Non-profit Songwriters of North America has modified their organization’s mission statement to also advocate for respectful workplaces for their members, especially those considering coming forward about sexual harassment in the music industry. First established in 2015 to address legal concerns about streaming rights and copyright laws, SONA has added a commitment to the organization’s efforts to fight for a community that does not have an impartial third party to handle complaints.
Co-executive Director of SONA, Michelle Lewis told Amplify, “Our inspiration to jump into this was to tell our fellow songwriters that ‘We have your back.’ There is a place to go. We are you. Come to us.”
Following the President of the Recording Academy, Neil Portnow’s comments suggesting women in the music industry ‘step up,’ SONA added an #UsToo page to their site which featured a letter on their new initiatives to address sexual harassment in their community.
The letter reads “recent news stories about sexual misconduct throughout the entertainment industry have given rise to introspection and discussion within our ranks that we simply cannot ignore. Every day, we hear stories from women in the music business about their harrowing experiences of sexual harassment, intimidation, and even assault at the hands of male executives, collaborators, and colleagues.”
It continues “Songwriters are not immune. We know this because we ARE the songwriters. As sole proprietors and small business owners, we are currently unable to unionize. Songwriters have no HR Departments, no sexual harassment protocols, and as result, no real recourse to hold those perpetuating sexual harassment accountable.”
The open letter explains that discussions amongst their leadership resulted in significant additions to their directive, including demanding and upholding safe and fair work environments for women in our industry and beyond, providing a protocol for songwriters to use should they choose to come forward with their own stories about misconduct, and supporting initiatives to foster gender equality in jobs where men have traditionally dominated (like production and engineering).
“What we have done, since we are neither lawyers nor human resource professionals is we’ve found an attorney who specializes in these kinds of claims,” Lewis said. “We’re a channel. If you’re a songwriter or a SONA member or know one, call this person and she will take care of you.”
Through their legal advisor, entertainment lawyer Dina LaPolt, SONA was introduced to Wilkenfeld, Herendeen & Atkinson partner Katherine Atkinson who handled some of the clients involved in the Matt Lauer and Harvey Weinstein cases.
“We obviously did some vetting and had a lot of conversations with Katie,” Lewis said. “She is steeped in this stuff, but she is such a human about it, so forthright and interested and concerned. She is also completely above board in not wanting to peddle in innuendo or rumors or gossip. She keeps the bar very high in terms of substantiating everything.”
SONA, whose members are 60% female to 40% male and whose executive committee is 70% female to 30% male, partnered with Atkinson in order to support women coming forward without alienating the many men in their organization who have been allies.
“This is by no means a women’s organization. But the co-founders and our legal advisor are all women and the way we found each other was organic,” Lewis said. Witnessing the #MeToo movement unfold throughout 2017 and now 2018, Lewis explained “It wasn’t just a theoretical ‘This is happening,’ we actually knew that this was happening because it was happening to us.”
Lewis added that the impetus to get involved wasn’t merely Portnow’s comments or other stories about harassment that she was reading on a daily basis, but a phone call from her close friend who was grappling with whether or not to come forward with accusations.
“It hit home, but her call was not the first. Her call was the last of so many calls and emails that I’ve gotten,” Lewis said. “Her story wasn’t a surprise. Her story happened 15 or 20 years ago and like many women who are on the other side of it, she questioned whether she wanted to open this can of worms or not. There are all these deep concerns of what you’re putting your family through. This decision is a really hard one. It just crystalized for me, talking to my friend, that we have no where to go or someone to go to with this as a group.”
By modifying SONA’s directives to act as an impartial third party and a conduit to sound legal advice, the organization is determined to make these efforts an ongoing part of their community.
“We’re not trying to take people down, we’re trying to uplift. We really want to help women who are not represented and women who are engineers and producers who are underrepresented in those fields,” Lewis said, adding “It is not just about the bad behavior of the past, but promoting good behavior moving forward and bringing more women into the fold.”
Head here to read SONA’s entire #UsToo letter and to learn more about the organization and its initiatives.