Comments by Grammys chief Neil Portnow has prompted a letter from six of the most powerful women in the music industry.
Last week, Grammys president Neil Portnow urged women to ‘step up’ to bridge the sizable gap between male winners and female winners. Portnow is president of the Recording Academy, the organization that oversees the Grammys and its entire voting process.
Portnow offered the following response when asked why so few women were winning awards this year.
“It has to begin with… women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome. I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face but I think it’s upon us — us as an industry — to make the welcome mat very obvious, breeding opportunities for all people who want to be creative and paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists.”
That has led to an industrywide rebuke from a number of notable women artists, including Halsey, Pink, and Fiona Apple, as well as Britney Spears’ manager. It also stirred a petition for Portnow’s resignation, with at least 13,500 calling for the Recording Academy chief to step down.
Now, that pressure is intensifying.
Here’s a letter signed by six of the most powerful women in the music business today: Universal Music Group EVP Michele Anthony; Universal Music Publishing CEO Jody Gerson; Atlantic Records co-chairman and COO Julie Greenwald; Epic Records president Sylvia Rhone; Sony Music general counsel Julie Swidler; and Roc Nation COO Desiree Perez.
Every one of the important institutions in music have all needed to evolve, be self-reflective and change with the times. Some have been slower than others to change, but it has been happening throughout the industry. No one can afford to be out of touch. We have been held accountable by our artists, songwriters and fans. We need to reflect the core values of what an inclusive and diverse culture of music is all about – and serve as a model of leadership across the broader society.
The National Association of Recording Arts & Sciences, which purports to represent every area of the music ecosystem (e.g., artists, producers, songwriters, engineers) should be leaders in this evolution, and yet it has shown itself to be the opposite. We ask you, as a Board, to take this message from those who have devoted their lives to music seriously.
Neil Portnow’s comments are not a reflection of being ‘inarticulate’ in a single interview.
They are, unfortunately emblematic of a much larger issue with the NARAS organization as a whole on the broader set of inclusion issues across all demographics – from the make-up of the voting membership and its transparency, to production of the show, to the organization’s hiring practices and more.
To be clear, if NARAS seeks to reflect music’s diverse community then it must ‘step up’ and be accountable to it.
We have seen media reports that a task force is being organized. The only way to drive real progress is to ensure that the task force is diverse in its membership, isn’t limited in its scope to review issues of inclusion, and has the ability to effect meaningful change at every level of NARAS.
Assuming that is the case, and as senior music executives with true commitment to the welfare of the organization and the music community, we hereby put ourselves forward for service. We are also ready to meet with members of the Recording Academy board of trustees to start discussing what additional steps might be taken, beginning now, to make inroads on the issues of inclusion and diversity.
Michele Anthony, Jody Gerson, Julie Greenwald, Sylvia Rhone, Julie Swidler, Desiree Perez.