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Misogyny and abuse still rife in ‘boys’ club’ music industry, report finds

Women have had their ‘lives ruined and careers destroyed’ due to issues still plaguing the music sector

Roisin O'Connor,Maya Oppenheim
Tuesday 30 January 2024 08:44 GMT
Biggest moments from the 2023 Brit Awards

The music industry is still a “boy’s club” where sexual harassment and abuse are rife, a damning new report has found.

The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) warns that urgent action is required to tackle the “endemic” misogyny faced by women in the industry.

Despite increases in representation, female artists are routinely undervalued and undermined, with a focus on their physical appearance that men are not subjected to.

Women receive fewer opportunities than their male peers, and suffer from a lack of support and persistent unequal pay. The report found that these issues are intensified for women facing intersectional barriers, particularly racial discrimination.

Meanwhile, victims of sexual harassment and abuse either do not report such incidents, or are met with disbelief or find that their career ends as a consequence of them speaking out. There were accounts of women having to sit next to sexual abusers at industry parties due to the “culture of silence” in the music industry.

Pop star Ellie Goulding is among many prominent female artists to have spoken out on the issue in recent years. Guest-editing for BBC Radio 4 in December, she said there was always “a slight feeling of discomfort” when she walked into a studio to find she was alone with “one or two men”.

“I had to try and figure out if it was something going on in my own head and I just had that general sense of fear anyway... but then hearing so many other similar stories from female musicians and singers, I realised I wasn’t alone in it at all.”

Ellie Goulding has spoken out against misogyny in the music industry (2023 Invision)

Charisse Beaumont, chief executive of Black Lives in Music, was among the industry figures giving evidence to the inquiry. She described the music industry as “the Wild West” and said there was “no central place to report bad behaviour”.

Responding to the findings, Independent Society of Musicians chief executive Deborah Annetts commended the WEC for the “comprehensive and robust” report that “so graphically portrays the discrimination and harassment which women and others have been subjected to in the music sector for many years”.

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“In the face of this groundbreaking report we call on both the government and the music sector to act,” she said.

Annetts also called out the minister for women and equalities Kemi Badenoch, whom she claimed had been warned about the issues faced by women in music almost a year ago, but “did nothing”.

“We hope the publication of the Misogyny in Music report is the moment of real and lasting change in the music industry, it’s what women desperately need because as the report correctly identifies, women in music have had their lives ruined and careers destroyed – this must stop,” she said.

Female artists are ‘routinely’ undervalued and undermined, the report found (pictured, singer RAYE) (Getty Images)

“Less than a year ago, minister for equalities Kemi Badenoch was told of the issues in music by ourselves and many others. The minister did nothing. Now it is time for her to act.”

BPI CEO Dr Jo Twist and BPI Chair YolanDa Brown said in a joint statement: “Misogyny in music and across society is completely unacceptable. This report contains some thoughtful recommendations and recognises that all parts of our industry have a shared responsibility to tackle this important issue head on.”

They added: “As the Committee acknowledges, record companies have increased representation of women in executive positions, and we’re seeing more women, as artists and in their teams, achieve success.”

During her testimony, Beaumont cited Little Simz as an example of an artist who has thrived by working with people who “understand her”.

“Little Simz, a rapper, completely authentic, beautiful, dreadlocks - she’s gone on to win a Mercury Music Prize, she’s won a Brit Award. The person that’s in charge of her career is a Black woman,” she said.

“And that’s because she understands the culture, she understands Simz’s stance, and most importantly, she knows how to market and make someone a success.”

Mercury Prize winner Little Simz was namechecked during the report (Getty Images)

The cross-party committee of MPs is now calling on ministers to take legislative steps to amend the Equality Act, in order to ensure that freelance workers are afforded the same protections from discrimination as employees.

It recommended the Government should legislate to impose a duty on employers to protect workers from sexual harassment by third parties, a proposal the government initially supported and then rejected last year.

More investment is needed in diverse talent from both the music industry and the government, it said, while more opportunities should be created for women working in male-dominated areas such as production, engineering, and A&R (Artists and Repertoire).

Elsewhere, the WEC is urging ministers to prohibit the use of non-disclosure or other forms of confidentiality agreements in cases involving bullying, sexual abuse, harassment or misconduct, and suggests a retrospective moratorium on for anyone who has signed NDAs related to those issues.

The WEC is urging ministers to prohibit the use of NDAs for cases involving sexist bullying, abuse or harassment

The government should also consider a retrospective moratorium on NDAs for those who have signed them relating to the issues outlined.

The report also called for strengthened requirements for industry areas where harassment and abuse are known to take place. It recommended that studios, music venues and the security staff that attend them should be subject to licensing requirements focused on tackling sexual harassment and that managers of artists should also be licensed.

“An issue is that anyone can be a manager of an artist – it is just who the artist trusts – and this leads to artists being exploited by managers,” Caroline Nokes, the committee chair, told The Independent.

Revealing that the committee struggled to find artists who were prepared to speak out due to fears of repercussions, she said there was a lack of safeguarding in place to protect artists, and that the situation was “especially worrying” for young women.

“It is the Wild West and the stark reality is many, many managers will be hugely experienced and will put the artist first but there are some that don’t. It is an industry built on freelance artists so there are no employment protections.”

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