BOTH SIDES NOW
AWARD WINNING MUSIC MANAGER, ROS EARLS TALKS ABOUT THE CHALLENGES OF SEXISM AND AGEISM DEEPLY EMBEDDED IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY.
There has always been very few visible examples of women holding high level positions at any age in our industry to draw on. There were always (and still are) loads of men who were older, holding active and increasingly prominent and well-paid positions in the business but there were very few women either in positions of power or of any longevity. We were just not represented there — so you just couldn’t imagine it.
And even today, though recent stats show some small improvements in the gender balance in the executive sector of the industry, after the age of 45 the numbers dramatically dip with middle to older-age men holding the vast majority of those positions. I encountered discrimination early on: firstly as a woman in a male dominated industry now because of my sex and my age.
When I started women wanting to get into the music industry had to go it alone.
I launched my own company (managing artists and record producers) in 1987 where I have worked for the last 35 years. I wasn’t alone in deciding to go this route. Most women of my generation in the business had no other option than to work for themselves. It looked like independence. Lots of us had no choice. There are thousands of amazing women I could name who, like me, were never even considered as an option for an executive job at one of the music labels but who have achieved ground-breaking, decades-long and extraordinary careers. Yet they will never be lauded in the way that say the President of Universal who has served for 40 years would be. Or collect anything like the same pay check or pension.
IMAGINE BEING A WOMAN IN THIS INDUSTRY AND GETTING OLDER? TURNING 50 WAS REALLY DIFFICULT.
— ROS EARLS
Turning 50 was a watershed time. I’d recently lost my mother (who I realise now was my best female role model and mentor ). I was chronically menopausal. My health was depleted and I had two major operations. I tried to keep how I was feeling entirely to myself. I carried on. I couldn’t let the side down. I sometimes sat outside the office in my car in tears not really sure what I should be doing anymore. My clients were generally understanding but some were most definitely not. Being a woman is one thing. Being a woman and being older in this game was another. And because there were so few examples of how women continued in this game as they matured, I didn’t have a clue what this could look like. I told myself this was over, I didn’t know how to relate to younger people. I felt I didn’t have the language or the reference points and my age was like a sign on my head saying ’not cool’ .
Until it occurred to me, in spite of my 30 plus years of doing things ‘ my way,’ I’d been playing the wrong game. However much I showed up early, stayed late, sacrificed holidays and time off and put up with that endless misogyny, however successful I was, the top table in this industry was always reserved for men. I’d always work harder and get paid less. And then be judged for my fading youth and looks. So it was time to decide what my new terms were.
Since then, I’ve made big changes both personally and professionally. I parted ways with people (mostly men) who don’t value me as a human being — female and late 50 something — and who are stuck in those dysfunctional old ways of working and thinking. From a creative roster which was predominantly male (and I still happily work with the best of them), I now work with a majority female team, and amongst other talented people, manage three incredible female artists. They range from an exceptional early days 17 year old, to a ‘coming into her utter prime’ 3O something, and to another legend in her 50’s who like me, doesn’t see why she shouldn’t keep doing what she does. I’m navigating the teenage world of ’Tiktok’ as much as working on the repositioning of artists of a certain age who want another career later in life and I’ve never been more excited about my work. But when you look at the figures, and hear the experiences of others, it is wearisome to know that things still haven’t changed that much.
FEW FEMALE ARTISTS ARE COMING OUT OF RETIREMENT. IF THEY DO, YOU CAN BE SURE THEY’D BE EXPECTED TO HIT THE DIET AND BOOK IN THE FACELIFT.
— ROS EARLS
Older musicians are still predominantly men applauded for their chiseled, craggy faces.
And what of women artists of a certain age ? The polite word for an older creative standing is ‘ legacy artist ‘ many of whom have had their careers invigorated by the world of streaming which has injected new life into their back catalogues. There are many artists coming out of retirement going for another spin around the block. One more world tour. Another best of’ re-release. Maybe even a new album which will facilitate another tour and more streams of their old albums. But the majority of these ‘comebacks’ work best for male artists. It’s interesting how few female artists are coming out of retirement in this way. Is this because of the heavy focus on how female artists look ? I suspect so. If they do decide to go for it in later life, you can be sure they’d be expected to hit the diet and book in the facelift. But not so much the men who are praised for their chiselled, craggy faces – the silver foxes – whose appearances are seen as symbols of winning at the game of rock and roll and all that that entails.
On a personal level I got married to a lovely man 10 years younger than me. Moved to the country. Got 3 dogs and a cat. I chose a more flexible daily regime and as a result I’m much fitter and energetic about life in general as well as my business. I care much less about what people think about me. I work hard but I also work a bit less. I’ve realised I know stuff. I’ve got loads of life experience as well as work acumen. I ve also realised I want to have FUN with my business. I laugh a lot more these days. And on the run up to 60, I’m looking forward to it. Bring it on, I say. I’m even thinking I’ll work into my 70’s at this point.
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