A panel of accomplished female music industry members spoke at Drexel University May 5 about the gender barriers that they and other women have broken down to build successful careers. They also gave advice to students hoping to work in the competitive field. The event, which was titled “Women Rock,” featured a veritable who’s-who of behind-the-scenes jobs within the music business.
The moderator of the panel was Rona Elliot, a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame board member who worked as a press officer at Woodstock and created the position of music correspondent for NBC’s Today show. Drexel alumni and former WKDU DJ Stacie George also spoke at the panel about her career booking gigs for artists – a job that eventually led to her current position as a senior talent buyer at Live Nation for Philadelphia. Another member of the Drexel community present at Women Rock was music industry professor Marcy Rauer Wagman, an entertainment lawyer who was instrumental in establishing the University’s music industry program and the various curricula approaches within it.
Another experienced speaker was Joan Myers, a public relations/marketing professional who has worked with Grammy Award-winning artists like Alison Krauss, Bonnie Raitt and the Rolling Stones. The youngest panelist was Vanessa Parr, who graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2004 and moved to Los Angeles, Calif., to work as a recording engineer at the Village Recorder, a job that has allowed her to work with artists as celebrated as Elton John and the Dixie Chicks, as well as on films including “Crazy Heart” and “Talladega Nights.” The last panelist was Paula Moore, who held senior A&R executive positions at various famous record labels before creating her own talent scout and trend spotting company.
Though they differed in age and occupation, all of the panelists agreed on the competitive and strenuous nature of the music industry, especially for young women. Each one shared a personal story of sexism they encountered. A notable example was told by Moore, who recalled how a former boss advised her to look more feminine at the office and even told her to “maybe look like a girl and smile more.” With a laugh, she added that she didn’t work there much longer. The panelists also gave examples of ways to battle the sexism. Parr suggested telling a dirty joke to be one of the guys, and others advocated trying hard and being creative to win the respect of male peers.
“It’s okay to feel frustrated about the way women are treated in this industry. I don’t stand for it personally, and [I] think that times have changed and these thoughts should change too,” Lawrence Mahoney-Jones, a pre-junior business administration major, said. Each of the speakers said the worst thing to do as a woman in the music industry is to act unprofessionally by flirting with men in bands or involved with record labels or music venues. “Most of their advice wasn’t strictly for women wanting to be taken seriously in the music industry, but for women in any professional industry,” Lauren Donaghy, a freshman environmental studies major, said.
The women also expressed gratitude and awe because they made a career doing what they love even though they had to overcome numerous obstacles to get where they are today. “It’s such a cliché, but dreams really can come true,” Myers said. The mostly female audience contained many students interested in the music industry, including five female music industry majors who helped create the “Women Rock” event: Samantha Andrel, Carolyn Haynes, Kristin Biskup, Bridget Shirley and Teri McMahon.
According to McMahon, the idea for the event started in the fall quarter over a homework assignment for their recording industry class, in which students kept journals about music industry-related articles they found. That was when Biskup found an article about the most powerful people in the industry – and noticed there wasn’t a single woman on the list. “This started a heated discussion amongst a bunch of us in the class, and along with Professor Terry Tompkins, director of MAD Dragon Records, we decided it would be cool to round up some influential women in the music business and have them speak to us,” McMahon, an intern at the Appel Farm Arts and Music Festival and a member of Drexel’s vocal jazz group, said.
A committee dedicated to making the panel was created, and Karen Curry, the executive director of the Kal and Lucille Rudman Institute for Entertainment Industry Studies, who hosted this event, helped the group organize its plans. Curry also helped land the moderator of the event, who was a close personal friend. According to McMahon, the other speakers were chosen though a process of contacting known female professionals and asking them or anyone they could recommend as a speaker for the panel.
“Getting the panelists together was really a big networking experience all on its own,” McMahon explained. She added that the committee members searched online and made phone calls looking for speakers. After the event concluded, audience members were encouraged to stay and network with the panelists. “As a young woman breaking into the industry, it’s so incredibly important to not be intimidated by the big-wig professionals in this industry – especially the women! They were in our shoes at some point in their lives and are more than willing to help us in any way they can,” McMahon said. Many of the speakers professed their thanks to Kal Rudman, in the audience with his wife Lucille. Rudman, who served as Billboard magazine’s first R&B editor and also spent time as a radio broadcaster, became famous for his multiple radio and music industry publications, including the Friday Morning Quarterback.