Heather Lowery says her superpower is her uniqueness. She states she’s always been different, ever since she was a young Black girl growing up in a small town in Delaware. She describes her younger self as creative and quiet. But she shares she never thought of herself as special until she started experiencing success in her career.
While speaking with Pollstar, Lowery states that her internal compass has continued to guide her through each endeavor. Now, one of the most high-profile Black women in the music industry, she wants to pay all she’s learned forward to the next generation. She herself will be their guide, and she launched a mentorship program, Next Gem Femme, to connect others.
She reflects on the beginning of her program, and her inspiration for starting it. Lowery had an “ah-ha” moment while working at Live Nation Urban, realizing that, more often than not, she was booking men.
“It was very simple,” she tells Pollstar. “Initially I was like, ‘I’m in a live space. I know we work on festivals, tours and live experiences,’ but I was guilty of booking mainly men for everything we did over at Live Nation Urban when I was there. So I wanted to do more for women.”
After she started helping to get more women on the stage, Lowery took a look behind the scenes. Still, she realized there weren’t enough in the industry. That’s when Femme It Forward really launched Next Gem Femme and kicked into gear, with Lowery surrounding herself with empowered women. Many in the program are people of color, and Lowery aims to combat the statistics that see so few working in the industry.
Black women make up only 1.7% of the live industry, while underrepresented women are 8.4%. The music business as a whole isn’t much better, with Black women making up 3% and underrepresented women 8.4%, according to a 2021 study conducted by USC Annenberg.
“I read that same study. Not enough is being done,” Lowery states. “Which is why I created Femme It Forward into an actual movement. I created the mentorship program Next Gem Femme, and why we’re doing the albums as part of the Big Femme Energy series to give more women opportunities in music. My whole purpose now is to try to slowly change those numbers. And it doesn’t happen overnight. I know it may takes years for me to make any significant progress.”
She took her plans for Femme It Foward to Live Nation CEO Michael Rapino, requesting that he join her in a partnership. Since launching the company in 2019, she’s expanded to include She Runs This, which is three all-women panels that feature performances by female artists, and the Give Her FlowHers Awards Gala.
“I realized quickly it was such a necessity in the music industry, across the board, to have a movement,” she says.
Two years in, Next Gem Femme is seeing significant progress. Lowery is in touch with those who went through her program. Oftentimes, alumni will reach out to her, sharing their gratitude for the opportunities she helped present them with.
“Every time I see a woman that’s in the mentorship program, a lot of them break into tears,” she says. “They’re like, ‘Oh my god, you changed my life. If it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t be here.’”
That feedback inspires Lowery to keep pushing forward. She hopes to continue paving the road for diverse women who may sometimes feel there are barriers to entry within the music business.
“Now it’s our mission to celebrate, educate, empower women and give them a platform to share voices on and off the stage,” she says.
While she’s now been able to open new roads for those aiming to get their start in the industry, Lowery has her sights set on dismantling barriers to entry in the upper echelons of the industry. She states that women of color still need to be in positions of power, to be represented on the road, to be on the charts. As she herself continues her own high-powered career, she’s showing exactly how to break the glass ceiling for anyone who dreams of following in her footsteps.
Lowery shares she feels as though she never had a real mentor. Not one who looked like her, at least. One who she could turn to while navigating her own experience as a Black woman, one who could guide her while finding her path. Instead, she navigated everything on her own. She admits it wasn’t easy.
“I needed a mentor,” she says. “I created the program because I wanted to give these women the access, the opportunities, the resources that I never had coming up.”
As Next Gem Fem continues to grow, women of color in the industry no longer have to feel alone. Lowery’s determined to make sure that won’t be the case for anyone else. Through her, they have mentors and peers who look like them. And soon, those low statistics can grow higher in number.