Three women of the music industry talk its #MeToo moments and how to change its male-dominated culture
Producers Trakgirl and Crystal Caines, and video director Erica D. Hayes discuss the lack of women in their fields and give advice for the aspiring & undeterred.
—with additional reporting by William E. Ketchum III
Though the dust has far from settled from the ugly exposé of Hollywood’s not-so-secret history of systemic sexual misconduct, there are likely many left wondering when, or if, a similar takedown will form to challenge the music industry. After all, such abusive behavior is easily cultivated in environments rife with sexism, gender disparity, and power imbalances, and based on the numbers, the music industry would be a prime breeding ground. According to a new study conducted earlier this year on female representation in popular music—based on the 600 songs that make Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 charts from 2012 to 2017—women come up short. A lot.
As performers, they make up 22.4% of the 1,239 artists. As songwriters, they are 12.3% of the 2,767 credited. As Grammy nominees (within the last six ceremonies), they total 9.3% of the 899 recognized. And, as producers, they make up a rare 2 percent (in a subset of 300 songs across the same period).
So, in an effort to, at the very least, make sense of the latter statistic, we spoke to three women in the music industry who spend their time where so few of them roam and reign: behind the boards and behind the cameras. Below, music producers Trakgirl and Crystal Caines, and music video director/lighting designer Erica D. Hayes talk to REVOLT about #MeToo moments in music, what contributes to the lack of women in their fields, and if they believe the industry will face a reckoning much like Hollywood’s. They also give advice for the aspiring and undeterred.
Jhené Aiko, Luke James, King Chip, Omarion
I haven’t experienced a #MeToo moment and can’t speak on others’ situations. For me, I set the tone and the standard for respect in the beginning. I think it’s important for there to be some type of safety blanket for women in the industry, like a resource or community. It’s a systematic problem and I believe with women speaking up against it, we’re having more discussions on creating solutions. Progress.
ERICA D. HAYES
Khalid, Daniel Caesar, H.E.R., Keyshia Cole, Marsha Ambrosius, Jake&Papa, Ledisi
Unfortunately, I’ve been offered gigs in exchange for sexual favors, like, ‘Hey, you wanna do this video for so-and-so? Let’s smash’-type of thing. I’ve also experienced [while] directing videos, some artists, they want certain things from certain models that’s kind of inappropriate. But that unfortunately comes with the territory of music and drugs and alcohol and stuff like that. It sucks. I’ve had to turn down work. But I’ve also gotten to the point where I don’t like to sexualize women in my music videos. I turn down gigs where we have to shoot at the strip club or we have to do certain degrading scenes. Or, I just like to write treatments that can curve that. And we can make a woman sexy without sexualizing her.
A$AP Ferg, BIA, Bbymutha
I do feel like now, in this day and age—[this has] nothing to do with sexual [misconduct], but—sometimes men do make me feel like my talent isn’t great enough and I have to work four times harder than what I’m actually doing when what I’m doing is great. But, being enlightened, a lot of times the things that I want to share aren’t receptive because it comes from a woman. I just put myself in places and around people that actually appreciate me and what I do and wouldn’t combat me giving them constructive criticism ’cause I have a really great ear and, not to toot my horn, but beep, beep. I feel like I know what I’m doing.
What’s done in the dark, will always come to light.
ERICA D. HAYES
Unfortunately, I don’t think our community has our back like their community has their back. A lot of times, if someone says, ‘Hey, I got on this tour bus with so-and-so, and I got raped,’ then people are looking at her like, ‘Well, what were you doing on the tour bus? You should have known.’ The corporate world, there’s checks and balances. Even in Hollywood, I love the checks and balances that are coming up now and I surely hope that the music industry can take note to that. I’m not sure if our community is mature enough to make those movements.
I’ma pass on that. That’s a question that could be very crucial. I just feel like, most of the time, a lot of women are silenced, so I just feel like until it’s the right time to speak on things like that, I don’t feel like I should.
I think there needs to be more visibility and access for us and of course respect. It’s a priority for me to continue to build a path for other women who are interested in music production to follow. I want to show others that you can build a career by sticking to your own standards and formula.
ERICA D. HAYES
In the school system, most girls don’t even know that these careers exist. A lot of girls feel like they have to be the next R&B singer, they have to be the next actress or model. [They think] they have to be the one being seen. But they don’t know that there’s lots of money behind the cameras. There’s lot of opportunities for women to make the content that we’re complaining about.
Women just don’t get the opportunity to present themselves, and when we are presented, we’re like, ‘Oh, she just does this’ and we’re limited to the position that we came to do. Unless you’re up here, then I feel like sometimes what you say doesn’t matter. Women need a sisterhood. Men have a brotherhood, so if we had a sisterhood, I feel like things like this would move a little bit more smoother for everyone involved. Women are limited [from] production, engineering, anything that’s male-dominated. A lot of women are coming to the light because people are paying attention, but it still takes the world to pay attention to [the fact] that women can be just as great. I’m a producer, engineer, and an artist. Women don’t usually engineer; there are some, but they don’t get the spotlight shined on them the way their male counterparts would. There’s opportunities that women should have that they don’t.
Having more resources made available such as workshops and mentorship programs. I’m really interested in working with other women organizations to create more educational tools which will help bring visibility to the field of music production. I would love to mentor young female producers who are just starting out.
ERICA D. HAYES
I think it definitely starts with education. Those are the only programs that led me here, honestly. It wasn’t my math class that led me here, it wasn’t my English class. It was, I had a film class that taught me how to use the camera, so that opened up different opportunities. I think we definitely have to continue to invest in the arts. But let kids know, let girls know that you don’t have to be the next top model.
We do need workshops. We do need places that we can go in order to further the things that we want to do in life. Like I said before, sisterhood. Not to just make it about women, women, women because there are some men that really do want to help change the ratio of certain businesses and how they’re run, but we need a sisterhood. If we had those role models that we can actually reach out to, speak to, and be guided in a way where we can live out our dreams, there would be a lot more women-everything. Everyone gets “no’s” early, so I can’t just say that’s a woman thing, but if women had more role models or people that they can look up to or workshops that they can go to to take their mind off the “no” that they just received, then there would be a lot more women doing what they actually want to do. I do know, for sure, that there’s someone out there not living in their career path because they were told a “no” early.
Continue to have faith. Always be a student of your craft. Let your work and music speak. Never compromise your integrity.
ERICA D. HAYES
Just to create. We could come up with so many excuses of why we can’t create something, but at the end of the day, we just need to create more stuff. Whether it’s creating more photography projects, just getting out there with your camera—even with your cameraphone. Nowadays, the iPhone can produce some crazy-quality videos. There’s so many ways to skin the cat. I’ve always gotten work from various different avenues. I’ve gotten work from working. I get gigs while I’m on gigs. Work comes from work. Networking, for sure. So that’s why you just have to create. A lot of times you do the project and then you show people the project, and then they’re like, ‘Oh, I got this other project that I need help with.’ Just drop the excuses and create.
Stay focused on the things that you wanna do. Know what you wanna do. And just don’t give up. It’s all about following your dreams and the things that you wannn do. And know that, no one else matters in that path, but you, and your initial plan, and your goals.
Watch more of REVOLT TV’s interview with Erica D. Hayes below.