Pre-ACM Awards forum urges more female empowerment in country music

MTSU’s Keel leads Change the Conversation panel featuring singer-songwriter Cam

MTSU Recording Industry Chair Beverly Keel joined her two fellow co-founders of Change the Conversation for a special forum Saturday (Aug. 14) right before the Academy of Country Music Awards to discuss obstacles faced by women in country music.

In addition to Keel, the open-to-the-public forum at the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino featured singer/songwriter Cam, Country Music Television Senior Vice President Leslie Fram and veteran music executive Tracy Gershon.

“To be perfectly clear, the future financial stability and cultural relevancy of the music business depends on how we can fully incorporate women into all areas of the business — from creators to distributors,” said Cam. “The Academy recognizes their responsibility in the current climate, and (chose) to create space to discuss the solutions.”

“Women’s voices need to be at the center of this discussion,” added Cam, noting that she was happy to be a part of a conversation that helped identify “inhibitive attitudes, practices and people that prevent gender equality.”

“Everybody has been fed a lot of different myths — that women don’t like listening to other women, which is not true. That women don’t like buying music from other women, which is not true,” she told the audience.

“The truth is … we are 85 percent of the consumers and we actually have the power already.”

Keel said holding this event during ACM Awards weekend provided “a prominent platform that will offer female artists education and support, while creating a forum for industry leaders to work together to find solutions.”

Keel is part of an MTSU contingent attending ACM weekend that includes a select group of students from the university’s College of Media and Entertainment, Dean Ken Paulson, MTSU President Sidney A. McPhee and others. Students are getting a behind the scenes look at the ACM Awards as part of the university’s continued effort to provide in-depth experiences to build their skills.

Keel and her Change the Conversation colleagues formed the organization in 2014 to fund research, mentor young women and host events to allow industry experts to share their insights.

“Truly, the goal of Change the Conversation is to make ourselves obsolete,” Gershon said.

It’s frustrating, Gershon said, that there’s a misperception that “women don’t want to hear other women” on radio. “There’s no data (on that),” she added.

Keel, however, did cite other data — compiled by MTSU student Alania Knott — showing that out of Billboard’s 2017 year-end list of Hot Country Songs, only 35 of the 100 songs had a woman participating in some way. There were only seven solo females in the Top 100, she said.

More distressing, she said, is that the list only reflected the work of four female producers — and only one of them wasn’t the artist singing the song.

Fram, who oversees music and talent operations at CMT, said Cam was “the epitome of the new Nashville, not bound by rules or gender, yet representing those who paved the way.” She recently worked with Cam on an episode of “CMT Crossroads” that also featured Smokey Robinson.

Fram said she is pleased that the conversation has evolved into a network that allows women to connect and help each other. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t speak to an artist on every level,” she said. “They are all going through the same thing.

“What’s happening now in Nashville is that this conversation is becoming real. It’s a movement.”

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