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New foundation launched to support survivors of sex abuse in music industry

Face the Music Now, founded by advocate and author Dorothy Carvello, focuses on helping survivors of sexual misconduct in the music business

By Ethan Millman

Times Up protest in San Francisco
(Picture: Alamy)

For years now, one common question among advocates of the #MeToo movement is when the music industry will face its own reckoning. Musicians like Ryan Adams, Marilyn Manson and R. Kelly alongside powerful executives like Russell Simmons and Charlie Walk have all faced accusations following decades of alleged misconduct, but that hardly scratches the service. A new advocacy foundation is done waiting.

The Face the Music Now foundation, launched last Thursday (April 21), bills itself as the first-ever group focused specifically on helping survivors of sexual harassment and abuse in the music business get their stories out and report their abuse. Founded by music industry advocate and author Dorothy Carvello, the foundation’s goals include helping survivors find legal counsel, connecting survivors with media and advocating for legislation supporting sexual abuse victims such as the Adult Survivors act in New York.

“This is a first step that’s never been done before. No one’s had a safe space to come to report sexual abuse before,” Carvello tells Rolling Stone. “Women are afraid to speak out. Look what happened with Kesha. The kind of treatment she faced is what so many survivors face, and it discourages them from coming forward.” (The singer has been in a legal battle with Lukasz “Dr. Luke” Gottwald for years over abuse allegations. Gottwald has denied all charges.)

Carvello started her career as an assistant to Ahmet Ertegun at Atlantic Records in the late 1980s before working her way up to become the label’s first female A&R executive. In her 2018 book Anything for a Hit, she writes about several instances of sexual harassment Ertegun allegedly committed, and noted how she was fired after refusing to sit on the lap of a male coworker during a meeting. She claims she reported the incident to Atlantic’s brass and was let go the next morning.

Since releasing her book, Carvello has become more involved in advocating for sexual abuse survivors in the music industry, becoming a shareholder activist in all three major music companies late last year. Through shareholder activism, she hopes to push for more transparency from the music industry with their own financial arms as leverage.

“The music industry has a policy of omertá, a mob mentality of silence,” Carvello says. “After I published the book, so many survivors reached out to me to tell me their stories, and I knew I had to do something to help these women to change the lack of accountability of men in the music business.”

Carvello wants her foundation to be a presence in the music business, but she says she won’t take funding from any major music company, nor does she expect to get their help. “I won’t be taking any financial support from them,” Carvello says. “And that’ll be the same for everyone. That includes the touring business and Live Nation, the indies; It’s all the same man, just structured on a different power base and level.”

For the foundation’s board of directors, Carvello has brought on dean of Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Media and Entertainment Beverly Keel, songwriter and former music executive Bruce Roberts, and former secret serviceman Rob Savage III.

Keel met Carvello when she spoke to music industry students at MTSU. Before joining Face the Music Now, Keel had founded Change the Conversation, a coalition aimed at promoting gender equity in the country music business. She’s also a cofounder of Nashville Music Equity, a foundation started in 2020 to address racism in country music.

Face the Music Now is hardly the first foundation advocating for equity for women in the music industry, with groups like Keel’s own Change the Conversation, She Is the Music and the Women in Music foundation all previously established with the mission of helping advocate for women in the business. But as Keel says, it was the first foundation she’d heard of specifically focused on sexual harassment in the industry.

Keel noted that despite how mainstream #MeToo discourse has gotten in every industry, she’s surprised to still hear from recent graduates about harassment cases given how much more socially aware the business world has become about both  what’s acceptable and potential repercussions.

Among the more immediate targets for the foundation is ending the practice of the music industry hiding sexual harassment claims with NDAs, and getting the music companies to allow those who’ve signed the documents to speak without punishment.

“So often, women have had to choose. Either blow the whistle or have a career in the music business. It’s always been if you file a lawsuit you’ve ended your career because no one else will hire you,” Keel says. “Hopefully this will help women come forward with these allegations. You aren’t the bad guy, you’re the victim.

“A foundation like this isn’t anti-men, it’s anti-illegal behavior,” she adds. When someone is harassed, the first instinct is to circle the wagons and protect the company. It becomes a company problem, how do they minimize it? So it becomes ‘Let’s give her money, make her sign an NDA and go away.’ The women are labeled as troublemakers and are cast aside while the men keep their jobs. We need to stop that pattern.”

Both Carvello and Keel stress that Face the Music Now shouldn’t be viewed as anti-music business or as a combative arm to pick fights with companies. They hope it will be a vehicle for progress that will allow survivors to know they aren’t alone and give more encouragement to step forward.

“A lot of women don’t want to have to fight the way I fought my whole career; it’s draining and taxing,” Carvello says. “But it’s necessary. A lot of people don’t feel there’s a payoff with that in the end. I’m hoping with the launch of this foundation, and the uniting of women that have come to me, there’s strength in numbers and that the music industry will finally have to hold these men accountable.”