Change the Conversation was founded by three successful music executives to improve the environment for women in country music. While country music has traditionally been known for its strong female voices, by the 2010s, country radio stations were playing songs by very few female artists. Many in the country music industry felt powerless about changing the gender inequality.
In an attempt to turn their frustration into action and help level the playing field, Leslie Fram, Tracy Gershon and Beverly Keel formed Change the Conversation in late 2014. They held the first meeting on January 2015 with about 40 like-minded music leaders. Each monthly meeting after that doubled in size as the word spread.
In May 2014– just four months after the first meeting—Change the Conversation received a beautifully wrapped gift that couldn’t have come at a better time. Radio consultant Keith Hill told the trade publication Country Radio Aircheck that he advised radio stations not to play too many songs by women and not to play two women back to back. "If you want to make ratings in country radio, take females out," he said "Trust me," he said. "I play great female records, and we've got some right now; they're just not the lettuce in our salad. The lettuce is Luke Bryan and Blake Shelton, Keith Urban and artists like that. The tomatoes of our salad are the females."
The story made national headlines and presented to everyone in black and white what we had been saying. Country radio could no longer deny that females are held to different standards. Not only did Keith Hill help galvanize a movement, he gave it a symbol. Tomato-gate was a hot topic at CMT's recent Next Women of Country show, Martina McBride had shirts printed with the slogan "Tomato," and even a group of fans in for CMA Music Fest sold shirts that said, "Let the Tomatoes Play."
Since then, Change the Conversation has become a movement of several hundred people that is garnering national attention. Artists including Martina McBride, Reba McEntire, and Wanda Jackson have shown their support by participating in events, and companies too numerous to mention have donated their time and money to our cause. We have commissioned research, provided mentoring opportunities for young singer/songwriters and created a safe place for female artists and executives to grow, learn and network.
Change the Conversation have given the 20-something female singer/songwriters a rallying cry that has unified them, challenged them and inspired them while providing a support group of their peers. And as we continue our work, we’re letting people know that women are supporting women – all women – and we’re not competing against one another and rooting for others to fail. A win for one woman is a win for all women.
We are fighting for the generation of girls who are dreaming about a career in music, the ones who will put the music in Music City in 20 years. We don’t want to look back 10 years from now and think that we could have done more to prevent a young girl’s dream from being shattered by being told that she can’t make it as a singer/songwriter simply because she is a woman. It’s important to note that this doesn’t affect just the women who are trying to make a living in country music, but it affects all women because music is an important force in shaping popular culture, which should reflect who we are as a society. We want women to hear their own stories and experiences when they listen to country radio.
We are dedicated to improving the environment for women in music. Our goal is to become obsolete and “to never have this conversation again."