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Producer Max Martin, Spotify’s Daniel Ek Tackle Gender Equality: ‘Stop Talking, Start Doing’

In a rare appearance, Spotify CEO and founder Daniel Ek and Swedish producer Max Martin came together to discuss women’s issues in Stockholm on June 12. Under the banner of The Equalizer Project, a joint initiative between Spotify, the Swedish Music Publishers’ Association (SMPA) and MXM Publishing, whose vision is to promote “a music industry where all creators – regardless of gender – enjoy equal conditions in which to succeed,” the two held a mirror up to themselves in addressing the issue.

“There are definitely problems, where we need to be better as well,” said Ek to moderator Elisabet Widlund, managing director of SMPA. “Because there is no reason a company like Spotify shouldn’t be able to be completely gender equal.”

At the heart of the matter is an “unconscious bias,” Ek explained. Martin agreed. “I believe you have to start with yourself, think about your bad habits and prejudices, not only in your profession but generally in life,” said the hitmaker. “Why do I assume that a doctor is a man? Something is indoctrinated from very early on. Those are the kind of things that got me thinking about stuff like that, so it’s about educating yourself and then questioning yourself, ‘Why did I behave like that? Why did I assume that?'”

“Looking at today’s top hits, only 18% were written by women, which I think says a lot,” Ek continued. “In our case, we want to be a platform for everyone. Looking at the music industry, I think we might be a bit excluding as a group because when looking globally at top lists and the top songwriters, women are very underrepresented. I think the product that is Spotify would be perceived differently if more women came through, and it would be amazing to see what would happen to the music culture, what would happen to the actual music, because most importantly, it’s something I’m sure would lead to a more tolerant and open society than what we have today.”

Martin himself confessed a need to constantly check himself, particularly as someone who works with so many female artists — among them: Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Ariana Grande, and Britney Spears. “It’s one thing to speak about it and another to actually do something about it,” he said. “Both me and Daniel try to stay [out of the way] as much as possible and make room for others.”

Spotify employs some 1,000 staffers in its Stockholm headquarters and Ek revealed that the company has gone to great lengths to investigate why so few women apply to work at the tech-music giant. “You get the same old excuses … that there are not enough talented or educated people, which is bulls— and that I don’t believe for a second,” he said. “So we started asking ourselves how do we approach people? Because we’re now at the level where we can show the rest of the company that a diverse way of thinking leads to better results, with concrete cases.”

On the music production side, Martin pointed to Tobtok’s remake of Tracy Chapman’s “Fast Car” as the exception. The tropical house remix released in 2016 is a bonafide global hit and features production and vocals by an all-female group. “After sitting in the studio for so many years, working with lots of women and mostly singers, when it came to technical skills, there were no women at all,” said Martin, adding that he and Ek “started discussing that internally, and then this idea to stop talking and start doing something grew more and more.”

Added Ek: “The first step is to be brave.”

With reporting by Petter Hjulström

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