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When the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, many of music’s most powerful voices led the outcry. But what comes next? Billboard reached out to major-label executives, indie innovators, rising artists and veteran road warriors to ask what real action might protect reproductive rights. Their answers offer a toolbox to anyone in the industry who’s feeling angry, scared or just plain powerless — and prove that with our collective creativity, all of us can do something.
Refuse To ‘Shut Up And Sing’
Michelle Jubelirer, chair/CEO, Capitol Music Group: I was raised by a single mom in a small, economically distressed town in Pennsylvania. After my father died when I was 3, I watched my mother struggle to build a new career in an America where a woman couldn’t get a mortgage or even a credit card in her own name until 1974. I knew I wanted to wait to become a parent until I had gotten an education and built my career. For me, becoming a mom at 40 was the right choice. Many women I know chose different paths. The point is, for women of my generation and every generation that came of age since 1973, it has been our choice.
You can’t plan an education, a career, a life without planning your family. In the แมนเชสเตอร์ ยูไนเต็ด States — where employers are not required to provide paid family leave and the maternal mortality rate is higher than any other wealthy country, especially for Black women — forcing parenthood on people is an unspeakable cruelty.
Someone like me is always going to be able to access reproductive health care. But none of us is free unless all of us are free. Knowing that, I have worked hard to push back against those who seek to restrict reproductive rights. Inspired by my mom, who has always been politically active, I volunteered at a rape crisis center in college and, later, for sexual assault and violence intervention programs. I also recently completed a six-year term as a national board member for Planned Parenthood.
You would think these experiences would have prepared me for June 24, 2022, when the Supreme Court issued its crushing ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health. I was that person shouting at everyone that Roe could fall and we had to fight like hell to make sure it never happened. Yet the decision landed this sickening, fatal-seeming blow.
I am furious and full of rage.
But sitting next to rage is determination. Part of why I love the music business and the reason I have made my home in it is that we are a group of ambitious, spirited, creative people who are driven by our desire to manifest what we know is possible. We are all unrelenting advocates for what we believe in. I am especially honored to work with so many incredible artists who are unafraid to speak out. We have audacious goals. We must work to make them real. We must shine a light on injustice and hold our leaders accountable. We need to get to work right f–king now.
I am channeling my anger and pain in two ways, one immediate and one longer term.
One: Repeating, every damn day — We are not in the “shut up and sing” business. Many of us run social media accounts that have genuine impact. From the upcoming midterms to funding organizations providing sexual and reproductive health care, there is a lot of crucial, urgent work to be done triaging the confusion on the ground and helping to put sane leaders in key positions of resistance moving forward. If you have a platform, use it.
Two: We will play the long game. That’s what they did. How do you overturn a decision that is half a century old and has overwhelming majority support among Americans? You work. Purposefully, without wavering. When we find artists we believe in, we support them for as long as it takes. We do this because we know that nurturing the thing you believe in, no matter what, is the only way to see it succeed. Our country needs that resolve now.
Turn Social Media Into A Tool
Emily Bowman, music growth strategist, artist partnerships, TikTok: The internet is a very powerful tool not only to create, but to connect. I have personally seen videos [on TikTok about] where to volunteer in my community, how to make my voice be heard and educational election content, and in real-time reporting footage. Please post and tell everyone you know about resources that you locate — you never know who may see it and pass along to someone who may need it.
Thuy-An Julien, chief business officer, Grand Hustle Music Group: Artists may look to you [as a member of their team] for advice on the right way to support the fight for abortion rights. When posting about the outrage they have over Roe v. Wade being overturned, [tell them to] ask followers to support Planned Parenthood, the American Civil Liberties Union and other organizations. They can also create PSA videos encouraging people to support these organizations. If they, as a celebrity, are politically connected, ask them to reach out to the politicians they know and express their willingness to help. Encourage your artists to use their social media voice to not only call attention to the unjust things that are happening but to let people know what they can do.
Speak From The Stage
Noah Wallace, co-founder, Dac Biet: Onstage banter is an underrated aspect of a live performance, and artists can sometimes forget that being up onstage is an opportunity to connect with fans on a deeper level. Using these moments to raise awareness for something you believe in is a way to find common ground with your audience and invoke a passionate response. And as a publicist, it’s important for me to approach every interaction with empathy and understand that many of my colleagues might find more benefit in a supportive conversation rather than another request for them to support my artist. Knowing when to hold off on pitching can often be just as important as knowing when to pitch.
See The Big Picture
Ani DiFranco: I’ve put out two benefit tracks in the last couple of weeks. I wrote “Disorders” with [Pearl Jam’s] Stone Gossard, and we made it a benefit for the National Network of Abortion Funds. The lyrics are very much about the psychological heaviness of watching my reproductive freedom being taken but also everything from the [appointment of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh] to the hearings for [Supreme Court] Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson — listening to these legal proceedings where I end up feeling physically ill from the experience and various traumas are triggered.
And then there’s this other track I worked on with MILCK and Autumn Rowe and this producer BIIANCO called “We Won’t Go Back.” The day after the decision was leaked, there was this spontaneous demonstration outside the Supreme Court, and MILCK happened to be in [Washington] D.C., so she went down there and recorded the crowd chanting, “We won’t go back,” and that became the basis of this song. It benefits Planned Parenthood and the Yellowhammer Fund, which supports women in the Deep South trying to get reproductive services.
Those are two direct-action efforts: making songs to bring attention to the issue, directly benefiting people who are most affected right now. I think it’s really important to just try to keep a perspective that’s bigger than yourself. I’m not in the best financial place I’ve ever been — it’s a long pandemic. I couldn’t bring home the bacon. Like many people, I’ve had to try to get really creative with how to support my family, so I’d love to focus on making some money come in, but not as much as I’d love to see women not be forced to have children. Not as much as I’d like to not have the world overpopulated by unwanted and unsupported babies. Doing these benefit tracks, working long hours on songs and releasing them for no money to myself to just try to get support to desperate women in desperate situations is a no-brainer. I don’t need income that badly.
I can appreciate that it’s a scary thing, especially for a young artist who wants to build bridges between themselves and the widest audience possible, to not offend or scare anybody away. And yeah, you might. Somebody might walk out of your show. But just keep it in perspective. So what if a couple of people walk out of your show? So what if some business that’s profit-oriented shies away from getting involved with you — f–k them! To a young artist on the fence about being political, I’d say: It’s f–king awesome! Don’t worry! If you’re being you as fully and authentically and bravely as you can and expressing yourself in your art, that’s the most effective artist you can be, and you’re going to do your best work and connect with the most people in the most meaningful way. Living your ideals, trying to live the way you hope for the world, I think it really does pay off in the end tenfold.
Rethink an Old Song
Cyndi Lauper: We must support organizations that provide access to safe, legal abortion and reproductive health services. This is what I am doing with my rerecorded version of “Sally’s Pigeons” [a song about a lethal back-alley abortion]. “Sally’s Pigeons” was a common story when I was growing up. It is a story we all thought we wouldn’t have to relive. Proceeds from the rerecorded version, as well as other efforts I am working on, will go to the Girls Just Want To Have Fundamental Rights Fund. When I saw the Dobbs draft, my team and I decided to create this fund in order to support organizations that protect safe, legal abortion access and reproductive health, like AbortionFunds.org, and get-out-the-vote efforts, like Vote411.org.
Use Those Air Miles — For Someone Else
Jordan Bromley, partner/entertainment group leader, Manatt Phelps & Phillips: A client of ours had an amazing idea: We should aggregate unused air miles our various touring parties have accumulated and work with the airlines to create an unused miles clearinghouse for women looking to travel out of various states that ban abortion to states like California that are a safe haven. When government fails, it is up to the people to find solutions.
Build In Charity Buy-Ins
Masud “Mally” Hassan, founder, Swidlife: Indie artists can help make a difference by using the music distribution platform Bandcamp: Its pricing feature would enable them to enact pay-what-you-want charity sales benefiting organizations helping to support abortion access for all.
Jessica Tomasin, manager, Echo Mountain Recording; founder, Connect Beyond Festival: You don’t have to start from scratch when wanting to create change. Find people aligned with your values and help them. For instance, I donate studio time at Echo Mountain to nonprofits for silent auctions. I volunteer at a local women’s shelter, and I also let those volunteers park at the studio so they don’t have to pay for parking. We don’t have anything in place now [for abortion funds], but that makes me think I should reach out to a couple of organizations and see if that’s something that could be of use to them.
Throw A Party
Gil Gastelum, founder, Cosmica Management & Records: We just can’t let the artists sing or take action on their own. Organize a benefit to raise funds for the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice, Planned Parenthood, et cetera. Reach out to them: In many cases, they can help get you organized and spread the word for a benefit that can really pinpoint your community/location. Let’s also remember that abortion rights aren’t the only issue these organizations tackle — it’s also free or low-cost screenings for breast cancer, birth control and counseling, among many other things. They need our financial support to continue to provide and to operate. Talk to a local music venue or community center to see if they can donate a night.
Help Overhaul Health Care
Deborah Mannis-Gardner, founder/president, DMG Clearances: With remote work becoming more widespread and accepted, it’s important for employers with staff in anti-abortion states to guarantee they will be able to get treatment wherever it is allowed. DMG Clearances, which has always been remote, employs people in three states that have or are likely to ban abortion: Louisiana, Florida and North Carolina. We cover 100% of our employees’ health costs and are committed to maintaining their privacy against those who would do them harm. We encourage all other employers to do the same.
Harvey Mason Jr., CEO, Recording Academy: Our most recent Women in the Mix study found that women in the music industry are already at a significant disadvantage because of gender disparities in our health care systems. Right now, we should all be working to expand women’s access to health care, and that’s where we will continue to focus. In this critical time, we have conducted an in-depth review of our internal policies related to reproductive rights — from access to abortion services and in vitro fertilization to mental health benefits. I’m pleased to say the Recording Academy’s benefits are comprehensive and supportive of women, enabling them to get the care they choose to receive.
Christine Osazuwa, founder, Measure of Music; U.K. director, shesaid.so: I absolutely love seeing the music companies that have rallied behind their employees. It’s important that these offers to cover travel and time off for an abortion are frictionless and not contingent on approval or even disclosure to a supervisor. It’s a good idea to seek the help of a third party for matters such as this (and really, if possible, all medical issues) so people don’t have to expose themselves to receive care. This is a space where gender minorities in music organizations can be your partners and advisers.
I also think this opens up an opportunity to discuss health care in the music industry comprehensively. Being employed at a company that already offers comprehensive health care is a privilege that many people in music don’t have. If you’re in the position to offer abortion coverage for your employees, what ability do you have to extend this to the musicians and contractors who help your business persist? While this isn’t always easy or straightforward, it can start with a call to your insurance companies to see if extending coverage to at least your 1099 employees is possible. That’s also a great time to check what coverage is available for abortions, HIV treatment, mental health and prenatal care; to get more generous with your parental leave policies; to get more creative within deal structures to allow for more stability; and, of course, to donate to your local musicians’ health funds so that if you can’t cover them, someone can.
Lucy Dacus: A great way to stay engaged is to set up monthly donations to an organization. Many organizations are set up for this, including the National Network of Abortion Funds, which splits donations among 90 local abortion funds. I think it would be amazing for companies to do this, as well as individuals. Getting in touch with your own capacity for generosity is important. Many people can afford to give more than they do, but it’s common to feel a fear of scarcity, and for some, it’s hard to prioritize benefiting strangers over themselves or loved ones. But your liberation relies on the liberation of all.
Offer Your Expertise
Adrian J. Perry, partner/co-chair of music industry practice, Covington & Burling: If you are a lawyer, you can help individuals and organizations, including your own, by providing advice on what state and local legal protections are available for people in need of reproductive health care.
Denise Kaufman, co-founder, Ace of Cups: As a terrified 18-year-old in 1965, I went through a botched abortion on top of a washing machine in Tijuana, Mexico. I ended up, still pregnant and hemorrhaging, in a San Diego hospital where the [dilation and curettage] actually took place. When I woke up, there were two police officers at my bedside taking information and charging me as a criminal.
When Roe v. Wade passed in 1973, I thought it meant that no other girl would have to live through that nightmare. Today, after 50 years of women and girls having the right to our own reproductive health and freedom, forces of misogyny, ignorance and domination are taking control, and we’ve got to work together to defeat them. The Supreme Court majority believes in jurisprudence from the Middle Ages, and they are poised to force their religious superstitions on us all.
Here’s where I’m focusing my energy and resources right now:
One: Given the insanity at SCOTUS, we need to codify the right to abortion into federal law, which means electing pro-choice Democratic representatives at every level this November. WalktheWalkUSA.org is my go-to group for soulful, data-driven and effective action. It’s an all-volunteer initiative partnering with community groups in key states, districts and races registering, empowering and relationally mobilizing voters of color who form the base of the Democratic party. I love these people.
Two: Abortion Access Front (aafront.org) uses humor and outrage to fight enemies of reproductive freedom, traveling the country in direct support of clinics, creating powerful media to call out disinformation and provide great resources. On July 17, it offered a free, seven-hour training session, gathering the coolest abortion activists and experts from around the country for a super-charged, all-day livestreamed experience that felt like an activist house party!
And finally, given that every pregnancy starts with an erect penis, I would like to see the anti-choice, self-proclaimed “pro-life” old men in Congress pass a bill banning Viagra prescriptions to men. Viagra could be prescribed only to married women who could dole out a pill to their husbands if they ever want to. More flaccid penises would mean less unwanted pregnancies, right?
Latto: To be a woman in this industry is hard. And to be a woman right now in general is scary. It’s a human right to control your own body. This is not just one person or group’s fight; we should all be shouting how unjust this is and supporting the right for someone to decide what happens to their body. I want to see men supporting by protesting alongside women and voting for candidates that push forward our right of choice.
We will continue to fight the fight for what’s right. Do your research on candidates, their policies and what they stand for. Every election, local or national, counts. Tune into the debates, show up and vote, set reminders for your local elections, and let your friends know. I’ll do my part to use my platform to remind my fans in Atlanta when to turn out to vote. The time to act is now.
Shirley Manson: Maybe I’m being naive, but I find it astounding that so few men have spoken out, as though somehow getting pregnant is a female issue. I was truly dismayed by how few male musicians who claim to be woke did not say one word. Flip through their social media — not one peep. And yet they’re the very first to align themselves with young female talent to further their own careers. So how about we start there? How about men start talking about it and being outraged? Until men join us and fight as strongly as women do for women’s rights, we’re going to keep running into this issue every generation.
MILCK: For male creators, your language in your songs matters. Consider the impact you make when use objectifying, angry, or violent language to describe women. This dehumanization helps to fuel the idea that we are not humans, but bodies that governments can control. What would it sound like if you lifted up women and made us feel divine? What type of light and positivity would that create for your fans? Also, take leadership and proactively reach out to female and nonbinary creators and see what type of art you can make together to help uplift reproductive rights. As artists, we can make anything enticing!
For the men in our industry, this is an opportunity for you to make a huge difference with your voice. For now, the status quo provides a space and respect for the male voice in a way that female and non-binary voices don’t get to enjoy. I imagine a world in which that truth is no longer true, but we can’t get there without you. Sooo… we are inviting you into the movement. Your public declaration of support for reproductive autonomy is valuable to the movement. Your private donations and time invested in building true relationships with women and nonbinary individuals is valuable, too. Just make sure you hold yourself accountable and let your male counterparts witness you visibly standing up for bodily autonomy.
As Toni Cade Bambara says, “The job of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.” And during this time of collective burnout, art is needed more than ever to fuel the will of the people. We ask everyone in the music industry to radically invest in new voices, and uplift the ones who are brave enough to address the oppression of the status quo. Elevate and amplify their art to cultivate a wellspring of art at this time of struggle. And you must invest beyond the goals of traditional capitalism. Redefine value and profit, and let the goal of healing our society motivate you in your actions.
Let A Friend Release Your Fear
Hayley Williams: I grew up in the Deep South, where there’s absolutely no separation of church and state. My mom didn’t raise me with a super-closed mind, even though I grew up in church. I just didn’t feel like my viewpoint fit in a lot of places. Now, being in music and having friends from all over the place, it’s a lot easier to learn. I’ve learned a lot from my friend Beth [Cosentino] in the band Best Coast, and I feel like she has taught me a lot about speaking up and being willing to take the sh-t that comes with that.
I wish that someone had told me earlier on that I could speak out against power, and yes, it comes with sh-t and it comes with people pushing back against you, but that’s how progress is made. I have a lot of anxiety, and when one of the first big women’s marches was in town, I was going through a divorce — it wasn’t even my divorce yet, it was like a horrible breakup in that same relationship — and I was like, “I can’t go,” and I was talking to Beth about it and just being like, “I feel like if I speak up about something, even if I know it’s right, I feel like it’s going to bear down on me and I’m not going to be able to breathe.” I think the confidence to speak up about these things is a muscle.
It’s also a continuous learning lesson. You have to be willing to be wrong and then get redirected. You have to be willing to ask a lot of questions and find resources and people to partner with. I’m learning right now that the best and the shortest route is to direct people to A, people smarter than me, but B, to people that actually do the work day in and day out — obviously, Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, but now, it’s just becoming more and more apparent that we have to dig deeper than that. Being a woman from the South, I think it is important to speak up because there are a lot of people down here that are now stranded, essentially, and you have to be able to point them to actual help. I’m focusing on Abortion Care Tennessee, which is here in Nashville, and Mississippi Reproductive Freedom Fund.
I know that our shows feel like safe places for people. But now the responsibility is going to be really telling people what they can do. It’s also not just about when I’m onstage. It’s about, “What cities are we going to? What’s going on in those cities? OK, we’re stopping in Mississippi — what are we going to do with this show, whether it’s monetarily or partnering and getting our hands dirty?” I just don’t understand the point of traveling across the country if there’s not more purpose than just sweating for an hour-and-a-half to two hours and getting applauded. [It’s about] giving your fans the resources. It’s telling your team, “We’ve got to do better.” I texted one of our booking agents last week, and I was like, “We need to have a meeting about what UTA is going to do on a grander scale, about what Live Nation and these promoters can do.” Because bands will do what they can. If they’re in the fight, they’re going to do what they can, but they also need support to keep it going.
Reconnect With Your Community…
Erica M. Paul, vp/head of digital marketing, Island Records: At a time like this, it is important to remember that we are not alone and have so much more in common than we know. It has always been important to me to serve as an example for women, particularly women of color, in the music industry. This time has made me even more resolved to lean into and support my community, whether that be on an individual level by being a mentor, currently serving in the 2022 Universal Music Group Black Label Uplift mentorship program or on a larger scale by finding ways to volunteer with music and female-led organizations like She Is the Music.
Debonair Oates-Primus, vp of DEI, Oak View Group: We are preparing a safe-space session now in response to the overturning of Roe v. Wade. I am so honored that I get to be a part of building a space and a powerful community that is designed to absorb the shock from the dismissal of reproductive rights for women and nonbinary people. So often in times of racial, gender or socioeconomic injustice, the folx from underrepresented groups are almost immediately called on to organize, develop action plans, implement and execute those plans, and have all of the answers. But those people are also dealing with a great deal of trauma tied to being part of an in-group who are direct targets of those acts of discrimination, and they are rarely given space to unpack the trauma before being called to action. I get to create spaces that were never built for me throughout my career until now. A space to foster emotional connectedness and have respectful, candid conversations.
…And Rally For It
Peter Shapiro, owner, Brooklyn Bowl: You have to be the person who constantly rallies your friends and colleagues to action. It’s important to make sure that you and your network of friends and colleagues stay engaged politically, no matter what happens and no matter how big of a setback the Roe v. Wade repeal might feel right now. People tend to get disillusioned after a major loss, and that’s why it’s important to be that friend in your group always rallying people to vote, donate and even run for local office. The person who keeps caring and keeps fighting is the person who can make the biggest difference.
Seek Out An Already Galvanized Group…
Molly Neuman, chief marketing officer, Downtown Music Holdings: I am heartened by the energy that has been sparked by the connected communities who know the reversal of Roe is the beginning of more rights we have taken for granted being stripped. In my community, I am seeing efforts to support candidates who are not local, but who will help course-correct, initially connected by Los Angeles organization Hang Out Do Good. I’ve joined the Walk for Democracy 2022 Planning Committee, one small effort toward connecting to the larger mission to engage and inspire in the midterms. I’m also seeing the punk underground ignite to speak out and energize. Having Bikini Kill on tour again, bringing organizations like SisterSong to their audiences and letting the newer generations of rockers know that we still care and will fight is also keeping me going.
…Or Cultivate A New One
Coco and Breezy: As Afro-Latinas who grew up in the Midwest, we’ve always understood that our current system was not made to serve or protect us. And so, we’ve always taken it upon ourselves to cultivate communities of care that extend far beyond our immediate sphere. Take empowerment into your own hands! We have members on our team looking into abortion doula courses so they themselves can be a resource for our community. Join the movement toward holding a constitutional convention. Our current Constitution is dusty AF and could for sure use some updates. And finally, we need some revolutionary optimism to enter the chat! We have the power and tools to connect, nurture and support each other now more than ever.
Partner With Your Roster
Erin Choi, vp of marketing and product managment, Hopeless Records: By partnering with their artists, labels looking to make a difference can amplify their reach. For instance, we’re working with our artist Scene Queen on crafting a specific piece of merchandise that will raise funds for charities that support abortion access. Another thing we’ve implemented at Hopeless Records is our Sub City Cause of the Month: We highlight and support various nonprofits each month and donate all the proceeds from our merch store donation option to a specific nonprofit. The charities we support vary from month to month, but this July, we felt it was appropriate to support the National Network of Abortion Funds.
Talk To Your Wider Team
Becky Gardenhire, partner/co-head Nashville office, WME: We’ve had several internal roundtable conversations to organize and share knowledge on the steps that can be taken. Some examples include how to register and find where to vote, how to contact your local representatives, organizations to support whose funding will have the biggest impact like Planned Parenthood and Abortion Care for Tennessee, and rallies and protests where our presence is needed. Finally, having conversations with those whose views differ from our own is also important to instill change. Seeking understanding presents a new opportunity to unite us, rather than increase the divide.
Bridget Herrmann, regional manager, radio, Warner Music Nashville: Lean on and surround yourself with a like-minded community of both women and men, and allow them to keep you mentally strong and positive whenever possible. As the head of Warner Music Nashville’s women’s employee resource group, I knew that I had an immediate responsibility to do all I could to make sure my female colleagues felt safe and protected by their company. I am lucky to have incredible leaders who all were immediately open to speaking with me on this matter and ensured me that I had their full support in wanting to make sure our women were protected and felt safe.
The women of both Warner Music Nashville and our Center of Excellence offices are all based in Tennessee and will therefore be affected by the state’s heartbeat law that became effective immediately after Roe’s reversal, as well as its trigger law. I therefore reached out to Warner Music’s global head of diversity, equity and inclusion, Dr. Maurice Stinnett. His team immediately put together a Zoom of about 15 to 20 Warner Music personnel, where we discussed not only the expanded benefits options that would now be offered to all employees, considering the recent SCOTUS ruling, but also how we can lean more into the mental health resources that Warner Music offers. It felt wonderful to know that not only was my company one step ahead of my concerns, it was also acknowledging the mental health toll that losing this fundamental right to choice was going to have on individuals. I was given an incredible road map from the leaders on this call, armed with comforting insight as to what steps are being taken from a corporate standpoint, and was therefore able to go back to the women at Warner Music Nashville and assure them: Regardless of where you live, your company will support both your physical and mental health in any way that it can.
Show No Strings Solidarity
Bronte Jane, vp of A&R, Third Side Music: I’d implore every company in music (and beyond) to go out of their way to outline guidelines, policies and resources (i.e., paid leave, contribution to travel expenses) instead of putting employees in a position of having to ask.
Masha Osherova, executive vp/chief people officer, Warner Music Group: As soon as the opinion was made official, we sent out a note affirming everyone’s right to control their own reproductive health, and restating that our offices are a safe space for all of our people. We wanted to take immediate steps, which is why we’re supporting the Center for Reproductive Rights and matching employee donations. We also expanded our health coverage so our employees and dependents can travel for medical procedures, and we made short-term disability immediately available. In addition, we’ll cover any legal expenses arising from any action taken against those who access covered medical procedures. We want our people to know that they’re supported and that their well-being is our priority.
Make Time For Facetime
Maria Elena, guitarist, Special Interest: It’s important to have meaningful conversations in your life. Meaningful conversations are not social media posts. Take the time to engage with people in your life who could get pregnant and make sure that their health needs are being met. If you are a person who is sleeping with someone who could get pregnant, make the time to communicate about every detail that goes into managing health and make sure that this is not a one-sided responsibility. If you’re not willing to take the time and discomfort of having meaningful conversations with people about what is affecting them, you missed an opportunity.
Align With Like-Minded Artists
Amanda Shires: I think that we shouldn’t support artists who don’t support our rights. So for me, I’m not going to go to a concert or spend money on a person who doesn’t believe that I should have bodily autonomy or family autonomy. Artists can speak up and just stay current and helpful in that.
Tap Into Your Connections
Chlöe Walsh, co-founder/chief executive, The Oriel Company: As communications professionals, our clients rely on us to help them research organizations and guide them on public statements. When news of the Roe ruling broke, we immediately reached out to our contacts at the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood Action Fund, as well as a network of grassroots organizers we know and trust, to collect information and digital tools for ourselves and our clients. We’re diligent in researching these organizations to make sure that principles align. Many of our clients have young fans, and figuring out how to succinctly offer a reaction, share facts and perhaps inspire others to take action of their own is hugely important. Providing them with information and a plan of action helps us all feel less helpless. We regularly canvass our team to hear what organizations everyone in the company feels strongly about championing, and we make donations accordingly. For a company spread across three states, and with several young employees who may often feel helpless in the face of gargantuan political implications, this helps ground us all with a sense of shared purpose.
Double Down On Your Medium
Hannah Lux Davis, music video director: Now more than ever, the stories and narratives we tell across all media platforms are paramount to enacting change and starting a dialogue about fundamental issues, such as Roe v. Wade. As a creative, I use my expertise in visual storytelling to add weight to the significance of an artist’s song. Every song has a story, and if that story is one that myself and the artist feel has larger cultural implications, it is my job to ensure the coinciding visuals really highlight that message. With videos such as Halsey’s “Nightmare,” for example, I knew I wanted to amplify the discourse around gender inequality. When we started the creative process for that video, we were fueled by the frustrations of feeling voiceless in our own country. We knew the writing was on the wall with Roe v. Wade and that ultimately culminated with the concept behind the video. These topics are evergreen, and if this latest ruling hasn’t made it apparent enough, they’re not going away unless we take action and use our creative influence to drum up conversation. When that video came out, we received an outpouring of support from viewers it resonated with. Its sentiment remains just as relevant now, if not more so than it was at its release.
Wear Your Cause On Your Sleeve
Mickey Hart, Dead & Co.: The Grateful Dead’s music has always fought against the suppression of freedom, and today we continue that legacy. The passionate and informed Natascha Weir [guitarist Bob Weir’s wife] created the design for the Dead & Co. “Save Our Rights” shirt, which will help fund multiple pro-choice organizations. We hope to not only help monetarily but also by shedding a light on this incredibly important issue. It might be time to take a beat, look around and realize, “The women are smarter.”
Make Activism Approachable
Bonnie Raitt: The overturning of Roe v. Wade has been a rallying cry across the country to get back to organizing as much effective opposition as we can. How exactly those of us in our music industry can have the biggest impact is up to each of us, to do the work to research, discuss and decide what feels like the right path to giving your support, using our platforms to educate and motivate others.
As a touring musician, I’ve spent a lot of my career integrating my activism into the fans’ concert experience to raise both funds and awareness for causes I care about. Back in 1991 and 1992, reproductive rights were again being threatened, and together with Tom Campbell, a pioneer of music industry activism, and his Guacamole Fund, we held fundraising receptions after my concerts to support Voters for Choice and Planned Parenthood. This was at a time when Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylania v. Casey was working its way through the Supreme Court (threatening the federal right to abortion as guaranteed by Roe v. Wade). I bought blocks of good seats and donated them to be sold at a higher price to folks wanting to support the cause. It was a very effective way to bring both attention and support to the groups without haranguing the audience from the stage. I respect that the audience is there for the music, and I know not everyone would agree with me, anyway. That said, after-show receptions and special benefit seats are terrific ways to raise funds and support.
Recently, we’ve shifted to more streamlined means of raising funds on tour, to both help save my voice and energy for the shows, but also to accommodate our COVID-19 touring safety precautions. Since 2009, we’ve built $1 for charity into the price of every ticket sold and we also offer premium seating with an up-charge for charity added to the face value of the ticket, which we affectionately call “scalping for charity.” We find these two avenues to be our most effective ways of raising money to give directly to our vetted charity and activist groups.
After playing the dates, we grant funds raised on tour to local, regional and national organizations we’ve carefully chosen for their effective work on issues that mean the most to me. Many don’t have access to huge corporate funding to buy ads, so utilizing our voices to present alternative positions is an especially effective way to level the awareness playing field. We invite local grassroots groups to set up tables at my concerts so the audience (if interested) can learn about issues affecting their community and decide if they would like to get more involved. I find concerts can often be a “neutral space” where people can ask questions they might not feel comfortable discussing in other situations.
It’s very important to vet the organizations to which we make grants, as we want to ensure that the money we donate mostly supports their stated mission and programs, not just their fundraising and operational expenses. This can be done by reviewing their financial information, usually required to be made publicly available (often on their websites; other good resources for vetting potential organizations are charitynavigator.org and guidestar.org).
Let’s hope that, with the latest rulings out of the courts and the need to address so many crucial issues, we’ll see a resurgence of activism in our music community that will once again show what a real difference harnessing the power of the artist-audience relationship can make.
Aid The Already Active
Adam Met, AJR: Live Nation reported that they are anticipating over 70 million fans attending shows this year. At concerts, the music industry has a unique opportunity to create on-ramps to activism: mass signing of petitions, educational opportunities for fans that are not frustrated enough about this attack on our democracy and creating strong bonds between fans and local advocacy organizations by inviting them on site.
Bring Meaning To The Merch Table
Samantha Kirby Yoh, partner/co-head of global music, UTA: Connect with Noise for Now, a nationwide initiative that connects artists to organizations that support reproductive justice. Simple actions include taking abortion information cards and stickers on tour and placing them on merchandise tables and in bathrooms to get crucial information into the hands of concertgoers in every city. Musicians can donate the proceeds from merch items to reproductive justice organizations, and they can partner with Plus1 to donate $1 per every concert ticket sold to the local-level abortion clinics and abortion funds of their choice. Agents can also use our network of promoters to help add a benefit concert to any market along the tour’s route to raise much needed funds for that community’s abortion clinic and/or fund.
Marissa Oliver, corporate social responsibility specialist, TuneCore/Believe: Bands should boycott states that enacted trigger laws. Or they can continue to play in those states but donate all the funds to abortion clinics — especially independent abortion clinics.
Reroute Your Profits
Andreea Magdalina, founder, shesaid.so: In those states where access to abortion is removed, promoters should find a way to reroute [show] profits so they don’t contribute to the political factions that strip people’s rights away and instead are redirected to initiatives they are aligned with. This is probably one of the most important areas of music to activate since entertainment plays such a big role in state economics. Boycotting these events is one solution, but perhaps there are other ways that don’t punish the local music stakeholders behind them. One potential solution is offered by the Web3 space, where we’ve seen decentralized autonomous organizations leverage their community to raise funds — such as UnicornDAO and Endaoment’s joint initiative LegalAbortion.eth or Adriana Arce’s Hauss of Power. The beauty of Web3 is its transparent infrastructure which ensures that money flows to the right places.
Silvia Montello, CEO, Association for Electronic Music: As music businesspeople, we all can make informed choices around what we support, how and where, with our tours and festival appearances, with our spending money as industry organizations, as visitors, panelists and networkers at conferences or business events. There are ways in which we can use our commercial leverage to boycott events where the actions of the state — and the money collected by the state — is directly contributing to this heinous subjugation of women’s rights. We can look at choosing to tour in different places and different venues, and we can choose not to pay our business or consumer or individual monies to support states’ regimes that we do not agree with and which erode the basic fundamental human rights of women. When artists, DJs, producers and bands do need to tour or perform in those states where abortion has been banned, think about what you can collaboratively do to contribute something back to the women whose lives are affected by those decisions at the state level — for example, a percentage donation of fees or an offset of taxes earned in that state from the event/festival. When we do this industrywide, we hit home where it matters — the bank balance — we create genuine power for change.
Have The Uncomfortable Conversations
TOKiMONSTA: As a woman born of an East Asian minority community in the แมนเชสเตอร์ ยูไนเต็ด States (I’m Korean American), sexual and reproductive health was never talked about. All of us second-generation kids found out about sexual health through school, friends, the internet — you name it, but definitely not our parents.
However, underneath the outwardly conservative and understated culture is a real deeply rooted sense of practicality and family. Our parents came to America from poverty-stricken countries, sometimes with upwards of eight to 10 siblings. They wanted better for their families. They worked harder and planned better. Behind closed doors are many aunts, nieces, cousins and friends that have had to make the tough decision to choose the path of abortion in order to dutifully care for their family and themselves.
There are several ways artists and industry members from culturally conservative minority communities can help address sexual health. One straightforward way is to create open public discussions that allow community members to learn and participate privately. If there are a few bold voices to break the ice, it could help create comfort for those that feel unable to speak for themselves.
In my personal case, I don’t think I want to have children, and these reproductive rights restrictions will not have a huge effect on me due to my privilege living in a blue state. However, what about my less fortunate friends, families and community members living in restricted states? With the amount of sacrifice that it took for us to end up in this country, we should have the right to live our lives conscientiously.
Sing Your Truth
Alicia Keys: A simple but effective way to help is to talk, write, sing and create about abortion experiences. Humanize and destigmatize the word and the process. Share powerful stories, everyday stories, our own stories and experiences about abortion. So it can become something we can be open and talk about without fear or shame.
Share Your Story
Tracy Chan, senior vp of Creator, SoundCloud: Being vulnerable and sharing your story is powerful. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, coming out of the closet created a new connection to the community around me and helped show LGBTQ+ kids that life does get better when you are authentically you. We all know someone who has had an abortion, we just might not know who specifically has had one, the reasons they made the decision and how it affected their lives. If you’re comfortable, be open about your abortion story, in private conversations, on social media, within your employee resource groups.
Bypass The Gatekeepers
Ari Herstand, author, How To Make It in the New Music Business; CEO, Ari’s Take: Many distributors, like DistroKid, Vydia, Symphonic, Stem and Amuse now make it easy to split up royalty payments. Why not take a percentage of the revenue from your upcoming release and donate it to an organization that is in the trenches fighting this fight day in and day out? Ask your distributor or label to send a percentage of your money directly to an organization fighting for women’s rights and abortion access. As an artist, you now have the tools to reach an audience without the permission of the traditional gatekeepers. Pitch yourself directly to Spotify playlist editors through the Spotify for Artists pitching tool to get on one of the platform’s protest, social justice and women-focused playlists like Rise Up, Vital Voices and the EQUAL Hub.
Wield Your Influence
Dina LaPolt, founder, LaPolt Law: In this country, people need to understand that there are two types of power: money and influence, with the latter being the one that most moves the needle. Any high-profile music artists or any of their representatives have a unique opportunity to use their platforms to move the needle by contacting their respective senators and/or members of Congress and letting them know how they feel on the issues that are important to them and hold them accountable. In addition, hosting and contributing to various campaigns to make sure Democrats get elected is super important. I am co-hosting a series of fundraisers in the next few months to keep prominent Democrats in office and to hopefully elect new ones. Anyone wanting to come and donate, please hit me up!
Jody Gerson, chairman/CEO, Universal Music Publishing Group: In one fell swoop, the U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade denies more than 160 million women their constitutional right over their own bodies and jeopardizes their access to essential reproductive health care services. And, according to one of the court’s written opinions, puts countless other rights at risk — from our right to contraception to same-sex intimacy and marriage.
As Americans we have the power to effect change, and it’s based in our power to vote. That’s our voice to tell government what we need. If we want government to reflect our best interests, we need to elect people at every level — local, state and federal — who will fight for us and our rights. That includes ensuring every woman’s access to reproductive health care services, as well as other essential issues like education and gun safety.
To put it mildly, this year’s elections are critical. The outcome will affect the lives of millions of Americans and determine whether they will enjoy their full rights. In order to succeed, we simply must register more voters and get them to vote, especially younger people. It’s pretty simple: If you want to reflect the will of the people, you have to hear what they have to say. After all, somewhere around one-third of America’s eligible voters didn’t even vote in the 2020 elections.
I encourage — no, I implore you to ask everyone you know to check their voter registration now. Even if they think they’re registered, check to see that you haven’t been improperly removed from the voting rolls before it’s too late — text VOTER to 26797. Every single American must understand how important it is to vote in every election — local, state and federal. As for my colleagues in music, please work with outstanding partners like I Am a Voter (iamavoter.com), a nonpartisan organization aimed at creating a cultural shift around voting and civic engagement, as well as voter mobilization groups like HeadCount, When We All Vote and Voto Latino.
The time is now to elect candidates who will fight for us. The stakes are too high to do anything else. The time to act is now.
Look Beyond The Initial Issue
Noelle Scaggs, co-lead singer, Fitz & The Tantrums; co-founder, Diversify the Stage: I hate to circle the narrative of race with a ruling that ultimately affects all women, femmes and gender-expansive human beings’ access to abortion care services. However, I can’t seem to shake the disparities that overwhelmingly place Black women at the top in maternal complications by death; according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, per 100,000 live births, Black women make up 41% of all pregnancy-related deaths, with deaths among American Native and Alaskan Native women closely alongside at 30% and white women at 13%.
The National Black Women’s Reproductive Justice Agenda reports that although Black women only make up 13% of the U.S. population, we make up 38% of all U.S. abortions. Its 2021 policy agenda also informs that Black women are more likely to lack economic resources, to be unemployed and/or underinsured and to be insured by programs that restrict coverage for abortion care. The agenda also reports on the myriad factors contributing to Black women and girls’ overall health and reproductive outcomes.
I bring this to attention when discussing reproductive justice: what it means to mobilize, to encourage the music community to look further than Roe v. Wade or the right to bodily autonomy and take a deep dive into the historic and systemic injustices that continuously place the lives of Black women and men on the back burner of discussion, when statistically we are ahead at the coroner’s office.
If you are motivated to act, I implore you to further discover and advocate for organizations focused on reproductive health and also uplift organizations that service communities in an effort to reduce poverty, overincarceration and sexual violence and increase access to healthy food, mental health, sex education and health care services. Review the Fall of Roe Resource Guide; some highlights include the Reproductive Health Access Project and In Our Voices: Black Woman’s Reproductive Justice Agenda.
If this all feels overwhelming, it is because it is — but we got this.
Claim Your Autonomy
Coi Leray: No one should have authority over my body, period. This is a crime against women and birthing parents’ rights and is unnecessarily creating so many health risks. The human stories that have been shared since this happened have been horrifying. This is why it’s so important to vote during the mid-term elections so we can elect the right people to protect our reproductive rights.
Use Experience To Fuel Empowerment
Stacia Mac, manager, ODA Management: After birthing my children — namely Polo G when I was 17 years young — and inevitably being forced to make strategic decisions to navigate my son’s career amid the already male-dominated industry, the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn abortion rights is devastating. A male-dominated council is ultimately making decisions on how and when we procreate. I view this as a wake-up call that we, as Americans and leaders, have failed to appreciate the many civil liberties we worked so hard to attain. It is imperative that we vote and be empowered to take on roles within our justice system.
Get Over Politics
Desiree Perez, CEO, Roc Nation: No one really likes politics. But if you want to protect your rights, if we want to protect all our rights, it’s very important that you vote. That’s really the most important action you can take if you want to stand up for Roe v. Wade or any other potential ruling the Supreme Court can hand down. Two voter registration organizations — Black Voters Matter and HeadCount — are confirmed to be present at this year’s Made in America Festival.
Inform Yourself On The Issues
Angel Olsen: Because these Supreme Court rulings give power to regionalism, we need to pay extra attention to our local government, researching the sh-t out of potential congressional candidates running for office now and in November. [Republican] Mary Miller should have never won her primary [in Illinois’ 15th congressional district], and one of the main reasons why extreme right-wing candidates are doing so well right now is because of these new rulings — the far right are coming out of the woodwork to join in, they’re inspired. We need to have the kind of collective inspiration that we had when we were fighting for Biden to win the presidency. We will always need to stay informed on these issues, who these delegates are, what they support and how they financially are endorsed as they run. The NAACP has a good guideline for what to do to read up on local officials who may not have as much press.
Prep The Next Generation
Bob Celestin, founding partner, Law Offices of Bob A. Celestin: It’s our duty and responsibility to educate young people on the importance of voting. If we can get across to [kids] in a fun, creative way that once they’re 18 they have a voice, or can hold office, or run a charity benefiting a certain cause (such as women’s reproductive rights), I believe we’ll be in a better position to make an impact.
Navarro Grey, founding partner, The Grey Law Firm: I’ve had many casual conversations with minority youth about the voting process and some of them didn’t even know where to vote — or that they could vote for the local politicians that affect decisions in their very own neighborhoods. People from our urban communities are scared because they’re going into unfamiliar territory to vote oftentimes, and there’s big cages and they don’t know what to do when you walk in. I can imagine how many more young adults share similar feelings throughout the country. We can teach our youth how to do this early on and maybe have our clients go into these high schools to advocate for voting. We can even have mock voting, just like how in law school there’s mock trials.
Learn Alongside Your Fans
Yaz Britt, director of A&R, SoundCloud: It’s important we encourage and help mobilize artists to use their voices, platforms and influence for what they believe in — there are millions of people just like them that need encouragement or a push to take action. About two years ago, I had an artist who was interested in learning more about how each branch and role within government affected decisions and policies. Understanding her audience could also benefit from the education, we created a weekly educational livestream where she’d bring experts on IG Live to learn more for eight weeks. The fact that the artist was learning about the topic with her fans humanized her and brought her and her fans even closer. We ended up flooded with testimonies describing the fans’ voting experience and how our program helped them cast their vote.
Focus Local First
Em Beihold: Voting in general is important, but now more than ever, participating in the vote at the local election level all the way up to national elections has never been more important. Real change starts from the bottom up, and electing officials who support your beliefs is our power to combat what comes next after the overturning of Roe v. Wade. Primary elections are happening now across the country, and I hope we all take the time to learn about each candidate for every position and vote for those who will support our core values.
Read Up On Registration
Emily White, partner, Collective Entertainment; founder, #iVoted Festival: Artists and music industry professionals can register, check their voter registration and then shout it out on their social media, email lists, text clubs, websites and during interviews. They can ensure their fans are registered by working with organizations such as Michelle Obama’s When We All Vote — a crucial nonpartisan resource that also supplies messaging on key registration deadlines and primary dates — as well as HeadCount, which can help to register fans at shows. Artists and their teams can also work regionally with organizations such as Stacey Abrams’ New Georgia Project, which has registered over 300,000 voters in Georgia alone.
Make A Plan For The Polls
Carianne Marshall, co-chair/COO, Warner Chappell Music: Unfortunately, the power now lies with each state to decide the reproductive health of so many. The most powerful way to fight back is by heading to the polls for your state and local elections. If it’s available in your state, I’ve found requesting an absentee ballot ahead of time to be super helpful: It eliminates the additional stress of fighting long lines at the polls or sitting in traffic and allows you to focus from the comfort of your own home.
Think Before You Synch…
Lisa Alter, partner, Alter Kendrick & Baron: The recipients of synch license requests for the use of a song or master in an advertisement for a state organization, such as a state tourism board, should carefully consider the stance of the particular state on reproductive health and abortion rights. While the ad may not be overtly political, denying the use of music to support a state on the wrong side of the abortion aisle may make a powerful statement over time. Similarly, it is important to be aware of the position that commercial advertisers in general have taken on the right to choose, to support those who are proactively supporting the rights of their employees and turn down requests from advertisers known for their opposition to abortion.
…And Also Before You Speak
Maurice Stinnett, global head of diversity, equity and inclusion, Warner Music Group: Now more than ever, we should continue to act in solidarity and advocate for each other’s rights. That means march, donate, vote, make your voice heard — but it can also be as simple as making sure to use inclusive language when you refer to people’s reproductive rights (this decision does not solely affect cis gender women).
This story will appear in the July 30, 2022, issue of Billboard.