Change the Tune

Photo by Kisha Ravi

Photo by Kisha Ravi

Grace Dearing

In the current political climate, the conversation about equality among men and women is fiercely debated across many fields of work. Across the country, women are standing up for equal rights, wages and respect.

On OU’s campus, student organization Women in the Music Industry [WIMI] is working to inspire women to pursue careers in the music industry despite the fact it is often perceived as a boys’ club.

“I think there’s a shift in the way that non-male professionals in the industry are being talked about,” says Diana Buchert, president of WIMI and a senior studying recording industry studies.“It’s common knowledge now, at least to me, that women are paid less than men, face sexism and have to jump more hurdles than a man.”

According to a 2017 study conducted by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Inclusion Initiative, only 1.8 percent of the 651 music producers studied were female. Of the 2,767 songwriters credited, only 11.4 percent were female.

“I’ve heard stories from women about being talked down to by men, regarded as being skillful at their job ‘for a woman’ [or] assumed they were the girlfriend or groupie during a tour, it goes on and on,” Buchert says. “...It’s no surprise that non-males are finding it hard to break into the industry.”

For four years, WIMI has provided females and nonbinary students interested in working in the music industry with opportunities for mentoring sessions with music industry professionals. Those mentors include artists and repertoire assistants, music supervisors, producers and artists. This year, Buchert says the organization plans to host a panel with industry women during Communication Week, an event that will be funded by a showcase of local non-male talent.

“What WIMI strives for is to provide the resources, networks, friendships and career tips to build a group of strong, confident, insightful women that are ready to take on the industry as a career once they leave school,” Buchert says.

Ellyn Loss, a former WIMI president who now works at Mom and Pop Records in New York City, says mentorships are a crucial asset to have when entering the music industry.

“The music industry has always been predominantly male,” she says. “As a woman breaking into the industry, it’s super important to connect with other women who can mentor you and advocate for you. Always seek mentorship and connect with other women who have been through it.”

Buchert and Loss both attribute their professional successes to their involvement with WIMI.

“WIMI is such a unique organization and it constantly catches the attention of people in the industry,” Loss says. “Without a doubt, every employer that I have had post college has been blown away by how great of a concept WIMI is.”

The interest from employers proved fruitful for Buchert when she received an externship (a job shadowing opportunity similar to an internship) position with Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival in Manchester, Tennessee.

WIMI acknowledges the imbalance of power between men and women in the industry, but also strives to create a space for members to connect and share stories, Buchert says.

“WIMI has given me a family of amazing non-males that I know will have each other’s backs throughout our careers,” she says. “The passions, knowledge, confidence and insights from everyone involved in WIMI inspires me constantly.”

Although the music industry is still clearly male-dominated, through experiences like her externship, Buchert has seen firsthand progress being made and wants to share this progress with women entering the industry.

“There are so many incredibly supportive men out there who understand the struggles we can face,” she says. “There are definitely more supportive men than mean men.”

In the aforementioned study conducted by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, the overall study shows a general increase in female songwriters, although the statistics fluctuate from year to year.

In 2012, females made up only 11 percent of the industry’s songwriters. The 0.4 percent difference may seem miniscule in a larger context, but even small victories can help facilitate mass change. Josh Antonuccio, faculty advisor for WIMI, says the women involved in the organization are crucial in making that progress.

“Those women have really helped move the needle,” he says. “It’s not just like some exercise in theory, it’s on a street level. They’re making those contacts, they’re doing the work, they are transforming certain sectors … these women are really beginning to define the next generation within the areas they were studying while they were here.”

During her time with WIMI, Loss says her team realized they were missing a critical strategy component when working to further progress.

“We decided we needed to open the events to both males and females,” she says. “...We realized, how are we supposed to get the word out about all of these insanely successful women if we don’t include men in the dialogue and help educate them about all that women do for the music industry?”

Antonuccio says it’s about more than just educating men to tolerate women. It’s about empowering women to pursue careers in the industry.

“The women in this group, or any other women that are successful, it’s not because of anything other than the fact that they’re extremely talented,” he says. “It’s just a fundamental question of are you willing to administer the same amount of dignity and respect that you give everyone else?”

The music industry still has a long way to go in terms of granting women equal opportunities as men. However, with organizations like WIMI, industry stereotypes can be challenged with the hope that progress will follow.