Female executives from many sectors of the music business are calling for The Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow‘s resignation following his statement earlier this week that women in music need to “step up” if they to be better represented in the industry.
In an open letter on Thursday (Feb. 1), Artist Group International’s Marsha Vlasic, MAC Presents’ Marcie Allen, Friends At Work’s Ty Stiklorius and more than a dozen others said Portnow’s comment was “wrong and insulting and, at its core, oblivious to the vast body of work created by and with women.” They argued that his attempt to “backpedal” only emphasized his refusal to recognize women and their achievements. No record label executives signed the letter.
“Your most recent remarks do not constitute recognition of women’s achievements, but rather a call for men to take action to ‘welcome’ women,” the letter continues. “We do not await your welcome into the fraternity. We do not have to sing louder, jump higher or be nicer to prove ourselves.”
The letter goes on to address the “stringent requirements” for members of the Recording Academy to vote, saying they “reflect the distorted, unequal balance of executives and creators in our industry.” Citing a recent study from the University of Southern California, it argues there is not enough opportunity and influence granted to the music business’ minorities and action must be taken.
It reads, “We can continue to be puzzled as to why the Grammys do not fairly represent the world in which we live, or we can demand change so that all music creators and executives can flourish no matter their gender, color of their skin, background or sexual preference…. Your comments are another slap in the face to women, whether intended or not; whether taken out of context, or not. Needless to say, if you are not part of the solution, then you must accept that YOU are part of the problem. Time’s up, Neil.”
The letter follows an online petition launched this week seeking Portnow’s resignation that, at time of publishing, has received more than 13,100 supporters.
After only one woman won an award for her solo work during the televised portion of the 2018 Grammy Awards — best new artist winner Alessia Cara — Portnow said backstage at the event that improving the plight of female artists “has to begin with … women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level…. [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome. I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious, breeding opportunities for all people who want to be creative and paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists.”
In a subsequent statement, he explained: “Last night, I was asked a question about the lack of female artist representation in certain categories of this year’s GRAMMY Awards. Regrettably, I used two words, “step up,” that, when taken out of context, do not convey my beliefs and the point I was trying to make,” he said in the statement. “Our industry must recognize that women who dream of careers in music face barriers that men have never faced. We must actively work to eliminate these barriers and encourage women to live their dreams and express their passion and creativity through music. We must welcome, mentor, and empower them. Our community will be richer for it. I regret that I wasn’t as articulate as I should have been in conveying this thought. I remain committed to doing everything I can to make our music community a better, safer, and more representative place for everyone.”
On Thursday, Portnow announced the Recording Academy will establish an independent task force to review “where we can do more to overcome the explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community.”
Amidst the furor, a source tells Billboard that Portnow has the full support of the Recording Academy’s board and the task force will not review whether he should stay in his position.
Read the open letter in full here:
Dear Mr. Neil Portnow,
The statement you made this week about women in music needing to “step up” was spectacularly wrong and insulting and, at its core, oblivious to the vast body of work created by and with women. Your attempt to backpedal only emphasizes your refusal to recognize us and our achievements. Your most recent remarks do not constitute recognition of women’s achievements, but rather a call for men to take action to “welcome” women. We do not await your welcome into the fraternity. We do not have to sing louder, jump higher or be nicer to prove ourselves.
We step up every single day and have been doing so for a long time. The fact that you don’t realize this means it’s time for you to step down.
Today we are stepping up and stepping in to demand your resignation.
The stringent requirements for members of NARAS to vote reflect the distorted, unequal balance of executives and creators in our industry. There is simply not enough opportunity and influence granted or accessible to women, people of color and those who identify as LGBTQ. We can continue to be puzzled as to why the Grammys do not fairly represent the world in which we live, or we can demand change so that all music creators and executives can flourish no matter their gender, color of their skin, background or sexual preference.
Let’s take a look some facts, most of which are courtesy of a recent report on Inclusion in Popular Music from USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism division :
In 2017, 83.2% of artists were men and 16.8% were women, a 6 year low for female artists.
A total of 899 individuals were nominated for a Grammy Award between 2013 and 2018. A staggering 90.7% of these nominees were male and 9.3% were female.
10% of nominees for Record of the Year across a 6 year sample were female.
Over the last six years, zero women have been nominated as producer of the year.
Of the 600 top songs in 2017, of the 2,767 songwriters credited, 87.7% were male and 12.3% were female.
The top nine male songwriters claim almost 1/5th (19.2%) of the songs in the 6 year sample.
The gender ratio of male producers to female producers is 49 to 1.
Only 2 of 651 producers were females from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group.
42% of artists were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.
The top male writer has 36 credits, the top female writer has 15 credits.
Of the newly released Billboard Power 100, 18% were women.
In publishing history, there has been only 1 female CEO and 1 male of color CEO. They currently hold these positions.
The position of President of a Label, is currently only held by one woman of color.
WOMEN COMPRISE 51% OF THE POPULATION.
We are here not to merely reprimand you, but to shed light on why there is such an outcry over your comments and remind you of the challenges that women face in our country and, specifically, in the music industry. Your comments are another slap in the face to women, whether intended or not; whether taken out of context, or not. Needless to say, if you are not part of the solution, then you must accept that YOU are part of the problem.
Time’s up, Neil.
Marcie Allen, MAC Presents
Gillian Bar, Carroll Guido & Groffman, LLP
Renee Brodeur, Tmwrk
Rosemary Carroll, Carroll, Guido & Groffman, LLP
Kristen Foster, PMK-BNC
Jennifer Justice, Superfly Presents
Renee Karalian, Carroll, Guido & Groffman, LLP
Cara Lewis, Cara Lewis Group
Corrie Christopher Martin, Paradigm Talent Agency
Natalia Nastaskin, UTA
Elizabeth Paw, Carroll, Guido & Groffman, LLP
Carla Sacks, Sacks & Co.
Ty Stiklorius, Friends at Work
Lou Taylor, Tri Star Sports and Entertainment Group
Beka Tischker, Wide Eyed Entertainment
Marlene Tsuchii, CAA
Caron Veazey, Manager- Pharrell Williams
Katie Vinten, Warner Chappell
Marsha Vlasic, Artist Group International
Gita Williams, Saint Heron
Nicole Wyskoarko, Carroll, Guido & Groffman, LLP