Hiring bias indicates that we are more likely to hire and work with people who look and act like ourselves. Given that so much of the dance music industry is operated by straight, white, cisgendered men, the stark lack of gender equality on many label rosters and festival lineups can be easier understood.
A straightforward solution to the mainstream dance scene’s pervasive “bro culture” and entrenched lack of inclusiveness? Simply getting a more diverse group of people into higher-up positions. The work of Chelsea Shear, the lead A&R at indie electronic label Monstercat, is demonstrating the effectiveness of this top-down approach.
Since joining Monstercat in August 2020, Shear has focused on diversifying the roster of the label’s Uncaged brand, which deals in bass music and which she oversees, as well as working with artists with underrepresented identities in dance. She’s signed acts including female Australian bass producer GG Magree, Black color bass artist Ace Aura, Black producer Ehiorobo, female producer/songwriter/singer Leah Culver and worked with Black duo Vindata on the deal for their last album. Shear, who identifies as queer, has also honed her efforts on LGBTQ+ acts. Monstercat has seen a 15% increase in female and BIPOC producer signings since Shear joined the team.
“She is so supportive, puts in so much time and care, and also allows me to be as creative as I want but guides me at the same time,” Magree says of working with Shear on projects including the recently released singles “Deja Rave” and “My Wicked.”
While some talent buyers and promoters may lament that there simply aren’t enough non-white cisgender male artists to balance out lineups, Shear emphasizes that there are plenty of diverse electronic producers out there to be booked — it’s just a matter of people in positions like hers putting in the work to find them.
“I think a few years ago, I’d probably have said [the number of producers] does skew more male,” Shear says, “but now, it’s inevitably that we’re not looking hard enough. We’re not spending enough time trying to understand those spaces where those artists actually are and where they feel safe releasing their music, playing shows and connecting with other industry professionals.”
This is particularly true in bass music, a scene that has a collection of female stars — REZZ, Mija, Alison Wonderland, Lucci, Level Up, Vampa, or Sippy — but still skews heavily male. The 2022 lineup for the bass-focused Lost Lands Festival, for instance, includes less than one percent female artists.
For Shear, the solution to making these spaces more inclusive and equitable for women comes down to prioritization. “When I’m having discussions with my team,” Shear says of the bass genre in particular, “the first thing that comes out of my mouth is, ‘Well, the fact that this is majority young white males, I’d like to see us spending more time with our female artists, our Black and indigenous artists, and make sure that they’re being seen just as much by our partners and our community as every other artist is.'”
Shear has been surveying the electronic landscape since getting into dance music professionally in 2015. She’d had always been interested in music, playing in bands alongside her twin brother while growing up in L.A.’s El Segundo neighborhood. At 15, she first went to Coachella and was indoctrinated into the electronic world via the festival’s hallowed Sahara Tent. Shear’s lifelong passion for rock and metal translated neatly to a love for heavy bass, and after completing an independent music production certification course at UCLA Extension, she landed an A&R internship at Skrillex‘s label, OWSLA, a key dance scene tastemaker during the mid-2010s.
The OWSLA staff was largely male when Shear began at the label, but shifted to a predominantly female workforce during her tenure. Monstercat is also focused on gender equality in the workplace, employing a nearly 50 percent female staff across its Los Angeles, Singapore and Vancouver offices, which Shear says fosters a more balanced and comfortable dynamic.
“I definitely noticed in both companies that even just the vernacular of the day-to-day conversations between teams and employees are a lot different [when there are more women],” Shear says. “There’s not so much gusto or bro-ing down, and stuff that usually a group of dudes only talk about when they’re with their dudes. There’s not that dynamic as much in the air.”
As the dance scene and general music industry reckons with a lack of diversity, systemic inequalities and the fostering of spaces that aren’t entirely welcoming to women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+ people, Monstercat has also developed an employee-led internal diversity and inclusion task force to address such issues. The project, of which Shear is a member, identifies where marginalized communities have been institutionally discriminated against, and provides artists from such communities with extra support.
“They don’t normally get that time with A&R,” says Shear. “There’s not a lot of A&RS who look like artists in marginalized communities.”
Indeed, there are very few female A&Rs in the electronic music industry — a fact that may be a function of hiring bias. “Similar to the reason why artists are so skewed cis white male, it’s the same with employment,” Shear says. “There’s just no one in those spaces spending the time to do the research and find women and people from marginalized communities to hire.”
While Shear says she’s proud to be in her position, she acknowledges there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of representation and getting more like-minded A&Rs and industry professionals into positions of power. The trickle-down effect of such efforts will ultimately benefit the industry, and fans will hear a more fully realized spectrum of electronic music ideas and subcultures.
“If I can carve out as much a lane for them as I possibly can as an ally, or just be able to hold space for those artists,” Shear says, “I think it allows them to be better artists, to grow, to be able to make more music, develop relationships and reach the goals they want to.”