Change The Conversation Panel Discusses Gender Inequality In Music

Pictured (L-R): Beverly Keel moderates a panel featuring Marissa Moss, Ann Powers and Jewly Hight at BMI on Tuesday (Jan. 22).

BMI and Pinnacle Financial Partners hosted the latest Change the Conversation (CTC) event on Tuesday (Jan. 22) at BMI’s Nashville office. Change the Conversation co-founder Beverly Keel moderated a panel discussion that included journalists Ann Powers, Jewly Hight and Marissa Moss. The group discussed issues surrounding gender inequality in country music and the media, before approximately 300 attendees.

Change the Conversation was formed in 2014 by Leslie Fram, Tracy Gershon and Keel to fight gender inequality in country music. The organization funds research, mentors young women and hosts events to allow industry experts to share their insights with the group.

Moss told the audience that it is up to the industry organizations, including the Country Radio Broadcasters, Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music, to find solutions to the gender equality that has been a topic in Nashville for more than five years.

Country Radio Broadcasters Executive Director RJ Curtis was also in attendance. In response, Curtis addressed the crowd. “I want all of you to know I am here because we are listening,” said Curtis, who has attended other CTC events.

“Instead of running away from Beverly, Leslie and Tracy, we are running toward them,” he continued, noting that hosting a panel or two during next month’s Country Radio Seminar (CRS) wouldn’t do the topic justice. “We don’t want to make a perfunctory, check-the-box pass at this. Doing so would be an insult to everyone in this room tonight. It has to be done thoughtfully, intelligently. We have to recruit informed industry leaders who also participate in sessions during CRS to contribute, too, so that any discussion we have ends up being productive.”

“Perhaps this requires a town hall setting, working with your team, and independent from CRS,” he told the crowd. “It is a multilayered situation that does not have a simple solution.”

Pictured, Bottom Row (L-R): Jewly Hight, Ann Powers, Marissa Moss. Bottom Row (L-R): Tracy Gershon, Leslie Fram, Beverly Keel

Gershon said Change the Conversation is pleased with Curtis’ willingness to partner on finding solutions to gender inequality in country music. “We know there is a problem and the only way we can solve this is by joining arms and not pointing fingers,” she told the crowd.

Keel said, “It is important to bring everyone to the table – radio station owners and programmers, label executives, artist managers, artists and others – to create an even playing field for women in country music. People need to feel empowered to speak their minds without it harming their careers in any way.”

“I respect that for artists, there is a lot at stake, especially for an artist who is a woman,” Hight added. “I don’t think it is necessarily fair—or the way to go about it—to expect it to always be women carrying it on their shoulders every time, to have to be the only ones who have to speak up and say this is what’s wrong.”

Powers noted that gender inequality is nothing new in music, offering Lilith Fair as an example. “Of course, Sarah McLachlan, a singer/songwriter, and her male manager founded the Lilith Fair because they had been told that putting more than one woman on a bill would kill the bill, that women couldn’t tour together,” she said. “That sounds outrageous to us, but it was the understanding that it was true.”

Lilith Fair was held between 1997-99, comprised solely of female artists. At start, it was the top-grossing touring festival, earning a gross of $16 million.

“It felt like we had won provisionally something, but of course it comes up again and again,” Powers said. “It is cyclical and it is a system. It is not about individuals, except as they exist in a system, an ecosystem with each other. No one woman can change the system; no one man can either. It is a very complex ecosystem and it takes serious attention to structural change at every level to make a difference. Lilith Fair was a step – a huge step – and we are now seeing fruits of some efforts made in the nineties, even the seventies. These issues are hardly new. We just have to keep fighting.”


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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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