Last Thursday evening, the Pandora headquarters buzzed with a warm, excited energy despite the torrential downpour outside. A DJ in the back corner of the meeting room played chill, mellowed-out beats as people began to trickle in. The reason for the occasion? A kick-off panel for the first-ever Women in Music festival — a weekend-long event of concerts, conferences, and panels completely run and organized by women and featuring some of the brightest women from all facets of the Bay Area music scene.
At the Pandora offices, women dominated the crowd. The event-goers hailed largely from the Oakland creative scene, with women and men alike decked out in colorful, stylish garb that breathed life into Pandora’s otherwise sterile offices. Evangeline Elder, a co-founder and primary organizer of the event, moderated the panel, which featured a discussion with four leaders from vastly different fields of the industry: Ellen Lu, a talent buyer from Goldenvoice; Rayana Jay, a Richmond singer and songwriter; Eden Hagos, a Soulection DJ and producer; Amy Strack, part of the Content Licensing department at Pandora; and Claudia Saenz, the founder and director of Chulita Vinyl Club.
Elder opened up the panel with the question of mentorship, asking the speakers to share tales of other women who’d previously mentored them in the music industry. Building from those stories, each of the women imparted their wisdom onto the audience about the way they carved space for themselves in a male-dominated music sphere.
In a particularly poignant instance, Hagos, referring to her East African heritage, shared how she had been “raised in a culture to serve men.” And, as a result, she had to learn how to be vocal, how to develop an unshakeable drive, to be heard in the overwhelming white noise of men.
“People will call you a bitch,” Hagos said. “They will call you a diva. They will call you whatever they want. But this is business. You have to set the tone. You have to teach people how to treat you from the start.”
In response to how she deals with the awareness of being a woman in the music industry, Jay also offered a second perspective on what it feels like to be in the studio with rappers. Instead of being confrontational, Jay instead expressed that it’s sometimes even easier to ignore the sometimes misogynistic language and attitude of rappers in the hip-hop scene.
“I don’t think that they know what they’re saying,” she laughed. “Otherwise I’d like to think that they wouldn’t do that.”
Each of the women were asked about their fields: Strack discussed the evolution of content licensing, Lu expressed that talent buying isn’t as glamorous as it seems, and Saenz spoke about bringing together black and brown communities. All the women present continued to stress how important it was to maintain drive when the going gets tough — as it inevitably does for women in male-dominated, high-profile industries.
“When someone tells you no, it’s not that you can’t do it,” Jay said firmly, making direct eye contact with members of the crowd to make sure that people heard what she was saying. “It’s that they won’t do it with you.”
But for Jay, and all the other fierce women present in the audience or on stage, that definitely didn’t mean that you shouldn’t try — or that you wouldn’t succeed.
The first of many events of the weekend, the speaker panel preceded an art market and vending fair Friday evening at Alena studios, followed by the “Gold Party” and “Candied Yamz” parties Friday and Saturday night — both with an all-women lineup of DJs and performers. The programmed events also didn’t necessarily pertain to music: a number of entrepreneurial and self-building workshops, a Women in Content panel, and “Soul Yoga” were all offered, shaping a diverse and inclusive environment that welcomed all in the Bay Area creative sphere.
Check out photos from some of the weekend’s events below.
Written by Eda Yu
Photos by Debbie Zheng and Myles Thompson