I just got back from a really inspiring songwriting retreat in Mammoth Lakes, California.
It was organized by a singer/songwriter friend here in the LA scene. Five of us left the whirlwind of the city and escaped to the mountains. Each morning we went on a hike. Inspiration Quests, if you will. Typically, I encourage IQs as solo excursions. But this served the purpose because we were all there with the same intentions. Pretty much the entire weekend was an Inspiration Quest. We hiked, we waded in the streams, we bathed in the hot springs, we wrote in the woods, we cooked meals together, we got stoned, we did Yoga, we belted Les Mis and Rent. Not in that order. And the final night we finished with a ‘song salon’ where we each shared a new song and offered feedback – song doctoring them a bit.
On one of the hikes we got on the topic of writing session etiquette.
In LA, it’s common place to ask a songwriter you just met to write together – like in most other cities you might ask them for coffee. However, for women being asked by men to write or record, this gets a bit tricky. Oftentimes, they have to wonder what the guy’s true intentions really are. One of our female friends was recently asked to write with a new friend who she really respected. However, she had heard rumblings about this guy (and how he had slept with women during writing sessions in the past). So, she was uncertain if he asked her to write because he actually appreciated her talent or if he just wanted to get into her pants – or both! It’s a dilemma that many women have to constantly battle with.
Unfortunately there isn’t a corporate handbook for songwriters, producers and recording artists. There’s no HR department for the music industry at large. Ross Golan has never dug into this topic on And the Writer Is…
So let me lay this out very clearly: NEVER MAKE A PASS AT SOMEONE DURING A SESSION. PERIOD. EVER. DONE. THE END.
I’m stating the rule that every single songwriter, producer, and recording artist should abide by. This is the rule. Don’t break the rule, otherwise I will call you out publicly if I hear about it. I don’t care who you are. (BTW, if this has happened to you, feel free to shoot me an email firstname.lastname@example.org and I’ll investigate to see if this dude has a pattern. Don’t worry, you can remain anonymous and this will stay confidential)
Kissing someone during a session is the same as an accountant leaning over the conference table and making out with a new client.
That sounds absurd and no accountant in their right mind would do this. But, the studio is our office. And in these situations, professional situations, do not, I repeat, do not make a move.
Dudes, I understand you may get a bit confused here. In a songwriting session, your co-writer is getting vulnerable with you. She is opening up and sharing intimate details about her life, but that doesn’t mean she’s interested in you romantically. As artists we HAVE to open up and get vulnerable to create honest, authentic art. It’s part of the trade. She is trusting you to utilize this information for the benefit of the session. Don’t destroy that trust by manipulating her into making out with you. Or misreading the signals as interest. Yeah, sure, if you were at a bar and a woman you’re speaking with was being this open, it may mean she’s interested and you could take the next steps. But context is everything.
Now, you may be interested in this collaborator. And you may want to make out with them. Or date them. Or what have you. That’s totally fine! We’re all human.
Don’t ask them for a writing session. Ask them on a date.
You have to understand that it’s a power play. And, as a man, you’re abusing that power. Even if you think you’re on the same level. Maybe you are professionally. But because women, – in most industries, but especially music – have to deal with men making passes, objectifying them with comments and looks (or worse) at every gig, every session and every meeting, men hold power.
Women have to constantly question if they are being hired for the gig because the employer thinks they are talented or because they want to sleep with them.
And women oftentimes do not feel safe in environments like this, on the job, because they have been objectified, belittled and made to feel unsafe time and time again. Just because they are women. This is not a reality men deal with. This is what male privilege looks like.
We all remember the Aziz Ansari story about his date gone bad. And how this woman felt pressured and manipulated and was disappointed and dumbfounded how he couldn’t read her signals. Well, guess what, most men are bad at reading signals. Even if you think you’re getting a vibe, the safe bet is to remember you’re in a professional situation, finish the session, go your separate ways and then formally ask them out on a date if you’re actually interested.
I recently spoke with a musician friend of mine who told me a story about a recording session she had.
A producer needed a vocalist to record a song for a sync placement he got contracted to do. He asked her to be the vocalist and offered $300 for the session. When she was in the vocal booth, in between takes, the producer came into the booth to adjust the mic. While adjusting the mic, he kissed her. She backed away and said “Woah! Hey, no!” He was startled and said “oh I thought we were vibing.” She was so flustered she had to step outside to compose herself. She wanted nothing more than to bolt out of there, but if she did, she’d lose the $300. And she needed the money.
See the horrible position he put her in?
And get this. She told me that up until that point, she actually dug him and thought he was attractive and cool and would have maybe gone on a date with him. Time and place is everything.
Another friend told me that as a gigging musician her employer (the MD) had constantly made passes at her, commented on her looks, told her that what she wore turned him on.
While they were at gigs! On the job. She finally was fed up and told him she didn’t feel comfortable with his comments and asked him to please stop. Guess what? He got defensive, aggressive, extremely angry and he never called her again for the gig. Women have learned to just take it and not speak up for fear of losing work or worse, retribution. That’s fucked up.
“Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them.” – Margaret Atwood
Now, I’m not saying that men and women in the workplace never hook up – consensually. Sure they do. In many industries. But fellas, you have to understand the context and backdrop of the realities women deal with everyday. So, simply, respect them as a member of the work environment whether you’re in a songwriting session, in the studio or on a gig.
This responsibility falls solely on the men in these situations. Don’t say “oh but she was giving me signals” or “she wore this or that” or “she hooked up with a friend during a session.” Nope. None of that matters. Be a fucking professional. Not a creep.
Learn how to separate your dick from your brain and squash any urge you may have in a professional environment. You need some clear, black and white guidelines? Well here you go.