In 2013, artist manager Stephanie LaFera and I founded Skylight, a non-profit supporting women in the dance music industry. The next year, we were invited by EDMBiz, the conference hosted by Insomniac Events the week before Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas, to present our mission, and introduce the three winners of our inaugural mentorship program. As I stood at the lectern before a sea of male faces and talked about the lack of female representation in the industry, and the very basic desire to support talented women with drive and ideas, I could feel the air going out of the room. Later, my suspicion was confirmed: Our panel got the lowest rating of any throughout the conference’s two days. In short, nobody cared. Business was booming, and with corporate acquisitions, major label deals, and big-ticket residency offers in the air, who had time to think about a bunch of girls?
That same year, Frankie Hutchinson, Emma Burgess-Olson, and Christine Tran quietly launched Discwoman in Brooklyn, N.Y. As EDM waned and the underground reassumed a place of importance in the industry, their goal of supporting female-identifying artists found a mouthpiece: The dance music press. Perhaps it was years of covering white male artists with little to say beyond, “But my next track is a banger.” Or maybe it was an evolving consciousness around dance music’s roots as an expression of the experience of marginalized groups – an inconvenient history that was shed like a wet overcoat when house music became EDM. Regardless, Discwoman’s very existence, and the inventiveness and skills of its roster, started a conversation about diversity that the ruling class – both within and behind the DJ booth – had, up to that point, successfully avoided.
Cut to this year – a year of pussy hats and eerily timed Margaret Atwood revivals and a renewed sense of urgency around equality – and the movement has found that rare and powerful thing: A brand partner. Smirnoff launched the “Equalizing Music” initiative on International Women’s Day in March, and like State Street’s “Fearless Girl” statue and platform, it gave the program teeth: A call to industry leaders, all of whom like parent company Diageo’s sponsorship dollars very much indeed, to pledge to increase representation of women in bookings, media, and music streaming. Spotify, Pitchfork, iHeartRadio, Deltic Group, Mixmag, Vice, and Insomniac all signed on.
There will still not be much comfort for this mother if one day her now-two-year-old announces that she wants to be a DJ. But thanks to the progress of the last few years, she’d enter an industry that wouldn’t automatically see her as unmarketable, and in need of a shorter skirt and a ghost producer. This is progress.