Women In Music

How She Is The Music Persisted Through 2020

Michelle Arkuski and Cyndi Lauper
Courtesy of She Is The Music

Michelle Arkuski (left) and Cyndi Lauper

She Is The Music, the nonprofit founded in 2018 with the goal of increasing the number of women working in the music industry, kicked off 2020 in March with a songwriting camp hosted by Cyndi Lauper. Then COVID-19 hit and decimated the job market, making SITM’s mission all the more challenging — and forcing executive director Michelle Arkuski to shift strategy. She spoke to Billboard about the organization’s evolving approach and the obstacles it’s still confronting.

How has She Is the Music pivoted to serve its community during the pandemic?

I’m most proud of our first virtual mentorship program over the summer, called Connect Together. We had artists like Syd, Big Freedia and Mickey Guyton paired with [mentees] from Guatemala, the United Kingdom, Mexico, Australia. We also did our first virtual songwriting camp in partnership with RCA Records and Unknown Music Publishing, in 12 different time zones over a span of four days. We had Shakira, Flo Milli, Normani — it was incredible. We received text messages from writers saying, “Never would we have had the chance to work together if we didn’t do something virtually.”

How does the pandemic make achieving She Is the Music’s goal more challenging?

One of the hardest things about this time is the lack of opportunity. Internships don’t exist at all, or they exist in very few numbers. The job market isn’t ideal. It’s where the idea for the mentorship program started, because we looked at all of these students and recent graduates and thought, “What opportunities are they getting right now?” Even if we only affected the smallest number, it’s a step in the right direction. I think fundraising will be a challenge — not just in nonprofits, but for any company and industry — so that’s something to consider.

Black Lives Matter protests have fueled a movement for racial equality in the music industry. Are there any specific She Is the Music initiatives for women of color?

We have considered it. The goal from the beginning has always been to harness inclusivity, visibility and opportunity, and that includes intersectionality. This year has been an opportunity to continue the work that we’ve always believed in and done, while also looking for new ways to learn and grow for the betterment of women in music.

What are your priorities for 2021?

My pie-in-the-sky idea is a college ambassadorship program next summer. If we’re able to reach a different demographic — not just people already in the industry but those who are still trying to enter — it will be really exciting. One thing we recently started working toward is engaging more male allies. We launched this SITM at Home tutorial series with Kenny Beats and Ross Golan. It’s about accountability and a collective effort, and we’re excited to be working with like-minded men who believe in our mission.

This article originally appeared in the Dec. 5, 2020 issue of Billboard.