There’s no question: As challenging as the music industry can be for men, it’s twice as tough for women.
That was one of the many takeaways from a panel discussion involving Grammy-winning songwriter Autumn Rowe (Jon Batiste’s “We Are,” Dua Lipa, Ava Max) and top music publishers Jody Gerson (chairman/CEO of Universal Music Publishing), Golnar Khosrowshahi (founder/president of Reservoir) and Carianne Marshall (co-chair/COO of Warner Chappell Music) at a panel discussion during the National Music Publishers Association’s annual meeting on Wednesday.
While the four all had different paths to the roles they’re in today, they all faced similar challenges and obstacles, namely sexism, a lack of allies, achieving a work-life balance, and most ominously of all, dangerous situations.
Rowe (pictured above, second from left), who said that she worked as a songwriter for 12 years before she got a significant paycheck — a sadly common situation — also said that she has encountered multiple writing sessions that were “unsafe.” When moderator, Danielle Aguirre, NMPA EVP and general counsel, asked if she would feel safer with even just one more woman in the room, Rowe said she would. (Rowe and others spoke with Variety about the many unfair challenges songwriters face last year.)
The challenges the four detailed were depressingly familiar: Khosrowshahi (above, second from right) spoke of “the challenge of balancing it all at the level you want to excel at.” Gerson — who seconded that perspective, saying “It’s different for mothers than it is for fathers, there’s no question” — cited a lack of mentorship or even assistance from other women, and spoke of approaching a top female publishing executive early in her career and asking for help — and being turned down. “‘I’m looking out for myself, I can’t help you,’” she recalled the executive saying.
Gerson (pictured above, third from left) said it led her to co-found She Is the Music — an organization whose stated goal is “equality, inclusivity and opportunity for women in music” — in an effort to “help women along, even if it’s just one.” Earlier in the afternoon, NMPA president/CEO David Israelite also announced a program in partnership with She Is the Music called She Is the Songwriter, which NMPA is funding with $100,000, that will assist young women in songwriting to find mentorship, networking opportunities and development from other women, as well as female-only writing camps.
“We need access,” Marshall (pictured far right) said. “People expect me to fit into a certain mold and be a business person in a certain way.”
Rowe, speaking of female producers who cowrote and coproduced songs and even set up the sessions and did not receive proper credit or compensation and were “too afraid to fight for it in case they didn’t get invited back,” summed up the situation: “We have to take a stand,” she said. “We can’t be fearful and we need to fix things. We can’t create music out of fear.”