For any women out there who are looking to break into music — whether it's as an artist or a producer or a publicist — what's your advice on where they should begin?
Habtemariam: "As an artist, the opportunities are limitless for talent. If you're creating amazing music, it's about how you connect and network with your peers, which obviously these days is happening a lot on social media. I think that it all comes down to your ambition and how badly you want it, but at a certain point no matter how great your music is, someone has to give you a shot, and what we need is more people willing to give non-cookie cutter formatted artists a shot. So if you really want it, you have to have an incredible work ethic and ambition, because the odds are against you, unfortunately. It's the same thing when you're trying to get behind the scenes. A lot of people get into the music industry because they see the glitz and glam of hanging with artists and going to parties, but there's so much hard work that goes into it. So you have to be willing to sacrifice and be let down sometimes and just really work hard. You could be working for one year and discover an artist that suddenly blows up, and all of a sudden you're a sought after manager. I've seen that happen a lot recently. But you could also work in this business for years and never get a real shot. You have to be prepared for that too. And be prepared, especially right now, for this business to change by the minute. Because it is changing drastically every moment."
Mitchell: "First off you gotta do some research. Back in my day you didn't have Google, so take advantage of that! Use your resources. And be prepared that it's not going to come easy. A friend of my daughter, she's 24 and trying to break in as a singer. So she's been applying for part time jobs and internships at music associated companies like BMI to be able to learn about publishing and songwriting percentages, in addition to creating music and sharing it via social media. I think if you really want to succeed in your industry, in addition to talent and it being who you know, you also want to educate yourself. Find seminars, internships, in Los Angeles there's the Music Business Institute, go to panels during Grammy week. In fact, the Recording Academy hosts Grammy U during Grammy Week for college students which has lots of resources. It's not easy — a slog a lot of the times, and as we've seen by the numbers, the odds are against you if you're a woman — but if you really want it, your passion will keep you going."
Veazey: "I think it's important to identify a mentor. A female mentor. Someone you can turn to when you need advice and who can guide you and look out for you when there are opportunities. Even if you haven't met that person yet, don't be afraid to find someone and ask them to coffee, because most of the time, women truly do want to help women. In fact, this conversation has inspired me to make a commitment to do more mentoring and really support the young women coming up."
Saturn: "Don't be shy. Be passionate and be vocal. Because you never know who might somehow get you connected. It could be a parents' friend who's a piano teacher or the guy taking your order at a restaurant. I myself started out as a receptionist, and I was fine with answering phones, but in between I was telling anyone who would listen what I wanted to do."
Recording Academy President Neil Portnow has since clarified that he was inarticulate and his statement was "taken out of context." But what was your initial reaction when you heard that he said the solution to getting more women in music is that they need to "step up?"
Habtemariam: "I thought that was so crazy! I'm blown away by that, because we step up every day. Women are the crux of the music industry, we live and breathe music and dictate the culture. Even the male artists that I work with — the first person they're calling to come into the studio for their opinion on something isn't their manager or their boys, but their girlfriends or wives or female assistants. There are a lot of women who touch and influence the music industry and never even get credit for it."
Mitchell: "Neil did come back and say he had been misquoted. It was a misstep, but he apologized, so I think we all need to move forward. I think we'll get detoured from the goal if we're divided rather than united. Like Janelle Monae said during the show, we're here, and we mean business."
So, that leaves us with the big question: What can and should the music industry be doing to be more inclusive and welcoming toward women?
Habtemariam: "I think there has to be a real active effort for people like myself who are in positions of power to find people that have interests in the creative areas like talent scouting and artist development, and help bring them up. We need to focus on that area, because if it's only men in charge of discovering artists, of course their lens is going to be specific. So the entire industry needs to focus on that and fixing the disconnect between assistants with these interests and the senior level executives. We need to help them grow into those roles and be prepared with the right tools. I recently told two assistants that I noticed stay quiet in big meetings with executives that I want them to speak up more. They were fearful because they didn't think anyone wanted their voices to be heard. So I'm putting it on women like myself in senior roles to remind those coming up: Your voices need to be heard."
Mitchell: "At our Billboard Women In Music Awards this year, American Express announced that in April, they'll be launching the Women In Music Leadership Academy
, a three to five day training to give leadership and management skills to 48 women in senior positions in music. I think programs like that are integral in helping us see real change, so any companies out there that might be reading this: We need more of them. The solution lies in anyone with power doing what they can to raise up the next generation of changemakers. The time has come!"
Saturn: "I want to encourage people in charge to pay attention to intern programs. Speak to college students and junior level employees, ask their their interests and perspectives, participate in panels, put yourself out there so that you have a bigger pool to pull from. I love when I interview an intern at my company and ask them a question and love their answer so much that I hire them on the spot. It's a great feeling to help out someone who's hungry and can make a real difference."
Veazey: "It feels a bit like, wow it's 2018, and we're having to ask this question? I do think that at the moment we are in a renaissance period as it relates to Black excellence and gender inequality. One day we'll look in the rearview mirror and reflect on this being an exciting time. I think this past week has been a call to action to everyone in the business: Hire more women. Hire more producers, take more time to find female artists — and female artists of color, specifically — talk to students, start scholarship programs, remind your employees that they need to go the extra mile....I'm so excited for the day when the only female producer names people know aren't just Missy Elliott and Alicia Keys."
Author credit: ARIANNA DAVIS