Head of the Hydra: Striking the heart of the music industry’s culture problem
For many of us working in the Australian music industry the exposé on ABC TV’s Four Corners last week was no surprise. ‘Everybody Knows’ right, but for some of us who have been advocating for equality and talking about sexism, racism and homophobia for as long as one can remember, the story was like cutting off the head of the Hydra.
Hydra is the serpent-like monster from Greek Mythology who has nine heads, and when you cut off one, two more grow back. The truth is, to really defeat the beast of misogyny, you have to strike at the heart of the problem, and the heart of the problem is cultural.
The music industry faces monumental challenges in relation to inequality, inclusivity and bad behaviour much of which is entrenched in an industry set up to benefit a certain kind of man. Men who have shown little concern for the welfare and safety of women, in particular, men so blinded by their own power they have believed they are untouchable, invincible and beyond reproach, men who have been complicit by supporting and contributing to ‘the boys club’ for years.
I actually felt sick, and I’m not alone, when I think about how many extraordinary women we have lost to this ‘rabid culture of annihilation’. A culture responsible for silencing women, for punishing women for being unconventional, for telling the truth and being outspoken or for being good at their jobs. An industry which punishes a woman for being pregnant, which dismisses sexual harassment and bullying as an ‘overreaction’ and an industry which has diminished the men who have called out the bad behaviour of their brothers.
In the late 90’s, I was running a successful Independent record label when I was approached by ABC TV who were investigating the culture of the Sydney Sony Music office. The story was buried for lack of people who would go on the record. There were moral and ethical issues at stake then, as there are now. After the Sony International investigation into Sony Music Australia broke in the late 90’s, I vividly recall the tsunami of disbelief which swept through the industry like a raging bull.
Let’s not be naïve. This is an industry which encourages bad behaviour as an essential attribute to achieving success. This is a culture which has almost succeeded in convincing women to believe that any other woman is a threat and should be destroyed at all cost.
In the ABC TV report we saw the legacy of a destructive toxic culture which has been enabled to thrive within the Australian Music industry for decades, but to believe that the hydra has only one head and cutting it off is the end of the matter is risible.
In 2021, women receive less airplay on Australian radio and are consistently outnumbered by men on triple j’s annual countdown of the 100 most popular songs and albums; there has never been a female CEO or MD of a major label in Australia; women hold only 28% of senior and strategic roles in key industry organisations and earn far less than their male counterparts; peak music industry boards are dominated by male contributions and voices and festival line ups are dominated, in some cases almost entirely, by male solo acts and all male led groups.
In a broader context women achieved the vote in Australia in 1902 and 119 years on, we have never achieved equality in our Federal Government. First Nations women had to wait until 1962 for the same right to vote and just eight years ago in 2013 our Federal Minister for Women, was a man.
Change comes through continuous struggle and when it comes it threatens all those in positions of power. We cannot move forward with words and aspirations. It is upon everyone now to work together with conviction, to ensure that in every corner of the Australian Music industry there is a commitment to safety, inclusivity and equality but most of all, to action.
We are forever indebted for the indisputable courage of Deena Lynch and everyone who is now speaking out, for Beneath the Glass Ceiling and all those who supported the establishment of Australian Women in Music Awards in 2018 to address chronic gender inequality and recognise the value and contributions of women across the full spectrum of the Australian Music Industry.
Australian Women in Music Awards and Conference Program (AWMA) is scheduled to take place at HOTEL X and the TIVOLI in Brisbane on 17 – 18 May 202.
This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.