Last month, a handful of the most influential female executives in the music business met at Berklee College of Music's Valencia campus to talk to the next generation of businesswomen. Designed to shine a light on the few female role models there are in the industry, the event was called the Women's Empower Symposium, and was the first of its kind; but why now?
For a resounding answer, you don't need to look further than your newsstand: specifically, to this year's Billboard Power 100, a list of the most important people in the music industry. Of the 127 people represented (many share a slot) in the 2015 list, 15 are women and 11 are black. The highest woman places at number 12 on the list; the highest black executive places at 30. On the cover, the list's highest ranked executive, Universal CEO Lucian Grainge, smiles alongside Lana Del Rey and Kanye West, making the contrast explicit: while female and black artists represent the public face of music, the industry remains overwhelmingly male, and overwhelmingly white.
For Billboard, the process of ranking power is merely one of holding up a mirror to the music business as it stands today. The editorial team spend months crunching the numbers in a process that inevitably comes down to the dollar. In his Editor's Letter in the Power 100 issue, Billboard Editor In Chief Tony Gervino describes power as "a hefty slab of market share, a positive revenue trend and ample room for growth. In other words, power is money. It's having everyone, everywhere take your call, no matter the time or circumstance."
On her Pinkprint track "Shanghai," Nicki Minaj boasts anybody I call they picks up, and it's easy to imagine she's right: on the face of it, some of the most powerful people in the industry today are women and people of color. At the time of writing, the Top 10 of Billboard Hot 100 features Rihanna, Taylor Swift, Ellie Goulding, The Weeknd, Fetty Wap, Flo Rida, Natalie La Rose and Jeremih.
But the Power 100 is just one indication of a corporate industry that remains stale in comparison to its public face. Just look at Billboard's most recent cover star, Azealia Banks; in January 2014, she literally begged major label Universal to drop her, tweeting: "I'm tired of having to consult a group of old white guys about my black girl craft. They don't even know what they're listening for or to." She later self-released her debut album to critical acclaim.
The industry as it stands is out of step with the artists it profits from, and the 2015 Power 100 goes to show that that's not changing quickly enough; that's why now is the perfect time to hear from the trail-blazers who have gone before.
Success stories are important
Natalia Nastaskin is the only female CEO of a major US talent agency (The Agency Group) and was joint number 52 on this year's Power 100 list along with her company's board director. Unlike many of the executives on the Billboard Power 100 who declined to comment for this piece, Nastaskin was happy to share her thoughts on the current state of the industry. Speaking over email, she was insistent that her gender had never been a factor in her career trajectory, and was optimistic about the music business's future. "The statistics are that there are more women entering the work force now than ever," she wrote. "I think that as time goes on, we will see more women—and more diversity overall—in top roles at companies." But still, it's necessary to make sure that happens by looking to those breaking down the doors in the first place. "Women, specifically, should tell their stories more often," believes Nastaskin. "I am constantly inspired by women blazing trails and changing the game."
Nastaskin isn't the only one who's optimistic. After all, this year's Power 100—despite its disappointing stats—is in fact the most diverse list Billboard has ever published, and Gervino seems to predict that it will get better from here. "Nearly three dozen new names appear on this year's Power 100," he writes in his editorial letter, "an astounding percentage of turnover, and one that makes us wonder how different the list could look next year."
"Women should tell their stories more often. I am constantly inspired by women blazing trails and changing the game."—Natalia Nastaskin
But sitting and waiting for change doesn't quite seem good enough; who are the people actively driving that change forward? At Berklee College of Music's Valencia campus, where the future leaders of the music business are in waiting, 25-year-old student Michelle Golden is taking matters into her own hands. Together with a committee, Golden organized the college's aforementioned Women's Empower Symposium, where a collection of high-profile women in music law, management and publicity spoke directly to the next generation.
Over the phone, Golden told me that the idea for the symposium arose when she realized that, despite the fact that many female performers and guest speakers are booked at Berklee, the music business students there regularly only hear lectures from male executives. Once she started planning the event, "it kind of opened our eyes, and we realized that when you look at the Billboard Power 100, you see a lot of male executives. Even when you look through Billboard magazine, I love the issue, but you do see a lot of prominent male figures." Golden wants to enter an industry "knowing that there are great female role models out there. Because there are! I know a ton of great female leaders in the music industry, but for some reason at Berklee, at least in our program, they weren't represented. So this is our opportunity to create that change."
Because the business won't change until ancient ideals do
Two such female role models who appeared at the Women's Empower Symposium were publicist Christine Krzyzanowski and executive Angie Martinez. Having started her own law firm representing artists, Martinez now runs the Universal Meccalani imprint; meanwhile, Krzyzanowski founded her company ARK Publicity 13 years ago, working with clients from the NFL and NBA to Roc Nation. The two women spoke to to The FADER via a conference call ahead of the symposium. Martinez explained that in her view, the lack of women at the top of the corporate tree in music right now is down to the overall stagnation of the business. "There was so much business being done 10 years ago, but I think that's highly been reduced over the last couple of years," she told me. "So the people that are in there are going to hold on to their seats for a very long time. I don't think a lot of executives are being promoted, whether female or male." Looking at Billboard's Power 100, that rings true: the combined age of the 11 men in the top 10 slots is 657 years.
Perhaps part of the problem is the static nature of the business, but that's not to say there aren't also unique challenges that face women on the corporate ladder. In an innocuous quote in the Billboard Power 100 issue that hints at a deeper problem, executive VP of Capitol Music Group Michelle Jubelirer describes the moment a male employee introduced her to Mick Jagger as his boss. "I don't think Mick believed him," she said. Sexist attitudes in business are deeply ingrained, and will likely take a long time to change. This was famously illustrated when a Harvard business professor changed the name of Silicon Valley exec and SkinnySongs CEO Heidi Roizen to "Howard Roizen" in half of the case studies about her that he gave to his students. The professor measured his students' responses to the study, and found that the majority would rather work for "Howard" than for Heidi, despite their two profiles being totally identical. Students described having an impression of Heidi as being more power-hungry and harsh than "Howard"; the more she asserted herself, the less they liked her.
"My staff calls me the 'nice beast' because I can truly kill you with kindness. If that's my feminine side, then that is what I'm going to do."—Yvette Noel-Schure
Yvette Noel-Schure, the Senior VP of Schure Music Group and publicist to artists including Beyoncé and Prince, spoke on this phenomenon at the Women's Empower Symposium last week. "My staff calls me the 'nice beast,'" she told the audience, "because I can truly kill you with kindness. If that's my feminine side, then that is what I'm going to do. Show me the mean boys, I've only met the mean girls." Touching on the industry's lowered expectations of her abilities, she added: "When people don't expect you to do things well, you have to be really cool about it, and go about it, while respecting other people's jobs."
High-flying publicist Christine Krzyzanowski has also faced the "preconceived notion" that she will be more emotional and difficult than her male colleagues throughout her career, describing to The FADER the need to always be emotionally on guard as a female executive. Like Noel-Schure, she emphasises the need to stay "cool," even when the industry is unfair to you. "If we get angry, we're being emotional," she told me. "When I work with corporations, I hear [men] say, 'oh she's too emotional' or 'I've seen her crying in the hallway,' stuff like that." And it's not only a case of keeping your emotions on lock; as a woman in the business, there's also the added pressure of deflecting sexual advances. "Men will try you," said Krzyzanowski. "Especially in my late 20s I had to deal with that—you say no to a man's advances or you push a man away, and they promise you 'I'll give you this account, have dinner with me,' shit like that. You say no, and all of a sudden two weeks later they won't return your phone calls, when you have to deal with them on another account."
Entrepreneurs hold the key
These issues are perhaps part of the reason that many successful women today have taken a more DIY route by founding their own companies, like Martinez and Krzyznanowski. "Entrepreneurship is a big piece of the puzzle," Martinez told me. "I'm sure women [on the Billboard Power 100] did it their own way until they were brought in by one of the Fortune 500 companies that they work with." It's not an unreasonable assumption: Michelle Anthony, the highest woman on the Power 100 at number 12, rejoined the major label world in her current role at VP at Universal after seven years spent running her self-launched company 7H Entertainment.
"In order to really be able to capitalize on entertainment business, you have to be at the forefront of technology, and really understand how it works on a 360 basis."—Angie Martinez
That entrepreneurial attitude is something that will only prove more valuable as the construct of power shifts with the digital age. Today, people are building in-roads to the music business from Silicon Valley start-ups; Spotfy and Shazam executives appear on the 2015 Billboard Power 100. "You have to be a go-getter in this business," believes Martinez. "And in order to really be able to capitalize on entertainment business, you have to be at the forefront of technology, and really understand how it works on a 360 basis." Martinez works closely with Lauren Giraldo, a self-made Vine star who regularly gets more than a million loops per post. "It costs her 0 dollars, and she gets more views with zero promotion than some of my artists that spend a hundred thousand dollars on a music video and have a publicist and the machine of a record label," Martinez revealed. "And the brands start calling. So I think the little guy has a place at the table. And if the little guy is a woman or a man, or a minority, or doesn't speak English, [the internet] is the neutralizing factor." Echoing Martinez's vision of a newly even playing field, Yvette Noel-Schure told students at March's Women's Empower Symposium: "You had to learn to play the game in order to master the game. Now it's not about the suit or the dress, it's about about what you can bring to the table."
But first, seek out communities for strength
Perhaps a new generation of self-made digital powerhouses are on their way, but in the meantime it's important to highlight and celebrate the trailblazers who have found success in the old system. After the success of the inaugural Women's Empower Symposium, Michelle Golden's ambition is to expand it into a series of inspiring seminars for women and ethnic minorities at colleges and universities across the US. "It's in the works, but it's called Project Next Up," she explained. "It's really encouraging the younger generation...to kickstart their career at a young age, and to latch on to a mentor in the industry." Elsewhere, Martinez participates in a mentor and scholarship scheme called Women Of Tomorrow, while Krzyzanowski has teamed up with radio personality Devon Brown to launch an initiative called Power Play Women, which allows female students to connect directly with high profile businesswomen online.
In the UK, non-profit organization Diaspora works with music companies to work towards fairer multi-ethnic representation in their boardrooms. The Association of Independent Music, meanwhile, bring together powerful women from the music and creative industries both online and off, by maintaining a private LinkedIn group and hosting annual meet-ups in London.
Right now, it seems the best option we have are these talking cures: giving a platform to the people who have made their own in-roads into the industry, so that they can give the next generation the tools to make those roads even bigger. Plus, for the people on the inside already, who are working constantly in a white male-dominated world, it's important to build those connections so that conversations about diversity can be had. As Krzyzanowski puts it, "It's really just nice to hear another woman who understands."
Lead image: Central Press/Hulton Archive/Getty Images.
This article was amended on April 9th 2015 to reflect Yvette Noel-Schure's correct title.