Down at SXSW, the week’s focus in Austin, Texas, has shifted to music like clockwork. Here the industry annually gathers to watch trending artists in dives and generally stay up late comparing notes. But after Hollywood’s #MeToo overhaul in 2017, the music business is beginning to face, however slowly, its own set of abusive power dynamics.
Thursday evening at the “Sexual misconduct in the music industry” panel, music experts wonder when their Harvey Weinstein, a powerful mogul with a history of systemically assaulting and suppressing women, will be revealed.
“I don’t think #MeToo has touched the music industry at all in the way that it should,” Uproxx editor Caitlin White says.
“We haven’t found the right man to out yet,” adds Peggy Hogan, who co-founded Art Not Love Records and performs as Hua Li.
The speakers—White, Hogan, Vice editor Andrea Domanick, and Danger Village PR founder Beth Martinez—are explaining the lack of difficult conversations around sexual misconduct in music. When pop star Kesha sued Dr. Luke in 2014 for sexual assault, they say, the superstar producer faced little initial backlash and Kesha’s charges were quietly dropped two years later. As multiple women say that Fox reality TV host and music executive Charlie Walk sexually harassed and abused them, the news has triggered no larger examination in the national consciousness.
“They’re out there, we’re just writing it off as rock star behavior,” Martinez says.
It turns out that a series of unique factors make a Weinstein-like turning point tricky.
“It’s apples and oranges because it’s difficult to parse personal identity with forward-facing identities, unlike actors,” Domanick says. “In music, we love artists for exactly who they present themselves to be.”
We’ve thus lionized the trash-the-Hilton behavior, which runs rampant amid music’s decentralized jobs. A human resources department is often powerless when work happens late and backstage, they note. Relationships between artists and managers are by nature invasive and ever-present. And men in power don’t like to check their colleagues, especially when they sell records.
The panelists add two critical external factors: It’s a legal nightmare to break the nondisclosure agreements that have silenced victims for decades, and laborers are often stuck fending for themselves with no legal recourse anyway.
“We’re here calling for a larger centering of safety and empathy,” Martinez says. “I don’t want all the marginalized people in the music industry to burn out.” Not wanting to attend shows to party and network because it means harassment, in other words.
But there’s brewing hope. The recent spike in “call-out culture,” where victims post blogs outing abusers like Walk, is a net positive, Hogan says, because “we do need to know who abusers are.”
The panel agrees that some solutions are clear: Diverse staff and leadership, building a bridge so that victims aren’t tasked with fixing culture alone, accepting that it’s no longer the Summer of Love and we’ve evolved, considering that music is commodified and evaluated through white expectations of sexuality and aggression, and zooming outward to see that sexual misconduct is an unacceptable symptom of a larger disease.
“The way to say that abuse is not OK is to not be putting out records by [abusers],” Martinez says.
Music is influential and can change cultural attitudes, after all, so write songs for the backstage tent you want to hang out in.