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AUSTRALIAN MUSIC’S WEINSTEIN? HE’S HERE. JUST WAIT.


I don’t know whether Tracey Spicer’s list of alleged molesters, abusers, sexist pigs and other brutes in the entertainment industry – which rather spectacularly has begun with Don Burke - has any from music. It would be amazing if it didn’t.

Not because music is worse than anywhere else but certainly because music is no better than anywhere else.

After all, this is an industry run by men, for men, and has been so for as long as there has been the music industry.

How many women are there on the industry’s principal body, the ARIA board? How many on the publisher’s body, the APRA board? On the independent side’s AIR board? How many women running a major or independent label?

The answer to all four, in total, would not need all fingers on a single hand, with ARIA – the major representative of the record companies –and AIR, having none.

As was recently pointed out by associate professor Rae Cooper and PhD candidate Sally Hanna-Osborne, of Sydney University’s business school, “women are chronically underrepresented in key positions in the music industry”, with 83% of board positions in the industry’s peak bodies being held by men, and women having 28% of senior and strategic roles across the industry.

How many women program radio networks? How many run radio networks? How many are A&R or producers? That is, the people who decide what you hear and the people who make the music, and build the careers, of those you will hear on radio?

How many women won categories not considered “female-focused” – such as pop – or female-exclusive at the ARIAs this week? The numbers are small, the result much the same, year-by-year, no matter how many newspapers run specious “the rise of women” articles.

The number of women writing about or covering music has improved in recent years but you’d hardly call it an even split. The number of women making music you hear on the radio or on TV and online similarly is badly skewed.

How many women will feature in the Hottest 100 in January, no matter what day it is held? How many women have topped that poll in more than 20 years? The answer to the last one is the easiest yet: none. Not a single one.

And this on a network, triple j, which tries harder than most to balance male/female, which may tell you more about listeners (male and female) and broader culture than it does the station or the musicians.

As Cooper and Hanna-Osborne listed in their report, Skipping A Beat: assessing the state of gender equality in the Australian music industry, while nearly half of those studying or performing music are women, they make up only one fifth of the song writers and composers registered with the publishing peak body, APRA.

But that research isn’t strictly the point of this, though I’d recommend you read that report (available here).

If you’re not there in numbers you just don’t have the influence. And if you don’t have the influence, you don’t have the power. And if you don’t have the power, you will be vulnerable to abuse. This is the subtext to Weinstein, Lauer, Burke et al.

Think about how the music industry today, as poorly balanced as it is, has come a considerable distance from a decade, and especially from two decades ago. This is by comparison a relative golden age - which is bizarre.

But I’m hardly alone in having heard stories about certain people, certain organisations, in Australian music that have never been proved or had someone on-the-record about. Nor am I alone in wondering if those stories are going to be ventilated now.

Where will they come from? About whom? Look at where it’s happened in other corners of entertainment, apply them to music here and you can start to discern directions, locations, individuals.

In film and TV in particular it is male dominated cultures where big talking, swinging-dick men used fear, abuse, size and threats to employment to monster underlings. Where the industry was insular enough to have reputations of “troublesome” staff, or artists, easily disseminated among the senior men who would not hire the troublesome ones.

Where not just current livelihoods but even the potential of a livelihood as a performer was in the hands of these men. Where such men were seen as successful and therefore inviolable. And where they ruled for years, not just inculcating a culture in their image but also a culture of fear in others. I don't know if any of these stories are true: speculation runs free always and no one has come forward to claim or confirm. But look around the Australian music industry, from artist managers and venue bookers, to label heads and programmers, and tick a few boxes. You know who I mean. They know who I mean.

Then we wait for Tracey Spicer, or Kate McClymont, or 7.30 to knock on some doors.


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