Song Suffragettes Provides Boost for Young Female Country Artists in Nashville
Frustrated by the lack of opportunities for young women in country music, Nashville-based production company Todd Cassetty Welding Service set out to do something about it. Early this year, the company began auditioning female singer-songwriters and in March launched a weekly live show, Song Suffragettes, with a rotating group of performers.
Since then, the Monday night show has already outgrown its original venue, 3rd and Lindsley Backstage, and relocated to downtown Nashville's Listening Room Café. It typically draws a crowd of 100-plus people a week, an eclectic mix of industry execs, other singer-songwriters, local music fans and tourists. It's now the venue's largest regularly scheduled weekly event.
It has also attracted a presenting sponsor, Country Outfitter, which provides the performers with boots and gives away a pair at every show with the help of show host Kelly Sutton, a Nashville television personality. And the show's organizers have begun to invite country singers with record deals to sit in as guest performers, as Valory Music's RaeLynn, Curb's Ruthie Collins and Black River's Kelsea Ballerini have all done.
More importantly, the series is providing needed exposure for the young women working to establish themselves in the mainstream country music world. Alex Masters recently signed a publishing deal with Sony/ATV. Kalie Shorr has more than 10,000 YouTube subscribers. And another one of the women recently landed an audition with Big Machine Label Group after an A&R scout saw her on a Song Suffragettes show.
Says founder Todd Cassetty, who curates the shows with producer Helena Capps, "That's the kind of thing that's starting to happen, and it's great to see opportunities come to these deserving young women." Cassetty's team auditions two or three potential performers in their office every week for the in-demand slots because, he says, the show has now "established a reputation of being a badge of honor if you're a young female songwriter."
"It's been really fun to see it grow," says Daisy Mallory, a regular Song Suffragettes performer.
The women have begun collaborating on their songwriting efforts, meaning the first ones to land publishing and recording deals will have an opportunity to help the others get exposure as well. "Our goal is that the girls all support each other as a songwriting community," says Shorr.
The series has one other key goal: increasing the format's currently dismal male-to-female ratio.
Says Cassetty, "When you look at the radio charts in the past year or so, there just aren't that many females getting airplay. So our hope for this thing was that we help introduce more females in the genre who can hopefully go on to get publishing deals and record label deals and get on the radio."
Shorr, 20, who has been part of the show since its launch, says, "We're smart enough to know it's not just about talent. Obviously every girl on that stage is talented. But it's about competing in a competitive market, and that's what we're out there to prove -- that our songs are good enough to be on the radio, good enough to be on the charts."
"I grew up listening to '90s music, and every time I turned on the radio there was a girl singing," says Mallory, 21, who, like Shorr, has been involved with the show since the beginning. "I love the music that's on the radio now, but there's definitely a lack of women, so this show is really cool because we get all these girls together and it shows there are a lot of really talented girls in this town that aren't being heard and recognized. The fact that we can all come together and showcase that and also meet each other and empower each other is what's really cool."
Cassetty and Capps are specifically looking for "female artists that are either ready to be on the radio today, or we see as being able to evolve into being on mainstream country radio at some point in the future," says Cassetty. "We're not doing fringe stuff. We're not doing Americana stuff. We're looking for female artists who are writing and playing mainstream country music."
Capps books the shows, and Cassetty calls her "the heart of Song Suffragettes, which is appropriate because she's a young female and she's in tune with what other young females want to hear that are fans of country music."
CAA agent Blake McDaniel, who represents this year's breakthrough young female duo Maddie & Tae, is an avid supporter of Song Suffragettes and has served as a sounding board for Cassetty since the show's launch. "I think the most important aspect of the show is that it gives woman a safe place to develop," says McDaniel. "In order for female artists to be successful in this [radio] environment they have to be unique and authentic and they have to really know and be comfortable with who they are and have a message." To give them a fighting chance, McDaniel says, "you have to provide a place for them to develop and discover all those things. That's the most important part about what's going on with Song Suffragettes. It gives females a very safe and supporting environment to do that."
For added exposure, Todd Cassetty Welding Service shoots each show, and regularly updates the Song Suffragettes website and social media pages with fresh video content. Country Outfitter is also hosting a Song Suffragettes video series on its entertainment site, Country Outfitter Style. Each episode introduces a new young female singer-songwriter who regularly performs with Song Suffragettes. At least one first timer is booked on the show every week, and all of the performers are allowed to sell their own CDs and EPs after the shows.
The Listening Room stage is decorated for the shows with curtains, lamps, a plush white rug, mismatched upholstered chairs and a lighted Song Suffragettes sign. Cassetty calls the decor "the shabby chic Muzik Mafia." The shows last just an hour, and the performers close each one with different cover song they work up in advance and sing together. On Monday night's show, it was Taylor Swift's "Blank Space."
While Cassetty says the support from Music Row has been "huge," he's looking to increase it even more, reaching out to the community with the message, "We're all trying to fight the good fight for women in country music, so come out and be part of this movement we're creating." He says, "My hope is that other women in country music, either from a performer standpoint or a music business standpoint, will support efforts like this to try to turn the ship."
One group that doesn't need any further convincing is the artists themselves. "Their appreciation of what we're doing with Song Suffragettes is one of the most rewarding parts of the process," says Cassetty, "because they didn't have a place to play, and they didn't have a place that could be all about the female perspective on things. Once upon a time that was a possibility in country music. It's not right now, and they're so appreciative of the opportunity and the relationships they're building with other females in this town. They're all becoming friends. They're all writing together. And their craft is getting better... because they're encouraged to do it more often because of Song Suffragettes."