There's an old adage in the music industry: that what goes on tour stays on tour. Its usage is now commonplace and often intended to be humorous, but at its heart it remains a reference to the kind of problematic behaviour that has always been rife in the music business. It suggests that otherwise-inappropriate behaviour is acceptable if you're powerful and famous. It also binds witnesses, victims, and industry insiders to a code of silence that enables a culture of abuse.
This week, that silence was finally shattered. Kesha's crusade to secure a release from the terms of a contract that binds her to a man who she alleges sexually assaulted her may have been unsuccessful in this round, but it has done more to expose the dark underbelly of the music industry than I think we can yet fully comprehend.
It is no surprise to me, and certainly no random coincidence, that other female artists have rallied around Kesha. Lady Gaga, Demi Lovato, Taylor Swift and Adele likely know all too well the perils of being female in the music industry. I've certainly seen things in my 10 years as a musician that have made me feel ill. I've had things happen to me that I've tried my best to forget about. We likely all have, which is why I admire Kesha's bravery more than I can put into words.
Kesha was 18-years-old when she was signed by Dr. Luke. Even back then in 2005, Dr. Luke had built a powerful reputation, and was in the midst of creating his own stable of songwriters, producers and artists. His name was quickly becoming synonymous with hit-making, and the then-unknown Kesha was just one of many budding starlets on his roster.
In a business that has contracted beyond recognition over the last decade, publishers, labels, managers and agents have come to regard the creatives who can consistently churn out hits as something of a holy grail. They will move mountains for these producers for the assurance that the money will keep rolling in. They'll also turn a blind eye to situations that present a threat to their revenue stream. In an industry that is haemorrhaging, they simply can't afford to rock the boat.
When I read that Dr. Luke had allegedly threatened to destroy Kesha, I felt a cloud of knowing come over me. On the occasions that I've thought about speaking out about sexual harassment in the industry, I've always talked myself out of it, fearing the professional repercussions. I'm not surprised by the reports of her lawyer claiming that she lied under oath, protecting her alleged abuser. When you've dedicated your whole life to your love for music, and the person who abused you has the power to demolish everything you've worked for, you do whatever you can to survive.
And that is the biggest problem. In a still male-dominated industry, the power dynamics are almost always weighted in the favour of people like Dr. Luke. When uneven power structures are combined with the fantasy-like atmosphere of the top echelon of the music industry, seemingly bulletproof men who have lost touch with reality have the power to do whatever they want without fearing the consequences. Because again and again, there are none.
While the outcome of Friday's court case wasn't the one Kesha deserved, the increasing strength and power of the #FreeKesha movement gives me hope. Regardless of the judge's ruling, a clear message is being sent to women that they have a powerful voice and that abusers can't fly under the radar.
As an industry, we have a long way to go, but with #FreeKesha we are finally taking the first long overdue steps.