Female executives faced tough decisions this year as an array of powerful music figures were accused of sexual misconduct. Four such leaders share their stories.
Psychotherapist, former Columbia Records executive
Coopersmith’s open letter to Charlie Walk alleging sexual misconduct prompted an investigation that led to Walk’s March exit from his post as president of Republic Records. Walk repeatedly denied the allegations.
I’m in the process of launching a new platform called Amplify With Tristan, which helps women shift their mindset from “victim” to “creator.” My work is rooted in connecting my clients with their optimal potential through the power of their voice. Through resurrecting the self-love and courage that it takes to listen to and honor your thoughts, feelings, wants and needs, we can use our voice as the ultimate vehicle toward connection, freedom, peace and possibility.
At the time when I came out with my #MeToo letter, I had another business called Life Lab, a “women’s wellness sanctuary,” offering creative, meditative and personal growth experiences. I’ve since closed that business — not so much because of any negative aftermath of the letter, although there was plenty. It was because I realized that through working with my clients, the students at Life Lab and, perhaps most impactfully, the countless women who reached out to me with similar stories of experiencing sexual misconduct in the workplace, not only have our voices become so incredibly diminished, our lives have as well. Not just in the context of #MeToo or politics, but also in day-to-day living. As a culture, women have been conditioned and in many instances, rewarded for being quiet, which has in turn limited our lives, both personally and professionally. I’m committed to helping women wake up their inner voices and dial up their truthspeaking.
After sharing my story, I was able to connect with women and men from all over the globe who had similar experiences. Many had stories of their own to tell and wanted advice on whether it was worth it. I told them all: “This is your journey. For some people, sharing openly is the right choice. It releases you from the prison of shame and secrecy and results in freedom. For others, it’s not right the choice, and that’s perfectly OK. There is no one way to navigate such a complicated situation.”
There is still so much fear in the music business. I’m not in the industry day-to-day anymore. I’m not walking into Columbia Records; I’m here in my office overlooking [Los Angeles’] Hermosa Beach. I’m not dependent on a powerful figurehead to pay my bills. I’m lucky in that way. In the music business, the problem is still pervasive, but I’m hopeful that a shift in consciousness is occurring, which will lead to new practices, procedures and accountability. And, ideally, mental health support for victims.
I had a lot of men from the music business contact me through email and Facebook to thank me. I wrote back to all of them, respectfully, like, “You’re a part of the problem too.” With #MeToo, it is important to empower the nonoffenders. It is about the bystanders who see and hear things but do not do anything about it, who think that they just need to stay in their own lane. That gives women a message that a company’s bottom line must be so much more important. The layers of damage need to be understood so that bystanders and perpetrators alike really understand what harassment does to a person’s psyche and soul. Only then will we see change.
Milana Rabkin Lewis
In the tech world, the best practice when you’re forming a company is to write out your mission statement, write out your company values, and onboard your teams by reciting and defining those values. I’ve recently been having conversations with other business owners in entertainment, and I ask them what their company values are, and in a lot of cases it’s something they actually haven’t defined.
At Stem, we were really ambitious, and wrote really ambitious values — and what we learned is that those values weren’t practical, because we faced a lot of challenging decisions. We’ve spent the last month re-evaluating. The last year has forced questions about how we want to behave in this new era.
We’re an invite-only platform, so there isn’t an expectation that we’re accessible to everyone. But even defining the base threshold of which artists we’re willing to onboard has been difficult. We’ve had artists who requested to use our platform who were incredibly popular and had high-performing content, but were involved in things we morally couldn’t agree with, so we had to decide whether or not we were comfortable letting them in.
As we’re growing and working with more businesses and starting to engage in contractual agreements, there have been a number of these executives who are no longer in their roles due to misconduct allegations and are working with rosters of artists independently, who wanted to work with us as a solution. These are people who are well-established in the space, and have some level of controversy around them. We’re consistently struggling with the scale in how you measure controversy — how do you draw the lines? Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a real dialogue among people in the music business to help shape a framework around it.
We’re lucky to have the backing of powerful managers and lawyers. I would call them and ask, “What do you think about so-and-so?” and I would get mixed feedback. There hasn’t been a situation where there has been consensus among the investor group or among shareholders around an individual.
The decision ultimately lies in my hands. A huge draw to female artists is that I’m a female CEO of this business, which adds tremendous pressure on me to make the right decisions. As conversations around #MeToo are happening more openly, I meet with some of these women and listen to their songs, which reveal more personal issues they’ve dealt with related to misconduct. Knowing that, and knowing some of the people in the business associated with misconduct that hurt these artists… it lingers in my head, because I encounter these people in the real world. How do I navigate relationships now that I have this information? I don’t know if I’m doing it the right way, but I’m much more conscious of that now.
— As told to Cherie Hu
VP A&R, Epic Records; founder, TheBasement Showcase series
The music-industry reaction to #MeToo has been incredible in terms of opportunities being created for women. I can’t say that would have happened even just a couple of years ago. I’ve personally never been a victim of workplace misconduct. That’s because I’ve been blessed to be surrounded by people who wanted to see me elevated and who shielded me from some of those problems. Now, for us as women, it’s our job to make sure that those problems stop. I want to be a part of the change. With TheBasement, for both women and men on the team, I’m working hard to make sure this is a place where they can come and elevate themselves but also feel safe. At one point, a lot of us [women] weren’t communicating with each other.
It’s complicated, because you can’t necessarily stick a negative label immediately onto someone unless you’ve had a personal experience or knowledge of the situation with that someone. I’ve been honored to work with people like [Epic Records president] Sylvia Rhone, who has been a huge advocate of the #MeToo movement.
We have to do better raising awareness of women implementing change behind the scenes. Making sure we’re dropping women’s names to people who might have never heard of them. People might not be familiar with me, but I’ve contributed a lot both inside and outside of the Epic Records system. The industry tends to highlight just the three to four people at the very top, but behind each of them there are another three to four people who helped them get to where they are. We need to make sure that everyone has a voice and is being heard.
— As told to C.H.
In the past six months alone, I’ve heard several stories from female creatives about men coming on to them strongly when they were just trying to make music. When they refused, the men were no longer supportive of their careers. My obligation is to look out for my clients’ best interests. One individual who was called out for misconduct reached out to work with someone I was advising. I felt concerned with him working closely with talent, having heard the stories. I laid out my case as to why I thought it might not be a good idea, but I left it up to my client to make the final decision. My client ended up going in another direction.