The Music Biz conference in Nashville is exactly what it says it is, and many of its panels and discussion topics make for instructive and engaging conversation that doesn’t necessarily translate well to compelling headlines (Metadata Summit, anyone?). However, its “Leading Ladies” panel has become an annual tradition, and this year’s was a stellar three-part series that featured Dolly Parton, hit songwriter/producer Linda Perry (Christina Aguilera, Pink as well as her own ‘90s group Four Non Blondes), Republic A&R Wendy Goldstein (Ariana Grande, The Weeknd, DNCE) , with Manager Beka Tischker (Julia Michaels), MAC Presents founder and president Marcie Allen, CAA co-head of International Touring Marlene Tsuchii, SESAC EVP Kelli Turner and Maren Morris manager Janet Weir. All had many compelling things to say about their businesses — and, not least, the experience of being a woman in those businesses — and while many important and interesting things were said by all, we’re going to focus on a few pointed remarks.
The moderator, Billboard’s Melinda Newman, asked Goldstein how she dealt with mansplaining over the course of her nearly 30 year career in A&R, which has seen her signing artists from The Roots (in the early 1990s) to Ariana Grande just a few years ago.
“One of the things that has always worked for me in my career,” she said, “Was that I was always focused on where I wanted to be. I was never the kind of person to let anything that anyone said or did bother me, and you always have to keep your eye on the greater purpose and not get caught up in the emotion of it. I’d say, ‘This person cannot hold me down — I’m smart, I can do whatever I want to do.’”
Allen spoke of the solidarity that she’s seen and worked to foster among women in the industry. “One woman lifts up another woman on her shoulders, and then another and another and another. We need to lead by example and we need to support one another. There are so many other facets of the music industry where that’s not the case — but when we tear each other down, let me tell you, you don’t want to be on that list. You think this room is small? This music business is small, everyone knows everything that’s going on, and women, more so than ever, are all looking out for one another, whether it’s a job opportunity, an artist signing, a branding deal, anything. It’s an unbelievably inspiring time, and I’ve never been prouder than I am right now to be a woman.”
Finally, Parton and Perry (pictured above with, L-R, John Zarling and Caryl Healey Atwood of Sony Music Nashville, Danny Nozell of CTK Management, Darren Stupak and Alaina Vehec of Sony, and James Donio of the Music Business Association) spoke about the female-centric soundtrack for the forthcoming film “Dumplin’,” which stars Jennifer Anniston and for which they collaborated on six new songs and new versions of six older Parton compositions — and which they revealed features collaborations from other top female artists including Miley Cyrus and Sia. True to form, Parton was gracious and modest, Perry was deadpan and sarcastic, and both were often hilarious — so much that their comments were sometimes obscured by laughter and/or applause from the capacity audience.
Discussing working with the other singers, Perry said, “Sia is an incredible singer, but nothing compared with when Dolly shows up on a song — “
“Well, I wrote it!” Parton cut in modestly.
“I’m not insulting Sia, she’s amazing,” Perry said. “I’m just saying you’re more amazing! Most singers take days to cut one song. You cut six songs in one day! People ask me what I’m doing now — I’m not doing sh– because I don’t wanna work with anyone else!”
As the panel neared its end, Newman cited a line of Parton’s in which she said “I dreamed myself into a corner.” Parton explained the line in a way that summed up her attitude and her achievements.
“When I was a little kid I always dreamed of being this,” she said. “I wanted to be a star — I wanted to shine and make money and travel and wanted my songs to be heard and show off, I guess. And all of my dreams came true!
So now I have to work. People ask, ‘How do you work all the time?’ Because I dreamed myself into a corner and I have to be responsible to those dreams. And I couldn’t be happier, because every dream I have brings on a new dream, like a tree with deep roots and branches and a lotta leaves, and every time something happens it makes something else happens.
“I like being there, but it is a big responsibility.”