Big Sync Music wanted to mark International Women’s Day 2019 by curating a playlist of powerful, influential, barrier-busting and just plain inspiring female artists spanning several decades. Here’s the playlist – we hope you enjoy it. Who would you add?
While we were we putting that together and having some lively discussions over who to add we chatted to four of our female music supervisors about the subject of women in music, gender balance in the music industry and who in music or advertising has inspired them. As they compared experiences we covered topics like: Is it time to move on from talking about ‘women in music’? Is there a good gender balance in the music supervision industry? Can gender make a difference in the job?
Angel Lee, Country Manager, Asia Pacific
“We’re not where we were 10 years ago but we’re also not where we want to be. There are a lot of women in music but many of them are in administrative or at a mid-tier level. I think in music supervision the representation is better because the roles require hard skill sets. Music supervision really is an equal opportunity role because it’s based on technical ability so, a bit like like software engineering, if you’re good you’re good. We’re a ‘behind the scenes’ industry and music supervisors can be found behind their screens helping to put music to picture. It’s easier in music supervision for men and women to be assessed on their skills and experience than it is in other parts of the music and entertainment industry.
“It’s easier in music supervision for men and women to be assessed on their skills and experience than it is in other parts of the music and entertainment industry. ”
– Angel Lee, Country Manager, Asia Pacific
I’m really inspired by musician Maggie Rogers because her story is so real. She was propelled to stardom after a video of her playing her song ‘Alaska’ to Pharrell Williams during a New York University masterclass went viral. She was immediately courted by record labels and is now a successful artist. What I love about her is that she has not allowed herself to be made to be anything other than herself. Her music is very much her own sound – folk mixed with natural sounds and merged with electronic music. She’s not changed herself in any way, or created a sexy image, she’s still a real music geek just doing what she loves to do and having a great time doing it.
My advice to women trying to get into music supervision would be – don’t be intimidated, don’t feel you have to be something that you are not. Everyone has a unique offering and that will speak for itself. I’m personally really inspired by ex PepsiCo CEO – Indra Nooyi. She is an Indian national, born in India, studied in India and managed to reach the level of CEO and was listed in Forbes’ 100 Most Powerful Women for 9 years in a row. She is incredible in terms of leadership and has said that her life skills – being a mum for example – have kept her humble.”
Lisa James, Music Supervisor, London
“I think music supervision used to be more male dominated and it was tougher to succeed as a woman. But I don’t mind saying that being female helped me get my first job because they were actively looking for a woman. It was at a time when the tables were beginning to turn and the conversations about gender balance were being had in the industry. But while I feel I have benefitted, I know other women have had very different experiences.
I think when it comes to industry speaker roles and panelists talking at events, organisers are more aware of gender balance, no matter what the topic of discussion. I’ve spoken on quite a few panels over the past 4 years and there are now more women represented than there were. I’m passionate about doing these talks and panels because no-one explained to me that there were jobs outside composition, performance or production and I hope that inspires some women out there too that being a woman won’t hold you back in music supervision. Because we work with advertising agencies I’ve noticed that there are more female agency creatives than there were – although this could be just the agencies we work with. Certainly a great deal of TV producers that I’ve worked with have been women – perhaps around 70%. I’d like to see more female composers and producers though. The emails I get from creative agencies are often from women – although perhaps they reach out to me because I’m a woman. Personally I don’t tend to look at someone in terms of whether they are a man or a woman when it comes to the skills I’m looking for so I hope that, now I’ve earned my stripes, others treat me in the same way.
“When it comes to doing the job of a music supervisor, regardless of your sex, if you’re good you’ll be fine.”
– Lisa James, Music Supervisor, London
When I’m working with brands like Dove which are targeted to females or are about female empowerment I think it helps that I am also the target audience. It might give me the edge in pitching an artist that will resonate but equally that doesn’t mean I can’t also interpret an AXE (LYNX) brief just because I’m female. When it comes to doing the job of a music supervisor, regardless of your sex, if you’re good you’ll be fine. I don’t think my advice is now any different to a woman than it is to a man that wants to get ahead in this field.
I’m particularly inspired by Hayley Williams from Paramore – because she burst on to the scene when it was a very male dominated genre and inspired millions of girls including me. There were no female fronted emo rock bands in 2004, or very few, and she did very well to turn this on its head. Now there are loads. I also have so much respect for Sigrid – she oozes confidence and doesn’t fit the norm although I’m told by my Swedish colleague she is more the norm in Sweden because Swedish women don’t fit ‘the norm’. Either way I love her!”
Hannah Donald – Music Coordinator, London
“As a young woman coming into the music industry I’m not seeing much of a gender issue – it’s so hard to get into anyway that a newbie is just a newbie. It may be that the higher you try to go up the ladder the harder it gets.
I agree with Lisa’s point about Dove and being the target audience. As a woman you might be able to look at a brief, anticipate the audience’s reaction and understand how the music could make her feel. However with any good brief, no matter if you are male or female, so long as you have an emotional understanding of the message that is being conveyed and the desire to get it right, gender shouldn’t matter.
“With any good brief, no matter if you are male or female, so long as you have an emotional understanding of the message that is being conveyed and the desire to get it right, gender shouldn’t matter.”
– Hannah Donald – Music Coordinator, London
In a way I’ve been studying women in music for a while – at Edinburgh University my dissertation was: “Music, Gender and Disney: The musical portrayal of the female protagonists of Walt Disney’s Animated Feature Films”. It looked at how the music represented the female characters and conveyed them to the audience. I was always really interested in why certain songs are used in film – I guess I was meant to be a music supervisor!
When I was an early teen, Pink became massive. She’s got one of the most powerful voices and she’s also a woman of strength who started off in a genre which was not very cool at the time. She has so much attitude. Like Angel I also really love Maggie Rogers. I saw her live recently. The atmosphere was electric. My favourite track of hers is ‘Overnight’.”
Lily Cao, Account Manager, Singapore
“I’ve worked in both music and advertising before which paved the way to working at Big Sync Music. The experiences I had were quite varied. I did some music industry internships in LA from concert promotion to artist management which were male dominated although there were quite a few female interns. I did feel as though the female interns were hired to do work for free, while the ‘bro culture’ clearly made it easier for male interns to progress into full-time roles. I had a very different experience in advertising though. I worked for Publicis Singapore for three years and the gender balance was much better, including at senior management level, and I was really well supported as well as inspired by that.
“Having the right mindset as a boss – whether male or female – sets the precedent at work. A great boss will want their staff to work as a team, they will provide a good support system that encourages everyone to succeed.”
– Lily Cao, Account Manager, Singapore
Having the right mindset as a boss – whether male or female – sets the precedent at work. A great boss will want their staff to work as a team, they will provide a good support system that encourages everyone to succeed. It’s the little things that can help you progress but it’s easy for things like company culture to be overlooked. Here in the Singapore office Angel is a great female role model – she is tough with high standards and expectations but is also very nurturing to the staff. We’re the only agency in Singapore dedicated to music supervision and I’m proud to be a part of that. We all have a passion for music and all get involved in music searches. So although my role is also account management I can really add value when it comes to certain genres. I particularly admire opinionated Asian female artists such as Japanese Breakfast or Mitski so I’m constantly on the look out for who is up and coming.
I feel strongly about the active support of women in all sectors including the music industry. Women need these organised spaces, panels and support groups within the profession to demonstrate to the younger women in the profession just what they can achieve. We need to keep the ‘women in music’ conversation going because we’re not at the stage yet to take away that extra visibility. As Angel said – we’ve still got a way to go!”