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Does live music have a Harvey Weinstein problem?

As Hollywood reels from the Harvey Weinstein scandal, and thousands of women globally report sexual harassment or assault under the #MeToo campaign, the music industry may need to get its own house in order.

The first allegation surfaced earlier this week on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme, when artist manager Sarah Bowden alleged a “major promoter”, who still works in the industry, had exposed himself to her, expecting her to perform a sex act. She further alleged she had once been sacked after refusing to sleep with a colleague in return for a promotion, and spoke of a “senior figure” regularly promising young women jobs or tours in exchange for sexual favours. This man, too, still works in the industry and is “brazen” about his behaviour, she added.

Yet after asking several female live music industry figures whether music has its own Harvey Weinstein problem, the picture painted suggests Bowden’s allegations are not isolated.

With most speaking on the condition of anonymity, all say they have been subject to, or witnessed, inappropriate behaviour or sexual assault working in the live business. While several emphasise that such incidents are infrequent, they describe instances where male execs have used their status and power to exploit women. Most incidents go unreported for fear of reprisals on the part of the victim.

“I’ve seen it from promoters, venue bosses, agents – it’s everywhere,” says one individual who over ten years working in the industry has had male colleagues expose themselves to her five times. “There are booking agents who are really high up in the industry expecting things from younger [female] promoters and managers,” she explains. “They trade on their reputation… name-dropping, using their power and status.”

Another says she has been forced to leave a job because of inappropriate comments and behaviour from a male boss, and has witnessed a female colleague being assaulted. She says it didn’t go any further because another friend, who works for a rape crisis service, told her it’s not her place to report it: “I can only offer support,” she explains. “If the victim doesn’t want to come forward, you can’t force them to.”

A common theme is being afraid to report any unwanted advances for fear it will hurt women’s careers. A third woman describes being too scared to report an incident that occurred two years ago at a music industry conference: “I thought, ‘If I raise this, I’m going to be blacklisted, I’ll never get another job,'” she says.

“The industry has some way to go in getting its house in order”

“I remember thinking, ‘I don’t know who this guy’s connected to, how it will affect my position in the industry’… There are so many situations where people feel they can’t talk about it because it might put their careers in jeopardy.”

Two other women – one an agent and one working in communications – tell IQ they have also experienced sexual harassment from artists they were working for.

“I had an incident at a festival with a member of a well-known band trying making inappropriate comments and trying to persuade me to go to the tour bus with him,” says Nikki McNeill, founder of music PR agency Global Publicity, which recently celebrated ten years in business. “In a club situation, you’d just say ‘fuck off’, but in a work environment, you’re always thinking, ‘Will I lose my job, will I lose my job, will people believe me…?’

“Generally I try and dissipate the situation as calmly as possible – suggest we find someone else or go to the bar and get a drink, where there will be other people. But afterwards you think, ‘Why should I? I should be able to tell them to clear off.'”

The agent describes how she was subject to inappropriate behaviour from an artist but let it go due to financial considerations – something she now says was a mistake. “He made a couple of very indecent comments and suggestions and I just ignored them,” she explains. “When it’s an artist that brings a lot commission to the company, you’re thinking, ‘Oh well, he or she is a douche but I’m just going to zip it and let it slide.’

“That happened two years, but if it did happen again I feel like I would say something. We’re in a business where it’s not really part of the culture to give people a slap on the wrist. […] But we, as women, need to stop fearing the idea of getting fired because we said ‘no’ to someone.

“If this was to happen today, I would speak up louder and wouldn’t worry about the consequences.”

“I’ve seen it from promoters, venue bosses, agents … it’s everywhere”

Crosstown Concerts co-founder Paul Hutton says that while he’s never seen any inappropriate behaviour first-hand, he’s “disappointed to find out there is a problem” in the live industry and says he believes more women will now come forward. “I don’t want it in our world,” he comments. “Other people need to get their houses in order.”

Like McNeill, Claire Singers – who was for 30 years a leading music publicist and now serves as a gender diversity consultant and an associate consultant for the EDGE foundation for gender equality – waived her right to anonymity to speak to IQ about what she sees as a major industry issue.

She tells of her experiences as a tour publicist in the ’90s and in one example, she says, “I, too, had an artist expose himself to me in his dressing room. The head of the French label was in the room and he just laughed – he thought it was hilarious. It really is very unnerving and frightening; it makes you feel extremely vulnerable.

“The next day we had a band dinner. The German promoter arrived with a prostitute on each arm for this French rocker. It sounds awful, but I’ve honestly never been so relieved to see two prostitutes.”

In a more current incident, Singers adds that she heard last week of a former senior label head “who would quite regularly force himself on female execs”, with one woman being “thrown onto the bed”. “She mentioned it to another senior person at the label,” Singers explains, “and was told not to make a fuss.

“I am pretty sure the music industry has many of the same problems as Hollywood.”

Alluding to Weinstein (pictured), she says “there isn’t this one person” responsible, “but it has always been part of the culture.

“I think it’s great we’re having this conversation. It means people will be a bit braver next time”

“If this discussion causes [these men] to start looking at themselves, it might get them to start thinking about their actions. The next time they think about lunging at a publicist, hopefully it will give them pause for thought.”

While Singers says the debate over sexual harassment in the music business is long overdue, “the onus should be not be on the women to come forward – other men should be calling out their colleagues. Men have a big responsibility to clean up the industry.”

While most of the women spoken to by IQ agree on the need for more gender diversity in live music – one says she felt she could report an incident of harassment as she had a female line manager, while another spoke of her desire for more female mentors – all agreed that doesn’t go far enough, highlighting the need to create a culture when women aren’t scared to speak against the perpetrators of abuse.

“It is partly about gender balance,” says one, “but more than that, we’ve got to be able to open up and talk about it”, while another speaks of the importance of people no longer just “laughing off” sexual harassment or assault and “thinking, ‘Oh well, it happens'”.

Coda director Rob Challice, speaking on behalf of the agency, agrees, saying recent reports “have led us at Coda to stress the importance in open conversation, ensuring that if somebody does feel they have been a victim of sexual harassment, no matter where or when, that they can report in confidence and with no fear for their position”.

“We do not tolerate harassment of any form,” he adds, “and we do acknowledge that the industry has some way to go in getting its house in order.”

“I think it’s great we’re having this conversation,” concludes one of the women. “It means people like me will be a bit braver next time.”


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Global Publicity celebrates 10 years

Music PR company Global Publicity, whose clients include some of Europe’s most popular festivals, this year celebrates ten years since its founding.

Established in 2007 by Nikki McNeill, Global’s roster has grown to include Sziget, Amsterdam Dance Event, Lowlands, Bilbao BBK Live and Exit Festival, as well as techno artists Dave Clarke and Octave One.

“I feel very lucky to work on projects I love and am truly passionate about,” says McNeill. “I never thought I’d get this far, and working alongside many of my peers and role models in the music industry is the icing on the cake.”

McNeill is also a regular panellist at industry conferences – and can, she says, usually be found on the dancefloor, where her “passion for music first started”, when the work is done.


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