Of course, there have always been women in the live music industry. The problem is, there just aren’t very many. And those who are in the business don’t get the recognition they deserve. That’s what the all-female management team at Hi Fi Music Hall tells me. We’re gathered around a low table in Hi Fi’s bar, talking about the importance of female representation in the music industry.
Located in Eugene, Oregon, Hi Fi Music Hall is a two-stage venue with a combined capacity of about 1,000. Larger acts play the main hall, while smaller artists perform in the adjacent lounge area. The quartet of women making up the management team come from different backgrounds, but they are all thankful for the opportunity to work at a music venue. “Over the years it’s been a real uphill battle,” says Hi Fi production manager Toni Ehrlich. In the past, Ehrlich has owned her own music production business. “It’s such a male-dominant industry,” she continues, but it’s getting easier. “Women are just stepping up,” she says. “We have been excluded from these fields that have been deemed very masculine fields,” says Hi Fi head of security Kelly Jones. Jones worked in the brewery industry before coming to Hi Fi. “I don’t think there has ever been a lack of interest,” she adds. Now, however, there’s more opportunity and less stigma, she says.
In 2018, women made up 17% of Billboard Magazine’s Power 100 list, an annual roundup of the industry’s biggest players. This was up from 10% in 2017. “There are a lot of women working really hard out there,” says Hi Fi Marketing Manager Rachel Hoffman, who is also a musician. However, while some barriers are breaking down, Hoffman says insidious behaviors persist, making women in music feel like outsiders. It’s not uncommon for men to walk into an office and shake hands with all the other men in the room but not with her, Hoffman explains. "It can be assumed that when a woman is in an office she doesn’t have an important job,” she says. “Other than secretary,” adds Ehrlich.
Hi Fi bar manager Lisa Kwon appreciates working with a female head of security. Kwon has been bartending for years and recently moved to Eugene from Portland. “Being behind the bar and observing people,” she explains, “You can tell through someone’s body language if they’ve had too much or if they’re in a place where they’re not safe.” “It’s easier to communicate, as women in general,” she continues. “Having Kelly as my security manager, when there’s a problem there’s no hesitation.” “There’s a common misconception that for security you need big beefy dudes,” Jones explains. “I feel like almost all situations can be defused with just conversation and a non-threatening personality.” “That puts our customers at ease,” she continues, “knowing there is someone on security who is there to make them feel safe.”
And all the women agree, being better attuned to body language is an advantage they have in the environment of a music venue. “Not to say that men can’t ready body language from across the room,” Jones explains, “but I feel like women are just so dialed into that.”
They all hope this makes for a more comfortable environment for both female patrons as well as performers. “You walk into a strange new venue and it’s all men,” Jones adds, “You’re automatically like, ok I’m going to be a little guarded.”
Most of all, the Hi Fi management team wants their work to pave the way for more women to get into the industry. “We’re setting the standard,” Jones says. “Because we’re doing this now it’s going to make it easier down the line.”
Want to visit Hi Fi Music Hall? Visit their WEBSITE for a calendar of upcoming shows!
*Interview and article by Will Kennedy, all pictures provided by Hi Fi Music Hall