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Opinion February 17, 2022

The music industry can learn from Grace Tame & Brittany Higgins 

Tamara Georgopoulos
The music industry can learn from Grace Tame & Brittany Higgins 
Source: (@brittanyhiggins___)

Last week, Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins delivered one of the most compelling National Press Club addresses in years. Tame and Higgins stood in their power as they addressed Scott Morrison’s government, its handling of sexual violence and abuse and lack of accountability, along with Tame and Higgins’ hope for the future.

As the #MeToo movement builds momentum in the music industry, it is easy to draw parallels with those same systemic inequalities and the lack of accountability that exist within the Morrison government.

During a speech that was both robust and persuasive, Tame referenced a threatening call she received from a “government funded organisation”. Tame’s words were sadly all too familiar. In 2016 I also received a call after leaving a major music company, offering me some “friendly advice”. The caller warned me to “never speak of the things I had seen and heard” while working with the company, and ended with what felt like a threat: “we don’t want to get the lawyers involved”.

Prior to appearing on 7am “Everybody Knows” Podcast and Four Corners: Facing The Music, I was met with hesitation from almost everyone in my corner. Many were concerned over my physical safety, that I would be buried in legal fees, or that my career would be destroyed and I would never work in music again. But as one of the few employees not bound by an NDA, I am not just able to speak out – I have a responsibility to.

Thinly veiled threats like the one I received enable those in positions of power to continue to rule with fear. They have the influence and financial backing to silence victims. When you are being threatened by some of the most powerful people in the Australian music industry, the message is clear: remain silent if you value your career and don’t want to see it destroyed.

“Sexual harassment and bullying is rife in the corridors of power”
– Brittany Higgins

Within Parliament and the music industry, the number of stories detailing sexual harassment and sexual assault continues to snowball. Where there is power, there is opportunity for it to be abused. But victims who were previously silent are beginning to find their voice. In 2021, the most powerful man in Australian music lost that power, and his job. 

Many of my peers have experienced some form of sexual harassment, assault, misogyny, discrimination or bullying during their time working in the music industry. The abuse was often at the hands of those in powerful positions, much like within the Morrison government. And much like the government, sexual abuse and the silencing of victims will continue unless we demand serious change.

For every story told, countless others go unheard. Many within the music industry remain scared to speak up for fear of being ostracised and losing the careers they’ve worked so hard to build. 

I’m yet to see a single organisation take a proactive (rather than reactive) approach to conducting internal investigations into workplace culture following the #MeToo stories that surfaced in the past twelve months.

“Monsters hiding in plain sight”
– Grace Tame

We know who the perpetrators are – many of them currently work in our industry. As a survivor, having to co-exist in the same industry as the man who caused me so much harm has seriously impacted my mental health and career. Countless others are enduring similar experiences, knowing their abusers remain in power across the industry today.

I am aware of perpetrators that currently sit in senior roles within music companies, perform on global stages, work in recording studios, head up major festivals and promote major music events across Australia and New Zealand. As Tame warns, there are “monsters hiding in plain sight”. Where is the morality of those representing known perpetrators, those actively working to silence victims with legal letters and those that knowingly harm others?

Sexual harassment and abuse have never been exclusive to one record label – these issues exist within every corner of the industry. Until industry leaders implement meaningful measures to protect the wellbeing of music industry employees, we will continue with the vicious cycle of silence perpetuating silence. 

“I stand here today fearful that this moment of transformative potential, the bravery of all those women who spoke up and stood up and said, “Enough is enough” is in danger of being minimised to a flare-up, a blip on the radar, a month-long wonder in the national conversation.”
– Brittany Higgins

Four Corners interviewed more than 100 former Sony Music employees during their 2021 investigation. The program called for a response from the publicly listed organisation. No response has been received to date. 

In 2021, former Chairman and CEO Denis Handlin admitted there were “instances of sexual harassment” in the Sony office. Despite Handlin’s admission and countless victim-survivors attesting to decades of toxic culture, we have seen zero accountability and no apology from the U.S. parent company.

Months after the investigation, Chairman of Sony Music Rob Stringer, received a Queen’s Honour for his “Services to social justice” and was nominated for the GRAMMY Icon Award. As I tweeted at the time, this is a slap in the face for those survivors still seeking justice. Sony is just one company in the music industry who had the opportunity to do the right thing in supporting victims, but instead rallied behind perpetrators with cleverly thought out media recovery strategies.

sony music office grey

Will this moment be a blip on the radar? Will these stories yet again be swept under the rug? How many victims must come forward for major corporations like Sony Music to reflect on their actions and do the right thing by victims? 

Sony Music is a mirror into the music industry and the culture that exists within it.

“Codes of conduct are important. But only if it’s paired with institutional change.”
– Brittany Higgins

At the end of 2021, a ‘Music Industry Review’ was announced. The Review’s purpose is to listen to music professionals’ stories and experiences, which will help facilitators understand the current culture within the industry and the reforms necessary.

Until this review is conducted we effectively sit in a holding pattern. Organisations continue to operate as they always have, perpetrators remain in positions of power and talented individuals continue to leave the industry. 

In May, 2021, Dr Jeff Crabtree released research into workplace sexual harassment in the Australian music industry. Dr Crabtree’s report showed almost 80% of music industry employees he interviewed described power as a factor in their experiences of harassment. Meanwhile, 19% of the 145 online survey respondents referred to abuses of power either directly or indirectly. Power was used to manipulate, intimidate, humiliate, and coerce sex.

Dr. Jeff Crabtree. Credit: Simon Le Couteur

Dr. Jeff Crabtree’s research paper includes actionable suggestions for individuals, the industry and the government to make the Australian music industry a safer place.

  1. Peak bodies should also collaborate on the development and publication of a Mandatory Code of Conduct for the contemporary music industry. I would note that APRA-AMCOS has in place a service provider code of conduct and that Screen Australia has developed a code of conduct to prevent sexual harassment, both of which may serve as templates for a music industry code. However, a binding code of conduct is required that strengthens a zero-tolerance policy beyond sexual harassment to include workplace harassment of all kinds. Finally, peak bodies need to support positive change to the music industry culture by advocating the recommendations for government (made in the report).
  2. The MEAA should invest in the expansion of its membership amongst all musicians who work in the contemporary music industries, in a bid to offset the significant imbalances of power in an economy that places musicians in the small live music scene at great risk.
  3. The MEAA needs to invest in the expansion of its membership to technical and production crew who work primarily in the music industry, so as to more effectively exert its advocacy within the live performance sector, including contributing to cultural change in this sector.
  4. Music industry peak bodies should establish a network of suitably qualified psychologists who are registered to deliver services under the Medicare Mental Health Plan to music industry workers suffering from PTSD-like symptoms. Peak bodies should also establish a fund to cover the gap payments. This fund can be administered through Musicians Australia (the MEAA). Such therapeutic services go beyond the ambit of crisis care offered by Support Act.
  5. This research recommends the formation of an effective professional association for top and middle tier artists, similar to the Featured Artist Coalition in the UK. The purpose of such an association should be to act as a trade body that represents the rights of artists and advocates for them with powerful figures in the industry.
  6. Tertiary music education institutions should enforce existing policies on staff conduct. The evidence in this research is that male teaching staff behave in a way that is tantamount to sexual predation. This is a matter for urgent attention for leaders in the contemporary music education sector. There can be little effective cultural change if cohort after cohort of music graduates has been normalised into a culture that objectifies and sub-ordinates women during the course of their pre-career development. Music education institutions should not only incorporate mandatory consent training but also anti- sexual harassment and anti-bullying training, not just for teaching staff but also in their curricula.
  7. Participants in this research often commented that there was no one that they could report to in the wake of harassment. It is imperative that the crisis service Support Act develop a harassment hotline in Australia, wherein music industry practitioners can confidentially report harassment, and to develop a system to triage such reports for appropriate response (i.e. legal action, therapeutic intervention and the like). A similar service should be developed in New Zealand by Music Helps.
  8. Peak bodies are already engaged in delivering training to the industry as well as advocacy to government. Consequently, peak bodies are the logical choice for the implementation of professional development programs outlined earlier.
  9. Music industry organisations categorised as medium to large businesses (more than 20 employees) should appoint and train a female member of staff to be the sexual and workplace harassment referral officer. This position should be senior in the organisation and empowered to confidentially hear and investigate harassment complaints and to implement zero tolerance for harassment policies.
  10. Medium to large industry organisations should change their hiring practices to ensure that there are women employed in senior positions, who have the power to call out workplace and sexual harassment without fear of reprisal from senior male figures. Moreover, the binding code of conduct should be adopted at board level by these organisations and become enforceable on the part of CEO’s and managers by virtue of appropriate board directives.

Dr. Crabtree noted that many industries within Australia have mandatory consent training, sexual harassment training, and respect training. Currently these kinds of training sessions are not mandatory in the music industry.

As of ten months ago, we had research and stories being shared from every corner of the industry, along with recommendations to make the industry a safer place. 

I’ve shared my own story with countless senior leaders in the industry over the past few years. The advice continually received was to remain silent, make amends with the perpetrator who sexually harassed me at work and to consider my place in the industry.

My concern for the industry moving forward is that even with the necessary frameworks, how can we maintain any newly introduced codes of conduct without the right leadership in place in each major organisation? Many of the individuals who were aware of my experiences, and encouraged me to remain silent, still occupy positions of power. 

Sony Music had a duty of care for their employees when I worked for them. But despite clear guidelines and policies to protect people at work, instances of harassment, abuse and discrimination continued as it had for decades. Higgins noted that “codes of conduct are important. But only if paired with institutional change.” When it comes to the music industry, we need positive leadership across the board.

I wrote this piece because I continue to feel let down, and I stand with dozens of others brave enough to come forward in sharing their experiences. Despite the music industry working to silence us, receiving threats of harm, and defamation laws working against victims, we have spoken out. We’ve shared our stories and called for those responsible to be held accountable. So far all we have received is silence. 

“I am here because I made a conscious decision to stand up to evil, and I have been calling out injustice ever since… So, why put my reputation on the line? Because when we act with integrity, the tide rises with us.”
– Grace Tame

Despite the corroborating accounts of discrimination, abuse, sexual harassment and assault within the industry, the needle has barely moved. But more people are beginning to hear us. Right now we have an opportunity to create a new industry that protects employees and does not tolerate abusers. We must recognise this moment if we are to prevent the pain and suffering being transferred to the next generation of music industry professionals. 

If you are working in the music industry and you are in a position to create change, I ask you to reflect on this powerful statement made by Brittany Higgins and that you consider the part you can play in creating positive, lasting change.

“It is up to us to keep those in power up to account. To take up the challenge, we each have a responsibility to one another and have a role to play in making things better for the next generation”
–  Brittany Higgins

Watch the National Press Club Speech: Brittany Higgins & Grace Tame

Listen to “Everybody Knows” Podcast

Watch “Four Corners: Facing The Music”

This article originally appeared on The Industry Observer, which is now part of The Music Network.


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