A Call To The Record Labels

Turn over that favorite CD or record of yours. Who put it out? Unless you’re really cool, probably someone like Universal or Columbia. You know, those record labels almost anyone can name. While our favorite labels are home to, inherently, our favorite artists, they’re overwhelmed – even the indie ones- by men. And I don’t just mean the artists. Most of the record labels in the music industry, major and minor alike, are owned and run by men.

Not only does that create staggering disparity in the executives that run the behind-the-scenes work for the label, but it also skews the selection of artists and the artistic process. Perhaps it is a tad assumptive to assert that if men are in charge of a label, they’re more likely to choose male musicians over female ones- but there’s truth to be found in that. I’ll admit that I’m more likely to go with a female choice for many things than a male choice. It’s natural bias- we select what we’re familiar with.

Sure, we have our fair share of female musicians getting signed to all kinds of labels. But we still lack them at the wheel.

Kaia Wilson of The Butchies shared this sentiment back in 1996 when she was so fed up with the lack of women working on the business side of the industry, she formed Mr. Lady Records.

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“(Our music is) feminist music: strong women-identified women playing music. That doesn’t necessarily fall into a genre but describes the people playing. To me, we are women’s music.”

While specifically aiming to be a feminist record label that upheld the ideals of the ideology, Mr. Lady was a pioneer in its field. Unfortunately, the label went defunct in 2004. But in the timespan they were active, they made sure to voice their support for female musicians and women’s rights. In a statement they made it clear that they weren’t entirely opposed to signing male artists, however, they were indeed “a feminist business and part of that involves prioritizing work made by women”.

Home to the first two releases of the iconic Kathleen Hanna’s Le Tigre, the label was just beginning to tread the waters of the music industry. But they’ve certainly set a precedent that’s yet to be followed. You can check out a compilation playlist of the label’s artists below and download it for free over at their Bandcamp.

As mentioned in my very first post, we do have women in power at some of the more major record labels. Michele Anthony, for example, works as Vice President for Universal Music Group. But scrolling through the lists of women working in the music industry, you’ll find that that’s what most of them are- Vice President, Assistant, Co-whatever. And while that’s certainly impressive, we still need to take that final leap to the top.

Started From The Bottom….

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Started from the bottom…The Berklee Valencia record label practicum has been a quite a memorable experience already!  The first few weeks were spent trying to lay the foundation and the groundwork for Berklee Valencia’s budding student record label.  We are the chosen ones to help build this label from the ground up for future students. (No pressure at all!)

Some of our tasks included brainstorming names for the label, and picking our top 12 artists from all of the SoundCloud submissions for the label.  The amount of talent in this school is unmatched and that was visible when listening to the various tracks that were submitted!

The entire class was able to function as the A&R department throughout this process.  It was fun to listen to the submissions and share our thoughts as we collectively compiled our list of artists to interview for the next round.  This wasn’t an easy task for various reasons—obviously the talent pool was one, but the other was identifying the criteria.  What exactly were we looking for? How do we choose our finalists?  What attributes are important? Are we measuring their potential or what they have to offer at the moment?  These were just a few of the baffling questions that we had to sort out amongst a group of 20+ students with a lot of opinions and expertise.

Organization

Organization was the enemy! We clearly had no template to follow and it was up to us to organize most of it.  We realized in retrospect some things that we could’ve done differently to be more effective—but that’s why it’s a practicum.  We’re definitely learning along the way.  The most important thing that is vital for the sustainability of the label is—communication.  We have to learn how to communicate with one another and how to communicate clearly and directly.  Although we may not agree with one another at times, it is always important to respect each other as people at the end of the day.  An issue that arose was in reference to the deadline for students to submit their material.  There could’ve been more clarity such as a specified time instead of just a date because people were still submitting material on the due date after our class was over. To avoid issues like this in the future, we appointed two points of contact in an attempt to prevent any form of miscommunication or confusion about deadlines and interviews.

Vinyl Records Wall

To simply put it—initially it seemed that there were too many chefs in the kitchen (which could have lead to the ultimate recipe for disaster).  It has been a process of collectively learning how to work together (especially when everyone may not be on the same page) and adapt to dealing with various personality types.  Eventually, we were able to format our game plans and and we are continuing to work towards our common goal…the successful creation of a student operated record label. Up next…auditions will be held for the 12 artists that were previously chosen. I’ll update you soon on the rest…

AFRICAN MUSIC #5: Music in Africa – Getting creative and proactive in this changing decade

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It’s obvious but not evident to everyone. Music from Africa has a lot to offer to the world, however not too many business’ eyes are on the ambitious project of making this big.

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There are though, organizations and people that make the exception. Let’s take a look at two….

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‘Africa unsigned’  is a joint initiative by producers, artists, music promoters and managers who believe in the future of African music. Currently there are approximately thirty people involved across the globe. They have presence in Europe, in South Africa, West Africa and in East Africa. It possesses an Amsterdam based website and uses crowd-funding, the known method which allows people to pool their money online to raise money. The funds are directed to African and Africa diaspora musicians that you cannot find in record stores, commercial radio or local versions of MTV. Most of the site’s visitors are from Europe and America, but now Africa Unsigned is targeting the continent. They’re targeting mobile phone users. Kenya is one of its firsts targets for revenue reasons.

Music in mobiles is unique here in Africa because there are more mobile phones than toothbrushes!! Sounds funny, but it’s true. People like music and mobile is one way they can take their music with them wherever they go. Since not so many people have Internet on a computer, and more have access to Internet on their phone, there is a huge opportunity.  This has given rise to content that consumers from the African continent might really start to like. It is to these growing consumers that we are making more content available, by bringing them music on their mobile in a sustainable and rewardable way for the creators/artists and record labels.

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‘OkayAfrica’ on a different perspective is a web-based organization that links the latest news on politics,culture and music  coming from Africa and the Diaspora. They even have projects placed in kickstarter to do fund-raising. Find in this website blogs, news, music, political opinions, etc…

On a final note, (according to one of the 2011 blogs by popular BEOBAB), “Artists are making music, but are conscious of what their role is, wanting Africa to be different than the Africa they have known.”

Let’s be creative to help new sounds find their way though all ears. Let’s use music to change the continent of Africa! Or should we just say.. continue to do it.. there’s a lot of effort back there and the sounds are already around the globe…..