Song Suffragettes Showcase Grows Brand to NYC, London – Billboard

Song Suffragettes Showcase Grows Brand to NYC, London – Billboard


When Lainey Wilson played Nashville’s weekly Song Suffragettes show for the first time in December 2014, the experience was enlightening.

She had moved to Nashville over three years prior, just in time to watch country music shift into the bro-country age, when guys singing about beer parties and bonfires in rural fields made it even more difficult for women to find a place on country radio. Song Suffragettes, a songwriter round specifically for female writer-artists, helped Wilson find a sense of community in a heartbreak town.

“For me, it made me feel like I wasn’t alone in Nashville, and it made me feel like there’s an army of women who all want the same thing,” she recalls. “It’s important for us to hold hands and run to the finish line together. That’s what it’s about. It’s about lifting each other up and encouraging each other and telling each other the truth.”

The truth is times are still tough for women in music now that bro country is no longer the genre’s hot trend. Song Suffragettes, however, is in expansion mode as it celebrates its 10th year as a focused Music City talent showcase. The show launched a monthly London edition in November and will also open a monthly New York version on June 13 at City Winery.

“There has been very little movement in the artistic progress of women in this genre,” says Suffragettes president/founder Todd Cassetty. “But you just keep getting up and fighting the fight. I’m always looking for other avenues to expand or to provide opportunities. It’s like, can we just grow this so that there are more opportunities [for women], even if the industry is not going to provide them itself?”

It’s not like the opportunities are undeserved. Nashville is a magnet for musical talent, and the latest installment — May 22 at The Listening Room, which recently added a second Suffragettes show every Monday night — demonstrated the depth of quality. Six women conveyed their artistic individuality when they performed, with most playing three songs apiece. Grace Tyler led with a knife-like tone on “Jesus in a Bar,” Ash Ruder consistently served up original songs with craftsman-like vulnerability — particularly her smart treatment of hand-me-down traits, “Blue Genes” — and first-timer Audra McLaughlin impressed even her fellow performers with her Trisha Yearwood-like power. 

To date, the show has featured over 400 women from among 3,000 applicants. Cassetty says 34 Suffragettes alumna have received recording contracts — including Carly Pearce, Megan Moroney, Kelsea Ballerini and pop artist GAYLE — while over 60 have secured publishing deals. Those numbers demonstrate the Suffragettes’ value as a launching pad for women.

“It was one of the first things that I did when I came to town,” Tenille Arts notes. “It kind of opened up some doors for me to be able to play. It was really awesome.”

Cassetty’s motivations for starting the Suffragettes are personal. Growing up with ’90s country, he was drawn to the viewpoints expressed by country’s female acts, including Patty Loveless, The Chicks and Martina McBride, and through his production company, HiFi Fusion, he has worked with the likes of Taylor Swift, Carrie Underwood and Reba McEntire. Additionally, he has two daughters and wishes country had a larger swath of feminine role models.

“I don’t feel like they get the same country music female perspective that they would have had and that I enjoyed from the ’90s,” he says. “That’s always been a point of frustration — to see it evolve from songs with real substance to too many beers and trucks.”

Nashville’s music business has taken the issue seriously. CMT celebrates female acts through its Next Women of Country program, and songwriter Nicolle Galyon (“Thought You Should Know,” “Beers on Me”) established the female-focused Songs & Daughters label in partnership with Big Loud. Galyon actually signed the first writer to her publishing company, Tiera Kennedy, after checking out her performance at Song Suffragettes.

But some old tropes — including the suggestion that female fans don’t want to hear female artists — continue to dog the discussion, even though women were at least as prevalent as men in the Suffragettes audience.

“That’s what the Song Suffragettes are still are trying to prove, is that women want to hear women,” says Arts. “I know that they do. I see it at concerts. I see it in my fans. I see it everywhere. We love it. I mean, men can’t talk about the things that women want to hear about.”

But radio stations still give women short shrift. A new study of 29 country stations by Jan Diehm, of The Pudding, and Dr. Jada Watson, found that women were played back-to-back a mere 0.5% of the time.

“I naively thought that if we could curate the best and brightest female singer-songwriters in Nashville that that would bring enough awareness to the level of talent that we have in this town that is female and call the labels, radio and streamers to all embrace more women and do better at the disparity that exists,” Cassetty says.

That leaves an underappreciated talent pool available for other avenues. It’s why Cassetty has established the satellite Suffragettes shows in London and New York, and why he has been in talks to possibly bring the show to cable. There’s a steady current of accomplished songwriters with strong voices ready for a marketplace that simply doesn’t know they exist. And it can be argued that Suffragettes has enabled some of those women to become even stronger at their craft by simply experiencing their competition.

“Song Suffragettes has been a really good metric for girls to get up and go, ‘OK, where do I fit in all of this? How do I see my artistry or my writing sensibilities fitting within all my peers?’ ” Galyon says. “Getting up onstage and playing a round is a really good way to learn.”

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