Nashville Music Execs Among Those Calling For Recording Academy’s Neil Portnow To Resign

Neil Portnow

In the wake of Recording Academy president Neil Portnow‘s inflammatory comments regarding the lack of female artists nominated for Grammy Awards in 2018, a group of female music industry executives are calling for the resignation of Portnow in an open letter (read in full below), obtained by Variety. Signees include Nashville-centered music executives Marcie Allen (MAC Presents) and Tri Star Sports and Entertainment Group’s Lou Taylor.

The female executives’ letter came shortly after the Recording Academy released a statement announcing the establishment of an independent task force that will review every aspect of the organization, to identify how the Recording Academy can remove “explicit barriers and unconscious biases that impede female advancement in the music community.” In that Recording Academy statement, Portnow also responded, “I understand the hurt that my poor choice of words following last Sunday’s GRAMMY telecast has caused. I also now realize that it’s about more than just my words. Because those words, while not reflective of my beliefs, echo the real experience of too many women. I’d like to help make that right.”

Originating just after the Grammy telecast, Portnow had responded to a Variety reporter’s question regarding female artists, “It 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.”

Portnow’s “step up” comment sparked the backlash from many in the industry.

Despite several Grammy nominees wearing white roses on the pre-show carpet to support the #metoo movement, as well as a moving #metoo-themed performance from Kesha and Janelle’s Monae’s speech, very few females were represented in the top categories at this year’s Grammy Awards. Three female artists were nominated for Best New Artist, including winner Alessia Cara, and nominees Julia Michaels and SZA. Solo female artists earned two of of the 15 total nominations in the other three top categories (Album of the Year, Best Song of the Year and Best Record of the Year). Notably, Lorde’s Melodrama was nominated for Best Album, but she was not invited to perform on the awards show. Some have also speculated that part of the reason for the lack of female Grammy nominees is that several top solo female artists, including Taylor Swift, Beyonce, Kelly Clarkson and Adele, did not release albums during the eligibility period.

Read the female executives’ letter in full below:

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 [at] 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 of popular songs 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.
  • Fewer than 10% of the nominees for Record or Album of the Year were female.
  • Over the last six years, zero women have been nominated as producer of the year.
  • Of the 600 top songs from 2012 to 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.

Respectfully,
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

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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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