How Sonos addressed ‘Women In Music’ in two entirely separate ways
It seems nearly every conference and event has a ‘women in music’ component these days.
Which is awesome – small steps in the right direction. But they can also seem tokenistic – or even become counterproductive – without enough consideration given to the purpose of the discussion.
This is a difficult task: how do you cover such a broad issue for those who need educating, without wasting a precious hour that could be spent discussing ways to create change?
Or, conversely, why not program in a way that champions women without being issues-centric?
Sonos House did both yesterday.
First up: an invite-only roundtable hosting author of Skipping The Beat, Professor Rae Cooper, who moderated a panel including Dr Bianca Fileborn (UNSW), Dr Catherine Strong (RMIT), Helen Marcou (Bakehouse Studios), Jane Slingo (Younger Strangers and Executive Producer, EMC), Claudia Sangiorgi Dalimore and Michelle Grace Hunder (HerSoundHerStory), Bexx Djentuh-Davis (LISTEN) and Cameron Lam (APRA AMCOS).
The roundtable, ‘Male advantage: How long can we sing this song?’, proposed a discussion not only of the issues facing diversity, intersectionality and gender equality across the industry, but also ways we can address them.
As with many of these panels, the sheer volume of speakers meant a lot of the discussion centred around individual takes on the problem from the perspective of their fields.
While this may feel like groundhog day to some, it was clear that we are not yet at the point where we can skip establishing the issue before jumping into proposing solutions.
The conversations around equality and diversity are not unique to our industry, and change cannot happen unless it filters from the top down – as Helen Marcou said, politicians and policymakers are the third party.
But, considering the severity of the music industry’s battles, maybe we can be a face of change?
A reporter from The New Daily, during the Q&A, made it clear that the problems facing our industry are not well-known outside of it.
She asked whether inequality and sexism affected particular genres over others, or if there were clear numbers she could use – like how many session musicians are women vs men.
Basic questions, but the news that the global representation of women in metal is as little as 3% is an angle non-music readers can appreciate far more easily than the nuances of the ‘boys club’, lineup transparency, or the 40/40/20 goal.
The story she will write off the back of this event will most likely be read by non-music working folk, and encourage public discussion more broadly.
Bexx Djentuh-Davis shared advice from American activist Angela Yvonne Davis: “The government only listens to one person and that’s the public, so you need to change the public to change the government.”
This is why documentaries like Dalimore and Hunder’s HerSoundHerStory are so powerful – artists’ fans want to engage with their story, and care about their experiences – thus, they become educated about an issue that affects all industries, by using music as a lens.
And while the involvement of policymakers is key, grassroots movements will be the stones that create the ripples.
Talking about issues that still need to be talked about? Check.
Proactively doing something that supports women without making it issues-based? That happened next door.
This is what championing women in creative industries looks like:
A gallery space filled with the works of photographer, She Is Aphrodite, which captures the beauty, strength and power of musicians such as Vera Blue, Ngaiire and more.
A conversation between KLP as moderator and emerging artists Odette, Wafia and Thandi Phoenix about their ‘battlehymns’ – the songs which inspire, uplift and champion them – and a fiercely vulnerable and intimate exploration of the stories behind their choices.
Women of colour, women who have overcome adversity, women who work tirelessly at their craft, women who deserve to be celebrated and given opportunities to share their stories.
The panel discussion hosted only one male, and there were very few males in the room.
Issues-based conversations can be alienating; we can’t create change with only half an army.
‘Battlehymns: A Song Story’ was not ‘issues-based’, but the kind of direction we need to see more of from companies who wish to support women in music without playing into the victim narrative.
As a result, it was filled with an almost equal gender representation in attendance.
As Jane Slingo suggested during the roundtable, the sheer velocity of negative press given to women’s experiences in our industry is, in itself, a massive deterrent.
The more we talk about how hard it is to work in a male-dominated environment, the less young women we will see taking up the mantle.
Yes, we need panels to discuss the problems we face and how to change them.
But we need just as many – more! – events and articles and discussions which celebrate everything non-male identifying people are achieving in this space, and inspire more to join us.
For more information on Sonos House events over the coming weeks, see here.