Chelsea Wilson’s podcast about women in music, Control, was never supposed to be specifically about the pandemic – she started producing it in 2020 while on maternity leave – but the conversation is unavoidable.
Few industries have been hit harder by COVID-19 than music as its proponents find themselves adrift with little assistance to make up for the income they are losing.
“It’s just incredibly far-reaching – the impacts are layers and layers deep,” the Melbourne musician says. “It just creeps into every conversation.”
Musician and broadcaster Chelsea Wilson’s podcast, Control, is about women in the music industry.Credit:Justin McManus
Musicians are resilient and – as the last 18 months have proven – often underappreciated. “One thing I hope comes out of this period is more appreciation for the arts,” Wilson says. “What we have seen in between the lockdowns is a lot of local gigs selling out and doing really well, because people really want to hear music. It would be great to see Australian media step up and support local artists, and for our government to look at an increase of relief packages for artists.”
Control hones in on these issues in a time of enormous uncertainty for the arts, but financial support, appreciation of artists and valuing the arts should be an ongoing conversation in the wider experience of a changing industry – especially as a woman.
Despite talk of progress, the industry remains male-dominated (and white) in most spaces: women represent one-fifth of songwriters and composers registered with the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA), and no major Australian labels are owned by women. The statistics for other marginalised or minority groups are even more telling.
“We have a real issue in the music industry – it’s a really male-dominated industry, but some really exciting people and movements in the sector,” Wilson says. “Change is starting to happen. It’s important that those conversations keep happening and don’t get lost or buried.”
I want to present an intersectional view, so I’ve got all kinds of different people as guests on the podcast.
Wilson’s guests on Control have included musicians as well as people working behind the scenes – producers, engineers, directors and radio presenters, among them Australian Music Centre CEO Catherine Haridy and Bakehouse Studios owner Helen Marcou. The conversations aren’t about gender specifically, but the experience of being non-male in the industry comes through in many of the experiences discussed, as does the overwhelming phenomenon of burnout.
Nkechi Anele was in conversation with Chelsea Wilson on new podcast Control.Credit:
A conversation with Nkechi Anele touches on the need for better mental health support within the industry, as the Nigerian-Australian musician and Triple J presenter shared her experiences of therapy and sobriety.
“This industry loves burning through vulnerable people,” Anele says during the episode. “There needs to be more of a catchment system to make sure that people don’t dive-bomb through.” R&B musician Thando shares her experience of exhaustion from playing 164 gigs in a year.
Structural sexism comes up frequently, as does the idea of confidence – something of a prickly subject, a double-edged sword. “I wonder about confidence being used as a way to gaslight women’s success in different industries,” says Wilson. “Systematic sexism is inherent in organisations. It’s not just about pushing your way into things, but about changing the structure that means that we weren’t sitting around the table in the first place.
“But it is really important to have that self-belief, especially in an industry where so much of it is about networking and hustling and having to have continual drive. The music industry isn’t as structured as other industries – there’s all kinds of different ways and making your own pathways, and there’s a lot of entrepreneurialism in setting up your own business and that does take a certain amount of self-belief and confidence, so it’s definitely a theme that’s come up quite a bit.”
While it includes conversations with people of colour and First Nations members of the music community, Control does not touch much on further discrimination and barriers faced by those who are not only women, but also non-white. There is also little talk of disability or other oppressed identities that may experience an even more difficult pathway into, or time in, the industry.
Wilson is aware of the importance of intersectionality, and hopes to drive those types of conversations in future. “I want to present an intersectional view, so I’ve got all kinds of different people as guests on the podcast,” she says. “It’s going to continue to evolve and be a way to talk about all kinds of issues. It’s about having a balance of different voices and a bunch of different takes.”
Ultimately, the aim of Control is to showcase the talents and lives of women working in the industry, and to share insider knowledge and information that is not always readily available. “It’s not just a podcast for women – it’s for anybody to listen to,” Wilson says. “It’s really about wanting to highlight the incredible work, often behind the scenes, that a lot of women are doing.”
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