Sound & Vision: When Do We Stop Playing Artists Accused of Abuse and How Do We Respond as a Music Community?

Sound and Vision

During the March 2 edition of Sound & Vision, KEXP dedicated time for a panel discussion to discuss where our station should draw the line on when to stop playing artists accused of abuse. Morning Show host John Richards, KEXP DJ and Education Coordinator Sharlese Metcalf, KEXP DJ/DJ Manager Morgan Chosnyk, and Seattle songwriter Alex Niedzialkowski of the band Cumulus what is and isn’t working in Seattle’s music community and how we respond to allegations of abuse from artists. 

Listen to the conversation or read a transcription of their talk below.


John Richards: So this all started when we got the news about Ryan Adams. It's not the first time KEXP has run into an artist who had questionable behavior, abusive behavior, news about them that we had to deal with. And it led to a bigger discussion and a bigger discussion, which I'm glad we're having, about not playing an artist – about censoring artists on KEXP. We're such a unique station, Morgan, that maybe don't know but we choose the music we play on her shows. You and I, we manage the DJs and what goes out over the air. And we never tell anyone what to play. 

And Ryan Adams, suddenly this issue comes up for us. An artist that got quite a bit of play over the years at KEXP. Now, one can look at Ryan Adams – that one seems easy. But what about a Michael Jackson? Or what about a James Brown, an artist not with us anymore? Morgan, we had a DJ meeting just the other night and to be honest we didn't come up with an easy answer, did we? 

Morgan Chosnyk: Right. So, I mean this isn't the first time that an artist has had bad behavior and it's come out in the news. But just the climate of the time right now, it's being talked about a lot more and it's being taken a lot more seriously which I think is a really great thing. But that does come into play when managing a whole host of on-air DJs. Where do you draw the line of censorship? Should you start implementing censorship? And I think that's a really slippery slope. I think the amazing thing about KEXP is that we have a staff of really empathetic, wonderful people who are really interested in other people's feelings, doing the right thing. And so as the programming managers here, you and I, the managers of the on-air hosts, I think it's our duty to make sure that the honor hosts have the most current information about what's going on with artists so that they can make an educated decision. 

Richards: I played Morrissey the other day and I hadn't realized some of his comments about Pakistanis, for instance. I wasn't even aware. I try to be aware of everything going on, but I wasn't aware. So then I played The Smiths and someone said I shouldn't play The Smiths. And I feel like, well I'm also punishing Johnny Marr and the rest of the band. So that's a tough one. The other tough one, Sharlese, there has been an artist recently in the local community northwest community who there are some accusations on Twitter. Quite a few. And that was brought to light. What do you think about this? Is there a line? Is there a number of accusations that come up and you say, "OK, now I stop?" What are your thoughts? 

Sharlese Metcalf: My thoughts are when there's more than one person that starts coming forward and saying something, I think that's when you start to question the behavior of the person. And I also think that when the person reacts in a certain way, in particular, the experience that we are having with this local musician right now, their response made it feel very defensive and they weren't holding themselves accountable for their actions. So when that happens and I see more than one person coming forward and saying basically the same thing, it makes me question the behavior of the person. That's where I start to draw the line and that's when I make the decision to not support this person. 

Richards: Morgan, when the responses to Ryan Adams came out, there's quite a different response from people on Twitter who were men and who were women. The men seemed to just point it out. Look at this information look at this news right. Women said... "Yup". 

Chosnyk: "We need to take action.". 

Richards: "This is happening. A lot of women musicians. This is what's happening." 

Chosnyk: Yeah, so what do we do in that case? How do we hold people accountable and what can we do as a community to make this sort of behavior end? 

Alex Niedzialkowski: Well, I think one of the really big things is that we need to believe women. I've been talking to promoters and I've been talking to people that are putting on shows and I've had moments where there was somebody rumored of abuse and I have a conversation with a promoter. Basically, we came to the conclusion, "hey there's plenty of artists out there that don't have a halo of abuse allegations hovering over their head that could play the show." I think that these things can be dealt with on a case-by-case basis as a promoter, as a DJ, as a festival booker in ways that don't necessarily endanger the person who's the victim of the assault or the person who's the accused.

We don't all have to necessarily go hashtag on an artist online and start spreading things that are still being discovered, because facts are still coming out. And I think that's kind of a murky thing to navigate and I think that's why a lot of people are afraid to take action a lot of the time is because oftentimes we find out that our friends and colleagues and people that we've looked up to and played music with and worked alongside with for decades have hurt people and that's a really hard thing. 

Richards: It's funny. If you're more of a fan of an artist you don't want it to be true. Like, I love Louis C.K. as a comic. I didn't want it to be true. But as soon as you heard the accusations, you knew like, "Yeah, that sounds right." And then it becomes, "are you part of the problem once you then pay for their things? If you support them as artists?" Now locally, Alex, can you talk a little about pulling an act off a bill? Do you pull an act off a bill if you know that you've heard some stories? Is that line you're not really sure about? 

Niedzialkowski: It's interesting. With the Ryan Adams case, one of the things I saw on Twitter when the label dropped his new record, somebody said, "I didn't realize that labels were judges now." And it's like, it's a private business. They're deciding if they want to give like tens of thousands, tons of money to an artist and help them put out music. And I think it's the same thing when you're curating a space. I think when you're booking a live show, you're creating a cultural space. I mean, that's a space where magic happens. It's a space where people come and they're influenced and they have people they're looking up to, they're developing heroes. When you, say, you come to Seattle and see your favorite band play for the first time and you're changed by it forever.

Music's a powerful thing. So I think that when we're booking shows, that's the burden, in a way. Is that we have to think about who we're allowing to influence. Who are we giving space to be influencers in our community. And I just feel like we have the total right to say let's not put on the show or let's change the bill until this starts getting figured out. It doesn't necessarily have to be a career ruiner, it doesn't have to be like a forever thing – depending on what information comes out and how things start playing out. But I think that we owe it to our music community [that] if we hear something and we're in a position of power to say, "I don't think we should let the show happen," or "I'm gonna avoid this record on my radio show." 

Richards: Yeah, in that case you have to be the gatekeeper. 

Niedzialkowski: And we are gatekeepers. 

Richards: Isn't one of the problems in the music community... It's so rough. It's hard to get paid. It's hard to have insurance. It's hard to make a living. Now on top of this, it's hard to exist in this environment where there are no gatekeepers, which that is part of the problem. If someone's not gatekeeping... You don't have an H.R. department. 

Niedzialkowski: I was just having that conversation earlier with my friend. I was like, "Man we really need something like a music H.R. department." [laughs]. 

Richards: Sharlese, Morgan, if something came down here at our work, we have a great H.R. department. We'd be able to talk about it and we take training and we have steps you take. What do you do out in the community when this happens, when music does not have those gatekeepers or H.R. department? 

Chosnyk: Yeah that's the interesting thing about musicians is, in a way, if you're going to put your music out there and if you're going to tour and you're going to sell your own music, you are now a business. And if you're paying people or you're being paid to be yourself out in the community, you need to be the best version of yourself and we don't need to have this hand wringing or theatrics of the Ryan Adams thing. Just drop that person. They don't have to be the pinnacle. They're not gods. They are a business.

They're selling their art for money and so they should be acting like a professional business. And if there are people working under them, those people should be managing up. They should be holding those people accountable and not enabling them to keep having their bad behavior so it doesn't keep perpetuating, so that they don't keep victimizing more and more people. They need to hold those people accountable, that musician. And likewise, the label, if they don't want to be aligned with that person anymore as a statement of "we don't condone that behavior as a business, as somebody who works for us," then I think that's great that they drew that line. 

Niedzialkowski: And the other thing that I think about, I do think about choice. Because, I mean, when we're talking about radio programming, you're not telling DJs what to play but you're providing them with information and everyone is making that choice right. And I think that's the same thing. I think us as artists and people active in the music community, that is kind of the most that we can do in that if we hear something we can go to... If I'm in a position where I know the show booker, I'm going to talk to the booker. But I can't make that choice for them. I can't tell them, "you must pull this artist from this bill." But if they don't, then I know, "hey that's a nooker that doesn't actually prioritize the voices of women and maybe doesn't actually believe in women's voices when these stories come out." And then I'll know that in my head and I'm maybe going to think twice about supporting that establishment later.

I've been reading a little bit about organizations. like Australia has a non-profit called Your Choice where basically their mission is to help influence a culture of positive behavior through shared responsibility. And they have lists of venues and festivals that align with their non-profit. So you go on their website and you can see that you wanna be the venue and the festival that supports that non-profit, because you want everyone to know that you're a part of an establishment that's making an effort towards change. 

Richards: I wanted to go into that area too because I'm curious what we can do here in town. It's not just the musicians, Sharlese, women attending shows is a major, major problem. Shows, bars, night life. And don't get me wrong, all aspects of our community is dealing with us. We are a music arts show and so we're sort of focusing in on this and it is dangerous for women to go to shows. Sharlese, I heard what Speedy Ortiz does at shows is really interesting.Can you talk about that? 

Metcalf: So, they basically go into a venue and they take over the venue. They put up signage. They make statements from the stage. They have a Google Voice number that you can call if you're being harassed. Their whole entire staff is on board to make sure that they are creating a safe space. It's really amazing and Sadie from Speedy Ortiz is so personable, so wonderful. She has influenced our Creating Safer Spaces panel series for Mastering The Hustle that we host here at KEXP. And you can contact her and ask her for advice and information on how to make your space safe. Your venue your show. 

Richards: Alex, you brought up a great organization and this list of places you can go. What can we do in our clubs and our bars? What are some steps that can be taken here in Seattle to stop this behavior? Because we know that behavior is going to happen. It's going to happen tonight at a club. What can be done? 

Niedzialkowski: Well, I think this is a really great start, honestly. I think it's so important to just be talking about it. And I think, and this is kind of an interesting thing because we're being recorded live, but I also feel like we need to actually be having conversations with our friends that are our colleagues in this industry and allowing room for the conversation to not be perfect and the conversation to not necessarily end with answers. But what I saw from this organization that I thought was really interesting was an agreed set of standards and rules. Like a code of conduct that you can do as a venue and the work that you do. And also as attendees.

I think that'd be a really interesting thing to have the different venues kind of come together and agree upon a set of expectations that they expect out of their employees, out of their bookers, out of the people who are attending a concert. That way – I mean, anybody will tell you, anybody who works at a bar, if you've got a rule on the wall and somebody breaks it, it's a lot easier to point to it and say, "Hey, you're not following these rules that we have very openly, in a very visible place. I'm going ask you to leave." So I feel like if there was something like that, that would be really cool. I think that would be a first step. 

Metcalf: I just really want to add something to what you're saying, especially as an artist who is asking for these resources. I have the honor of representing KEXP on the Seattle music commission and that is through the Office of Arts and Culture. The Seattle Music Commission is a bunch of community leaders, influencers. A bunch of people who work out in the community, who work in the music industry. We come together and we talk about things that are around artists needs and youth needs. And an artist can come to the Seattle Music Commission and say, "Hey we need support on this," or, "We need you to pay attention to this."

One of the things that I can tell you is creating safer spaces and preserving cultural spaces is something that we talk about all the time. We have three meetings a month and one of them is open to the public, you can come down to City Hall and you can make a statement. You can talk to any of us and we're all online. So what you're talking about and what you're saying is things that we are talking about and thinking about. I also wanted to say that you are talking about gatekeepers and people who are in these positions and represent the community. KEXP is that. KEXP DJs are those people. And it's really awesome to think about the empathy that KEXP DJs have in terms of all this. I just wanted to say that as well. 

Richards: That's well said, Sharlese. And I think that's a responsibility. It made me think, well, the gatekeepers are there. They do need to be held responsible. Look if you want to own a club, if you want to have bands play, it's your responsibility, correct? Doesn't it go to the top of who owns that club? And the I think one of the major problems is, it's mostly men who own clubs. And it's mostly men who run bars. So are they ignoring the problem? Do they not feel it's their responsibility? I don't know. 

Chosnyk: It's interesting too, because when you do hear from people who own spaces that women go to and have issues in, they say, "Oh I don't know what I can do. What can I do to help?" I can tell you what you can do. You can start today. There are simple things, just like Alex said and what Sharlese said about what Sadie does. Post something on the wall – tonight! Go up on stage before the band comes on and tell the crowd "This is a safe space. If we see any inappropriate behavior, if anybody is experiencing inappropriate behavior, come to one of our staff and we will support you." And you make it really vocal until all of this is normalized and this is expected behavior in every space. And then, maybe back off from the announcements. But this is something that you can all start doing today. Start making our spaces safer today. You don't have to wait. 

Niedzialkowski: I remember in the Jessica Hopper interview that y'all did last week, I was really struck by how she kind of talked about the level of this goes from big to DIY – when there's just even one band that's like, "Oh we'll get you a better bill if you do these..." And so I think about not only physical safety at shows, but also I do think about other women wanting to get into the music industry as musicians and the people that they meet along the path and how they get full access into the opportunities that they want. And I think that we need to have our eyes and our ears open and believe people when they say something's going on and be there to support people who may not have the same access as others. Just keep your eyes open and encourage people and lift people up that might need that extra support so that they don't have to get it through a manipulative person. 

Chosnyk: Look out for each other for each other. 

Metcalf: I also want to say that silencing is a really big thing that everyone needs to consider and think about. And Alex, what you're saying, power in numbers. If everyone can come together and support each other and just eradicate silencing. 

Chosnyk: Destigmatize it. It doesn't need to be this way. 

Metcalf: No and you should not be afraid to say something if you've been hurt. You've been hurt and we need to know. 

Richards: And as you head out tonight, it's your responsibility. It's your responsibility to look out for others too. It's men and women. And I appreciate you all talking about it. Alex, what you said about not having an answer and being able to be wrong or to stumble through this – this is a start and we need to continue this conversation. We've not come up with answers. 

Chosnyk: But you know what's really heartening about it? Every time we talk about this, our voices get a little bit louder. The words that we say become a little more normal. It's getting a little bit more destigmatized every time we do. So let's keep talking about it. 

Sound & Vision airs Saturday mornings at 7 AM PST. Hosted by Emily Fox and John Richards, the show "uses interviews, artistry, commentary, insight, and conversation to that tell broader stories through music, and illustrate why music and art matter."

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