Is the Music Industry 'Carve Out' Sidelining Female Executives?

The music industry loudly made promises for change in 2017, when #MeToo swept the entertainment business, and 2020, when George Floyd’s murder at the hands of police officers prompted a racial reckoning. But for all the pledges for inclusion and millions of dollars pledged to diversity, are things actually different?

To judge by one remnant of the old guard, the coveted “carve out” — an employment deal that allows executives to continue to work and profit from side-hustles, such as managing an artist — remains mostly out of reach for women in high-ranking positions.

“Carve outs stink of insider trading,” says one such female executive. “There are women in the same jobs [as male executives] at the same companies who have been denied carve outs, and that’s bad for business.”

The “carve out” is not in itself an evil or sexist construct. Often used to sweeten an employment offer, it can benefit both sides: A record label may reason that one of the acts a prospective hire manages or otherwise discovers will end up on its roster. Or the incoming executive may have some cultural cachet, which is valuable to the label in other ways. “Being culturally active, well-connected and having boots on the ground” is a big plus for a company trying to tap into youth culture, says one major label veteran who managed to own and run a marketing firm while employed by major labels.

More often, you see the case of a highly competitive senior A&R hire where the employer finds itself caving on the “carve out” and allowing the executive to continue managing. A recent example: Gordan Dillard, who joined Capitol Records as EVP of A&R and artist development in September, continues to manage Doja Cat (signed to RCA).

“A&R has always been the straightest line to the C-suite,” adds another top female executive who contends the opportunities in the male-dominated field are fewer and more challenging to navigate. “For years, women were [pigeon-holed in] marketing, PR and artist development — doing the heavy lifting and nurturing behind the scenes, but rarely given credit for their contribution to the artist’s success.”  

The carve-out king in recent decades may be Jimmy Iovine, who as Interscope Records chief in the 1990s went into business with one of the label’s artists, Dr. Dre. They eventually sold Beats by Dre, to Apple in 2014 for a whopping $3 billion. Over his years at Interscope, Iovine also cut deals with many hot producers, allowing them to continue working with artists outside the label, while still occupying an office and having a staff in the building. An Iovine acolyte, Paul Rosenberg, did the same when he continued managing Eminem (signed to Interscope) while running Def Jam.

Still, carve outs are not without risk. For the employer, they are often sizable investments akin to a trust fall, betting on loyalty and access that may not pay off while the executive builds a separate business on their dime and time.

Call it a marriage of inconvenience, but attorney David Fritz says it’s par for the course. “Deals are based on leverage and timing regardless, but it seems we could be doing a better job at positioning a wider range of people, which only benefits the audience as a whole.”  

Today, the music industry is seeing a double-digit increase in women running divisions and major companies. Having chief executives in place like Universal Music Publishing Group’ chairman’s Jody Gerson, Atlantic Records Group’s Julie Greenwald, Epic Records’ Sylvia Rhone, Capitol Records’ Michelle Jubelirer and Motown Records’ Ethiopia Habtemariam (who just yesterday announced she was stepping down after 20 years at Universal Music), is a major victory for perspective, if not corporate mandates, but a wider reach is still needed.

“It is imperative that we plant the seeds that we sow,” says Kara DioGuardi, the rare female head of a joint label venture, whose Arthouse imprint has a deal with Atlantic. “There is no question that a different method of executive talent development is needed — when the clock starts ticking in the building the moment you sign something, the only result that matters is a fast one.” 

Indeed, TikTok and other platforms have forced the artist-development timetable to move ever faster, turning the formerly figurative phrase “overnight success” into a literal one. “There are TikTok one-hit-wonders that are getting better opportunities than proven female writers and producers,” says Nick Jarjour, the former global head of song management at Hipgnosis and longtime manager of female songwriter-producer Starrah, who despite having multiple Top 20 hits — including a No. 1 with Maroon 5’s “Girls Like You” in 2018 — does not have a joint venture in place.

“How can that possibly be a roadmap for long-term success on either side?,” Jarjour asks rhetorically. “Starrah was an unknown creative force with several strikes against her in the conventional world” — being Black, female and gay. “But we must acknowledge that’s precisely where the opportunity lives and breathes in music,” Jarjour concludes. “An industry that claims to be the leaders of culture cannot lead from the back.”

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