HIVE INDUSTRY SESSION #02: Building a new and diverse music industry

MIDiA Research with Tunecore and Believe launched the fourth annual edition of the ‘BE THE CHANGE” report that aims to expose the reasons behind Gender inequities in the industry and create tangible solutions to combat them.

HIVE INDUSTRY SESSION #02: Building a new and diverse music industry

Inside the data-driven research approach  for gender equity with MIDiA Research's Hanna and Tatiana

MIDiA Research with Tunecore and Believe launched the fourth annual edition of the ‘BE THE CHANGE” report that aims to expose the reasons behind Gender inequities in the industry and create tangible solutions to combat them. With data collected from more than 4,100 Women, Men, and Gender-expansive industry professionals and music creators from 133 countries, the fourth annual “BE THE CHANGE” aims to highlight the changes over the last editions but more importantly highlight solutions and experiences of women and gender expansive people in the global music industry. 

Srishti was part of the MIDiA team for the first two editions and decided to chat with her two old friends and colleagues, Hanna and Tatiana, who are two of the people behind the latest edition of this important piece of work, about the newest edition of the report. 

Akriti: I have been reading this report for the last few years and it's just nice to finally meet the people behind it. I'm going to dive straight into it. First of all, I want to know a little bit about you and what led you to choose this mammoth task.

Hanna Kahlert: I'm one of the analysts who normally focuses on the overlap of social and cultural trends in music and MIDiA was consulted for this project four years ago for the first time. Tunecore and Believe came to us saying this was something that they always wanted to do, which is really great. Obviously, the CEO of Tunecore is Andrea, who's really outspoken in the area and they wanted to do this for International Women's Day. I was a junior backup on the project in the first year, then the second year we did it, Srishti was with us and project managing it. We did it again and I had a bit more of a hand in it. Last year however, the report was done with a different research company and then back to us. 

What I love about this project is that we directly engage with women in the industry. We ask them about their experiences, how they felt and how these experiences have impacted their careers in ways that aren't reflected in mere chart statistics. We ask what changes have truly made a difference and what they believe is crucial for future progress. This approach results in a much more holistic call to action. Instead of generic solutions like ‘implement quotas’, we get a balanced view of the pros and cons of various approaches and how different people experience challenges uniquely.

The most challenging aspect is that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, which is what everyone hopes to find, especially for a project like this. However, it's a nuanced issue and the solutions must be equally nuanced. Not only do we amplify these voices and perspectives, but we also provide data to support their experiences. Many artists I've spoken to say, "I experienced this, but it must just be me." We can then show them that they aren't alone—70% of surveyed participants feel the same way.

This is incredibly empowering. It provides concrete data to support their experiences, which is invaluable when advocating for solutions. They can confidently say, "This isn't just my crazy idea. Here's the data."

And yes, as Srishti has probably mentioned, it is exhausting work.

Akriti: Of course, I can imagine. As somebody who takes the survey every year, I know how exhausting it is. I can only imagine. 

Tatiana Cirisano: Yeah, I have one thing to add to that. I think going behind the numbers is so important. What Hanna mentioned about using multiple lenses—both surveying and in-depth discussions is crucial. We're not just relying on one method; we're doing both. Additionally, we surveyed everyone in the industry, not just women. This approach is often overlooked in similar studies. This project stands out because it offers a different, more powerful and inarguable perspective. We're not just asking women about their experiences with discrimination; we're asking everyone and then comparing the responses. This reveals stark differences between the experiences of men and women.

By framing the questions around actual experiences of discrimination rather than perceptions, we gather concrete evidence. For instance, instead of asking, "Do you feel discriminated against as a woman?" we ask, "Do you experience discrimination?" and then analyse the varied responses. This approach was vital because it provides indisputable data, making it impossible to dismiss the findings as subjective or imagined. For example, when we say we surveyed 4,100 people, including men and present our findings, it becomes much harder to argue against them.

This comprehensive method was a significant motivator for undertaking such a monumental project. I'm a Senior Music Industry Analyst and consultant at MIDiA, where I have been for about two and a half years. Before this, I was a Music Journalist at Billboard. I was deeply involved in the annual “Women in Music” issue and event, frequently covering similar topics. We always sought data to back up our articles, so it’s been fascinating to transition from seeking data to gathering it.

Akriti: There is such a need for that. There's hardly any data on these topics. It’s also great because there are so many programs, workshops, and initiatives but there's no data to validate any of this.

Hanna: One of the most interesting aspects of our project is that it also functions as an independent creator survey. We're seeing how gender and identity challenges are intertwined with the evolving landscape of the music industry. The second year we conducted this survey was during COVID-19, which was crazy. The pandemic caused a complete shift in dynamics—people could work from home, avoid certain studio challenges and have more control over their careers. This shift started in 2020 and now, the industry continues to evolve. The challenges people face, regardless of gender, are very much tied to this new, freelance-driven industry. There are fewer protections, limited ways to ensure equal pay and no HR departments to hold people accountable.

At the same time, this shift presents an opportunity. The industry is being rebuilt on the foundation of a movement towards greater equality. It's fascinating to see the differences between Creators and Executives. Executives within companies often feel less empowered to enact change and perceive less progress compared to Independent Creators. Creators can choose who they work with and how they build their careers. While this new landscape is challenging for everyone, it also offers a sense of empowerment. It allows individuals to reconstruct their paths without the entrenched issues handed down by the ‘dinosaurs’ of the industry.

Srishti: I remember when I was part of these reports, especially the interviews, they were often very triggering because of the personal experiences I’ve faced. I’m sure you all have faced similar issues. Could you share how you cope with that while working on the report? 

Hanna: Full glass of wine at 5 PM.

Tatiana: Taking breaks to lay on the floor! It's funny because it reminds me of how Hanna and I would have these moments while we were putting the charts together. It was this weird mix of emotions—excitement when the data showed a clear trend, almost like a validation of our feelings. Seeing our experiences reflected in the data felt reassuring. We’d get really excited, but then we'd realise what the data was showing, like for example, one in five women being sexually assaulted and it was incredibly depressing. We oscillated between feeling ‘seen’ by the data and the tough reality it represented.

Honestly, we've already had our little post-report breaks over here, but I'm so happy to be on this project. We were each other's support systems throughout this challenging work.

Akriti: It's so important because the moment the report comes out, the first thing I tell Srishti is, "I'm ready for the most depressing thing on earth. Bring it on." At the same time, it feels amazing to see a physical manifestation of all the rage inside me. It's there in numbers and graphs.

Hanna: It's a mixed feeling. There were times when we'd be working on it and I'd be on a call in the office with my headphones on, loudly saying, "Yeah, but the rate is so high for harassment, and we need to move this section over here." Then I'd have a moment of clarity, realising there are other people around. You almost get desensitised to it because you're so focused on the work and the goal at the end that you overlook the whole point of it—these are real experiences. Then you're brought back down to earth. It feels worth it.

Srishti: One of my favourite things about the report was speaking to the women one-on-one. Did you have any interesting conversations that didn’t make it into the report?

Hanna: Doing these interviews is my favourite part of this project. It felt like our weekly pep talk. Granted, there’s a bias because the people we interview are those powering through to success. But they’re so inspirational. Despite all the challenges, they just say, "Fuck it, I'll do it myself. I'll build what I want to see." It's super cool. It was also interesting talking to Rosa because we spoke to her two years ago, just before she did Eurovision, literally right before her song SNAP went viral. We then interviewed her again this year and her life has completely changed. She's now in Los Angeles with her whole country behind her, out there to represent. It was so cool.

Tatiana: One interview that really struck me was with a South African artist, Khanyisa, who is amazing. She told us how she writes lyrics so women at clubs can sing along and use them to get men to leave them alone. She has a song where the chorus says, "Move out of the way," allowing women to say it playfully and defuse tension without putting themselves in danger. I thought that was fascinating and genius, but it’s also frustrating that women have to devise strategies to get out of these situations. Balancing what we had and the word count in the report was the hardest part. I remember writing that sentence and thinking, "I only have a few words to explain this. Does this make sense?"

Srishti: Going back to Edition one, we were in the middle of the pandemic. Now, it’s officially over and women are back in physical spaces. Do you think this has impacted the responses in any way? 

Hanna: That’s a really good question. The pandemic has given women more options in how to pursue their careers, which is more of an industry dynamic shift than a COVID-specific one. When we asked about physical spaces, I’m not sure if we did a year-on-year comparison. However, we did ask, "How has your confidence improved? Has your mental health improved? How’s your outlook and stress?" ‘Confidence’ had improved, but ‘positive outlook’ and ‘general stress levels’ had both gotten worse.

This is interesting because it’s not so much about self-esteem or fear of recognition but more about anxiety regarding the future and career stability. The uncertainty about what it means to be an Artist and what to expect from a career is a broader industry issue. In terms of safety and flexibility, the biggest impact has been that many women now have more control over their careers. Those with supportive teams mentioned that their teams wouldn’t make them work with someone who made them uncomfortable. Many are with Independent Labels.

It’s quite embarrassing for the industry that these women say the labels talk the talk but don’t walk the walk, so they’re taking matters into their own hands. This shift is huge. Despite all the industry's fuss, it hasn’t changed much, so women are building a whole new independent side of the industry, creating their own labels, and running their own careers. It’s incredibly inspiring. Mark’s quote of the year was, “Be part of the change, or the change will happen to you.”

Srishti: Do you think that people who don’t align with this new industry will get left behind sooner rather than later?

Tatiana: I agree. The report gave us this angle of saying, "Hey, labels and incumbents, if you're not doing this for moral reasons, do it for business ones. You'll be left behind if you don't change." It became almost a business strategy imperative. In some interviews, we shared our own experiences. I spent the past two years heavily on the conference circuit and encountered so much nonsense, from being interrupted to making it clear meetings were business, not dates. This experience put things into perspective. Change happens slowly, in increments. I've seen progress and feel more confident, but there's still a long way to go.

Hanna: One artist we interviewed put it well: “Everyone shouldn't be the same. In a creative industry, we should respect diversity. Two people won’t have the same experiences or contributions. The industry often asks everyone to fit a cookie-cutter mould. Even with things like pronouns, they try to make more boxes for people to fit into. Women in this space often feel they need to speak and present like men. We don't all want to become men; maybe they should be more like women.”

Tatiana: Hopefully, you'll have a different experience.

Hanna: I hope so. What bothers me most is when safety isn’t considered. Last year, I had a ticket for the Primavera Music Festival after doing a panel on the dangers women face. They invited me to another city by myself at night for a Music Festival. I asked for a ticket to bring a buddy for safety and they offered a discount instead. It’s these little things. It’s not necessarily safe and the data shows it's just as bad, if not worse, in the official industry compared to the creative side. 

Tatiana: There are many misguided attempts to help. Conferences often put women on panels for representation but don’t address the real issues, which puts more work on women to change things. These panels often oversimplify the issues. Spotlighting these issues is important, but many efforts are misguided.

Srishti: My last question: what’s one thing you’d like to see change in the report next year?

Tatiana: I’d like to see the perception gap get smaller. Many men in the industry don't recognize these issues exist and need fixing. More awareness among men is crucial.

Hanna: We need better accountability. There's a lot of talk, but not enough action. If we don't develop accountability measures, reporting becomes pointless. In the freelance industry, it’s harder because there’s no HR, but easier to hold people accountable since no one will work with them anymore. At a company level, harassment and assault often go unaddressed. It's 2024; this shouldn't be happening. The perception gap is particularly interesting. If things start to equalise, men who had privilege may see it as a deterioration of their circumstances. I want to see improved communication, education, solidarity, and allyship. The groundwork is being done, but we need to build a new industry without the old problems and divides.

Check out the HIVEWIRE playlist - The Hive

One 'The Hive' is where our diverse team shares new music and trends from emerging markets. New additions this week:

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