Q’s With EqualizeHer Co-Founders Linda Perry & Alisha Ballard On Empowering Women Throughout The Music Biz

Alisha Ballard and Linda Perry, co-founders of EqualizeHer. The duo is pictured in front of West Hollywood’s Troubadour nightclub, which hosted a showcase event Oct. 9 to raise awareness and funds for the organization’s mission to address gender inequality in music. Photo by Emily Wynne-Hughes

West Hollywood’s Troubadour has been the location for many important moments in live history. From artists like Joni Mitchell and Linda Ronstadt first performing there in the 1960s to Phoebe Bridgers and Demi Lovato playing a “Save Our Stages” benefit in October 2020, the venue’s hosted a slew of top female performers for more than 50 years – but there should and could be more.

Witness the 2022 study “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” based on data from 2012 to 2021 assembled by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, which found that women sadly only represent 21.8% of all artists, 12.7% of songwriters and 2.8% of producers. A new organization, EqualizeHER, co-founded by singer/songwriter/producer Linda Perry and philanthropist/activist Alisha Ballard, seeks to radically level the playing field.

Toward that goal, the group presented EqualizeHer LIVE at the Troubadour on Oct. 9 featuring Aimee Mann, Paris Jackson and Tinashe, along with performances from young, aspiring female artists.

The lineup included Ashley Del Cid, a 17-year-old singer/songwriter from Los Angeles and a participant in The Art Of Giving Back (affiliated with Little Kids Rock); Whesli, a lauded musician from Tulsa, Oklahoma; Audley, a self-taught musician, hip-hop artist and dancer from San Diego; up-and-coming singer/talent Tish Melton; and Jasmine Star, a 19-year-old guitar virtuoso.

EqualizeHer LIVE is the first in a series of planned events and activations from EqualizeHer, which launched at South by Southwest earlier this year, that will give women a spot on the stage and in the studio.

“I believe, as women, we have the responsibility of amplifying each other’s voices and personal experiences,” Tinashe said in a statement. “I am honored to work alongside EqualizerHer to inspire our youth to develop the confidence and power to disrupt the system, make an impact, and be whoever they want to be. Being surrounded by such incredible women in music has been so special for me and I hope this event makes a difference to all who attend, that it inspires them to pursue their music dreams and achieve success in whatever path they choose.”

A limited number of tickets for the Troubadour event were available to the public for purchase, with the majority designated as invitation-only for industry VIPs with the aim to raise awareness and funds to address gender inequity in music.

EqualizeHer is committed to working toward equal representation of women across all sectors of the music industry “from recording studios, to stages to board rooms.”

Perry has seen the need for more women in the industry firsthand, from the perspective of her various roles in the business, be it as an artist in 4 Non Blondes, a songwriter (whose credits including “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera and “Get the Party Started” by Pink) and as a record producer. In 2018, Perry was the first solo woman to receive a Grammy Award nomination for Producer of the Year, Non Classical in 20 years.

Pollstar caught up with Perry and Ballard to chat about EqualizeHER’s goals and the importance of showcasing a variety of genres at the Troubadour event, from the alternative rock / folk stylings of Aimee Mann to Tinashe’s take on R&B.

Pollstar: Can you talk about the inspiration behind founding EqualizeHER?
Linda Perry: I’ve gravitated toward trying to help females from day one when I got into production and songwriting because I kept hearing the same story from a lot of these artists that I was working with, how they feel like the male producers are condescending, that sometimes they don’t feel safe … Any time they have an idea about something, it’s always shot down. I mean, I felt I went through that when I was in 4 Non Blondes.

I’m an engineer, I’m a producer, I know what I’m doing. I know what all those gadgets do in the studio. I had to teach myself because the guys that I would work with didn’t want to give me the information. So it has been something I’ve been doing for a while, trying to educate females about what exactly they’re doing in the studio, what these microphones and compressors and all these gadgets do, don’t be intimidated by them.

And then all of a sudden, here comes Alisha Ballard, who has this same concept of how females should be treated in this business as I do. And now we’re sharing our stories, our feelings, our ideas. We are a powerhouse together; we’re going out there and trying to educate and bring awareness to this problem that is still very, very current.

Alisha Ballard: I have two daughters who are 18 and 21 and my husband and I are sending them off into the world. We want it to be an equal world and we want them to have the same opportunities as men do. I mean, when you only have 2.8% of music producers that are female, there’s something missing there. You’re missing an entire half of the population’s perspective on producing music – that’s just not acceptable.

We want to create safety [in the industry]. That’s a big one for us, just creating safe spaces, especially if you have a young teenage girl who wants to go record an album and that’s her dream. … We also want women to understand that if you can’t sing or play an instrument, you can still work in the music industry. That’s another big focus that Linda and I have both talked about, her passion [for] teaching girls that there are these careers like producing, engineering, mixing, mastering, going on tour – you can do lighting, sound …. It’s not just about creating more pop stars, it’s about changing the music industry from the ground up.

My story is that I have always loved music since I was a kid. I’d make tape recordings at 7 or 8 waiting for my song on the radio with a cassette player … I completely missed my calling of having a career in the music industry. … I would have loved to be a DJ or something, even just through college, for extra money. I didn’t have role models or people around me that were doing that, that were female. So it’s something that I feel very strongly about because I do feel like had I had the opportunity to be a part of some of these programs that we’re supporting and walking alongside, my life could look very different. And I love my life, but I don’t want other girls to miss an opportunity to follow their dreams.

How did you approach putting together the lineup for EqualizeHer LIVE at the Troubadour?
Perry: I remember when I was a kid, if I went to shows, I wanted to be on that stage. And then once you’re on it, it gives you a whole other motivation. So Alisha and I really believe in giving experience, giving opportunity, because the possibilities are endless. You know, once you have the hunger, once you have the drive, once you identify what you want, then it’s go-time.

So, we wanted to be able to put some young creative talent on stage and then let them open up for Aimee Mann, Tinashe, Paris Jackson. How cool is that? They’re going to go on and open up and be playing at the Troubadour. So we’re hoping to raise the bar of opportunity and possibility in these kids’ minds – and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not really about Paris Jackson and Aimee Mann. It’s about, hey, can you guys help us support these kids? And they are!

Ballard: Linda was very intentional and I agreed … about the different types of music, because we don’t want girls [thinking] “Oh, you have to be a pop star.” … The music that’s in you is what the world needs to hear, whatever that sounds like and whatever genre. I think sometimes girls get fast-tracked into the lane of “OK, you’re a pop star and that’s you,” because labels want to make money, obviously. A lot of times it’s like, OK, what’s going to make the most money rather than being true to what kind of artist you are.z

What’s next for EqualizeHer?
Perry: There’s a lot of wonderful programs that do songwriting camps and stuff like that. One of my feelings is OK, but what happens after that? … We thought it would be really great to be able to be really interactive and proactive and get the girls out of their rooms and out of those programs. If they wrote a song at She’s The Music, well, then play it at our next event. Let’s let it be heard. Let’s let it be seen. Let’s get you out there. Let’s give you experience. Because to me, the only way to really, truly learn is just get thrown out there and see what you’re made of. And so that’s what we’re trying to do – that’s what EqualizeHer is attempting. We’re attempting to really get in there, shake things up, get kids motivated, inspired, get people in the industry aware and supporting. … Anywhere girls are being suppressed musically, creatively, we want to be there.

Ballard: Every kid needs music – boys and girls. You know, music is such a gift and so healing and so comforting. We just want to give music to kids. And that’s what a lot of these programs do. But we do want it to be equal. We want the girls to have as much access as the boys do. For whatever reason – we’re still in the process of figuring that out – it’s not happening. So how do we change that? I think we’re on the right track. We’re really excited. Linda and I are definitely very determined to make a difference.