January’s USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative rocked the music industry by quantifying the enormous inequality facing female creatives in the music industry: Only 22.4 percent of performers of the 600 most popular songs from 2012-2017 were female; women songwriters, producers and engineers fared much worse.
For a quartet of women — Grammy-winning artist Alicia Keys, her longtime engineer, Jungle City Studios’ Ann Mincieli; Universal Music Publishing Group chairman and CEO Jody Gerson; and WME partner and head of East Coast Music department Sam Kirby Yoh — the study codified their experiences and served as a call to action.
The foursome have formed the nonprofit She is the Music, with the goal of increasing the number of women working in the global music industry, from songwriters and engineers to lighting directors and choreographers.
Shortly after the study’s release, the four women began meeting individually and as a group to discuss solutions, landing on an umbrella organization that would include all female-identifying creatives across all facets of the music industry. “We’re these four powerhouse people in the industry,” Mincieli says. “We are part of those numbers and how do we change them? How do we make them better?” Like Mincieli, both Gerson and Kirby Yoh have worked with Keys for years: Gerson has known the Grammy winner since she was a 14-year-old budding artist; Kirby Yoh has booked her for the past 14 years.
“The answer for everything in this organization is ‘yes’ because it’s all about inclusivity,” Gerson says. “You’re in the club by virtue of the fact that you’re a woman in the industry.”
Keys briefly mentioned the initiative when she accepted the National Music Publishers’ Association’s Icon Songwriter award in June, but she and her partners are rolling out the full program exclusively at Billboard’s Women in Music event on Thursday (Dec. 6).
The three initial pillars of She is the Music — which will provide resources and support for female-focused initiatives, as well as run its own programs — are all-female songwriting camps, an industry database of women creators and a mentorship program.
Billboard has teamed with She is the Music to power the Global Industry Database and to serve as a partner in the mentorship program.
“This is really an empowering, powerful moment. It’s our opportunity to really open doors for so many other women,” says Keys. “We want to thank Billboard [for] coming in and partnering and spreading the word about this.”
“We are thrilled to be partnering with She is the Music. Their mission to empower women, mentor women, and connect women throughout the music industry dovetails perfectly with our goals and objectives at Billboard,” says Dana Miller, Billboard’s chief marketing officer. “Announcing this partnership in conjunction with Billboard Women in Music, which celebrates the top female executives and artists in the industry, further underscores our like-minded connectivity.”
Female songwriter camps have already taken place in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville and Miami, with host artists including Keys, Mary J. Blige, Loren Gray, Ally Brooke and Kim Petras. Publishing companies and record labels are already pitching the songs, but the founders stress the camps are just as vital for creating opportunities for female producers, mixers and engineers.
The Global Industry Database’s goal is to serve as a complete source for connecting and creating with women in music. The database, which will be vetted for accuracy, launches Dec. 6 with females from various fields, including songwriting, producing, engineering and live touring professionals, able to sign on at www.sheisthemusic.org. The database will be vetted for accuracy.
“The database will help connect the dots,” says Mincieli. “In the past year, I’ve so many [female engineers] and I know the numbers are very low, but there’s growth here and that’s why the program is so important. I’ve got lists and lists of females doing incredibly things and it’s getting them to the point where they get exposure.”
“If it’s 3 a.m. and someone is looking for female engineers in Memphis or someone is going on tour and would like to have more females as part of the crew, it will be in the database,” adds Yoh. “It can be an umbrella you go to when you’re looking for more diversity in regards to you’re hiring.”
The the mentorship program will launch in 2019 with a focus on, but not be limited to, women in underserved communities. The program will include high school and college students, as well as females with entry level positions. Discussions are already taking place with various mentorship programs and other female-focused non-profits. “We want to amplify efforts behind the organizations that are already there,” Kirby Yoh says. “Let’s put our resources behind them and make it louder and increase the opportunity for learning. The key thing is bringing as many women together as possible and educating them.”
Keys says she could have been helped by an organization like She is the Music as a developing artist. “In a lot of ways, I may have been able to come to certain things more quickly,” she says. “This coalition is such a powerful way to reach out to each other and, more importantly, to those who are coming up right now.”
In addition to the board, SITM has formed an executive committee, with more than three dozen of the highest ranking female executives in the music industry signing on, including Atlantic Records’ Julie Greenwald, Universal Music Group’s Michele Anthony, Sony Music’s Julie Swidler, Epic Records’ Sylvia Rhone, USC Annenberg’s Stacy Smith, Apple Music’s Elena Segal and YouTube/Google Play’s Vivien Lewit.
Similarly, a creator committee includes a wide array of women artists, among them Ariana Grande, Blige, St. Vincent, Billie Eilish, Bjork, Cyndi Lauper, Maren Morris, H.E.R., SZA and Missy Elliott. Focus committees devoted to specific disciplines will be established in the near future, with the founders stressing there is a role for any women who wishes to be on a committee.
The initial funders for She is the Music, which is accepting donations, are Keys, Mincieli, UMPG, WME and Billboard. As the organization grows, it will bring on its own staffing, but for now employees at the various companies are providing support.
While it’s still early to determine specific metrics to gauge She is the Music’s success, the founders have a vision. “We don’t know what five years [from now] looks like other than we know the numbers will change and anything that women need, we hope to be there to support, provide education, provide mentoring,” Gerson says. “If we do this right, which we all believe we will, the music industry will look very different five years from now and that’s really exciting.”