(March 19, 2021). It’s no secret. As sad as this fact may be, the music industry is and always has been a male-dominated one. Especially on the business end of it.
A 2019 Rolling Stone article cited a study that revealed only 4 of the 26 most prominent major labels in the U.S. and U.K. – or 15% – were run or co-run by women.
But five second-year Drexel University students are doing their part to help change that. These five women with diverse backgrounds have launched Dime + Dog Records, a new Philly-based label “dedicated to cultivating a fresh new sound in indie/alternative music,” as their website states.
The label founders are (alphabetically): Halie Fox, Sophie Griffiths, Mina Johnson, Catherine “Cat” Stagliano, and Agatha Zin.
These ladies are making their own history by becoming the first female-run record label launched out of Drexel and one of the few labels, in general, by women who didn’t transition into ownership by way of major recording careers (think Madonna’s Maverick Records or Sylvia Robinson’s Sugar Hill label).
Instead, the five friends and business partners have Drexel‘s Music Industry degree program to thank for their connection as well as their dream of starting Dime + Dog Records. All five are pursuing Bachelors’ in Music Industry with various emphases, including Music Business, Recording Arts and Music Production. It was through their common curriculum – and their boredom with one class in particular – that they decided to pool their knowledge and skills and do something different.
“It was our dislike for a music theory class actually,” says A&R head Halie Fox during the team’s recent interview with djrobblog. “Agatha, Mina, Cat and I were all in this class together – and Sophie was my roommate – so we were always together,” she continues.
“Then Covid hit during freshman year so we didn’t get to spend a lot of time together. When we returned to school this past (fall), we got back together – we all lived in the same building. Then one night we were together and we realized ‘we could totally do this. We could pull this off, we’re totally capable, so why not?’”
The “this” was starting a female-run label in an industry well-known for its male dominance. It would be a daunting task for even the most seasoned veterans, much more so for a group of five women who, in some cases, just a couple years ago were earning their high school diplomas.
Indeed, the new label – launched in February – has some ambitious goals. The women have already signed two new artists and they’re looking for more.
But they are also aware of the hurdles they face in this dog-eat-(Dime+)Dog world, and they’re very well prepared for any barriers they’ll encounter. In fact, in their young careers, each woman has already carved a pretty nice niche in the industry, and they bring their unique skills and experiences with them to Dime + Dog.
Mina, a journalist originally from Los Angeles, is Head of PR and Publicity for the label. She brings four years of journalism experience to Dime + Dog and acknowledges how quickly the label got off the ground, noting, “we started developing this idea in December and rolled it out over our winter break – December/early January – and we launched just last month.”
Agatha, whose background includes working as an assistant stage manager for a rock festival and is Head of Artist Management for Dime + Dog, says about the industry’s gender inequities, “women are constantly told to always step their game up because they’re female. We could be doing the same as our male counterparts but for some reason we still need to do more just to be considered on the same level.”
Indeed, the chasm between men and women in the industry is deep and wide.
Sure, women may be making strides lately as recording artists – as this past week’s Grammy awards will attest. Ladies took home all four of this year’s major awards: Record of the Year (Billie Eilish), Album of the Year (Taylor Swift), Song of the Year (H.E.R.) and Best New Artist (Megan Thee Stallion), and it may be the first time that’s ever happened where a different woman won each award.
But on the business end of things, the numbers tell a different story.
The statistics cited in that 2019 Rolling Stone article were stark, especially considering that women make up more than half the U.S. population and account for a large percentage of record sales, music streams, and song downloads. Yet they still lag when it comes to ownership and/or management of big record labels.
A separate study in 2019 showed that only a small number of labels – major or otherwise – were owned by women. That study, cited in womeninstereo.com, found five labels that were outright owned by women, three of which were started by artists who left major labels (as artists) to start their own companies through which they could release their music: Madonna’s Maverick Records, country singer Gretchen Wilson’s Redneck Records, and English electro pop singer/songwriter/DJ Victoria Hesketh, who started On Repeat Records in 2013.
Madonna’s Maverick Records was noted as the only known one to which a major artist – ‘90s superstar Alanis Morissette – was signed. There are other labels out there – for example, Janet Jackson launched her own Rhythm Nation Records in 2018. But many of them operate as small imprints, not major frontline labels, and Jackson’s Nation – which launched as a partnership with indie distributor and label Cinq Music – has yet to have any notable success.
Regarding the strides women made at this year’s Grammys, Halie Fox says, “I don’t think (Sunday’s) Grammys will really be recognized by our male counterparts. You can talk about it all you want, but there’s always a rebuttal. It’s definitely a good step, but there’s always an “issue” with women doing things on their own.”
Sophie Griffiths, who handles project management duties for Dime + Dog and is a singer/songwriter/musician who’s played in funk, blues, and indie rock bands, offers a perspective that is clearly rooted in her musical and technical background.
“The Grammys are limited,” she states very emphatically.
“Recognition is (reserved for people) at the very top, and there are so many at the bottom who don’t get the recognition – male or female,” Sophie continues. “Sure, everyone knows who (superstar producer) Max Martin is; everyone knows the artists.
“But what about the people behind the scenes? Two percent of the engineers in the music industry are women. And that’s absurd,” she said.
Added Agatha, referring to the infamous statement made by former Grammy chief Neil Portnow in 2018, “Do women need to step our game up? Or do YOU need to pay attention?”
Mindful of the unsung role that women – and many behind-the-scenes technicians in general – play in creating the music we listen to, Dime + Dog still aims to be an artist-friendly company.
As Cat Stagliano, Head of Label Management and Business Operations, says of Dime + Dog’s goals, “we just want to build a good foundation with the artists we have and the artists we bring on in the next couple months.
“Within a year, we want to see our streaming numbers go up and that people know who our artists are and who we are, and that we’re super passionate about the music we put out,” Cat stated.
The artists they’re working with so far are newcomers Ehahn (@ehahn18) and Christina Nicole (@christinamooney). Ehahn, the first artist signed to Dime + Dog, is a Philadelphia-based singer/songwriter/producer who plans to release new material this year. Christina Nicole hails from New Jersey and also has some new music in store for her listeners.
My observation about the label’s nascent roster prompted this answer to my next obvious question: “Yes, we want to start out working with female artists. We’re not opposed to other genders, but we definitely wanted to start with females,” says Sophie.
On selecting and developing their artists, Sophie noted, “We are looking for people who have music that is (already) in the works, and then – not necessarily giving them ideas for the songs – but helping them cultivate their own ideas.”
“We don’t want it to be our music, we want it to be their music. If they send us a demo, (Halie and I) are here to give them technical advice…to provide them with mixers and engineers who can help them better than we can,” she continued. “Basically, we’re just looking to improve what they already have; to grow what they want to do.”
It’s also very clear in which genre Dime + Dog wants to make its mark. The indie/alternative scene is “where it’s at” (to borrow a title from a famous alternative rock/funk/hip-hop artist we all should know).
Sophie, who has played in such bands, talked about how the term “indie” has evolved over time.
“When it first started out, ‘indie’ referred to anyone in the rock scene that wasn’t on a major label. Over time, that (term) has grown (to mean) people that make alternative rap, funk, or anything that is not what you typically see on a major label,” Sophie noted.
Decisions about artist signings and creative decisions about which songs will be released are a joint effort among all five proprietors, although first dibs on music releases would go through Sophie, who heads the label’s Creative Services, and Agatha, who runs Artist Management.
And they’re quick to remind me that they’re not looking for the “next Britney Spears or Taylor Swift or Drake.” Such aspirations would be a quick turnoff.
Says Halie, “it’s good to have goals, but it’s also good to be realistic, in the sense that I want you to realistically start with where you envision yourself in a year. And in a year, unless you’re like Billie Eilish on SoundCloud, I don’t think you’re going to be the ‘next big thing’…it sounds like you’re thinking outside your realm.”
Sophie added, “if someone approached me with that kind of goal, it seems like they would be in it for the fame, not the music. And that’s not what we’re about.”
That said, the women are very aware of the rich musical legacy surrounding them and their Philly home base – mainstream or otherwise.
Says Agatha, “I was lucky to grow up in Philly (listening to everything) from Boyz II Men to Hall & Oates to The Roots. You could go your whole life just listening to Philly artists from any genre.”
This blogger agrees with her.
There’s no doubt in my mind that Philly’s solid musical foundation will bode well for these very focused young women whose passion about the indie music scene and their desire to be a big part of it is abundantly clear.
Judging by its Internet and social media presence, Dime + Dog Records will also meet its goal of being very artist-friendly as its website touts five “programs” to help prospective artists build their careers: marketing, public relations, management, creative services, and distribution – each led by one of the five owners.
It all looks very no-frills from a label that is just getting started in this tough business that is the music industry. But Dime + Dog Records seems up to the task and appears to be heading in the right direction.
As Sophie put it, “we’re excited to see where this goes!”
A heartfelt congratulations goes to all five women on their label launch! And I thank them for being so gracious in giving me and djrobblog this “first” interview.
For more information about Dime + Dog Records, please visit its website at https://www.dimeanddogrecords.com/.
DJRob is a freelance music blogger from somewhere on the East Coast who covers R&B, hip-hop, pop and rock genres – plus lots of music news and current stuff! You can follow him on Twitter at @djrobblog.
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