Women in N.S. music industry concerned by lack of representation on nomination lists
Only 27% of ECMA musical nominees are women this year, says promotions manager at Halifax venue
Women in Nova Scotia's music industry are speaking out about the lack of representation on award nomination lists, and are reflecting on why that might be.
Jocelyn MacLean, the promotions manager at The Stage at St. Andrew's in Halifax, said many women in the industry often struggle to get their break.
"The music industry is the most unwelcome, unsupportive place for women that I've ever experienced, which I think would come as a shock to everyone," MacLean told CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia on Friday.
It's apparent in the lack of representation of female and gender diverse nominees during music award seasons, she said.
Only 27 per cent of the East Coast Music Awards musical nominees are women this year, she said, down from an average of 36 per cent between 2012 and 2019.
Such low numbers are also an issue at the Grammy Awards and the Juno Awards, she said.
"It's an all-boys club because there are categories where there are no women represented," she said.
Female artists and musicians will often talk about their struggles among themselves, MacLean said, but they won't speak out publicly because they fear backlash from venues and awards organizations.
"It's a vacuum," she said. "And some of the female musicians feel, is it the responsibility of women to make this change? Or is it the industry?"
Why this might be happening
People often attribute the lack of representation to the idea that female artists aren't submitting for awards, MacLean said.
"If women aren't submitting, well, that's fair. If there are more men submitting, the question is, why?" she said.
Meghan Scott, board president at Music Nova Scotia, said more men than women are indeed submitting for awards, which likely stems from an underlying issue.
There are fewer supports and development opportunities for young female artists, she said.
"That's why we're trying to really focus on younger and emerging artists and helping them develop their careers and encouraging them to submit their work," Scott told Information Morning on Monday.
To do this, she said the organization has expanded and diversified its jury pool for award submissions to ensure gender parity and cultural representation. It also offers free mentorship programs as a way to encourage young artists "nice and early."
Music Nova Scotia will also encourage female artists who have released music to submit for awards.
Scott said this "grassroots effort" could help boost representation, acknowledging that some of the responsibility falls on industry.
'Still a lot more work to do'
Despite such efforts, Scott said she's disappointed to see a low percentage of female nominees at the East Coast Music Awards this year.
"When you hear a number like that, it very much hits home that there's still a lot more work to do and it really gets our heads down focusing on how we can improve those numbers," she said.
In a statement to CBC News, the East Coast Music Association said it takes representation "very seriously," and strives to create opportunities and safe spaces for women in the industry.
Delvina E. Bernard, ECMA board vice-chair and equity, diversity, inclusion and accessibility lead, said it is clear that more men participate and submit for awards than women.
To counter this, she said the association create spots for women at festival showcases, songwriters circles, at awards shows and in nominations.
"We believe using an equity-based lens to advance women, by designating spots for their participation, is essential to correcting systemic barriers," Bernard said in the statement.
"We realize this is only a modest gesture when compared to the general problem of women's representation in awards nominations and the music industry, which is largely reflective of broader societal and systemic sexist barriers that limit opportunities for women to pursue careers in the music sector."
Bernard said increasing the number of women nominations will require breaking down those barriers.
Still, Scott said the music industry is a viable career for female artists.
"We're working hard at the provincial level to increase that number and make sure that women have the same opportunity — and as much opportunity as the male artists — to win awards and other opportunities."
With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning Nova Scotia