In the final week of Austin Woman @ SXSW coverage, we revisit some great convos. First, Linda Perry and Alisha Ballard’s EqualizeHer movement.
By Cy White, Photos courtesy of EqualizeHer
The music industry is a microcosm of the world. It’s lush, beautiful and mysterious. It’s also very harsh to the innocent. An extra stitch on the mouth of the regularly silenced. For as long as there has been an industry, there has been a hierarchy of those who have resources and those who do not. Two women had the simultaneous thought: No more. When legendary singer, songwriter and producer Linda Perry met Alisha Ballard, it was the purest example of kismet. These two like-spirited women decided they were going to begin a movement to create genuinely equitable spaces for women. They called it EqualizeHer.
At this year’s SXSW, the women set up a series of showcases for local young women to get the experience of performing for the first time with the weight and knowledge of industry professionals bolstering them. These stages represented a taste of what EqualizeHer’s ultimate mission is: Give women the chance to create and grow in an industry that would otherwise stunt their creativity. As trite as it might sound, it seems Perry has got up that great, big hill of hope for a destination. And that destination is a revolution in the music industry.
During their whirlwind week in Austin, Perry and Ballard answered a few questions about their friendship, their vision and the ultimate power of women helping women.
How and when did the idea for EqualizeHer come about?
AB: I met Linda randomly through a mutual friend who thought maybe we had some like-minded ideas about charity and philanthropy. Linda does a lot of that on her own. So it was sort of a meeting of the minds to see if there was a partnership that could happen. A lot of Linda’s efforts could be sort of organized with some of our efforts, because we were doing a lot of similar things. So I kind of started a relationship with Linda. I was doing a lot of work in the music education space, not particularly focused on women, but just with children, and all populations. Making sure that everyone has access to music education.
Linda and I started talking about those issues. Then the conversation at that point sort of shifted, because of Linda being one of very few famous, well-recognized women in the production side of music—an engineer, producer, all of those things. We started the conversation: Why is it that there aren’t women in those spaces?
That sort of launched this journey of us saying what can we do to change those numbers? When you look at the stats, 2% of women are producers, engineers on that side of music. 21-27% of all artists are female. The stats are really shocking. Then we just decided from there to launch an initiative to work on changing those numbers and bringing more women into this space. Balance is necessary and needed in all areas of life.
LP: Well, first of all, Alisha, that is the most I think I’ve heard you speak and I appreciate this. So articulate. What is great, too, is Alisha and my partnership is basically exactly what just happened. I lost my voice because I was talking all day yesterday, and here is a very clear sign that we’re great partners. Instinctively, Alisha took the lead and spoke so eloquently about what we are doing. So thank you for that. I appreciate you taking that lead there. It just makes me feel all giggly and warm inside.
What are your goals, and what do you really want to accomplish as far as resources for women in music?
LP: One of our greatest plans, which I’m so excited about, is the fact that we came up with a really great idea. I think we’re going to help find solutions with this. The idea is we are going to go to the other organizations, which we always planned on. We never planned on being, “Oh, it’s EqualizeHer, and aren’t we awesome? Come to us if you want a problem solved.” That wasn’t the idea. The idea was to create an identity, to help other people and their organizations. How we can all join forces and accomplish something and solve some of these problems.
Since the music industry is really dominated by a lot of songwriters, we thought what if we went to She Is The Music and got the female songwriters, then we went to Women’s Audio Mission and got the producers, then we went to Note for Notes for the managers and the artists. We put them all in a room together and let them strategize, make a record, and [learn]how to market it and put it out there. We’ll be there to support them to do that. I guess it’s kind of a kind of scholarship in a way. But really, it’s more than that, because we’re going to actually release this music. So there’ll be actual records out. Produced by women, all songwriters [are women], mastered by women, the artist, the artwork, the design, the management, the PR. We create this little team of equalizers. That way they get the credit.
What’s going on is we can’t count the percentages properly, because the girls aren’t getting the credits, you know. They’re not being able to get the opportunity to build their credit, to build their resume, to build their experience. So what if we came in and used all the organizations grouped together. Basically, we’re just going to help make records so we can build the credits of all these women. So they can be recognized and they can be heard. They can strategize and have these experiences together. Then we’ll be doing something that feels like a solid plan.
AB: We went up to LA, and there were some girls that, you know, were in the studio making music. It was so exciting, and they were so excited about the experience. But what Linda said is true. It doesn’t go anywhere from there for a lot of these girls. They get to have this day in the studio, but then what? If they really want to make this a career, it’s a really hard path being in music anyways. But when you’re female, and you’re trying to do something that’s a very male-dominated world, it’s much harder to climb up that mountain. Because you’re kind of breaking the mold. I’m sure a lot of them give up, you know. Or they just think, “Well, this is not really a job that women do.”
I think Linda’s lived in this world most of her life, kind of being in sort of a man’s world, and has gained a lot of notoriety and acceptance and approval for her work. But it’s very rare. That’s what we would like to see change. That she’s not one in a million. There are a lot of Linda’s out there.
Like a hub for women who want to get their music out there and connect with like minds, then also have it be heard?
LP: Well, it’s more than that. There’s a bigger picture that people don’t even address. It’s already so overwhelming to think about. But the reality is there’s just a lack of women everywhere, you know. If we can’t focus everywhere, then we won’t get anything done. But in the music business itself, there’s a lack of female-owned businesses. There’s no Gibson guitar made by women, you know. No Shure microphone made by a woman. There’s no pro audio gear made and designed by women. These are the questions we’re going to start addressing and do more research. Realistically, I can’t imagine these tech dudes letting a girl come in with an idea for a guitar, you know. “Girls don’t play guitar,” you know, or at least they don’t play it the “right way.” There’s still that mentality, unfortunately. It’s insane that there is.
What we’re going to do is probably going to be in steps. If we put together a five-year plan, I’m sure it’ll look quite impressive. But the truth is, we have to focus on one thing at a time. So yes, right now, we need to get the women more behind the boards, in tech, as producers, as engineers, as mastering as mixers. Then we need to get those credits seen. We need to team them up with artists that want to feel safe in the environment. That’s the other part. A lot of women at this point don’t feel very safe. Because, let’s face it, that dates back to, you know, Adam and Eve, you know. Where women just have always been thrown under the bus and been less than. Sexual harassment. That’s just a whole other thing that comes with the music part.
So, you know, there’s a lot of things to address. I think Alisha and I wanted to launch EqualizeHer because we wanted to start making our statement now. Maybe that’s where we’re starting, getting the word out, getting interviewed by you, having Rolling Stone magazine review the show promoted. All the magazines that showed up yesterday, CNN, New York Times. I was just on a panel for VAN magazine and Record Store Day this morning talking about it. So we have to launch the word. This is what we’re going to go out there and start bringing awareness to. That’s why we’re here.
AB: One thing I’ll add to what Linda was talking about: the safety issue. That’s one conversation I had with Linda that really brought emotion to me. Just think about if you have a daughter who is 18, who wants to be a pop star. She’s going in to record an album with like a 60-year-old man, and she’s working till 2 a.m. sometimes. That scenario doesn’t always lend itself to safety for that girl, especially when your dreams are to become famous, and this man may hold that dream in his hands. That’s just not a scenario that’s necessarily going to be safe for that girl. It could be, but it could not be.
I was thinking if we could prevent trauma for even just one girl, you know. Linda knows all the stories. I mean, she has female artists coming in, and that’s what she was telling me. They’ve even been brought to tears because they can come into Linda’s studio and they feel safe. And they’ve said to her, “Gosh, I wish I would have known about you before. That I could have recorded here. It would have saved me so much emotional trauma.”
So to me, it’s a necessary thing that at least half of women should have. Producers should be women, because at least there should be a choice. I’m sure there are a lot of great guys out there that are producers that are really neat, nice guys that take care of their artists. But some aren’t. So just having that choice should be a given. It shouldn’t be something that we have to fight so hard for. But obviously, we do. So that’s part of the goal. It’s just creating a safe place for female artists.
I know this is sort of getting off the ground right now. What kind of challenges have you faced trying to get going?
LP: We haven’t faced any challenges, because it’s Alisha and I; two women that have very clear visions. The challenge would be getting other people on board. Well, we’re on board, so we’re already moving forward. I’m sure we’re going to come up with challenges regarding the logistics of moving forward and making things happen fast and accurate. Those will be things that we’ll have to talk as partners about, how we strategize moving forward. But right now, the only problem would be people getting in our way. And who’s going to get in our way? Both of us would just push them completely out of the way and keep walking. So we haven’t come up against any challenges, because we’ve already got over the first challenge. First challenge was getting partners together and moving forward. We’re already doing that.
AB: I would say the biggest challenge that maybe would be in the foreseeable future is just how do we do this? That’s still a work in progress. You know, it’s such a multifaceted issue. Starting with how do we get young girls in these music programs interested in being in the control room, interested in those careers, and realizing that they can pursue those careers? Because I think a lot of women, girls get intimidated that that’s sort of like what the guys do. “I’m the talent. I have to be a singer, I have to play an instrument. I can’t be the producer, the engineer.” So I think maybe shifting mindsets from very young.
Then from there, there’s just so many steps along the way. But we’re up for the challenge. And we’re excited. I think Linda’s experience is invaluable. She knows this business, and she’s done every part of this business. So I think she’s a great partner for me, for us to be able to know kind of how to move forward and what’s really going to change. She manages bands, she’s done all of it. So I think that experience is going to really help us be successful.
What have been some of the more rewarding aspects of getting EqualizeHer started?
LP: First of all, having an idea about throwing an event. Having a panel, talking to other women, finding solutions. Well, we’re doing it. We’re at South by Southwest, and we had a very successful first day. You know, we didn’t only decide to do one day. We’re doing two days, and we have a full day ahead of us. So we already started. We had great artists, we showcased artists who have never been on stage before. Playing in front of people for the first time. And it’s going to go to 2 a.m. We’re already raising awareness. I say that’s pretty awesome that we had an idea, and we are doing it. The worst is having an idea and not accomplishing it.
So I don’t feel that Alisha and I are going to have those problems because we’re both doers. We’re very passionate about this. It’s not something that we’re taking lightly. This is not a hobby. Listen, I don’t need this on my plate right now. At all. I’m a very, very busy person, but it has to be on my plate. I don’t have a choice. This is not parsley I can push aside, you know. I have to be in here because it needs to be done. I think Alisha feels the same.
AB: It’s been really rewarding for me. To even meeting the women on our panel yesterday. It’s just such a cool group, and it’s just so fascinating. It’s so motivating to me, these strong women who are doing all these really cool things in the music world. And they’re all badasses. It’s like, we can do this. We just have to get it in girls’ minds, “You can do this, and here are some examples.”
Having access to meeting women who are already in the music industry. And even me, my friendship with Linda and meeting her and just seeing all the amazing things she does, it’s so inspiring. I feel like that’s a piece that I’m sure will tie into EqualizeHer. Bringing in women who are already doing these things, and inspiring the youth that this is so cool, you can do this. Linda’s so great at that. She takes so much time with the artists and helps them.
The artists performed to artists, and they had never played. It was just so great to see the joy on their faces. They’re playing official South by Southwest, and they’re getting a shot to do that. Then Linda had the panel critique them and give them feedback on their performance. They were so grateful. Those are the experiences that will really sort of shape female artists and give them the confidence that they can move forward and actually have a career. It’s not easy to have a career in music. But you can do it, even though you’re a woman.
Sky’s the limit, what’s the big dream goal for EqualizeHer?
AB: My dream would be that those stats eventually, someday, [reach]50-50, or at least close to it. It should be equal. Every career should have half and half, you know. So the dream for me would be 50% of people in the production of music are females.
LP: Me too. I feel like that would be a great accomplishment. Also being able to inspire other people, other organizations around the world to be able to see what we’re doing, how we’re doing it. Give some education, some tools, some inspiration to do the same so all countries can be affected. We can see this travel around the world and be an inspiration and motivation for people to act. That’s what it comes down to. An action. And actions take time. Actions, take commitment. Actions are selfless. And if you’re only thinking about how much of your time is going to be lost, “I don’t have the time,” or, “Jesus, do I have to do all this?” then nothing gets done.
Like I said, I’m exhausted. My leg hurts, I’m limping around. My voice is hoarse. I have a swollen eye. But I woke up this morning, I walked over to the Convention Center and I did this panel. And it made a difference. I had a line of people waiting to talk to me afterwards, saying how inspiring I was. If I didn’t show up, maybe there’s that one girl that was just hopeless to go be a producer or go into engineering because there wasn’t someone like me there representing that. Maybe she would have turned around and decided to take another path and then didn’t follow her dreams. We can’t let one get away.
So if everything that we do, if this event that we’re doing for two days, for hours, eight, nine hours, we touch one person and inspire them to take an action, then that’s our job. That’s when we succeed. We have to stay in the moment. We have to get people to get to join us in this. Because it’s not easy. That’s why it’s still a problem. It’s not an easy problem to solve.
AB: We’re in it for the long haul. We know that it’s not going to be easy, but we’re up for it.
Finally, you talk about the “EqualizeHer Pledge.” Give us an idea of what that is and how people can become directly involved with your mission.
LP: It’s not necessarily a pledge. Maybe when writing stuff, we use that word, but I’m retracting that word. Because it’s more than a pledge. It’s this whole conversation we’ve had. We’ve been joining forces, taking action. If someone from a studio right now is reading this, if they take action by hiring a female to be an engineer or assistant at least, or even intern so they can get experience, that’s an action. That’s something you can do.
And, listen, it’s not just all the dudes. It’s women, too. Women not supporting women. They have to take action as well by putting it out there, employing more females, taking time. Alisha is gonna say more, but to me, it’s all about making a commitment to at least try to make a difference and not rely on all the organizations to do all the work. We as people, as humans, have to do the work as well.
AB: Yes, right. One thing that we’ve talked about is there’s a lot of organizations doing different parts of this work. We want to be kind of that support to [everyone]. Like Linda said, we’re not planning on doing programming, we’re not necessarily starting programs or something. But we want to support this mission and whatever that looks like. Getting rid of any competitive thoughts, any ideas that there’s only a certain amount of money and so like we’re competing. This is a cause that we’re all passionate about. Let’s all work together for the greater good. That’s the only way we’re going to change these stats, to get more girls in these jobs.
That’s one thing we talked about in the panel: Are women sometimes competitive with each other? Because there’s so few spots for women in certain places I think that maybe that tends to be the case, that sometimes women compete with each other. I think changing that mentality is the way we can accomplish this goal. We’re not in competition, we’re in it together. We saw that with the panel. It was cool just to see everyone kind of supporting each other. And hey, how can we help, and having women from all different parts of the industry.
It’s so inspiring for those kids to see and hear. Having someone who is a manager and she’s a badass, she’s young. She’s beautiful, she’s smart, she’s a go-getter. And you can tell talking to her she had so many great things to say. Just meeting people like that. And that’s definitely more of a male-dominated profession that she’s in, but she’s like, “You know, I know I just have to work hard.”
She was telling me afterward, a lot of times she’s seen as the assistant. People think she’s the assistant to the artist. Then the assistant, who’s actually the assistant though, because he was a man, or like a young kid who was male, they kept thinking he was the manager. She’s like, a five-foot. spunky badass, but they’re thinking she’s the assistant because she’s female. And she’s like, “You know, I just have to go let them know I’m the manager, and this is how it’s gonna go.”
People don’t always take you seriously, as a female. I’ve experienced this in my career, where you walk into a meeting with maybe an older male who’s a little bit behind the times, and you can see the look on their faces.
So I think there’s just a shifting of minds that needs to happen as well in this industry, and all industries, but in particular music. It kind of happened a bit in Hollywood, in films with the MeToo movement, and all of that. But as Linda said, people get up in arms about that, but then it sort of phases out. We’re so worried about this, and then people forget. I think keeping that movement going. This is still a problem. We still need to address this.
Learn more about EqualizeHer on their official website.