Striking at the heart of the cultural problem in the Australian music industry

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For many of us who work in the Australian music industry, the talk on ABC TV Four corners last week was no surprise. “Everyone knows that”, but for some of us who advocate for equality and have been talking about sexism, racism and homophobia for as long as we can remember, the story was like cutting off the head of hydra.

Hydra is the serpent-like monster from Greek mythology that has nine heads, and when you cut one off, two more grow back. The truth is, to truly defeat the beast of misogyny, you have to get to the heart of the matter, and the heart of the matter is cultural.

The music industry faces monumental challenges when it comes to inequality, inclusiveness, and bad behavior, much of which is rooted in an industry created to benefit a certain type of man. Men who showed little concern for the well-being and safety of women, especially men so blinded by their own power that they believed themselves to be untouchable, invincible and blameless, men who made themselves accomplices by supporting and contributing to the “boys club” for years.

In fact, I felt bad, and I am not alone, when I think about the number of amazing women we have lost because of this “rabid culture of annihilation”. A culture responsible for silencing women, for punishing women for being unconventional, for speaking the truth and being frank, or for being good at their job. An industry that punishes a pregnant woman, that calls sexual harassment and bullying “overreaction” and an industry that has shrunk men who speak out about their brothers’ bad behavior.

In the late 90s, I was running a successful independent record label when I was approached by ABC TV who was investigating the culture of the Sydney Sony Music office. The story was buried for lack of people going on the record. There were moral and ethical issues then, like today. After the outbreak of Sony International’s investigation into Sony Music Australia in the late ’90s, I vividly remember the tsunami of disbelief that swept through the industry like a raging bull.

Let’s not be naive. This is an industry that encourages bad behavior as an essential attribute for success. It’s a culture that has almost succeeded in convincing women to believe that every other woman is a threat and must be destroyed at all costs.

In the ABC TV report, we saw the legacy of a destructive toxic culture that has allowed Australia’s music industry to thrive for decades, but believing that the Hydra has only one head and cutting it off is the end of the matter is laughable.

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In 2021, women are shown less on Australian radio and are consistently outnumbered by men in the annual triple-j countdown of the 100 most popular songs and albums; there has never been a female CEO or MD of a major record company in Australia; women occupy only 28% of managerial and strategic positions in major industry organizations and earn much less than their male counterparts; High-tech music industry boards are dominated by male contributions, and festival vocals and programming are dominated, in some cases almost entirely, by male solos and all groups led by men.

In a larger context, women won the vote in Australia in 1902 and 119 years later we have never achieved equality in our federal government. First Nations women had to wait until 1962 to have the same right to vote and just eight years ago, in 2013, our Federal Minister for Women was a man.

Change requires a continuous struggle and when it occurs it threatens all those in positions of power. We cannot move forward with words and aspirations. It is now up to everyone to work together with conviction, to ensure that in every corner of the Australian music industry there is a commitment to safety, inclusiveness and equality, but most importantly, of action.

We are eternally indebted to the undoubted courage of Deena Lynch and all who speak out now, Beneath the Glass Ceiling and all those who supported the creation of the Australian Women in Music Awards in 2018 to tackle chronic inequalities between gender and recognize the value and contributions of women across the spectrum of the Australian music industry.

Australian Women in Music Awards and Conference Program (AWMA) is scheduled to take place at HOTEL X and TIVOLI in Brisbane from May 17-18, 202.


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