As we gear up to celebrate International Women’s Day, we’ve decided to put the spotlight on some of the exciting initiatives actively working on changing the narrative and supporting women in music. In a post #MeToo era, initiatives led by women and men looking to shake things up and built a more inclusive and diverse music business are changing the narrative and the mind-sets, allowing for more and more female executives reaching higher levels of responsibility, artists and producers getting the traction they rightly deserve.
In this series of interviews, we’ve asked the ladies behind Women in Music, Keychange, Shesaid.so and Felin/MEWEM how the place and role of the women in the music industry – be it artists or executives – has changed in the past years and how they expect it to evolve. Discover the vision of Women In Music.
Chisaram Nkemere is the Global Chair of Women in Music’s newly established Diversity and Inclusion Council and works day to day as Senior Director, Streaming Marketing at Concord. In 2013, Chissy started her career in music at Razor & Tie, managing physical & digital sales and streaming. After Concord’s acquisition of Razor & Tie in 2015, she joined the Concord family to help lead the streaming marketing, analysis, & strategy for artists across the label group. Between New York & LA, Chissy works internally with seven active labels – Concord Records, Loma Vista Recordings, Fantasy Records, Rounder Records, Fearless Records, KIDZ BOP, & Craft Recordings – and externally with DSP creative teams on Concord’s growing roster of artists & projects.
Bridget Unger Perdomo is a music licensing executive with over 10 years of experience. She currently serves as the VP of Synchronization at Universal Music Group, focusing on creative licensing for the Def Jam, Island, Republic and Verve labels. Prior to her role at UMG, she held positions at Roc Nation, Sony/ATV, and EMI Music Publishing. During her time at EMI, she was named as one of Billboard’s 30 Under 30 Rising Executives for expanding EMI’s reach into nontraditional media, from apparel to gaming companies. She began her career at the Harry Fox Agency after having graduated from Fordham University. She serves on the Board of Directors for Women in Music.
Nicole Barsalona is the founder of Everyday Rebellion Entertainment, artist management and consulting firm, where she specializes in international market development for clients including Prateek Kuhad and Mark Wilkinson. A graduate of Boston University’s College of Communication, Barsalona began her career at Steven Van Zandt’s multi-media company Renegade Nation, where she served as Chief of Staff and Director of Communications, as well as Road Manager to Van Zandt on tours with Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band.
A passionate advocate, Nicole proudly serves as President of Women in Music, where she has served on the Board of Directors since 2013; and on the Board of Music Managers Forum (US). She has been quoted in Forbes, Billboard, the Wall Street Journal, the Boston Globe, Mashable, Music Row, and more. She has been a featured speaker at NY:LON Connect, YouTube, SXSW, Mondo, General Assembly, Reboot, Berklee College of Music, Northeastern University, and Boston University, among others.
Neeta Ragoowansi has been an entertainment attorney and music business professional for over 25 years and is Senior Vice President, Business Development & Legal Affairs for USA based company, NPREX (National Performing Rights Exchange) and Artist Relations for RoadNation. Formerly, Neeta was Head of Artist-Label Relations for SoundExchange, President of Women in Music, VP of Biz Dev/Legal for Tunesat, and Asst. General Counsel for The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and National Symphony Orchestra. She is also a consultant to the finance/investment sector.
Neeta is President of the Music Managers Forum – US (MMF-US), serves on the advisory boards of IMMF (International Music Managers Forum), Midem, and SXSW, and is a former board governor of The Recording Academy/Grammy organization. She currently serves on the boards of Women in Music (Global Co-Chair, Chapter Expansion and Board Officer) and The American Bar Association’s Forum on the Entertainment & Sports Industries (Diversity & Inclusion Chair). Neeta has served as panelist/speaker at over 250 music industry conferences on legal and copyright topics, artist management, as well as women’s leadership and empowerment.
With a wide ranging skill set as a music and tech educator, songwriter, producer, instrumentalist, entrepreneur, and activist, Erin Barra has been a key player in many projects.
An authoritative voice in music tech education, Barra is an Associate Professor at the Berklee College of Music in Boston with experience developing and teaching curriculums at the open source (Coursera, and ROLI), K-12 (Beats By Girlz, City Music), and collegiate levels (Berklee College of Music, Berklee Online). Specializing in composition, performance, and creative music technology application, she has worked with and represented companies such as Ableton, ROLI, MusicTech, Moog and iZotope. A fierce gender equity activist, she runs Beats by Girlz, is on the board of Women in Music, and has spearheaded research regarding women in the music industry in partnership with Berklee’s Institute of Creative Entrepreneurship. She has presented at Loop, NAMM, SXSW, Moogfest, Gearfest, KIEM, Future of Music Coalition, Re-Mixed Media Festival.
How was WIM born and what is its objective?
Women in Music is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 1985 with a mission to advance the awareness, equality, diversity, heritage, opportunities, and cultural aspects of women in the musical arts through education, support, empowerment, and recognition. Originally established in New York, Women in Music now serves thousands of members around the world, with chapters from LA to India! Women in Music believes that the conversation around equality is an inclusive one, where all voices are welcome. Collectively, we are working to make the music industry a more diverse, equitable and inclusive community for all.
How has the place and role of women in the music industry – be it artists or executives –changed in the past years? How do you expect it to evolve?
Chissy Nkemere: The challenges women face in the industry have not changed over the years. The same concerns that applied 30 years ago, apply today. However, the industry has made moves – for the first time, we’re acknowledging these challenges, speaking them out loud, & taking steps to action against them. As the conversation continues to grow, I expect it to become more inclusive. Even as women, we fail to recognize that we have varying levels of privilege afforded to us depending on our race, sexual orientation, class, & more. Our differences make us stronger & more valuable as career people, as allies, and as mentors to young talent. The more we speak up & out, the better our chances are at eliminating this conversation altogether as we move toward equity, which should be our shared goal.
Erin Barra: Just even in the past decade there’s been a huge shift in how people perceive women in the music industry, wether that’s as content creators, business people or anything in-between. As a producer and woman who works in music tech, to me it feels like our visibility has increased 1000%. I imagine the change will continue and we’ll start to see more visibility at a higher tier.
What are the main challenges faced by the women in our industry and how could they be resolved?
Bridget Perdomo: I still believe being a mother in this industry is one of the hardest hills to climb. I know many young women who say they need to wait 10-15 years before they can think about having kids so they can get their careers established. Why do they think their careers will stall once they have kids? Why don’t men think this way? I think that female executives need to lead by example and offer flexibility, encouragement, and support to younger women. If they know that they can advance under supportive leadership, we will eventually have more women in executive positions.
Nicole Barsalona: While there are more women working in the industry today than there were when the organization was founded in 1985, women are still underrepresented at the highest levels, in senior, decision-making roles. Women in Music is doing a few things to combat that problem, one of which is launching our WIM Mentorship Program to bridges the “broken rung” in the ladder. Our goal is to make sure that more women are ushered through the pipeline with support and resources to make it past barriers to success. Another way we’re working to create impactful and lasting change is our WIM Workplace Initiative, which will name the “Best Places to Work for Women in Music.” By setting benchmarks and standards, we hope to encourage the implementation of more diverse and inclusive workplace practices and shift the workplace culture. Long-term, we hope it will help establish a more equitable industry for all.
Can you share a specific success story of an executive/artist/company that you have been particularity excited/inspired by?
Erin Barra: I’ve been impressed with Ableton’s somewhat quiet but extremely effective efforts to bring in more femme identified and non gender conforming users into their community. They do that by showing rather than telling – via their content, the people they choose to give visibility to, and even the audiences they gather for events.
Nicole Barsalona: Recently, Lesle Fram (Co-founder of Change the Conversation) ushered in CMT’s commitment to a 50/50 gender ratio in music video airplay. That kind of concrete step toward gender equity sends a message, and hopefully it inspires other companies and media outlets to follow suit and to be intentional in their practices.
Neeta Ragoowansi: Without revealing the personal identity of some of these women, there are inspiring stories happening weekly. The ones that come to mind as “success” stories or inspiring stories are where the woman succeeds even while she keeps her feminist identify or feminine qualities. I grew up in an era where we were told we pretty much had to be more like a man to succeed. The inspiring woman I’m thinking of doesn’t let her gender equate to weakness, but rather to strength and power. I remember a very corporate woman who was hired as a VP of a company I worked for that came in and harnessed her unique voice and identity immediately in the workplace by changing the black and brown corporate office she was given into one with pink tablecloths and vases full of flowers everywhere. She demanded to be seen as a “woman” and she owned that. It was quite the maverick move at that time. It was her leaning way in and earning her respect without having to identify with what she considered “male traits” in order to do so. Confidence and knowledge were her power sources.
Bridget Perdomo: Jody Gerson is killing the game and is a light for all of us. And she is a mother of 3!
What do you expect from your partnership with Midem?
We are delighted to have partnered with Midem over the past several years to bring together some of the most diverse thought leaders in the industry, and we are delighted to be expanding our programming at Midem 2020 to celebrate the contributions of women around the world and to share knowledge and inspiration as we look ahead to the future of our industry in a global context.
For the past 5 years, Midem has been working closely with Women in Music, Keychange, Shesaid.so and Felin/MEWEM, and many more associations across the world, to have the voices of the women of the music business heard – from its leading executives, to the new generation of professionals, as well as the artists, creators and technicians – through its conference programme, competitions, networking session and creative opportunities.