One of my favorite events during my time at SXSW 2012 was the WIMPS (Women in Professional Music Society) and MEOW (Musicians for Equal Opportunities for Women) High Tea Ladies Luncheon. One hundred and twenty women in music assembled for the tea — a spin-off of a monthly WIMPS gathering in Austin and a collaborative effort with MEOW founder Carla De Santis Black — and all of us got a chance on the mic to briefly introduce ourselves and work. The result was a pretty mind-blowing and motivating demonstration of musical accomplishment. The event also gave me a chance to catch up on the work of De Santis Black who I'd lost track of in 2005 when she published the final issue of the pioneering magazine for women, ROCKRGRL. Now relocated to Austin, she was once again leading and building the music community under the auspices of MEOW, with a mission to "to level the playing field for women in music through networking, education, outreach and advocacy." De Santis Black graciously answered my questions about her work.
Q: You published the last issue of ROCKRGRL in 2005 and founded MEOW in 2011. Did you take some downtime or did you always know you’d start something new? Can you discuss how different (or similar) it was starting ROCKRGRL compared to MEOW?
CDB: Well, when I started ROCKRGRL it was 1995 and the Internet was just starting to catch on. Now, because of the Internet, print is struggling but nobody really knows how to monetize content on the Internet yet so it's still like the wild, Wild West out there.
When I stopped doing ROCKRGRL Magazine at the end of 2005 I was completely burned out. I could see the writing on the wall as far as drop in subscription numbers went, but the conferences were still well attended - although it was also a challenge to find sponsorship money to sustain that as well. I didn't really have a plan when I folded the magazine other than I wanted to do something new. I just wasn't sure what that was. Within a year I realized that I was ready to move on and leave Seattle. I got my condo ready to sell and then the economy hit the skids and selling was not a possibility. It took until the end of 2010 to finally sell it. I wasn't exactly sure how to continue the mission I had in ROCKRGRL — to create a strong community of like-minded women in music to GROW the number of successful women — at the top. I had come up with the name MEOW (Musicians for Equal Opportunities for Women) a few years earlier but not sure what to do with it. When I finally moved to Austin at the end of 2010, I took a year to get my bearings and meet people to see if there was a need in the local community where I could be useful.
The web site — MEOWgazine (www.meowonline.org) — was a very recent decision I made at the end of last year. I want that to be a hub for female musicians to learn about the business, opportunities and ways they can succeed in an industry that is, quite frankly, still a boy's club. It's updated every day and is very much in the style of ROCKRGRL Magazine — which I hope is smart but also entertaining.
Q: You’ve pioneered so much for women in music. Who were/are your role models for both playing music and leading change in the industry? Was activism a natural choice for you?
CDB: Great question. I was really raised to believe you need to be the change you want to see in the world. The early '80s was the time frame when I was playing music and the Go-Go's were so influential to me. I wanted to hear songs in my own voice that I could relate to. At that time there were also so many other women coming up - Pat Benatar, The Pretenders, Heart, the B 52's, Cyndi Lauper - so many cool women playing so many different styles of music. That age of women in music was quickly followed by the less female-friendly hair bands. I was offended that so many people regarded women playing music as simply a "trend." So odd!
Q: You’ve lived (and led) in (at least) two strong music communities (Austin & Seattle) Why Austin now? And was it hard to leave Seattle after having accomplished so much there?
CDB: My family moved at pivotal times in my childhood, so I guess that has always made me feel that I am destined to play out different chapters of my life in different locations. I really enjoy creating events for women in music. I can see how much women enjoy the opportunity to meet and talk about what is important to them. Because SXSW is such an enormous event, I thought Austin would be a great place to do more conferences from. I have already done one in November and have another MEOW Conference scheduled for May 26th. They are starting out small, but I am hoping to grow them into large, national events - SXSW for girls!!
Q: How do you think the obstacles and opportunities for women in music have changed over the past 20 years? Are there more or less?
CDB: I don't think people hear "you're good for a girl" as much any more, but there are still areas where women are not as prevalent: as drummers and behind the scenes. I wonder why there is not a woman who is famous as a guitar player - and just as a guitar player. I wonder why all-female bands are still a rarity in mainstream culture. These are still questions that keep me up at night.
Q: Your clearly very busy with coaching, writing, advocacy and all that is MEOW— how do you take care of you?
CDB: Ha! Good question! I collapse in front of the television and fall asleep to something brain-numbing like Judge Judy or Real Housewives of Wherever. I could definitely do a lot better in that department!
For more information about Carla and MEOW, visit http://carladesantisblack.com/ and http://meowonline.org