Why we need better working structures for women in music.

“We all want the same thing: we all want to make the best art, to work in a decent environment.”

Sophie Gilpin, SWAP’ra

SWAP’ra was established by five working artists in response to a collective frustration with the unconscious gender bias in the industry and to provide a supportive platform to effect positive change for women and parents in opera, not just in performance, but also leadership roles. The declared aim of the organisation is to foster an environment in which a female CEO, music director, artistic director, conductor, composer or librettist is no longer noteworthy.

When SWAP’ra co-founder, director Sophie Gilpin spoke to Music Works (Season 2 Episode 2.5) she covered some of the issues that women and parents face working in the classical music industry. One of the key messages she brought to the table was how important it is for everyone involved to have a stake in this and work together to create an environment in which it is possible to have a family and work, even in a difficult medium like opera where the hours militate against anyone with childcare commitments.

Sometimes it seems like a big ask, but she sees these essential conversations happening more and more with more small initiatives, more little step changes, but all of which add up to a movement in the right direction.  

Of course, a lot of it goes back to traditional attitudes about women in the creative work space and how that is sometimes harder to tackle. It is generally understood that the industry has to be more representative, but that can lead to unhelpful tokenism which can in turn lead women to feel they are unfairly pitted against each other.

“There’s the men’s table [that] has space for one woman and…you know that…your gender is so present, and that you are being looked at as a female director, a female producer, a female conductor.”

The statistics are not always encouraging. The Arts Council’s diversity report last year shows that there are something like 32% of women employed across all roles in music (not counting freelancers) whereas across the arts as a whole the figure is 57%.

To challenge this, the gala that launched SWAP’ra at Opera Holland Park in 2018 used 150 music professionals: an all female orchestra, all female conductors, all female directors, all female state management team, all female repetiteurs and all female singers. The message was overt: “If anybody is in any doubt that the talent is out there, here’s 150 of us.”  

But, while Sophie and SWAP’ra may feel militant about something that she believes matters deeply to the health of industry and everyone, male and female alike, employed within it, she ends on a positive note:

“The most important thing is that we want to have this conversation in a positive way. We want to be celebratory and we want to be supportive and we want to highlight all the things that are going really, really well.”

Things may be a long way from ideal, but with people like Sophie and organisations like SWAP’ra pushing for change, it will, it has to get better.

If you’d like to find out more about Sophie’s work as a director and with SWAP’ra, you can find this on http://www.swap-ra.org and http://www.sophiegilpindirector.com

Claiming your music royalties – a personal “how to” guide from PRS for Music.

“We need to recognise the true value of music, and the work that goes into its creation and performance, whether that’s to a live audience or online.”

Harriet Wybor, PRS for Music

This is the philosophy behind PRS for Music as Harriet Wybor explains to Katie Beardsworth in the latest episode of the Polyphony Arts Music Works podcast.

After a highly successful first season in which saw our new podcast garner over 1200 listens with over 2000 views of the video editions, we kick off the New Year with a look at what for many creatives is the thorny issue of royalties, what they are and how to claim them.

Performing rights apply when music is performed or played in public in concerts, shops, online via radio and TV broadcasts; mechanical rights refer to the reproduction of music when music is copied into CDs, DVDs and also online and via radio and TV broadcasts (these last three examples involve a combination of both performing and mechanical rights).

Which may sound simple, but this is definitely a situation where knowledge is power. But the knowledge, as Harriet explains, can be complex and tricky to navigate, hence PRS for Music.

Katie hits the basic problem square on the head:

“For any composers out there who think that all other composers understand how all this works, they definitely don’t!”

The good news is: you only need to understand enough and then hand over to Harriet who has a masterful command of everything anyone could possibly need to know about music royalties and then some.

Over the course of half an hour Harriet walks us through the thinking behind royalties, acknowledges why they are important and sets out with dazzling clarity the work PRS for Music does, not only to recover royalties on behalf of their members, but also to support the work of new composers and those suffering financial hardship.

The service they offer is impressive.

“I have helped composers in the past who say things like, ‘Oh, it’s really taken a weight off my shoulders getting something sorted out’” which is a feeling we can all identify with.

It’s reassuring to hear her calm and factual approach. She encourages anyone with a question, whether a member or not to give her a call. There are, she says, no silly questions and there is never, ever any judgement.

Even if you are not a composer, but have an interest or an involvement in the classical music industry, this episode is a fascinating listening.

You can find Music Works and this episode here https://polyphonyarts.com/music-works-podcast/ on the website or you can listen on all the usual podcast channels.

Why you should be promoting your career now – an agent advises.

2020 has not been a good year for those of us in the classical music business and, as we approach the end of our second lockdown, it is understandable that a lot of us are feeling weary and discouraged.

However, you may be surprised to hear that our advice is now is the perfect time to put yourself back out there and start seeking out those future performance opportunities that have been in such short supply.

At Polyphony Arts we are already seeing an uptick in bookings for our clients; music societies, festivals and other venues are starting to think about programming again as performances once again seem possible, and the news about successful vaccines for Covid-19 has done much to lift everyone’s spirits.

There is hope, but we want to see you turn any new-found optimism into actual bookings. And now is the best possible time to start working on precisely that.

So, even if we are still in lockdown, what can you be doing now to build your career as we leave 2020 and head for 2021 and beyond?

First of all, you need a good mindset. Although it may not feel like it, your career is still active and needs your attention more than ever!

We know that things will never go back to exactly how they were before, but that may be no bad thing. Right now promoters are more understanding than they have ever been of how difficult and frustrating it can be for musicians trying to promote themselves. The people who can give you work actively want to help you. That’s a really important message to hold onto.

But before you start sending out information about yourself, take stock of every aspect of how you go about promoting yourself:

  • Is your CV up-to-date?
  • Maybe you have done some interesting work during the pandemic performing online or working on a particular project at home – have you included that?
  • Do you have a full list of all your online recordings with the right links?
  • How good is your network?
  • Are there more connections you have made online over the past nine months that you can maybe leverage now?
  • How do you describe yourself now?
  • How do you think about yourself as a musician?

This last question is a really important one because unless you have a healthy and positive view of yourself, you are not going to be able to project a positive image to the promoters you hope will book you.

If you have an agent, then they will help you with a lot of that, but if you don’t, there are still resources out there to help you.

We have designed a number of packages which you can access to help you with all these aspects of managing and developing a successful career whether that is professional coaching, materials to help you become your own agent, or even a simple module on how to write the perfect pitch.

And, with Christmas on the horizon, any of these would make a terrific gift from your nearest and dearest  – after all, they’re the ones who have always been your biggest supporters.

Our message to you is: stay positive, be adaptable, take this time to review where you are, and reach towards a brighter future where you can and will perform again.