feels she is replaceable if she has a problem. She wants the musicians themselves to express themselves, especially the men. “[It would be good] to know that someone was ready to blow their necks out. The problem is that most people feel like they are literally putting their head on the chopping block to stop the abuse. How did it become something you would be reviled for, being an ally to someone who is being abused? »

The former Indigo* bartender and artist manager witnessed and suffered sexual harassment at work. “This stuff doesn’t happen where no one can see it. The most humiliating thing is when you’re in public and the whole room can see you.

Despite her experiences, Indigo remains hopeful. As a young woman who has worked in several areas of the industry, she has advice for promoters and venue owners. While she likes to see Ask Angela signs at sites, security personnel must also be on board. “It’s frustrating to see young women being mugged and then male security kicking them out because they don’t know how to handle this situation.”

When performing a gig, Indigo makes sure to have a “kōrero with the band, venue management, bar staff, and security. It costs nothing to do that.”

Wilson is full of hope. “My optimism comes from the fact that our graduates are the ones driving this change, who are technologically equipped but also equipped with a critical understanding of power and how power relations dictate working relationships in our industry, which we know from our work are heavily gendered.”

For Lucy, an ideal world would be one where “women have been reserved for the headlines and the crowd is diverse and safe. Where sexual damage is low and intoxication is low. To live musical experiences. This is the vision of my event, trying to change what I can.

*Lucy and Indigo were interviewed anonymously. These names protect their identity.

Learn more or ask for help:

Wellington, 17 January: Safer spaces in music education eh.

SoundCheck Aotearoa Trainings and Events

SoundCheck Aotearoa Reporting Tools


Rock girls! Aotearoa

Respect Ed Aotearoa

Rape prevention education