We’re in the middle of a grand reckoning for powerful, harassing men, with women from Taylor Swift to Jenny Lumet calling out predatory behavior in the music industry. And the revolution is sorely needed: last year, Rick Ross publicly announced that he wouldn’t sign a female artist unless they slept together, Taylor Swift had to testify against a DJ who groped her, and Lady Gaga explained in her documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two that male producers she worked with talk down to her and insinuate that her career would be nowhere without them.
Last year also saw singer and songwriter Kesha make a comeback with her album Rainbow after a three-year legal battle against Dr. Luke, her former producer who allegedly drugged her and raped her while she was unconscious. Because of Kesha’s onerous contract, it was all but impossible for her to make music for several years because of these allegations.
A Portland-based nonprofit run by women who have worked in different parts of the music business wants to give singers and songwriters knowledge about the industry and tools to promote themselves so that they won’t be prevented from progressing in their careers the way Kesha was.
Ashley Kervabon, a singer, songwriter, and social-media coordinator for upcoming artists, started #WomenCrush, an all-female showcase, after she moved from her hometown, New York City, to Portland in July 2015. A few months after moving to Oregon, she injured her leg and wasn’t able to get around. She felt disillusioned by that, since she had originally moved to work on music and meet other artists. And so, after she healed, the showcase that would lead to #WomenCrush was born.
It helped Kervabon meet new people, and so many women began asking if there would be more shows for female artists. “It was more than just a show; it felt like a community,” she says. More and more artists reached out over the next year, and Kervabon started thinking about ways to use the events as both performances and a way to train artists on how to network and manage their social-media presences. She also began purposely working with venues run or managed by women.
Kervabon officially launched the organization in the fall of 2016. She made a website and a Facebook page and began holding monthly events for women to hear each other perform, meet each other in hopes of collaborating, and learn from each other’s experiences in the music industry. In addition, #WomenCrush will also be hosting networking events and educational workshops this year on marketing and social media. And since the group’s tax-exempt status has been approved, Kervabon is able to pay artists for their sets as the organization has grown.
Being a part of the #WomenCrush online community and mailing list has also helped new artists have access to affordable graphic designers and photographers for photo shoots.
“Artists have called me their coach. It’s because everything is so related … how to present yourself on social media is connected to getting good press,” says Kervabon.
She also emphasizes that anytime she uses #WomenCrush connections to suggest a service, the people behind them have to be people with good reputations so that she can be sure the women she works with will be safe.
Kervabon says an incident happened with a producer in New York that made her pass over gigs that could have helped her music career because she was afraid of being objectified or put in danger by a male producer. (See the boatload of allegations against mega-producer Russell Simmons to understand the kind of awful situations female artists can be put into.) She’s seen male artists who were her contemporaries go on to greater acclaim than she has. It’s made her wonder where she would be if she hadn’t been hurt by past experiences.