Whether it’s teenagers playing in a garage with friends and just learning an instrument, a band that is part of a small, local scene, someone signed to a big label and touring the world, a record label, or a venue—anyone who makes, distributes, writes about, or books music is part of the music industry. They are part of the culture and the community that makes and defines modern music.
And the music industry has a major problem. It always has. It prizes and protects men and masculinity at all costs. Even at the cost of other musicians’ careers. At the cost of fans. Even at the cost of men. Even at the cost of human lives, mostly those of women.
This past week, this problem has become extremely apparent in my home music community of Minneapolis and greater Minnesota.
Because while I was not often directly affected by the negative actions of men and the culture they created and benefit from in the scene, I could feel it in the air constantly. I found it difficult to break into writing or photographing for local outlets, because men had already established themselves as regular contributors. There were editors who picked favorites and those did not include women. I was part of women’s groups who helped each other learn how to run soundboards, find bandmates, and network—because men did this without us. Because the scene, while welcoming on the surface, was exclusionary overall. It was (and still is) a man’s world.
Most of the people I spent my time with, men and women, were the exception to this rule. And I knew there were worse things taking place, but I couldn’t see them. I didn’t know the people involved. And what could I do anyway? All I did was run a blog and write reviews. I didn’t know AP style, let alone ethical practices for investigative journalism.
I moved to Colorado in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in journalism—as there are no programs for this in the state of Minnesota. And I learned what it means to be part of an industry which is supposed to be built on accountability, and even it often fails at that. I’ve learned the rules of what you can and can’t report, to protect people and avoid spreading false truths. I’ve learned that objectivity is essentially unachievable—yet somehow still required—while transparency is something we should all aim for. I’ve learned that even the best publications will fail to do the right thing, because of the limitations of reporting, staffing, funding, and legal risk. That there are more stories out there than newspapers, magazines, and outlets are willing and able to cover—especially in beats that are controversial, like cannabis, and on the topics of sexual harassment and assault.
Abusers and harassers know this, and they know what they are doing. They will walk right up to the line of illegality and not cross it, or cross it when no one is looking. They will do something that can be construed as consensual in hindsight. They will make it seem like the victim is complicit, that they should have known better. They will use their fame and favor with the public to put down the people calling them out. They will do anything to maintain their status and reputation.
This makes it almost impossible sometimes for journalism to report on, because journalism isn’t a gossip column, it’s not about publishing hearsay. It has higher standards than that. But what if all you have is one person’s words? How about 100 peoples’ words against the same abuser? What if all you have is people exposing behavior that may not have been illegal, but is obviously disturbing and wrong? What then?
I’ve learned that you cannot depend on journalism to tell the stories and do the work to improve your industry. Each industry, like music, must hold itself accountable, and that is hard work. It’s not easy. But one way to do this would be to create an oath or shared mission, like in medicine.
Many of us are familiar with the statement all doctors supposedly swear to when they start practicing medicine: First do no harm; then try to prevent it.
The truth of this statement is that it’s likely more of a myth than something Hippocrates actually wrote. And if doctors took the first part of this oath literally, it would mean no one should have surgery—even if it was lifesaving. But besides those points, it does retain merit in many ways.
A concept less of us are familiar with is that of Double Effect. (Yes, this band name is already taken. I looked!) The Double Effect means that it’s okay to undertake an action where there will be both good and bad results, as long as the underlying motive is the intent to do good, the actor does not intend for the bad result to happen, and the potential for good significantly outweighs the potential for harm—even if one can foresee a bad result will occur.
Both concepts have flaws, but they also have important applications in practice outside of medicine. Such as, the entertainment industry. Specifically, the music industry.
“First do no harm; then try to prevent it,” applies proactively. I wrote an entire piece about this kind of thing in 2015—FIVE YEARS AGO—and it still all applies today.
It is essential to remember that music is not made in a vacuum, and is instead part of a complex social institution. And no one is an exception to this rule, or does not contribute to it. Even inaction is a form of action, just as ignorance is as powerful as knowledge.
Success and longevity as a musician is not so much about skill or talent, not about ability or creativity—it’s the social setting, the community around it, the people who create opportunity and invite collaboration, that determine the long-term fate of music makers. Female role models in the music industry are so important not because they say, “you can do this,” but because they say, “there is a place for you.”
As Ganser wrote on Twitter this past week, “being a woman in music is not getting invited by the boys to the garage to jam as a teenager, growing up and making your own band, and then not getting invited out by the boys to the metaphorical garage of trading favors, nepotism, tour support slots etc. until the end of time.”
“First, do no harm” means not excluding, abusing, or harassing anyone yourself. Doing no harm also means doing the work to make sure women, and artists of all genders and races are welcomed and included. Trying to prevent harm means holding yourself accountable for your actions, be they simple exclusionary comments or harassment or abuse, as well as holding your friends and bandmates and colleagues and venues and labels accountable for the same things. Asking the tough questions early on, in the moment, and not waiting to find out something has happened. Imagine if we all did this consistently. Perhaps someday this might be the only oath we’d need.
The Double Effect comes into play retroactively: after abuse, harassment, and a culture of exclusion has been exposed in a music scene or community. It could be a specific person, or many, like in Minnesota. This is the concept that applies to starting a reckoning.
Someone (or many people) revealing that they have been harassed, abused, hurt, gaslit, etc. takes a lot of bravery, not only because it puts that victim in immediate danger, but because while it has good intent—to remove a person from being able to continue to perpetrate harm—it will also cause harm. It will shock those who have considered that person a friend, an inspiration, a partner. It will devalue that person’s art, it will negatively affect everyone associated with them, and so on. It will bring up a lot of negative emotions. But the goal of revealing these truths is not to cause harm to others, it is to expose a danger to a community that has gone unchecked, and to stop it from being able to continue. The intent is good, and the potential for good significantly outweighs the potential for harm—even if it is obvious a bad result will also occur.
But some people will do anything to prevent themselves from being called out. They’ll demonize victims, undermine their credibility, and remind the world that some women make false accusations for the sake of attention. Never mind the fact that false accusations make up a minuscule percent of all cases, while a majority of perpetrators are never accused at all—and the ones who are called out rarely suffer serious consequences legally or in their careers.
While the term “Double Effect” is not well known, most of us are familiar with the fact there is always some negative fallout from an abuser being exposed. Some people jump at the chance then to demonize this process entirely. An example of how the potential of Double Effect has been demonized is by calling what happens afterwards “cancel culture.”
A type of group shaming, cancel culture is a practice of withdrawing support for (canceling) people or companies after they have done or said something considered objectionable or offensive. This has proven to work and cause change in some major corporations, such as ousting CEOs who have made racist statements publicly.
But cancel culture doesn’t work for individuals—and all it does is fail victims. It sets a precedent that you can simply “cancel” someone, and that’s it, your work is done. And it is not, by far. Just because you stopped playing music with the dude who turns out to be an abuser, just because you stopped listening to a band whose lead singer turns out to be a harasser, doesn’t mean anything is solved. There is so much more work to be done—and as a musician, as a fan, it is your responsibility to do it.
And as a fan, if your biggest concern is that you might have to get rid of a tattoo or that a favorite band or song is “ruined,” instead of the fact that real people have been hurt, physically and mentally, careers have been squashed, and the scene has a pervasive problem? You’re only thinking about yourself.
We need more than vague promises from abusers that they will “do better.” We need more than people complaining they can’t enjoy their favorite music anymore. We need more than bandmates saying “I had no idea this was going on.” We need everyone—musicians, fans, labels, venues—to hold themselves and others accountable, proactively and retroactively.
Because in most cases of abuse and assault, the perpetrator and the victim already knew each other. Because those who have been outed as sexual predators have band mates that clearly knew what was going on and didn’t say anything. Because victims are tired of having to put their abuse on display again and again for other people to believe them. Because other people’s bodies, hearts and minds, are not your training ground to learn how to be a better person.
I don’t care if you can’t believe a certain person could have done something. I don’t care if you wish they hadn’t. I don’t care if they’re your best friend or mentor. I don’t care if you feel bad you didn’t do something earlier. I don’t care if you feel “attacked” as a man. I don’t care if you fear getting falsely accused at some point in your life, just because someone who actually did something awful got called out for it. I don’t care that the current system might benefit and protect you. And I DO NOT CARE if you don’t like the victim who is calling them out. When you fail to act out of fear, disbelief, or personal preference, you help perpetuate the system that makes harassment and abuse possible.
The choice is simple: You either believe, support, and uplift victims and survivors in your industry, work toward justice and the creation of a safer, more just industry—or you’d rather shove your head in the sand and therefore support exclusion, harassment, and abuse.
It is your duty, as someone in the music scene—and in the world—to prevent and hold others accountable for toxic actions in your industry. And if you won’t take this oath, you don’t deserve a place in it. Because there are plenty of talented people of all genders, appearances, and ages, who do.