Ben Gilbert investigates the “embarrassing and uncomfortable” disparity in earnings between men and women working across the business, following recent revelations that Haim shared a festival bill with a male artist that was paid 10 times as much.
The #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns have brought some uncomfortable truths to the forefront of news and culture over recent months. Given the profound way these movements have reflected so many societal imbalances and amid a growing revulsion at the status quo, it was surely inevitable that this sinkhole would swallow up sections of the music business. However, revelations about the gender pay gap within the industry have been startling, to say the least.
Headline figures of the gender pay gap
To recap, Music Business Worldwide (MBW) published a range of statistics in April to illustrate the “embarrassing and uncomfortable” disparity in earnings between men and women working across the business. The headline figures found that, on average, female staff employed by one of the three British major labels earn almost 34% less than their male counterparts. Digging a little deeper, the stats reveal that all three of the major labels reported a gender pay gap above the national average of 18%. The figure is almost 23% at Sony, 30% at Universal Music Group and 49% at Warner Music.
Elsewhere, an average of only 31% of leadership positions at majors are filled by women. Meanwhile, Live Nation’s UK operation reported a 46% gender pay gap, alongside an incredible 88% difference in bonuses between male and female employees. As damning as these figures are, it’s recently become clear that such inordinate imbalances are not confined to the corridors of industry but also appear to permeate the performance and recording spaces shared by both sexes at the top end of the global music scene.
Haim fire agent over festival fee
To wholesale astonishment, Californian trio Haim recently revealed they had shared a festival bill this summer with an undisclosed male artist that was paid 10 times as much as them. “We had been told that our fee was very low because you played at the festival in the hope you’d get played on the radio,” explained Danielle Haim, continuing: ”We didn’t think twice about it, but we later found out that someone was getting paid 10 times more than us. And because of that we fired our agent.” Calling the revelation “scary”, she added: “It’s fucked up not even to be paid half the same amount. But to be paid a tenth of that amount of money? It was insane.”
“It’s fucked up not even to be paid half the same amount. But to be paid a tenth of that amount of money? It was insane.”
– Danielle Haim
Meanwhile, in an interview with Synchtank, composer, producer and musician Sarah deCourcy, whose multi-faceted career has included a role as Kylie Minogue’s live musical director, reiterated that this imbalance could neither be easily dismissed as a one-off or said to exist purely within the live music circuit. “I recently discovered that I got offered half of what a man was offered for the same pitch. That has to change,” she told us in May.
Is an industrial revolution coming?
Understandably, these revelations have prompted an equal measure of head-scratching and navel-gazing, while inspiring a renewed call for rather more profound action. But is the industry ready for change? Moreover, where will it come from and are there “enough inspiring leaders who believe in fairness – and who truly understand the benefits of equality and mentorship?” as the aforementioned MBW investigation questioned. One female figure with sufficient pedigree to provide answers is Alison Wenham, chair and CEO of Worldwide Independent Network (WIN).
Reflecting on her near 20 years in the music business, Wenham, winner of the Outstanding Contribution Award at 2016’s Music Week Women In Music Awards, suggested tangible progress has already been made to address the gender pay gap. “It certainly has – but like many industries, it has been slow to react. I have been working to raise awareness and encourage change for 15 years and I’m pleased to see that change is indeed now being embraced.”
Music business figures predict change
Speaking to Synchtank, Wenham admitted to being “appalled” by the recent revelations from the Haim camp but suggested this particular issue may be about “opportunism rather than logic.” She also insisted that, from her influential standpoint, this groundswell of momentum will soon have a genuine impact on the lives and careers of female employees. “I believe change is being taken seriously across the industry and in five years, gender discrimination – of salary and of opportunity – will be a thing of the past. Partly because it is so old fashioned and belongs to a different era!”
“I believe change is being taken seriously across the industry and in five years, gender discrimination – of salary and of opportunity – will be a thing of the past. Partly because it is so old fashioned and belongs to a different era!”
– Alison Wenham, chair and CEO of Worldwide Independent Network
Elsewhere, shesaid.so, a global network of women working in the music industry, joined the debate. Ilka Erren Pardiñas, founder of Los Angeles-based Fly PR, highlighted the challenges and obstacles that block the path of many women. “I know for a fact I get less business and pay than many male counterparts,” said Pardiñas, who runs an intern program designed to act as a boot camp to facilitate faster passage within the business. Meanwhile, Hilde Spille, from European booking team Paperclip Agency, summarised what she sees as the difference from 12 months ago: “People have started to talk about the issues. That’s what has changed,” she told Synchtank.
Reflecting upon the Haim story, Ruth Kilpatrick, New Music Consultant at Record of the Day and manager of IMOGEN, called for a “greater transparency” around live performance fees but also underlined what needs to happen next. “In order to achieve pay equality I genuinely feel the attitudes at the top are what need to change. There are countless, countless examples that myself and many friends or colleagues have from our working lives, or social situations with those in executive positions, where it’s been made more than clear that staff are valued differently due to gender,” she explained.
“There really isn’t a choice on this question. This issue has the close attention of Government and all big companies have a duty to address and correct pay discrimination.”
– Alison Wenham, chair and CEO of Worldwide Independent Network
Clearly, society is evolving. In January, Iceland became the first country to force companies to prove they pay all employees the same. But this in an industry that has been famously ponderous to adapt and near glacial when confronted by the momentum of such external forces. Alison Wenham believes it is only a matter of time before radical change is felt at a financial level. “There really isn’t a choice on this question. This issue has the close attention of Government and all big companies have a duty to address and correct pay discrimination,” she stated.