zoekeating.jpgThis week Paul Resnikoff at Digital Music News reported on the “Stunning Absence” of powerful women in the music industry. What he didn’t say was that he was referring to a business which no longer exists.

While copyright laws began with sheet music, the music business as an industry of profit largely began with the mafia during the prohibition era. Truckloads of promotional records were stolen, the product sold on a secondary market. There weren’t women in the mafia, so there weren’t any women in the music business back then.

The men who dominated the music business in the 30’s raised those who began an industry where artists were paid with new vehicles and unfair development deals instead of cash. The 50’s and 60’s gave way to the hookers & blow era of the 70’s and 80’s. There are those in music business’s old guard who were trained by Walter Yetnikoff.

These same men are speaking to mainstream media with 40 and 50+ years of experience behind them. And it’s respectable. That’s a long time of making relationships, and doing A&R in a smoky club with no vents. That’s a lot of amazing stories based not on name dropping but on real experiences. That’s remembering Jimi Hendrix or Jeff Buckley the first day he walked into your office.

The music business is tiny. Relationships are power, and while it’s healthy to point out flaws in the most financially powerful people in the music industry, it doesn’t lessen the successes and stories and lessons they’ve learned over the years. The roles of the old financial guard are also admirable and respected, providing many pages to many books about music industry history for years to come.

Today, many facets of business in the industry of music are in flux, and with those changes comes an enhanced definition of power in the music industry. Once defined by men who could blackball or break an artist with one phone call, it’s now shifting from large corporate structures to smaller services and businesses.

Today power in the music business is defined not only by relationships and experience, but has expanded to nurturing relationships while staying current and active with an ability to adapt in the digital age. Power is more than just “one call” – it is now the vital mix of relationships, experience, leadership, creativity and service.

In an industry of relationship currency, learning as many areas of the business as you can, when you can, is your own genderless marketable edge.

During the hookers & blow Era gender differences didn’t matter when it came to finding an intern to make coffee. When it came time to hire the intern for a paid job, women were traditionally hired for “talking” or “nurturing” roles such as publicity and marketing. But they got the jobs. They made the coffee, and then got the job.

Now fifteen-twenty years later, these same women who made coffee have nurtured relationships and now have as much power and opportunity for power as men. Whether or not it’s a problem, the perceived lack of powerful women in the music business is not as real as it is exacerbated by insider ball played by men who once dominated the industry during a time when men dominated most industries.

In an industry where relationships and experience are currency, where small business and services rule, titles matter less than creativity. In the hunt for power add “founder” to your search term and look to entrepreneurs in music. It’s easy to miss the female leaders when there are only a few major companies covered by popular news outlets or favored by well funded conferences.

While there are women with power in larger companies, in today’s tiny music business where small businesses and services are the foundation of a new industry, women are not only powerful, they are everywhere. Especially in San Francisco.

Here are 10 of the most powerful women in the music industry here in San Francisco out of a list so long it was hard to cut down. Please, list more in the comments section and get the ball rolling. In no particular order, and with mad respect:

Jessica Steel (Senior VP Business Development, Pandora Media, Inc)
Marisol Segal (Business Development & Partner Relations, Rdio)
Elizabeth Moody, Esq (Corporate Counsel, Google)
Shoshana Zisk, Esq (Entertainment Attorney, Co-Founder SF Music Tech)
Elise Nordling (Noise Pop, SomaFM)
Jane Reisman (Vice President Finance, IODA)
Zoe Keating (Avant Cellist, Information Architect)
Bryn Boughton (Owner, IRIS Distribution)
Jan D’allessandro, Esq (Vice President Business Development & General Counsel, Topspin Media)
Rachel Masters (Co-Founder, Red Magnet Media)

Photo of Zoe Keating: Claude Shade

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  • Willo O’Brien :: WilloToons.com

    This article is on fire!! You are one of those women, Corey. Keep kicking ass & telling it like it is. xo

  • Paul Resnikoff


    The essay is actually about the industry right now, though certainly things have changed dramatically since the ‘Hooker & Blow Era’ which you comically refer. Those days are pretty much over, though I’d say some significant challenges remain.

    Paul Resnikoff
    Digital Music News

  • Corey Denis

    Hi Paul,

    While I do refer to history, I also provide a list of very powerful women in the industry today, here in SF. You say challenges remain – one of the “challenges” posed to women in today’s business is dealing with media outlets who fail to recognize powerful people appropriately. Further examination and a more appropriate definition of “power” reveals there are many powerful women in today’s music industry.


  • Rachel Masters

    I’ve tried not to comment on these sorts of posts because I think that bloggers just like to stir the pot and create page views by making the lack of women in any industry a story. That said, I’m incredibly honored that my colleague Corey Dennis included me on a list of powerful women in the San Francisco Music scene. I have a couple more to add to the list such as:
    • Cindy Charles, General Counsel, MusicNet
    •Erin Potts & Deyden Tethong of Air Traffic Control
    What is exciting about being a women living in the Bay Area working in the music industry is that we are surrounded by entrepreneurs and technology companies that are redefining the music industry. I found that the corporate music world brought out the worst in me since I found it to be full of politics, slowness and lawsuits and I got in way over my head… At the same time, I met so many amazing people who continue to be my close friends and colleagues.

    In the Bay Area, I’m free to create, build and grow. I have been tremendously supported by both women like Nikke Slight, Jen Bird, Ariel Hyatt, Cindy Charles and men in this industry such as Aaron Ray, Brian Zisk and Brian Calhoun. I am so grateful for their guidance which has allowed my new firm Red Magnet Media to just celebrate its one year anniversary and hopefully many more to come.

  • gayesy

    you certainly lit the flame with this article. good for you! i wouldn’t hesitate to add your name to that list you started…for many deserving reasons other than the fact that i’m your mom. i’m certain there are many others who realize your worth and value in your industry and, if they read this column, will make certain your name is among the mighty.

    good job, corey! good writing, good insights…good, good, good!

  • Karen Allen

    “Power” lies with the people who can move mountains, and the most powerful people move mountains that create financial wealth for a company. That’s just business. Biz Dev, Sales and President/CEOs are the decision makers and deal makers so they are the ones who have the most power. Not many women gravitate to those positions, so we are often left off the top ten lists, conference panels, executive spotlight articles and other high profile media, regardless of how effective we are at our jobs. We often only get accolades with these top-women lists, which come off as “the best of the second string.” Truly powerful women are on the regular top-ten power lists and they are rarely in PR, marketing, HR, etc.

  • ShelleyChampine

    I’m glad someone is paying attention even if they are just stirring the pot to get page views.

    Shelley Champine
    Founder, Local Music Vibe

    …Busy here trying to move mountains to help every local scene.