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Annie Mac Presents: Where are all the female bosses?

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As part of her first ever Annie Mac Presents conference at The Moth Club in Hackney, legendary DJ Annie Mac chatted through some of the biggest issues affecting the music industry in 2019.

The first talk of the day simply entitled ‘Where are the female bosses?’. This is a cause close to Annie Mac’s heart, and this year she announced that she was part of Smirnoff’s Equalising Music campaign.

 

Things might finally be changing, and this panel is definitely a start. Alongside Annie Mac was Emily Eavis (Co-organiser of Glastonbury Festival), Olivia Nunn (Co-managing director, Island Records, Charlotte Gunn (Editor, NME) and Carla Marie Williams (Songwriter and founder of Girls I Rate.)

(From left) Emily Eavis, Charlotte Gunn, Olivia Nunn, Carla Marie Williams & Annie Mac. // Image courtesy of Stoked PR

Growing up in a male-dominated industry…

Emily Eavis is the daughter of Glastonbury co-founder Michael Eavis. She grew up on Worthy Farm in Somerset where the festival takes place, so Glastonbury is in her veins in every way possible – but she recalls feeling shut out at the beginning. 

 

“Growing up, with my dad running Glastonbury, the phone calls used to come through the house and we just had so many calls from men agents offering bands up. It was very rare that there was a call from a woman. There was one woman who would occasionally call, she was called Emma Banks and she is still an agent. Whenever she used to call there was this kind of relief, like oh you're out there! In a sea of men! Because it's so dominated by men, especially in the live industry.” 

 

In her role, Eavis also deals with living up to her dad’s legendary reputation, something she isn’t necessarily interested in doing. “The fact that I'm his daughter makes it [the treatment] even worse because it's a privileged position in a way. There was quite a lot of ‘he wouldn't have done that’ - which is fine because he probably wouldn't.” 

 

Starting out in the music business… 

For Carla Marie Williams, she recalled her early career working in America when she was treated differently to her male counterparts. “I remember one time with an A&R guy, and he told me to shut up – and there was a mass of people. He was talking to another producer, and he was making a point about more opportunities for English producers and writers – and he was like ‘Yes brother, I hear you, brother’. As soon as I went ‘Yeah that’s true’ he told me to shut up.”

 

Williams isn’t the only woman on the panel who has been shut down for being a woman, as Eavis explains; “In our organisation there's still a bit of the old, the men who book the stages, a lot of them are older, they just don't understand why I'm pushing them all the time. I'm always like 'I'm really sorry but you've got to take some of those blokes off, you’ve got to put some girls in'. Come on! They're like, oh for god sake, you've lost your mind. That's just a constant thing, a constant struggle. It's just a bit old guard, the old guys running things, the old bookers, they love a beer with the guys, the agents they talk a lot about golf days, football trips, there's a whole brotherhood that is so tight, it’s impenetrable.

 

“They're always like 'will you just shut up, it wasn't like this when your dad was in charge'. But if you want to make progress you just have to do it, you have to be able and up for being a bit of an annoyance. Unfortunately, we have to make a massive jump the other way in order to make the tiniest bit of progress. So that means me being really pushy with these people, we are nowhere near where we need to be, we are making slow progress but there is still a long way to go” 

 

For Charlotte Gunn, she is only the second ever woman to hold the editor position at NME. The magazine is still very male-heavy with a lot of the people on her team being men. So how does she handle the gender imbalance?   “I'm really encouraged by my team, the guys on my team. It's only about 10 people, they're a bit younger and I don't want to generalize about age, but I think it's more innate with them to not think about it.”

 

For Gunn, she feels that the new generation of men is a lot more open to gender equality than the men that came before them.  “I'm optimistic about the younger generation of men coming up, who perhaps won't lead in the same way or won’t behave in the same way that people have found problematic in the past. Understand that people do things in different ways, and your way isn't the only way, and just be a bit more sensitive to people’s styles and approaches. It's everyone's problem to create a balance in the industry"

 

A change in the industry…

Olivia Nunn is the co-managing director of Island Records alongside Natasha Mann. Nunn started off at the very bottom at Island, working her way up to the top. Throughout her time at the label, she has seen a huge power shift in the top roles. “There are a lot more women in the top leadership positions than there were. Certainly, there’s been a massive shift in the last five years. Our president is male but beneath him, there’s me and another lady, and we are co-MDs together. We were brought through the label and we’ve been supported and we got the jobs because we have done them well for many years.”

 

Williams agreed that there has been a change in the industry, and it’s something that she welcomes with open arms. “What I like is the fact that, with this whole Equalising Music campaign and the #MeToo movement and all the other people that are championing women, is that the conversation is allowed. Five years ago, this conversation would not have been allowed. Now men are like ‘we’ve really got to address this’”

 

Going forward…

So, what does the future hold for the music industry? And will it finally be equal in the upcoming years – if Annie Mac’s got anything to do with it then it will be. She says; “I remember interviewing Wolf Alice and I remember her [Ellie Rowsell] saying ‘I don't want to have to speak in the language of men. I don't want to have to shout, maybe I want to whisper, and I still want to get my voice heard, I think that should be OK.’ I think that's a really interesting conversation the idea of women feeling pressured to rise up to levels of testosterone to get your point heard. Wouldn’t it be nice if we can all sit around and have a cup of tea and make massive decisions?” 

At NME, Gunn and her team are working hard to promote equality in the industry, despite facing backlash she’s determined to make it happen. “We're putting on all female shows and live gigs, it feels tokenistic and some people say that’s not representative but there's such a big step to go to get it equal. I think giving women a platform they haven't had before in a fairly extreme way, by only putting women on the bill right now, will give them some exposure, so when it comes to booking festival line-ups there's more awareness and visibility for all the amazing female talent that's out there.”

It was an enlightening and hopeful panel, with four powerhouses of women speaking a lot of sense. Gender equality is still far from being 50/50 in the music industry (in any industry really…) but we are getting there. It’s these women who have the power to make changes and that’s exactly what they are doing. 

We’ll leave you with this quote from Olivia Nunn; “If we project that sense of being equal, eventually you’d hope that we get there. We need to keep pushing that discussion forward and progress has been made. It is taking a while, but we’re definitely making moves.”

Lead image courtesy of Stoked PR




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