Ben Turner, 44, has been involved with nearly every aspect of electronic music since he fell for the form nearly three decades ago: as a fan, raver, journalist, editor, manager, creative director on DanceStar USA: The American Dance Music Awards and co-founder of the annual International Music Summit in Ibiza, Spain.
But in 2013, he felt one thing was missing from the scene. “What was needed, from my perspective, was infrastructure,” he explains. “When you think back five years ago, the genre was exploding all over the world. In an industry, you need to be able to speak with one voice on certain occasions to make a key message. That didn’t exist.”
So Turner and attorney Kurosh Nasseri founded the Association for Electronic Music, a nonprofit organization, expressly for that purpose. Despite industry skepticism — “Setting up a nonprofit trade organization in this day and age is a very difficult thing to do,” says COO Mark Lawrence, “let alone setting one up with global reach targeting every aspect of an entire genre” — the organization celebrates its fifth birthday in 2018. “We’ve gone from 40 member companies to over 150 operating in 34 countries,” says Lawrence.
AFEM’s scope is expansive: “everything from making sure music-recognition technology is used in nightclubs to help pay the right people to raising awareness of mental health problems in electronic music,” explains Lawrence.
Nasseri points to several major wins for AFEM since its founding. Among them: The number of performing rights organizations agreeing to use music-recognition tech has risen from three to 14 since AFEM set its sights on the issue, and the association has been able to reduce industrial-scale piracy by notifying payment providers about the “worst offenders” using their services.
As Turner looks to the future, he says he wants to ensure that the organization stays true to the “all-embracing” roots of electronic music. “I felt AFEM was not doing enough to encourage more female participants on the boards,” he says. For fans of the genre, “electronic music has always been extremely open across rank, color and gender,” he says. “It’s important we don’t forget the values this music was built on.”
So, as part of the next step in the organization’s evolution, AFEM is pledging to achieve gender parity across its various advisory boards — more than doubling the number of women, who now account for about 20 percent of seats — by the end of 2020. The efforts will be guided by AFEM’s own gender-diversity group and shesaid.so, an organization founded by Mixcloud executive Andreea Magdalina in 2014 with the goal of, among other things, increasing the number of women with active roles in the music industry overall.
Another facet of AFEM’s attempt to reduce the gender gap in electronic music includes a new global confidential hotline for reporting incidents of sexual misconduct. “If there are victims of harassment, either in the workplace or on the dancefloor, in the industry, they should be given every opportunity to take confidential support from experts,” says Lawrence. The hotline went live last December, and AFEM will receive its first findings in March.
Turner, Nasseri and Lawrence hope that other organizations will follow suit. “There are progressive places leading, and there are others that need inspiration,” says Lawrence. “If we can inspire some organizations to change, then our job is done.”