Dear Men In Australian Music: It’s Time We Cut The Bullshit
Acts of hate, violence and harassment in music are almost exclusively perpetrated by men in the industry - and it's past time we started to speak up, and do something about it.
Before I start: Here is a small selection of important pieces from women that have been published in the past couple of weeks, which explain experiences that have impacted them in ways I will never fully grasp.
I’m not even sure where to begin. I’m not even sure if I should begin: I’m a half-white man in his 30s who’s enjoyed a lot of personal gain in the Australian music industry. In the context of the past few weeks, and essentially all weeks, I speak from a place of extreme privilege. I don’t have to go through anything close to the bullshit that women in the music industry (and in general) have to face.
I’m trying to find value in my experience, something worth sharing that may help fight back against the aforementioned bullshit. I find great personal value in knowing that most of the time, the best course of action is to listen and support those with whom I can’t effectively empathise with.
But I also know that men in the Australian music industry have mostly been silent for years on this — and it’s time for us to finally speak up, and do something. And so I write this in an effort to encourage anyone in the endless, consistent cavalcade of men (or any other close-minded individual on the gender spectrum) who is perhaps priming their hands over the keyboard to retort “NOT ALL MEN” to stop, listen, and think.
Rotten From Top To Bottom
The sexism and male-domination of the Australian music industry doesn’t just appear when you reach the top — it’s right there when you first pick up an instrument.
The guy at the music store is a dude. The people who run the rehearsal space are dudes, so are the other bands. The person you get to record your music is a man, so is the mixer. Congratulations, you’ve booked your first show! The venue is owned by men, the venue manager, the booker, the sound person, the headliner, and their tour manager — oops, all men!
If you’re lucky, you reach the point where you’ve established yourself enough to start signing contracts. When you’re an artist, the most critical path to success is surrounding yourself with a good team. People that will back you and your vision. A manager, an agent, a label, a lawyer, a publisher, and so on. You sign a contract for each of these services. And these contracts, designed to provide you with investment to grow and sustain your career, are almost exclusively countersigned by the man in charge. The man who now has the final say in your career, at least financially and legally.
It’s worth noting that, of course, there are more and more incredible women working their way through the ranks — but overwhelmingly, as triple j’s annual Girls To The Front analysis shows, the industry is still overwhelmingly dominated by men, from the record labels to the radio airwaves to the festival stages.
It feels like every week you hear an “Oh I’ve heard he’s horrible to women”, “Apparently he assaulted someone — yeah everyone knows”, “Her manager told her to post more revealing photos because they track well online.”
When you’re in this space, you hear things. Constantly. Yet nothing ever amounts to anything. People live in a state of fear of being chased down by a team of lawyers should anyone name names, or simply just being cast away as someone who’s “difficult” to work with because you speak of what goes unspoken. It feels like every week you hear an “Oh I’ve heard he’s horrible to women”, “Apparently he assaulted someone — yeah everyone knows”, “Her manager told her to post more revealing photos because they track well online.” Hearsay perhaps. But it is all destined to remain as hearsay, as we have a system fueled by money and popularity — and both of those things are entirely controlled by men in powerful positions.
Beyond hearsay, I can speak to things I’ve heard first-hand accounts of and seen with my own eyes. Our female photographer being mistreated by misogynist fans, female musicians being ignored or talked down to at shows, female fans receiving relentless aggression from men in venues — I’ve being kicked out of a venue for complaining about power-hungry security guards pulling a woman out of a venue by her hair. Just a selection of horrible things that go on every day in music.
People bemoan the lack of representation beyond white men on things like festival line-ups. We argue about making sure line-ups are equally representative of all genders and races. Yet we don’t acknowledge the root of this being the fact that it’s not easy for women, or anyone not white and cis-male to even start a musical project without instantly feeling like they’re trying to cheat their way into a club for which they can’t get membership.
We Need To Stop Letting It Slide
I can’t speak to the trauma that this causes or the effect that this isolated and imbalanced experience brings for women. I don’t live with these issues. Yet it is impossible not to see the untenable imbalance that permeates throughout every level of this industry.
It is up to us in the industry to talk about these issues, not only among ourselves but with those who consume our music from the outside. We need to push beyond “separating the art from the artist” and simply wishing success for the “best” music. We don’t live in a world where the concept of the “best” music means anything. No one gets anywhere purely on the merit of their music. Success and sustainability in this industry requires investment and strategy. Opportunities that lead to these two things are woefully stacked towards men. It is catered to us. We operate from the male perspective.
If we’re too scared or unable to properly discuss the everyday imbalance of power and opportunity that men are afforded, then we’re doomed to perpetually repeat history.
I implore men to listen, but we must then act: we need to hold the men in our circles accountable — actually accountable. We must advocate for equality at every level. We won’t let that downright sexist joke or comment slide. We won’t just nod our heads when we find out about abusers or toxic male behaviour. When the next problematic band shows themselves to be horribly sexist or misogynist, we won’t work alongside them, nor will we support them or their music. We won’t sit around as the women around us do all the work. This world has been set up in our favour, and we must act definitively to break down those barriers for others.
To the person currently typing “not all men are bad, we aren’t all rapists, why paint us all with the same brush?” I am overlooking your bizarre misinterpretation of facts and saying this: No shit, not every single bloke in the industry is a rapist, that’s a bizarre conclusion to arrive at. The fact we need to deal with is that the vast majority of people in the industry are men, especially at the top — where the power is and where the decisions are made. It is impossible to deny that as a result of this, acts of hate, violence and harassment in music are almost exclusively perpetrated by men. There is real fear of reporting and dealing with any incident. And when the fear is overcome, the matter at hand often gets brushed aside with a powerless shrug.
If we’re too scared or unable to properly discuss the everyday imbalance of power and opportunity that men are afforded, then we’re doomed to perpetually repeat history. And I have no interest in being in an industry that sits and watches this happen.
It shouldn’t have to take a single voice (like Jaguar Jonze) to rise alone and fight a fight for all women. We need to listen to every voice and every story with open hearts and minds. We need to deal with this together. It doesn’t change until we do.