Gender diversity has been an increasingly important debate in the largely male-dominated music industry – echoing from the recording studio to the boardroom. The time for talking, according to the Amsterdam-based platform for female and non-binary producers rosetta., has come and gone. It’s time for action. During their panel What comes after ‘inclusivity’? at the ESNS Conference (Thursday 19 January), the platform founded by Josephine Zwaan and Eva van Manen wants to offer insights from various gender-inclusive platforms – to present concrete strategies that industry professionals can start applying today.
Beyond the simple tallying of more women and non-binary people in the industry to check the issue off our list, co-founder Josephine Zwaan and project manager Carlijn van Seben present a whole new vision on inclusivity during our conversation. One which weaves in knowledge from Josephine’s academic research into decolonising the music industry through African philosophy, and breaking open the system from the inside out – reimagining how systems, production software and a community-driven approach can create an industry that welcomes different perspectives and cultures, and transform in the process. “I want to change the conversation around inclusivity, to see it as a source of innovation and untapped potential.”
What comes after inclusivity? Read on to find out.
Interview by Roxy Merrell
Josephine: Music production is very male-dominated. But what does that mean? How does that exclude women from wanting to participate? In a broader sense, how can you make room for anyone to feel like they can be themselves in a space, and that they feel heard and seen and reflected in what is happening?
Carlijn: A lot of organisations are now focusing on creating diversity. But hiring more women, for example, does not necessarily mean that your company is becoming more inclusive. I see inclusivity as creating a space where everyone feels safe.
J: There have been a lot of panels about the lack of gender diversity in the industry. When Eva van Manen and I launched rosetta. two and a half years ago, we also began with a panel on that subject, wanting to open up the conversation and exchange experiences. But we soon realised that you could keep having that conversation for a long time. I was talking to the founder of shesaid.so Andreea Magdalina and she said exactly how we were feeling: She doesn’t want to talk about the problem anymore. (We’re excited to confirm that Jess Partridge will represent the global community of women, gender non-conforming people and allies in the music industry shesaid.so during the panel.) Our mindset shifted to: It’s time for action. If we understand some of the barriers we want to overcome, what solutions do we have to make an impact?
Talking to other platforms and organisations, I realised that in our journey to try and make changes, we all have gained new insights and valuable experiences. In our own experience, we realised that inclusivity is not just about making sure there are more female producers in the industry, but can we also allow other cultural perspectives to exist? Or take she said.so: They are focused on how community is the way forward for the music industry. That insight came from learning how to be a women-focused platform, but extends far beyond it. The panel is an attempt to bring these unique insights and hands-on strategies to the table.
J: We started out offering panels, and have since expanded to organise two summer schools, introductory production courses, and we recently hosted our first producers camp. In the process of creating it, we realised the real difference we could make: offering a new, refreshing, inclusive programme.
At the same time, I was doing research for my thesis on decolonising music production software. Reading African philosophy and African ideas on music inspired new ideas on how production software could function. Now, all the software programmes are designed based on Western music theory and based on the piano. But what if we started from the drum, which is at the core a different instrument – with an entirely different logic. From that, you can understand beat making in a very different way.
I was also reading about the post-genre era and how it affects identity and power relations. The discussion suggests that we’ve moved past cultural appropriation, but that’s not the case. It’s still much more difficult for Black artists to be seen and recognised. Then I realised, we can discuss these subjects in the context of production as well, and we developed a masterclass in the summer school. We explore how we can find inspiration from combining and experimenting with genres, but also be aware of what that means. We have so much more to say than just repeating the fact that we have so few (visible) female producers in the industry – while the public discussion seems to get stuck on that level.
It was a parallel process – gaining these insights from research and an academic perspective – and then realising there’s added value in what we’re creating, by channelling all that knowledge and experience into workshops. It doesn’t just benefit women or non-binary people, it offers a new whole perspective on production, for everyone.
J: What I want them to walk away with is that they see concrete avenues of what they can do differently. That the discussion around these things is no longer vague, but there are clear examples of what they can start doing today.
C: I want them to see that women bring a lot to the table. Much more than they realise. It should be opening their minds to all the new things that are coming their way.
C: We're also really inspiring ourselves in the process. We’ve created a persona with rosetta., and that persona allows us to become the leaders that we want to see in the industry. It’s exactly what we wanted to show female and non-binary producers: You don’t have to wait for other people, just go out and do it.
J: I want to change the conversation around inclusivity, to see it as a source of innovation, instead of something that needs to be fixed. That is also the idea of the panel. We’re not talking about something that’s lacking, but we’re talking about untapped potential, an opportunity to spark innovative ideas.
J: We have new courses in the works for next year, for all-level producers. We’re also working on having something tangible to share – I’m planning on writing a book about decolonising electronic music production through African philosophy. Finally, we can’t say much about it yet, but I’m really excited to be exploring the possibility of developing software based on these ideas. Watch this space!