At the 18th annual Latin Alternative Music Conference, leading women in the Latin music business gathered for a panel on the industry’s most pressing issues: gender equality and sexism. The Women Changing the Face of the Latin Music Industry panel took place day three of the conference in New York City, aimed to promote alternative, Spanish-language music through showcasing Latin artists in rock, hip-hop and electronica and providing networking and learning opportunities for artists, executives, journalists, and more.
With the Latin music industry being the center of the conference, Yvonne Drazan, VP of the West Coast Latin Division at Peermusic, spoke on her view of the business. She sees this sector of the industry as one that’s divided into spreading mainstream Mexican and Latin urban sounds from different regions and placing emphasis on the direct-to-consumer independent avenue that’s growing in value.
To bring the discussion into a more general standpoint, Drazan touched on the potential future of the industry where music isn’t solely controlled by a one-sided-archaic system and where more women are prominent, stating, “The current crop of executives are reaching retirement age, hopefully, and there are all of us that can replace them. [The music industry is] going to shift to the major label system won’t be able to just shove down your throat what they want you to hear. They’ll make decisions on signing based on what you want to hear.” On the panel, Drazan even included that independent and alternative Latin acts are more talented than those in the mainstream. Ultimately, Drazan attributes the lack of female executives as the reason for the lack of flourishing female talent. “I think there are a lot of missed opportunities for really, really talented female artists because the person writing the checks is not female and has no concept of what the female audience is looking for,” she said. “That is not going to change until there are people in the position to…listen to the female artist about what they want to do, and not say ‘you need to sing this or wear that.”
Beyond record labels, there is a lack of female representation at festivals. In May, Pitchfork published a report on the gender balance of the music festival lineups in 2018. The results showed an obvious gender gap. While 19 of music’s most popular festivals, like Coachella and Bonnaroo, grew in female representation from 14% to 19%, still, 7 out of 10 artists performing at these festivals are men or all-male bands. According to the women on this panel, women performing at festivals also deal with a significant wage disparity.
SummerStage’s longest-standing program director, Erika Elliott, seconded these facts. Although noncommercial festivals, such as SummerStage, who allow Latina talent like rapper, Mala Rodriguez, to headline, not everyone is of the standard. Elliott claimed the answer to this issue is not just a single solution. “I think it has to be about an industry cultivating careers,” she said, as it’s up to the people behind these acts to help them reach their best potential.
Taking the conversation to the reason they’re all in the same room, the music, the panelists touched on the sexualized image of artists, particularly Latina, and how that can affect women prevailing in the business. Elliott stated, “It presumes a lot of responsibility on women to change male voices about the way that they see us.” Following applause from the audience, she concluded, “It’s not our responsibility to fix society, it’s the responsibility of those managers, those voices.” Rodriguez, a Latina artist with sex appeal, sees the pros and cons of such a portrayal. “Sexuality is an important part of humanity. It can be a driving force if you know how to use it properly, but it can also hurt very much if not controlled,” she told Billboard.
When it comes to prevailing as a woman in the industry, Drazan listed, “It’s very important as females to have a level of fearlessness. Be very self-aware of where you are in your career and know that getting comfortable in your position isn’t an option if you want to grow.” Colleen Theis, CEO of The Orchard, expressed, “If I were giving advice to anyone in the music industry…it’s work harder and deliver better results but be entrepreneurial and create their own lane.”
Many women on the panel are a part of improving female representation in the music industry. Women in both mainstream and independent aspects of the business said the companies they work for nurture and offer role models for their female talent. The Latin Recording Academy is hiring more women and improving its female membership thanks to Livys Cerna and her team made up of mostly females. Last year, the Latin Grammys held their inaugural Leading Ladies of Entertainment event to bring light to women excelling in arts and sciences. According to Stephanie Streetcar, Music Partnerships at Eventbrite, independent festivals are placing emphasis on gender balance and representation. Just this year, 45 international festivals pledged to solve the issue of gender inequality by carrying out 50/50 gender split lineups, conference panels, and more by 2022.
Theis, who is optimistic about the future of the music industry, also included, “[The industry is] much more democratic and a lot more artists across genres are able to earn a sustainable living. It’s not as dire as you may think. It’s a great time to be a female artist.”