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SXSW 2019: #youtoo? with DJ Target, Shirley Manson and Richard James Burgess and Song Math with Ross Golan – 15th March 2019 (Friday, part 1)

 
By on Tuesday, 2nd April 2019 at 11:00 am
 

This year at SXSW 2019, I struggled to find convention sessions and talks whose summaries I would write that I felt would speak not just to our regular readers of TGTF but to a wider audience. Beastie Boys’ Adam Horovitz and Michael Diamond had a scheduled keynote Friday morning, but in my head I wondered, what exactly could they tell me, a person who appreciated their band but was not an uber fan, that I hadn’t heard before? I had the same feeling about Shirley Manson of Garbage and Lauren Mayberry of CHVRCHES’ keynote on Thursday, thinking that what the two of them would discuss would be a retread of past conversations about the difficulty of being a woman in the music business. Instead of attending either, I decided instead to attend the #youtoo? Creating a More Inclusive Music Industry session, which included Manson as well as BBC Radio 1Extra presenter and artist DJ Target and Richard James Burgess, CEO of the American Association of Independent Music. The session was moderated by Vanessa Reed, CEO of PRS for Music Foundation and who spearheaded the ground-breaking EU initiative Keychange, self-described as “a collaborative European programme led by PRS Foundation which empowers women to transform the music industry.”

The session offered three different perspectives on how to achieve better equality in the music business, from the unique viewpoints of an artist (Manson) and a radio promoter and independent music champion, both with a background of being an artist (Target and Burgess, respectively). As a woman of colour who runs a music Web site, a rarity, I myself have wrestled with how women go forward from where we are today to reach equality in the business. I have been uncomfortable with the push for equality by physical number of female acts on festival bills, a push that seems to be getting louder every minute. To be clear, I am not against the ultimate goal of equality. The problem, as I see it, is how to implement it.

Vanessa Reed and DJ Target Friday SXSW 2019

One moment in time that sticks in my head is this article by The Guardian’s Michael Hann applauding the bill for 2015’s End of the Road. Part of the argument that rang hollow to me was in regards to Laura Marling’s position as headliner and how the festival should be applauded for choosing her. Marling is an established artist with a very large fanbase and therefore her presence would sell tickets but not on the basis of her gender. While she is a fine example of a woman who broke the mould, succeeded against insurmountable odds and deserves full credit for all she’s done, I would argue that artists regardless of who or what they are have all faced their own difficulties. Who gets to judge who has suffered more and deserves the bigger breaks?

This may sound funny coming from a woman who is also a person of colour, but the way I see it, hard work is hard work, just like some in this business will argue talent is talent, no matter the source. I fully admit that my experience is coloured by the fact that as part of what is called the model minority in America, I’ve received the short end of multiple sticks. I recall with much clarity that even though I asked specifically for help, I received much less assistance from my high school counselor because as an Asian-American, I was perceived as not needing it as much as my peers. I was also excluded from my university’s minority student support office because I was of Asian descent.

Shirley Manson and Richard James Burgess Friday SXSW 2019

One of the things that I have appreciated more than anything else as a Chinese-American music editor is being judged and respected by industry folk for what I bring to the table and not because I’m a woman or the color of my skin. I also don’t even get the sense that my being American is considered a benefit or a hindrance. Maybe it’s masochism, but I would rather be remembered for how I was able to promote acts I loved, not because I was a nonwhite woman doing it. Burgess’ comments describing how his office is staffed echoed my thinking: he explained that while he has more women working for him than most have in the industry, his hiring decisions were based on merit and experience, not gender. While this model obviously can’t be applied to every situation, I think this is what we should aspire towards.

I appreciated each speaker’s views on the topic and what they suggested for going forward. In particular, Manson’s outspoken opinions on how the white women of America failed all women in voting for Donald Trump for President is something I have thought a lot about since that dreadful day in November 2016. While all of us women have shared experiences in feeling marginalised by elders due to existing patriarchal social structures, by voting in that manner, white women, whether knowingly or not, discounted the additional hurdles faced by women of colour in our country.

Manson’s searing commentary on how the pink hat was seized as a symbol of white women feminism felt spot on to me and brought me to tears. It has become very much the “protect your own patch” mentality, which has a mirror in the racism I discovered a few years ago within the white LGBT community, which was a surprise to me after having grown up with the inherent racism among Asians. My intention in including Manson’s comment here is less about taking sides but to take the first step, in raising awareness of the existence of a problem. After awareness, we can move towards better understanding and empathy. Without these three pieces, we cannot truly address or tackle the issues. Inclusivity in conversations seems to me as key for us to come to permanent, lasting, agreeable solutions.

with Shirley Manson crop
photo by Maryum Rasool of SBEV (thank you kindly!),
I’m pretty sure I was reliving ‘Special’ and disbelieving I was talking to Shirley Manson

Manson brought the conversation back to the music industry when she described the difficulty in finding a female band to support Garbage on a recent tour. I thought it was interesting that Manson felt it was a thinking process that caused industry people to freeze, rendering them unable to call to mind any act that would fit Garbage’s request. I think this is an important distinction: minds can be changed. The more we can keep the dialogue open, the more we challenge the status quo, the more we turn the conversations into the norm and less the exception, the more consistent changes we’ll see.

Both DJ Target and Manson emphasised the role (no pun intended) of strong female role models in the artist realm. Manson, along with the aforementioned Mayberry and others like Grimes, Jane Weaver and Gwenno, have taken their positions with candour and energy. More of this, ladies. But we need to step up and raise up those and offer our help to anyone who needs a hand.

Instead of rehashing the part of Ross Golan’s Song Math that I was present for, I will simply summarise for you the most thought-provoking bits. Ross, I hope one day you offer your review of popular music as a recording. I’d buy it! I’m sure plenty of music teachers would use it for their classes, too.
1. A lot of classical composers died of syphilis: that’s a fact, which Golan utilised repeatedly as a comic device. Thankfully, we here in modern day have penicillin available to us. No more mercury poisoning! But if you’ve been watching Victoria, you already know this.
2. Gregorian chants should be considered the earliest pop recordings.
3. Phoenix were right: Franz Liszt was the first true rock star.
4. Today’s musicians are indebted to the songwriters of years gone by, and much beyond sampling. For one, the structure of songs as simple as ‘Happy Birthday’, ‘Frere Jacques’ and ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ have been repeated over and over, inspiring artists far and wide, and subliminally or not.

 

TGTF Guide to SXSW 2019: this year’s recommended keynotes and speakers

 
By on Wednesday, 6th March 2019 at 11:00 am
 

Every year without fail, you can count on the SXSW Conference to bring you an illuminating parade of industry visionaries and artists speaking next month in Austin. In a few weeks, there will be an awe-inspiring selection of sessions to sit in on and engage with as part of 2019’s Conference. Below is just a smattering of what music programming is on offer this year.

A$AP Rocky and Gorden Wagener (Monday, 11 March, 12:30 PM) – The announcement of A$AP Rocky as a SXSW 2019 showcasing artist has been huge. Quite possibly as huge is his session on the 11th of March to discuss his success with development and sales of his own athletic wear and accessories. (You can check out a recent interview he did with Los Angeles radio station Power 106 before a live appearance at the Forum.) Joining him in this session is Gorden Wagener of Daimler AG, responsible for directing everything related to the customer experience at Mercedes-Benz. The importance of creativity, branding and fans and followers will no doubt be discussed in this session.

T-Bone Burnett (Wednesday, 13 March, 11 AM) – He may not be a household name you recognise, but you definitely know his work. Musician, producer and songwriter T-Bone Burnett has composed the soundtracks for countless films and produced many albums, including those that launched the careers of Counting Crows and Los Lobos while helping reinvent and relaunch those of Gregg Allman and Roy Orbison. Burnett will be releasing his 13th album ‘The Invisible Light’ in April, so he’ll be chomping at the bit to talk about his newest work.

David Byrne (pictured at top) (Wednesday, 13 March, 12:30 PM) – The former frontman of Talking Heads and multi-award winner will be speaking about Reasons to Be Cheerful, a platform to drive social change he launched last year. The purpose of the Web site is to give people the tools and information to make changes locally to social issues as diverse as climate and energy to transportation. For a taste of what Byrne might talk about, I’ve embedded below a talk Byrne gave in early January 2018 at the New School in New York City.

Lance Bass (Wednesday, 13 March, 12:30 PM) – You remember him, Lance was the blond bass singer in *NSYNC. In case you somehow missed this, since his former ‘90s boyband’s implosion, he has become an actor of stage and screen and a gay activist. He even had a turn on Dancing With the Stars. Perhaps it’s surprising that his appearance at SXSW 2019 will be to talk about his current career as a film and tv producer. Like Madonna, Cher and many other legends in the music business, he’s proven resilient in successfully reinventing himself, his time as *NSYNC fading into the distance.

Shirley Manson and Lauren Mayberry (keynote; Thursday, 14 March, 11 AM) – These two female titans of Scottish music will be appearing at Thursday morning’s Music keynote. It’s being presented in association with PRS Foundation’s Keychange programme and will be centred on discussions about “creativity, the music industry and the female identifying narrative.” Both have been outspoken on feminism and and equality in the business; below, watch an interview with Mayberry at Australian music festival Splendour in the Grass.

Laura Jane Grace (Thursday, 14 March, 2 PM) – Formerly the founder and frontman of punk band Against Me!, Grace is a transgender musician who has become a role model for those struggling with gender identity and dysphoria. With her new band Laura Jane Grace and the Devouring Mothers, Grace is headed in a decidedly more intimate direction with her first solo album. The changes in her life over the last 6 to 7 years have thrust her more into the public limelight, and I’m sure she’ll be using this platform at SXSW 2019 to revisit key events, as well as discuss the music she’s making while Against Me! is on hiatus.

Björn Ulvaeus and Niclas Molinder (Thursday, 14 March, 3:30 PM) – Ulvaeus is best known as a Swedish songwriter and producer of international giants ABBA and the co-composer of Mamma Mia! and other Broadway musicals. He will be making a stop at SXSW 2019 along with Niclas Molinder; both are cofounders, along with famed pop songwriter and producer Max Martin and manager Ash Pournouri, of Auddly. Auddly is described on the SXSW Web site as “rapidly setting the standard for how music creators, their collaborators and their representatives are identified along with accrediting their contributions in compositions and recordings.” A worthy enterprise, indeed. Ulvaeus seems like such a great interviewee, as evidenced from the BBC One Show clip from last year below.

Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz and Michael “Mike D” Diamond (keynote; Friday, 15 March, 11 AM) – The surviving members of seminal NYC hip-hop trio Beastie Boys will be stopping by SXSW this year for the Friday morning keynote session during the Music part of the SXSW Conference. Late last year, Horovitz and Diamond released Beastie Boys Book, 6 years on from the untimely death of their bandmate Adam “MCA” Yauch.

Ross Golan (Friday, 15 March, 11 AM) – Like T-Bone Burnett described above, Ross Golan isn’t exactly a name that will ring too many bells but I can guarantee you’ve heard and appreciate his work. Golan penned Ariana Grande’s ‘Dangerous Woman’ and 5 Seconds of Summer’s ‘Mrs. All American’, among others. However, I don’t think Golan will be in Austin to rest on his songwriting laurels and will be speaking on something else near and dear to many artists and managers’ hearts. He’s a major champion of the Music Modernization Act, which was signed into U.S. law last October and aims to move forward with better best practices in issues of copyright in the digital age. He’ll be discussing this, along with the future of songwriting.

As always, the schedule of events at SXSW 2019 is subject to change. For the most up-to-date information on the SXSW Conference, visit SXSW’s official Web site.

 
 
 

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