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What Makes a Gentleman* in the Music Business

*and an Arsehole

 

LdS

“It’s time for women to claim their power in music industry. We are good at it, we are leaders and nurturers, also the women I know in the music industry are some of the funniest, smartest, resourceful and passionate women I have met anywhere.” (YOKO ONO, SYDNEY PRESS CONFERENCE 2013)

 

Sex and rock ‘n roll, perpetually intertwined. It is the compelling promise of sex, youth, abandonment and passion that makes rock & roll come alive. It is what drew me to live shows from the age of 16. The sweat, the heat, the noise, the movement; the sheer joy in the moment with no second thoughts for tomorrow as long as the band was on stage. In a cavernous nightclub at the tail end of the 1980′s it came together in a very real way.

Walking down a staircase from the mezzanine level carrying two drinks — probably bourbon and cokes — wearing a striped mini skirt, tights, baggy t-shirt, teased hair and heavy eyeliner. With my eyes firmly on the guitarist of the about-to-be winners of a band competition,  I was groped. A strong hand straight up the clacker for a tight squeeze and he was gone. The crowd pushed me down the stairs. I remember nothing further from that night, other than that very real pressure of that stranger’s hand, up my skirt.

***

Educated in a provincial capital city on the east coast of Australia in the late 1970′s to mid 1980′s by progressive nuns and leftie art teachers, I was taught to believe women really could have it all. We could be and do “whatever [you want girls], the world is a new place for women”.

By 21 I had my heart and head set on being in the music industry. 23 years later I still am, working in artist management. I have no shame in saying I am a feminist. I believe in equality, respect and the power of rock & roll.

***

I have observed, done business with, loved, guided, supported and championed many men in the industry. I have celebrated with champagne and shared tequila-drowned sorrows with them. Through these many colourful and varied relationships I have developed a radar for what makes a gentleman (and an arsehole) in the music industry.

I have learnt to manoeuvre perceptions and conversations around how I look and my sexuality, navigate the minefield of power and money and work through ongoing assumptions of ‘mistress vs. mother vs. manager’.

I have experienced men at their finest and at their worst.

I believe how we look does matter. As much as we pretend appearances don’t matter, they do. All the clichés, all the time. How we appear physically, the clothes, the hair, the shoes (flats, boots or heels) and the accessories are all clues of who we are, what we are about, what we are here for. And, no doubt, what men think we want (or they can get) from us.

The years have delivered me a highly-tuned “radar of sleaze”. In professional meetings I have been asked by an executive, in front of my artist, “are they real?” (as in my breasts), and by a male management colleague, “why don’t you put on something that shows off your body better?”. I have had my breasts squeezed, my arse grabbed and batted away dozens of wandering hands and tongues over the years — often at shows, at times in front of their colleagues, staff and even once a wife.

Gentlemen never act like this.

A gentleman will generously compliment you on your hair, or tell you that you look great that day, then within 5 minutes be asking your opinion on a social media analysis strategy. It is natural — we are humans, we preen, we flirt — we want attention, balanced respectfully, between mind and body. This is where human connections and transactions are made. But in my experience,  a lot of men in the music industry are still learning how to engage with women as equals when it comes to power.

As prominent Australian media commentator Jane Caro says:  “Women have to, as a way of everyday life, deal with constant trivialisation and minimisation.”

I found this to be true, especially in my 20′s and early 30′s. Somehow I was made to feel less, or had to shout extra loud to not be shut down and ignored. I was told I was too emotional, too loud, and commonly framed in business conversations by my gender rather than my results, skill and ability as a music manager.

The earliest professional memory of this happening was when my first start up business was gathering some momentum. Power lay with a handful of established, older men in the fledgling local, and mostly live, music industry — agents, venue managers with strong affiliations with the juggernauts ‘down south’. I was openly referred to as “that girl” widely in the local industry. But my own power lay in my core, artist-focused, values — respect, trust, hard work. And I knew I was getting a toehold in the market when I got a direct phone call from a CEO that wanted to “meet you girl”, who summoned me to a meeting at his office ‘down south’. I don’t remember much about the day except the ostentatious faux gilt reception desk and tacky office fit-out, still tiredly wearing the boom of 1980′s, and his banal, ignorant comments about “how we do business up there” and “you should just stick to booking weddings”.

But, what is power and why do the majority of men in the industry, including male artists, assume they have it? Well, because in Australia, both on and off stage, the mainstream is generally male, white and privileged.

To survive I have worked to avoid arrogance, arseholes, leeches and sleaze bags — and I have not been welcomed to meetings in strip clubs nor invited to label executive hotel rooms, thankfully.

I have, however, actively sought and maintained relationships with the exceptions: the gentlemen of the industry, working at labels, in media, publishing, agencies, production and management. I have successfully sought out and found mutual respect, trust and friendships that have served all sides well and continue to do so. These gentlemen inherently come at a conversation as equals — they are not threatened by talking or silence. They respect consideration, ideas, critical thinking and the asking of questions. They expect me to have a voice, an opinion. They see compassion and empathy as caring for the whole picture, not as weakness. And, although it may make them uncomfortable, no doubt, gentlemen do understand that sometimes humans cry.

Life has thrown me some pretty big curveballs privately, personally and professionally. But, women are strong. We deal with the tough stuff, it makes us resilient and we learn to cope under pressure. Life is hard sometimes. Very hard,  and if all the shit comes crashing in on top of a lack of resources, time, money and sleep overlaid with hormones, passion and compassion, it is very natural for humans to *gasp* cry.

Once, when I angrily confronted a music business executive about recklessly spending artist money as his own, I was told: “that’s why you will never be successful in the music industry, you care too much. At the end of the day, Leanne, they are only musicians”.

That was an early lesson in arsehole.

Common perceptions of women in the music business tend to take on one of two roles, that of the mistress or mother figure. As a music manager, the assumption often is that you are either sleeping with or mother to the artist. I am very comfortable with both those roles, as a mistress to my lovers and a mother to my children, but not in the context of my life’s work in the industry. Those roles are not included in the job description. Some women may make a conscious choice to wear those hats, but the gentlemen in the industry don’t make that assumption. They see who you are and what you are capable of.

I received a thank you from an artist I worked with for a long time. He had signed off with “thank you for being our second mum”. I respected this artist enormously and I distinctly remember feeling deflated. I thought, “he remembers all the small ‘mothering’ things, not the big things like the deals, the tours, the planning, the logistics, the success”.

We women have innate, useful skills and abilities in our kit bag — intuition, caring, compassion, healing and nurturing. We use these as mothers to our children. These skills are useful and are often what set female managers apart from the men. Having said that, gentlemen in the industry do not “box” you in to your capacity in that role without the ability to deal with the business, the negotiations, the tough conversations.

When I decided to have children 14 years ago, I looked around the music industry for a mentor, a role — a female music manager who had had children and was still in the business. I could not find one. I muddled through, getting help where I could, in the office and at home, and talking at length with my husband about how to keep all the balls in the air and stay on top of the laundry.

Through the first 7 or so years I lent heavily on the wisdom of Naomi Wolf in her book “Fire With Fire”. I have Naomi to thank for teaching me to never apologise for my family obligations, the time they require and for the time I need for self care. Such valuable lessons to just organise my life for what works best for me and the family, knowing the business would follow. It is what professional men have done for years, with no thought. So, if I have to do the school run, I just do it and am simply unavailable, no excuses or apologies.

Gentlemen do not use information about the roles of wife, mother or keeper of the house as a sign of weakness. The arseholes do. On speakerphone in the car once, after hours on a Friday evening, the music business executive on the other line wanting a favour from my artist hears the 1 year old crying in the backseat and comments with a “what is it about you people, you will breed.” Well, arsehole, please don’t — we prefer gentlemen.

***

“Feminism is a way of seeing, simply putting the woman at the centre of her own life,  not peripheral to someone else’s.” Jane Caro At Progress 2013

@rebelbuzz TWITTER

www.leannedesouza.com.au

First published on Medium

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