Sexism In The Music Industry: Tales Of A Female Concert Promoter


You heard it before: Less pay for equal work, sex harassment, marginalization, objectification, bleeding vaginas, second shifts at home – same old, same old. However, in all my years of gender deconstruction, nothing prepared me for the trench warfare of doing business as a female concert promoter.  Walking through the fields of rock-n-roll is like being transported back to the Neanderthal days; The music venue is the cave where men figuratively masturbate freely with impunity, holding nothing but a boner and contempt, and sometimes pity, for the Other sex.

The first sign of unbalanced give and take between the sexes at a concert is upon arrival: If lady recognizes dude in the audience, she will run up and give big, happy hug while he accepts the attention. After all, he is entitled. You will rarely see a dude run up to a lady and throw hugs at her. I understand these are social nuances. But when if comes to business, it gets worse.

Imagine this scene. It happens all the time:

Walking through a tight space between the bar and the bathrooms at nightclub at 1:30am and approach young man with the long blond hair and sideburns, the cocky band member who rocked a set earlier in the night. I introduce myself. He looks sideways down at me as if I am a cockroach still alive inconveniently stuck to the bottom of his shoe. Attached to the mess of sticky, palmetto ooze is a flattened cigarette butt. He contemplates how this will affect the balance of his stride.

I take a breath and smile, and tell him, “I’ve got your money for playing.”

He’s pissed because he has to turn 45 degrees to the left, and then look down at me but I’m ready. I duck the flame of lit Raid spray and say, “Here is your money. Thanks so much for playing tonight.”

He’s contemplating the situation: She’s not a groupie. She’s not a super-fan. She’s not my girlfriend, girlfriend’s friend, friend’s girlfriend, promoter’s girlfriend, promoter’s girlfriend’s friend, want-to-be girlfriend, or future ex-girlfriend.

I see the wave of complex cognate build from the depths of his skull rush forward and pour through the holes in his eyes. He figured it out. He’s happy to meet me. We bro-down.

I’m not sure if guys are just looking for excuses to drink heavily, but when it’s last call and all the bar house lights are on, there’s always one dude still at the bar just so destroyed from a breakup, he’s wallowing drunk and maybe crying a little. You will never see a chick cry over a dude at a bar. It’s a weird role reversal that is somehow okay according to the rules of the patriarchy.

Imagine this scene:

I approached another twenty-something dude band member with the long blond hair and sideburns who was told to wait at the bar to get paid. It’s pushing 2 AM. There’s no one left except the bar staff and the dude who’s waiting for his money. He watching the television through puffy eyes, holding a tall can of beer for this entire conversation. It’s clear: he’s broken up with his girlfriend.

I sit next to him and ask, “How did your set go tonight?

“Oh, it went great,” he says still watching television. He only turns his head for other dudes.

“Great. I’m glad you had a good time. My name is Nisa. I’m the promoter for tonight. I’d like to settle with you.” He nods.

With a slow turn, eyes still on the screen, he looks at me: “Your name is Lisa,” repeating part of what he heard back at me, and nodding slowly.

“No, its Nisa.”

I take out the cash, counting it in front of him, twenty by twenty.

“Is a hundred cool?” This is a lot of money to pay a local opening act on a weeknight. It’s about $100 more than I made that night.

He’s back to watching TV.

“Yeah, well. Thanks for playing. Great set. Here you go.” I try to hand him the money, but I’m not worthy of his attention. Mind you, I’m not hanging out. I’m working. I want to finish up and go home. So I repeat, very clearly and to his face, “I’m. Settling. With you.” I smile. Hand over the cash. “It’s a hundred dollars for playing tonight,” I say.

“What do you mean?” he asks.

“It’s for playing tonight,” I say again. He goes back to watching television and waiting for the man to come pay him, while I back away with a strange, unpleasant feeling of uncertainty. Doubting myself, as if maybe he didn’t play that night and it was some other long-haired blonde with sideburns. I tasted a copper current of fear as I though maybe I was trying to pay the wrong person, and I walked away more confused than pissed.

Then it dawned on me: I did not fit into his paradigm of the cock-centric rock world. In a quiet bright bar while he’s waiting to get paid, he could not imagine a chick handing him a stack of $20s at the end of the night. This preconception, with the help of beer, made our business transaction almost impossible.

I approached the dude in the parking log on my way out, and awkwardly explained how bizarre his behavior was back to him. He generously listened. Even after I worked hard to hand him a fat stack, his is friend had to reinforce my place in the world, by leaving me with this punch line “Oh! When a woman says she wants to settle. It usually means something else!”

For over 20 years, I’ve been observing, studying, deconstructing male/female/sex role stereotypes, and gender identity issues in language and day-to-day interactions. I’m so over it now – I hope to never waste another minute churning over such details in my brain, wasting synapses and valuable space on the issue. I hope to be free from this burden, free to think about other things. It’s hard though to cut through a default of contempt. It is also remarkable how the patriarchy can still evoke fear and bring a business transaction to a complete halt. TC Mark

Unisa Asokan is a reformed overachiever, responsible for several arts related start-up ventures including Fifth Planet Press and Tight Bros Network in Atlanta, most recently Studio Pub in Austin.

Keep up with Nisa on Twitter and Website

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