The detail: MeToo and the music industry – What has changed?

Podcast: the detail

From the biggest party of the year to a pared down celebration among colleagues, the Aotearoa Music Awards are an indicator of a changing culture in the local music industry. But is change coming soon enough?

The New Zealand Music Awards was once the country’s biggest red carpet event. They would fill the floor of the Spark Arena. The glittering ceremony would last for hours, hosted by famous Kiwi media darlings, decked out in corporate sponsors like Vodafone and Godfrey Hirst carpets, with winners announced by All Blacks and contestants on The Block – all broadcast live at prime time, free-to-air television.

For many in the industry, it was an excuse to go big.

“You would start with appetizers, maybe around 3 or 4 [in the afternoon]“, says Charlotte Ryan, host of Music101 on RNZ.

“You would then go to the awards after-party with the artists … then you would go to the awards, drinking, sitting at tables for hours, then there would be the awards after-party, then there would be the after-after-party, and then – you never know.

“It was always the big party of the year. We talked about it for months.”

The 2022 awards took place last week, and you wouldn’t be blamed for not knowing. It was held at a bar in Auckland – the type of bar where the after-party was held – with a guest list of fewer than 300 people and allowed only three drinks each.

The organizers had many reasons to reevaluate the event. A tighter budget with no corporate naming sponsor, the risk of spreading Covid-19 to half of the country’s music industry workers – but there has also been a sea change in the culture of the neo music industry. -Zelandese from which they drew. A new focus on transforming the industry into a safe space for women and gender minorities, free from sexual harassment, abuse and exploitation.

Ryan tells The detail the change took years to happen.

In 2017, the #MeToo movement sparked revelations of sexual abuse in the halls of power around the world. For the music industry here, the conversation really started when an Instagram account, Beneath The Glass Ceiling NZ, started posting anonymous allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior.

Then, in 2019, a report called Amplify Aotearoa examining gender discrimination in the music community came out, revealing that 70% of women said they had experienced gender bias and nearly half of women reported unwanted sexual behavior.

As a result of the report, the action group Soundcheck Aotearoa was formed, the child of various industry bodies including NZ On Air, NZ Music Commission, Recorded Music NZ, APRA AMCOS and the Māori Music Industry Coalition. Still in its infancy, the group provides industrial training on inclusion and safety.

“If anything, I wish it had happened sooner,” Ryan says.

“I’ve been in the music industry since the early 2000s, and I think we’ve always known as women that it was – there were often events where I was the only woman, and there were 40 other men.

“We wanted an organization to stand up and say ‘Stop it’.”

Early 2021, Things Senior journalist Alison Mau has published her expose on harassment and exploitation in New Zealand’s music industry, including two high profile executives who had inappropriate relationships with customers and other workers. The article, Mau said, sparked “a flood of corroboration.”

“I spoke to a number of other people during this investigation who did not want to be named,” she says.

“The number of times these people have spoken about the harm that has happened to them at music awards was quite impressive. It’s been a dangerous place for many years.”

Mau often says when she tells stories like this, the industry where the harm has taken place is making big moves to reform, but most of the time nothing happens. In the case of the new look for music prices, “it’s a more subtle but probably more significant indication that change is happening.”

Mau says that while many workplaces can be dangerous environments, the music industry is uniquely structured.

“These people whose life dreams are to advance in an industry like this are really vulnerable to the behavior and decisions of others.

“In the case of artists, these are people who have suspended their career hopes on progression through the gatekeepers – management, labels – which have long been dominated by men at the top. So they’re in a very vulnerable.

“The work takes place in bars and in places where there is a lot of alcohol, and potentially other things as well… These are spaces that women and non-binary people must inhabit, otherwise they do not participate properly to their own career advancement, which makes them particularly vulnerable to those in power.

The detail also talks to Catherine Hoad, one of the researchers behind the 2019 Amplify Report, about her work at Massey University to train the next generation of music industry workers.

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