Canadian Musician - May/June 2023 - Page 9


By Elise Roller

The Canadian Music Industry ’ s Leisurely Approach to Equity

The music industry has faced growing criticism for its lack of diversity and equity , and we ’ re finally beginning to have awareness and open conversations about it . On one hand , I appreciate there are now opportunities to talk about it ; on the other , I carry a lot of resentment from past experiences growing my music career as a single mom , before anyone was talking about women in music — and the lip service being offered by bureaucratic gatekeepers isn ’ t shifting the tides fast enough .

From the perspective of a cis white woman , I acknowledge that my road to entrepreneurship , and this very platform , is one of privilege . While I discuss these points from my experience as a woman and a mother , I want to make clear that my sentiments extend to the many other underrepresented and marginalized people who have long histories of facing significant barriers to success while being overlooked , undervalued , and traumatized . To rise above this systemic narrative , we ’ ve had to work smarter , harder , and with lower pay while simultaneously battling harassment , exclusion , stigmas , and — and in this new era of open conversation , many of us still have to go above and beyond to do the unpaid work of advocacy for filling the major gaps that still exist in a so-called forward-thinking industry .
With that in mind , here are a few ways the Canadian music industry could better establish itself to include female entrepreneurs :
Set us up for success : Canadian organizations often think visibility is inclusivity which is purely an opticsbased approach – one to make them feel better about the regular paycheck they receive for ‘ making a positive impact in the music sector .’ Without going into details , I once heard a man say , “ I would rather have 15 percent less quality work by giving this opportunity to a woman ,” which is an incredibly problematic statement . For one , it promotes the stigma that women are less capable than men and , two , if she legitimately is not as good at her job as a man … then why ?! That ’ s the root needing to be addressed . Too often I see people being placed in positions they aren ’ t yet ready for because organizations are more concerned about checking boxes than equipping these people with the necessary skills to succeed . Inclusivity requires providing minority individuals with the necessary mentorship and skills to excel , ensuring they have the support and resources needed to thrive in their roles . This leads to genuine representation and meaningful contributions to equity in the music industry .
Change the power dynamic : Making space and giving decision-making roles to women and gender-diverse people is an obvious step , but there also needs to be an attitude shift towards the value of their leadership . I can ’ t tell you the number of times I ’ ve been invited to conversations to provide insight based on my experience only to be smugly told my ideas aren ’ t actionable and made to feel like I ’ m oversensitive regarding the barriers I communicate . In an industry that thrives on innovation , risk , and relatability , this response conveys blatant neglect for prioritizing tangible change and reveals the optics-based invitation for men in power to continue pushing their own agenda while patting themselves on the back for being inclusive .
Dismantle the system at its core : The model that was designed for and by men needs to be restructured to accommodate the industry ’ s evolving priorities . It requires heavily funded organizations to get uncomfortable , act , and abolish old policies , guidelines , and motives that are not conducive to supporting those who haven ’ t been given a fair shot .
For example , I recently spent two weeks abroad for business and , as a breastfeeding mother , I was required to bring my baby with me which also meant paying for a caregiver to accompany us . FACTOR ,
designed to support Canadian music businesses , still doesn ’ t consider caregiver expenses for music companies an eligible expense . That means swallowing additional flight , transportation , and accommodation costs to access the same playing field as male counterparts . And while it is an eligible expense for artist moms , there isn ’ t a separate funding pool specifically for it , meaning yearly funding limits deplete sooner when including a caregiver . It ’ s great to have grant support , but failing to provide a specific lane for new mothers to access the music industry makes women feel like they must decide between family or business — and it ensures that Canadian men have access to more revenue , allowing them to continue dominating this industry . While I see growing awareness and open conversations , there ’ s still a need for tangible actions to support women . Changing power dynamics , dismantling outdated systems , and creating specific lanes for those facing unique challenges are crucial steps toward creating a more inclusive and equitable music industry where we can all thrive and contribute meaningfully .
Elise Roller was coined 2023 Entrepreneur of the Year at the Women in Music Canada Honours for her work as the founder of Misfit Music MGMT , an artist development and management company based in Treaty 1 Territory ( Winnipeg ). She can be reached at info @ misfitmusicmgmt . com .