Women in Production Expanding Presence In Post-Pandemic Touring

Debbie Taylor, one of Pollstar’s Women Of Live 2022, joins the women paving pathways in production. Courtesy of Debbie Taylor

Throughout the history of music, production has largely been a male-dominated field. Women working behind the scenes were often relegated to more “secretarial” roles, where their main focus was sitting in offices and helping to make schedules.

The pandemic changed everything. After more than a year of staying at home twiddling thumbs and wondering when shows would be able to go back out on the road, the production side of the industry saw a massive loss in staff. Being unable to stay put for an undetermined length of time forced many roadies to walk away from the industry they loved and find jobs in other fields.

While the industry is still struggling to find its footing due to a major loss of staff, the mass exodus has opened doors for women and BIPOC who typically struggled to gain a foothold in production. 

“My company makes an effort to place BIPOC women in particular jobs in this industry,” Tina Farris of Tina Farris Tours told Pollstar. “People are asking and it’s important to me to have an answer for them. Recruitment is at an all-time high.”

Truck drivers, roadies, lighting technicians, sound techs – everyone was affected by the pandemic in devastating ways. As live music returns, those lasting effects are seeing tour routings short-staffed and desperate for new hires. Along with it, women have been provided with more opportunities.

“[The amount of women in production] is definitely on the increase, which is great,” Debbie Taylor, who has worked with greats such as Guns N’ Roses, the Rolling Stones, BTS and more on productions, told Pollstar. “Especially during COIVD we had a lot more time to talk about things, and do nothing but talk because we couldn’t work. It’s definitely been a hot topic of conversation, but I think even before that you were seeing a lot more women come through. I suppose the problem that we had over the last couple of years, like pre-COVID, is we have women in the industry roles like mine, which are traditionally caregiver kind of roles. What we are seeing now and what we hope to push for more is women in non-traditional female roles. What’s also nice about it is now production coordinators are seen as a lot more essential and rather than being seen as a stepping stone to another career. It’s being realized as a career in its own right.”

The need for more diversity has long been old news. However, the events of the past two years – from COVID to #MeToo to the George Floyd protests – have forced the conversation to continue more frequently. Yet, the music industry remains unique in the way it invites people in. Oftentimes, jobs aren’t found on websites such as Glassdoor and Indeed, but rather through word of mouth or chance meetings at pubs. 

College degrees aren’t necessary. In fact, many find themselves stumbling into live music after attending a show and admiring the staff running the lights, sound systems and backstage. The epiphany that these are real people working real jobs and making a real living occurs. The magic and allure of the music industry come from that aha moment. It’s a dream that many find themselves stumbling into, never to look back. 

Debbie Taylor, one of Pollstar’s Women Of Live 2022, joins the women paving pathways in production. Courtesy of Debbie Taylor

With the need to become more diverse in the workspace and more opportunities opening up, the production industry is suited to make big strides going forward. At the same time, there stands the question of whether diversity hires should even be made in the first place.

“It’s a tough one in regards to diversity hires in general,” Taylor says. “Now’s a perfect opportunity. I think we’re seeing a lot of people leave the industry and are given a wonderful chance to start filling roles with people who wouldn’t traditionally take their roles. But personally, I don’t ever want to be thought of as a diversity hire. I don’t think a lot of people want to be seen that way. I think most people, in general, want to be seen as being hired for their skills and their talent. But if we need diversity hires in order to get the ball rolling, then I think that’s the way it has to be. I think we all want to be seen as the right person for the job. And for me, that is the true definition of diversity; it’s the right person for the right job, regardless of background, sex, orientation, gender orientation, ethnicity.”

Organizations such as Women In Music and Roadies of Color make sure to consistently highlight the women working behind the scenes. 

Tour manager Misty Roberts, who has worked with Jonas Brothers and James Taylor, has been credited with helping to pull the production industry together and providing opportunities for women to sit down and chat about their work, leading to more camaraderie and collaboration.

Discussions surrounding pay have also become more prominent in the conversation. Women and BIPOC who cut deals may be happy with what they receive but unaware that it’s less than what others are being paid. Opening up the dialogue moves the industry in the right direction when it comes to providing fair opportunities to people who have previously been overlooked. 

Working in production isn’t without its hardships. While many consider production jobs some of the coolest in the world – offering employees the means to travel the globe and set up live shows – it can make maintaining roots at home difficult. For women, in particular, it can be tough to start a family when constantly on the road.

“You give up a lot to do it,” Taylor says. “Especially women give up an awful lot. Most of the women I know on the road are single. Don’t have a family; very few mothers out on the road because it’s just very hard. It’s a hard enough job on its own without having a family at home.” 

Women in production still have a long way to go, but now more than ever opportunities to continue pushing forward are presenting themselves. With more women paving the road than ever, diversity backstage is steadily improving.