The “Parenthood in Music” panel was a thoughtful follow-up to a previous edition of the Waves Conference. In 2018, the question was: Is a career in the music business compatible with a family life? There is still no clear answer to this question so far, but there are people who are actively trying to make progress. What are their personal experiences and proposed solutions? Which initiatives and best practices should be brought more into the spotlight? How can we create greater awareness of the issue within the music industry in general? The panel was hosted by MEWEM – Mentoring Programme for Women and FLINTA in the Music Industry.
Moderated by ARIANNA FLEUR ALFREDS – herself a mother with a job in the music business and partner of a musician, JAN CLAUSEN, Managing Partner at Factory 92, OLE FELTES from Ticketmaster, singer-songwriter VIOLETTA PARISINI and MARIT POSCH, General Manager Germany for digital distributor IDOL and co-founder of the Parenthood in Music initiative kicked off the festival as the first panel in the conference.
If the YouTube video shown to kick off the discussion is to be believed, the job requirements of a “parent” are among the toughest – and without pay! Arianna Alfreds points out parallels between the demands of the music industry and those of being a parent: Both “jobs” require a high degree of availability, there are few boundaries between work and personal life, all the while wearing multiple hats at the same time. What happens when you have two challenging jobs at the same time?
When her first child arrived, Violetta Parisini planned to pursue her music career as it existed previously and, supported by her partner, also took her on tour. When her second child was three months old, she had a crucial experience during one of her concerts: Violetta felt she had nothing left to give. As a consequence, she canceled all dates for the next two years. “Career-wise that was a mistake, musically not,” she says looking back. In this way, she was able to create space for herself to reinvent herself, artistically. In that context, she says it’s important to talk about privilege, because she could afford to give herself plenty of time until her next album, and she lives in a partnership where 50-50 is a given.
For companies in the music sector, the living conditions of employees with children and their needs are still partly uncharted territory. In particular, the desire to work less for a while, or to take a break in the context of paternity leave, can also be met with a lack of understanding. As a family man, Ole Feltes has had various experiences with companies in the music industry, both positive and negative. When asked about the causes, he points to corporate culture: “It depends on how the corporate culture is actually lived. The attitudes of your direct supervisor are also decisive.” He says it’s important to work together to find solutions that suit both sides.
Giving employees a great deal of flexibility in terms of working hours and activities is an important point for Jan Clausen. “Providing a laptop and working with a cloud system are the prerequisites for location-independent work,” he tells us. Through corona, his agency has learned a lot; knowing the daily structures of colleagues with children also helps overall. In addition, it is common in the music business to take a few days off after a period of intensive work. In the event that colleagues had to take a longer break, the Factory 92 team would clearly miss them because they all do very good and important work. But it should be made possible, because, for Jan Clausen, it is completely normal to support each other – no matter what it is about: “If your team is healthy and happy, it is a good team. Work-wise, solutions will be found.”
Would bosses who have had no experience with children, themselves, act in the same way? Role models are needed here, because those who don’t have children tend not to think about the needs that can go hand in hand with this reality. Marit Posch confirms that empathy and understanding are the first steps: “As soon as you talk to each other, people understand the struggle, and maybe come to realize that you have similar needs – even if it’s about a different topic.”
Marit emphasizes that measures, such as scheduling meetings in a way that is compatible with family life, can be well implemented in existing structures. And, ultimately, the entire team benefits. Marit Posch founded and works with the Parenthood in Music initiative to make parents visible in the music industry by, among other things, presenting facts and figures. Marit cites some, such as the gender pay gap, which is 19% across Germany, but 25% within the German music industry, concluding, “If you earn less as a woman than your partner, it makes a difference, financially, who stays at home.” She says this needs to be addressed at the political level, as well as within the structures of the companies and the music industry itself. “Women are asked who takes care of the children, male colleagues never! In our minds, the classic division of roles is still ingrained. Larger companies now have to deal with it, because everyone needs good professionals, especially in the live industry, where there is a big shortage.”
Within individual companies, there are more initiatives at what Marit calls the ‘empathy level’. Initiative Musik, a funding agency for musicians in Germany, increases scholarships taken from parents by a certain amount. In addition, individual festivals now ask the artists, in the course of their bookings, whether they have their children with them, whether they need an extra bed in the hotel, childcare, or a quiet room backstage because they are breastfeeding. The more people talk about it, the more they become aware of the issue, therefore, parents and allies have to proactively ask for such offers. Knowing that it is especially difficult for newcomer artists to demand things, Marit advises to actively ask for support for musicians with children. Violetta Parisini counters that she doesn’t see herself in the position to make demands either, although she is a well-known musician and many in the scene know that she has children. The problem is bigger than the music industry. Gender also plays a serious role. “We are talking about mothers,” because most of the difficulties affect women. She proposes separate scholarships for artists who have just become mothers. In any case, there should be financial support for musicians with children in the early years, “because we are raising the next generation.”
When asked about best practices, Ole Feltes also mentions the next generation, saying that he places a lot of value on creatively composed teams that have each other’s backs. For example, he has two part-time employees (instead of one, full-time) who do excellent work. Jan Clausen points out the importance of a team calendar in which everyone can enter their time off.
To what extent do you show yourself as a musician in the role of a parent? Here we let Violetta Parisini, the only musician on the panel, have her say again: “When I was thinking about music videos, we came to the point – from a marketing point of view – that it’s also an advantage that I’m a mother.” For Violetta, it is important to show the whole image of an artist, however, she has the utmost respect and understanding for anyone who chooses not to make their parenthood public. In 2020, Parisini started a blog where she wrote about motherhood, parenting roles and music, and received tremendous feedback. It was here, at the latest, that she realized how important it is to bring light to the topic: “I’m not an out-of-touch artist, it’s not fancy, it’s unabashed everyday life. For me, this was the right decision.”
At the end of the panel, Arianna flashes a photo of her son standing in the stadium at the beginning of a concert. Accompanied by the slogan: It’s not all bad!
All participants were encouraged to also attend the workshop “How to improve the conditions for parents in the music business?” the following day. Accompanied by descriptive data material, the second day of the conference was spent discussing in a small group, exchanging personal experiences, and working on a paper for conditions for parents in music at festivals for the future. And, who knows, maybe the next edition of Waves Vienna Festival & Conference will already include some of these things …
List of Resources from the panel
Translated from the German original by Arianna Alfreds.