How Citi and Sheryl Crow Are Lifting Up Women in the Music Industry

Inside the #SeeHerHearHer movement

Sheryl Crow has long been a creative force for good.

The nine-time Grammy Award winner has lent her passion to a number of causes, including the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, National Resources Defense Council, the World Food Program, Adopt a Classroom, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, MusicCares and more. 

Last year, she joined Citi's efforts to boost representation of women in the music industry through the #SeeHerHearHer movement. #SeeHerHearHer was inspired by the #SeeHer movement, started in 2016 by the Association of National Advertisers to promote the accurate portrayal of women and girls in advertising and media. 

Given Citi's heavy involvement in music, the brand saw an opportunity to create something like #SeeHer for the music industry specifically. The program launched last March on International Women's Day, with Maren Morris as its original celebrity backer. Sheryl Crow signed on to the program in September—the same month that she was honored with the Clio Music Impact Award for her effort to better the world. 

In the Q&A below, Muse spoke with Crow and with Citi CMO Jennifer Breithaupt about the #SeeHerHearHer movement—what it is, and where it's heading. And Crow reflected more generally on the role of music to unite, the challenges for young female artists trying to break through, and her own sense of urgency to write about social and political issues in the traditional singer/songwriter mold. 

Muse: Sheryl, why did you want to join #SeeHerHearHer at this point?

Sheryl Crow: It's been an interesting thing to watch the whole #MeToo movement and the conversations that are being had now about the presence, or lack of presence, of women in substantial roles in the music business. It's finally a conversation we're hearing. And it's kind of long overdue. I've been making records for the better part of 25 years, and things are starting to change. But it's pretty slow going. So, to be part of a campaign or a movement toward lifting young female artists and women who are interested in being not only in the business side of music, but perhaps behind the recording desk or even in a position of producing—that's something I was really interested in helping push forward.

And you felt it was a strong program. 

Yeah. What the program stands for, but also what it's starting to accomplish—I thought it was not only interesting but really empowering.

Jen, tell us what the program is and what an artist of Sheryl's caliber brings to it.

Jennifer Breithaupt: You're probably familiar with #SeeHer, the movement that was launched by the Association of National Advertisers to really create an accurate portrayal of women and girls in advertising and media. You've got hundreds and hundreds of brands involved in that initiative. And it's really helped make a great change in a lot of brands, the way we tell our stories, but also where we show up to tell those stories. Citi joined that initiative about a year ago. And we were so motivated by what it was able to do for our brand, and for our storytelling, but also how our employees felt about it. Given the momentum that we discovered quickly from that, we thought we could do more. Citi could take a leadership position to take #SeeHer to the next level. So, in partnerships with the ANA, we launched #SeeHerHearHer on International Women's Day in 2019. Really, that was a result of what we were seeing with our large presence in music. We were seeing that women, quite frankly, were missing in the music industry. Then we thought, what a great way for Citi to lean on an already great initiative with #SeeHer and help shine a light on a big problem in the music industry. If we were able to help another industry, we thought that would be fantastic. 

It's great for us to have women like Sheryl Crow and Madonna and Maren Morris and the Brittany Howards of the world help us, because it's really their personal experience and stories that show it's a real issue, that it's a real struggle. And it's inspiring for young girls coming up the ranks, whether they be engineers or producers or songwriters or singers, to hear those stories and see that it's possible because you have to see her to be her. Having Sheryl and the other women I mentioned involved really helps to shine a light on the problem. What they're able to do, not just by their presence but also by leaning back and pulling others forward, has been really inspiring.

Citi has long had partnerships with musicians. Can you talk about why Citi is involved in music and how this program fits into those broader initiatives?

Jennifer Breithaupt: Music, for us as a global brand, has really been the universal language that allows us to speak to our clients and prospects around the world. It's such a powerful tool. As a result of that, we built an entertainment platform that now is one of the largest entertainment access platforms of any brand. Music is a huge component of that program. This year, we'll work with over 1,500 artists, host over 8,000 music event for our customers. We have partnerships with music festivals, as well as artists and bands. We have a big relationship with NBC through the Citi Concert Series on Today. So for us, music has really been a way for us to not only reach and connect with consumers around world, but to differentiate our brand versus others in our category.

You're also bringing more female artists to the fore in your advertising, right?

Jennifer Breithaupt: We are. When we launched #SeeHerHearHer, what we were really doing was saying, "OK, we're putting this platform out into the world, and it's not a moment. It's a movement." We were saying, "OK, others join us." This isn't just a Citi brand platform. It's a call to other brands to join us. The commitments that each brand is going to make will be different, but our commitment has been that we'd have equal representation of female singers, songwriters and producers in all of our global advertising, and we'd also highlight female artists within our entertainment platform. And we have a lot of ways to do that. We can create platforms for women to show up. The Concert Series is one example. A program called Citi Sound Vault is another, where we have these larger concerts and we can make sure women are fairly represented there. And then our third commitment was really to help the ANA build this coalition of brands to commit to joining this movement, because we can't do it alone. This has to be a collective effort, and if you look at the success of #SeeHer, we know that if all these brands join hands and kind of jump together, we can really change an industry, which is super exciting. And then, lastly, the other thing we've done from a commitment standpoint is create and roll out a mentorship series. This is pairing up-and-coming artists with established artists like Sheryl and others. So it's really exciting.

Sheryl, you won the Clio Music Impact Award this year for your work on social issues. Can you talk about what responsibility you think musicians have to make the world a better place, and how much responsibility you feel personally to doing that?

Sheryl Crow: That's an interesting question. For me, I feel a sense of urgency to write about that. Especially as an older artist, there's a certain amount of liberation that comes with my age—that I'm not competing for radio space with all the young artists out there. Young artists pretty much dominate the airwaves, and I think that is largely because of what advertisers are interested in and where they put their money, which happens to fall on a very young demographic. So in many ways it's liberating for me because I can write without any sort of self-imposed parameters of trying to fit a given format. For me, as an older artist and someone who's been around for as long as I have—and also as a mom of two young boys, two future adults—I feel a sense of urgency to write about the things I see and to address the elephant in the room. That's what's interesting to me.

Where I find my strongest motivation as an artist is to give voice to what it is that my community is talking about, which are issues that matter to me and experiences I've had that I feel like are universal. Since my first record came out in 1993, I've always felt compelled to write about the experiences we all have, no matter what the story is—pain, loss, joy, all the different emotions. And as far as it being a responsibility, I happen to have grown up listening to artists that did give voice to what was going on and the trajectory of our history. People like Bob Dylan. And certainly in the '60s and the early '70s and even the '80s, when I was coming up, so much of what artists wrote about covered what was happening socially and politically. I mean, to age myself, I did happen to grow up in the early '70s. I was born in 1962, so I remember the late '60s, I remember the '70s, and those times did inform me as to what artistry meant. 

We've gotten away from that. We are much more conscious of the six-second attention span. Laptop pop has become what our kids are more used to. But there's still a great need for the singer/songwriter. My objective has been really to try to create a space for that, or at least still honor that space, because I feel like there'll always be a need for the singer/songwriter. As far as it being a responsibility for me to write about those things, it's just something I love and something I do, and hopefully I can inspire young artists coming up that there is still a need for that, and it can be a beautiful tradition. Our art is what has throughout time notated who we were in a given moment in our history, whether it be our writings, our music, our paintings, whatever it is. So I want to be a part of what we look back on and how we see ourselves. That's where I see my responsibility. 

Who are the up-and-coming artists you admire these days, for their artistry or the way they address issues?

Sheryl Crow: Yeah, it's interesting. What we see in pop music isn't a complete depiction of all the great music that is out there. There's a lot of great music in pop, but there's also an incredible wealth of great music being made that we don't necessarily hear on the airwaves. I live in Nashville and we have a radio station called Lightning 100 that plays amazing artists. A lot of them are women from Lucius to Joseph to Courtney Barnett. Certainly Brandi Carlile has been a fixture in that format. There are a lot of young women who are writing great songs, who are making great albums, who don't necessarily get a look from pop radio. But they do exist. And great young bands like the Revivalists—that whole format is filled with great artists. Whenever I turn that radio station on, I am extremely inspired. Part of my having made this record Threads gave me the opportunity to shine a light on artists who are inspiring me now. Gary Clark Jr. and Brandi and Margo Price and Chris Stapleton as well as Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires. I'm constantly inspired by what I'm hearing in other formats as well—Sturgill Simpson and H.E.R. and the X Ambassadors. So many great young artists.

The way the industry has changed, it's so much harder to break through. Do you think brands like Citi can help younger artists get noticed and help important voices be heard?

Sheryl Crow: I feel like it's monumental, what Citi is doing. Not only is Citi putting their best foot forward in trying to lift up women artists, songwriters, women who aspire to be in the business, but they're also shining a light on the fact that there is a gaping hole where women should be existing. They're also digging into what it is that is keeping young women from wanting to be behind the board in the studio, or wanting to be producers, and the tradition that has left women out of those positions. For me, I'm grateful to be able to be part of that dialogue and to keep that dialogue alive, but also be part of a program that is pushing forward women in those positions and giving them a voice. 

Music is becoming more central to the creative product across so many industries—film and TV, gaming, of course brand marketing. Can you both talk about how artists and brands can work together in ways that work well for both parties?

Sheryl Crow: I'll jump in first. This is just my estimation about it, but with people not buying records anymore—with downloading and streaming services—it's harder and harder not only to break through but for artists to make money. Just having been on the promotion cycle for this album [Threads], the amount of money I've put into going and doing TV shows, going to Europe and playing for our worldwide fan base, the money we used to make on record sales that went into promotions no longer exists. I don't even know how young artists are able to afford doing simple things like going and doing TV shows without the money that existed from selling an album. As far as getting any sort of light shone on songs that you're trying to get heard, I find that probably the best way, particularly for artists who don't fit pop radio, is to do advertising and also do TV soundtracks or movie soundtracks. It has become much more competitive—obviously that's the go-to for record labels trying to get their artists heard. But for better for worse, with technology the way it is and with streaming services the way they are, with playlists and that sort of thing, there are ways outside of the norm to get your music heard. But it is so competitive. And it is all-ecompassing when it comes to brands.

Social media seems to be the most fruitful way for all parties—the artist, the record label, the advertiser—to build momentum. Artists can utilize their fan base, or their brand base, to push forward that momentum. Now, for someone like me, who doesn't want to invest my time in pushing forward my social-media platform—because I have children, and I don't want them to think back on their years with their mom with her face in a phone constantly—it's a conundrum. It is a necessary evil. I think Jen can speak better to this because she's on the advertising side. But it definitely is a conundrum.

Jen, how do you feel about that?

Jennifer Breithaupt: As a big brand, we have an incredible opportunity and responsibility to use our platforms for connecting with millions and millions of consumers who love music around the world. To build on what Sheryl was saying, it's incredibly difficult for some of these emerging and up-and-coming artists to not only fund what they're doing but to have a platform to be heard. So, for example, we just featured a cover of [the Bright Eyes track] "The First Day of My Life" by an up-and-coming Nashville artist by the name of Jillian Edwards in one of our TV spots. It's getting incredible fanfare and has really helped to put this artist, who's brilliant, on the map.

Another great example is when we launched an initiative where Maren Morris agreed to mentor a young lady named Kiara Brown out of Las Vegas who was studying to be a music engineer, but she was also an aspiring singer/songwriter. And by partnering with Maren, she got that platform and made it through almost the final round of The Voice.

It's just about creating these opportunities for young women and young artists to have their music heard, to give them the platform, and then to also have an opportunity to connect with someone like a Sheryl who shows them that, hey, it's possible, and you can do it in your own way. You don't have to look a certain way or act a certain way. Just be you and it's all possible. So I think these brand partnerships are incredibly important, and music is such a big part of our storytelling at the brand. We owe it to create these moments. And I truly believe in balanced storytelling. If you just use music all written by men, that's a certain way to tell stories, but it's never going to be the balance of how a woman might talk about, as Sheryl said, pain or loss or joy. We need balance in our storytelling. 

It's 2020 now. How do you see the #SeeHerHearHer program evolving over the next year? And are you tracking any specific goals around how it's working?

Jennifer Breithaupt: We're just going to double down and keep doing what we're doing. Again, our goal to the ANA would be to help them bring in a number of large brands, and we're on that path right now. We've had a lot of brands say, "I want to help with this." Research shows 22 percent of artists, 12 percent of songwriters and 2 percent of producers are women. We have to track that over time, so that's the starting place for us: Are we able to move those numbers in the right direction? And I think we will be, with this powerful brand coalition and folks like Sheryl helping us to amplify and shine a light on this. We're excited for 2020. There's so much more to do, but I think the momentum is there.

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