Updated: Feb 10
I'm one of the two female (and incidentally queer) founders of The Pack Music Cooperative. Yes. Female. Very, fiercely, female. Sorry for mentioning it.
But actually, I'm not really so sorry.
Recently, I received an email from someone who had found our emerging music enterprise online and wanted to express her opinion. She kindly sent me an email directly, rather than registering her displeasure with a general social media rant, and for that I'm truly grateful. I mention her gender deliberately, and hope that it may become apparent why.
She started her email by telling me how much she loved what we were doing, and that she had signed up early to be part of it. I still assume that she meant her email kindly, and hoped that it might positively influence our business.
Here is the core of her specific requests.
She noted that she had observed two "annoyingly irrelevant" themes recurring in our marketing and communications, which she flagged as "unnecessary" and "potentially divisive".
What she objected to specifically was the fact that we apparently "constantly" refer to the two founders as female. She noted that gender should not matter in music so we should stop "making it a thing".
On the second matter of annoying irrelevance, she noted that we largely promote our enterprise to Western Australians, and risk alienating other "proud Aussies" who live elsewhere.
She requested “less gender and geography” in our communications (I think she quite enjoyed the alliteration).
The second request didn't bother me much. It's basically true. We do market locally, as we're testing and launching our streaming system locally before we commercialise and release it for other States, Territories and International audiences to access. That’s deliberate. It's our business process, and our business decision. It’s not about alienating anyone, simply about acknowledging that we’re starting where we are, in the community we know best. No apologies for that.
But the complaint around our mentioning the gender identities of our founders being “divisive” stung, and while my first instinct was to respond angrily to the email, and my second was to go on a Facebook rant, I thought there might be a more constructive way to approach her request which might also speak to both our values as female founders (yep - said it again), and as an ethical tech cooperative looking to support the creation of equity and equality in the music industry.
Here, we’re acknowledging that this is a bigger issue than an email response can capture and one that perhaps is meant for more than two sets of eyes. So, below I unpack the reason for consistently reinforcing that the co-founders of The Pack Australia, and The Pack Music Cooperative are, in fact, female.
Get ready. Here come the stats.
Firstly. The basics for women in industry. Any industry.
"Women are underrepresented in key decision-making roles across almost all industries in the Australian workforce."
While women make up over half of the employees in the 2019-20 WGEA dataset (50.5%), women comprise only:
32.5% of key management positions
28.1% of Directors
18.3% of CEOs and
14.6% of Board chairs.
Want the full picture? Check it out here.
Moving on to the realities for women in the startup community.
Startups with a female founder secured over six billion in funding over the course of the four-years between 2017 and 2021, representing just 23.72 percent of total funds raised across the entire ecosystem.
Within this 23.72 percent, only 4.01 percent reached startups that were solely female founded. Yep – it’s more likely that a woman will experience violence in her lifetime (37% of Australian women over 15 have experienced physical or sexual violence) than receive external funding for an enterprise - and this is considered a positive upward trend.
Well then, The Pack might even be represented in a nice round 5% of funded female founded enterprises by the time we retire. Looking forward to that! Please excuse the rather pointed sarcasm here.
Interestingly, and somewhat disappointingly, this percentage jumps to 19.7% if the enterprise has a mixed gender founding team (i.e. if there’s a very rational and business savvy man with a suit and tie present – yes, again, that was sarcasm).
Even more disappointingly, over the past financial year, investment in solely female founded companies has dropped by 23.1%, and the average size of a seed funding round for solely female founded companies has dropped by 60.3%. We’re going backwards.
And, (drumroll please)... last year, grant funding (predominantly government) to solely female founded companies, sat at… 3.75%. And yes, I did put the decimal in the right place, in case you were wondering.
Check out the Techboard report if these fun facts float your boat.
Furthermore. Inequity, disparity and underrepresentation in the music industry.
Women have been calling for change in the music industry for many years, and have been suffering discrimination and harassment for as long as the industry has existed. It’s slowly changing, but to our mind, nowhere near fast enough.
I’m going to skim over some basics here, but note that this data has been borrowed from Hack’s ‘By the numbers 2019’ report, and the 2017 ‘Skipping a Beat’ research conducted by the University of Sydney’s Women, Work and Leadership Research Group, if you’d like to delve a little deeper.
Firstly, let’s talk about the earnings gap for female songwriters. Only 20% of APRA royalty payments were made to women in 2019. This roughly reflects the percentage of APRA members who are women - about one in five - but even that statistic is quite telling.
While APRA pays male and female songwriters the same amount of royalties as a dollar value, women continued to earn less on average than men. This could be an indication that male songwriters write more songs, but it seems more likely to indicate that male works get played more often, or in higher-paid placements (e.g. television advertisements).
This is bourne out by the fact that male acts still dominate on commercial radio. In Australia, solo male artists are twice as likely to receive airplay than a solo female or all-female act.
Even ‘alternative’ stations, like Triple J and Double J, are more likely to feature male artists in their coveted weekly ‘feature album’ programming than female artists. While Triple J’s ‘Hottest 100’ has become more diverse over recent years – it has never, across its existence, achieved gender parity.
Research also shows that, despite an improving trend and significant media attention, massive gender disparity still exists in our festival line-ups. On the line-ups of three out of five major festivals analysed, only 36% of acts had at least one woman.
Happily, the actual dollar figure earnings gap between male and female APRA members is narrowing. In 2019, female songwriters earned 90 cents for every dollar male songwriters did. It’s not parity – but it represents significant improvement.
Also positively, in 2019 two of the four major awards actually exceeded gender parity, with the Australian Music Prize and the J Award having more than half of its nominations go to female acts.
The ARIAs however, Australia's most well-known music awards, remain the least diverse. Only 35% of nominations at the 2019 ARIAs went to female artists. The ARIA Hall of Fame also had only 11 female artists among its 75 inductees as at 2021.
In the decision-making space, the reality is equally grim. In 2019 the representation of women on public boards of representative peak music bodies was 38%.
These boards are influential advocates for the development of public policy and strategy for the music industry, and advisers to government. It includes boards such as ARIA, The Push, AIR, PPCA, Music ACT, WAM, Music NSW, Music NT, Music Vic, Music SA, Music Australia, APRA, AMCOS, Music Victoria, AAM, Q Music.
The research also addresses the ‘whataboutism’ in the room as to whether these inequalities in the industry are simply a result of men being more interested in becoming musicians, or holding a position in the music industry than women.
Over five years of Hack's analyses, enrolments in music subjects at school and university have shown a relatively even distribution of females to males, at all levels, studying music.
From this we can assume that academic investment in music isn't gendered, but industry opportunity is. The makeup of the industry skews towards men after study, indicating that the industry itself is where the entry and opportunity barriers are encountered.
The bottom line is that if women are not represented equally at the decision-making tables, nor on the boards of major labels, nor across the airwaves, nor in our festival and venues - we will not address the very real issue of gender disparity across the broader industry. This is an issue that women have been speaking up about for many decades, but which seems to have been sidelined, ad nauseum, by the pervasive voices… and those voices are notably not ours.
It’s also an issue which is not uniquely Australian. According to a recent study by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, reviewing Grammy nominations and songs of the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts from 2012 to 2019 the numbers are even more stark.
At the time of publishing, only 2% of producers and less than 13% of songwriters were women.
And finally. Sexism, discrimination, harassment and abuse in the music industry.
Beyond this worldwide exclusionary tale however, there’s a more disturbing undercurrent to the reality for women in the music industry.
The Workplace and Sexual Harassment in the Music Industries of Australia and New Zealand Research Report, released April 2021, paints a picture of an industry plagued by incidences of significant gender and power imbalance, many of which have far more grave consequences than simple exclusion and marginalisation.
While it does represent a limited sample size, and one must account for some level of bias, all but one of the 145 survey respondents had experienced some form of harassment within the music industry at some time.
“79% of interview participants described power as a factor in their experiences of harassment.
19% of online survey respondents referred to abuses of power either directly or indirectly. Power was used to manipulate, intimidate, humiliate and coerce sex.
Coercion by powerful industry figures was of such significance that two interview participants reported that they believed their life would be in danger if their identities were to become known.”
The US based Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study also showed that 64% of respondents named sexual harassment and objectification as a major challenge women face in the industry.
It seems that for both the Australian, and American music industries, the #MeToo movement has raised awareness and toppled some major players (pun intended), but the industry is slow to force the change to entrenched behaviours around gender-based harassment.
While I recognise that hundreds of years of habit and entitlement cannot be erased with a magic hashtag, it is infuriating to continue to read about, and hear from colleagues and friends who have suffered within an industry they love, and who must keep fighting for equality that should already be reality. I could personally regale the reader with at least a dozen tales from our own backyard, that show a frightening trend across the music community of sexism, discrimination, victimisation, deliberate exclusion and cronyism, power abuse and harassment – and worse.
Just as a snide aside (noted not only as a queer woman, but also a woman of a certain age), the Annenberg study also found that 38% of respondents had included ageism in their assessment of the main challenges women face in the industry today. So yes, I’m angry about that too.
These are the reasons that, at every opportunity, I remind the women out there, who are working to make our industry beautiful again, as musicians, engineers and producers, managers and in other allied industries, that the founders of The Pack Music Cooperative are women. It’s my way of inviting solidarity, and holding space. For this I won’t apologise, nor will I alter our messaging.
Now, more than ever, women like us, who have become tired of the status quo excluding us from making an impact in our industry, are taking charge and creating safe spaces. But it’s not easy work.
To personalise this, at The Pack, it’s been a long, often difficult journey, underpinned by a significant lack of State and Commonwealth government support (we’ve unsuccessfully applied for around 20 government grants across the past five years). It has taken a huge personal toll (we’ve invested at least $100,000 over the past few years – and many thousands of hours of unpaid work while maintaining our ‘day jobs’ in order to fund the project); and, it has had an impact on our friendships and relationships as we pour time and energy into this dream of building an equitable music streaming space for our independent music community.
I know many brave and brilliant women across Australia who are also giving equal energy to helping our arts industry find its way back to fair through their own means and mediums; and it is for these women, and for all others working their assets off for a better deal, that we identify ourselves as allies, and advocates, and... fiercely... female.
It’s time for us to change this system, and to do that, we need to own our space in it. We need to carve out a space where women are seen, heard, and championed as having something of value to add to the industry. We need strong women inside of the industry, making sure that female and other marginalised voices are not further suppressed, and making sure that a safe space can be created for those of us – the 50% of us, who exist outside of the status quo.
As founders and Directors of a music industry cooperative, we now represent some of the few women who exist in positions of leadership in the music industry, even if we have had to carve that space out for ourselves.
We want to use whatever quiet influence we have to show women who want to shake up the system that there is still space for them, and to show young women entering the industry that we’re shining a light on a pathway to a kind, safe and sustainable music community, made with them in mind. The old adage, ‘if you can see her, you can be her’, rings true in every industry – and especially in ours.
Until we, as women, take up equal space in this industry, have equal say in this industry, get equal airtime in this industry, receive equal government funding in this industry, make equal pay in this industry and can feel safe in this industry; we will be there, yelling our gender identity to the stars, not only for women, but for all underrepresented communities. For our LGBTQIA+ community, our ATSI community, our CaLD community, and for anyone who feels like they don’t get a fair shot in this space. We’re here for you.
So, we identify ourselves as female founders deliberately, and to anyone who thinks that ‘gender doesn’t matter in music’ I would just say this.
If gender didn’t matter in music, then we wouldn’t have to fight for our place in it, nor for our right to feel safe in it. And yet, we do.
Here's to the day when gender truly doesn’t matter in the music industry. I’ll drink to that!
P.S. To the wonderful woman who made us really examine our language and communications, by expressing her opinion about our messaging so freely, I want to thank her, sincerely. We are all the stronger in our values for being asked to justify them.