EqualizeHer: Linda Perry Seeks to Educate and Empower Women in Music and Beyond
Words by GEMMA LACEY
Photography by JESSE LIROLA
Linda Perry gets things done, whether that’s writing hits, starting a label or more recently founding a non- profit. Her accomplishments are almost too many to list but when you speak to her, it’s easy to understand how she makes things happen: her energy and passion are hard to match and her presence commands you to take notice.
That energy is now focused on EqualizeHer, a foundation set up to achieve equal representation of women across all aspects of the music industry, from recording studios to stages to board rooms which may sound hugely ambitious until you think about who you’re dealing with. Perry has a long history of philanthropy, from working with Sean Penn’s CORE Response organization during the pandemic to supporting LGBTQ+ organizations (and tons more besides). What’s more she always approached them from an incredible DIY perspective beloved of the indie world. “I’ve never had any funding. I just basically was making this amazing stuff happen with like, literally rubbing nickels and asking for favors.” That changed when a friend of hers introduced her to Alisha Ballard with the words “you know, there’s people that I am looking for, people like you.”
Both Ballard and Perry immediately found a kinship in each other, and realized their mission statements and goals aligned, that is they both really wanted to help women level up in the music industry. As Perry puts it, “there’s so many cool organizations out there supporting women in music and one of the things that I think people don’t realize is that 21% of women in music are artists, 12% are songwriters and then 2% are women producers! Wow. So you know, that’s just not acceptable.” To change this, they are creating a network of female musicians, writers, engineers and more to help join the dots and level out the playing field.
Perry is already very clear on exactly how this will work: “I can put the team together, then we get the music out there. This is what will end up happening, they write this song, they produce it, they’re managing it. They come up with the graphic designs. They do all the stuff, the marketing and then it gets released into the world. We’ll get the marketing behind it and get it out there. So, as soon as that happens, then those percentages rise up because we just hopped in more female songwriters, a female producer, female artist manager, tour manager and live sound. We just put a whole team out there on one recording artist. And we are able to raise the percentage.”
One good thing that Perry sees is that women are active in every genre from jazz and rock to ska and contemporary music but it’s not diversity that’s the main issue for her, for her the imbalance for women starts earlier. “Our logo is a baby with a mohawk. Yeah, it’s really cool, it’s super cute. A baby with a mohawk with an equal sign tattooed on her, you know, on her cheek. The reason we did that is because what is going on in this world is super old-fashioned.”
right now big ideas
is what’s important
As she sees it, “girls are being born into this world and the parent is already teaching them that your brother is more powerful than you. You are not equal to your brother. You know? So it’s like we have to equalize these girls and as soon as they show up, parents, they have to stop that mentality.” Perry credits her laser focus on this with her own upbringing. She has what she refers to as “the fighters mentality” from being “born into trauma.” Part of her own tenacity was honed from these circumstances where she had to fight just to be herself every day. It’s clear this has impacted her own approach to parenting but with a steely determination that they not face the same adversity. “I’m teaching my son this stuff too but if I had a daughter, I would have told her from day one: ‘listen, you’re powerful and you’re going to need to be really powerful in this world because there’s going to be a lot of things that are going to be complicated and obstacles and they’re going to try to take you down but they will not. You’re going to get up there and I’m going to teach you how to fight and you’re going to be polite while you’re doing it and you’re going to show everybody love and respect. Because kindness is the way to go but there’s going to be problems that come ahead.” To her this is the crux of EqualizeHer’s mission: equalize your daughter from day one.
Education is one of the core reasons for inequality in the music industry in her eyes. “That’s basically why there’s a lack of women in the music industry, especially in production because they’re not getting the right information.” Ballard’s aim is to inspire and connect young women through music in every way possible.
“That’s what EqualizeHer is going to give these young girls—the information—and boys too. It’s just like, everybody should have the right information on how to make drums, how to do this thing if you want to get a job. Someone needs to tell them “this is what you gotta do.”
One area where Perry has a strong opinion is about how women interact with men in the industry. “You don’t go into your studio for a session with the mini skirt, with your cleavage, tons of makeup on and booming perfume. We have to remember the species that we’re dealing with: men.’’ In Perry’s observations they have a different way of doing things, one which she respects and admires but one that makes her feel that getting dressed up for a studio session is akin to “rubbing yourself in fish and then going to see a bear.” Whilst this may seem controversial, Perry is such a plain speaker and her concern to give women an equal place is so evident that it just seems like your best friend delivering advice that you really should break up with the guy you’ve been dating.
Her own experience in the studio was an empowering one. At first she butted heads with a producer who told her, “Linda can’t you just be the singer in the band and let me just do my job?” a problem she solved by rerecording “What’s Up”. “I said to myself that will never ever happen to me again. So I just started educating myself on how to record. I didn’t know anything. I was green. I didn’t go to school. I just bought shit and just learned it. “
This is part of what she seeks to inspire in the artists she works with, from those she showcased at SXSW and beyond. SXSW saw her take Ezra Furman, Lisa Vitale, Pom Pom Squad, REI AMI, Allison Russell to the stage, as well as providing a stage for youth and advocacy groups. Next up is a showcase planned for August with a focus on women in tech and engineers. Part of the aspiration here is to get tech in front of people, so they can learn how to use it. Then, further down the line, there are workshops and a charity concert in the works too. One things for sure, the ideas and passion driving the project are heartfelt and fully forged. As Perry puts it “Alisha and I, we just have big dreams, we have big ideas and I think right now Big Ideas is what’s important. Because we need this to be a big mountain we gotta climb.” @reallindaperry @equalizeher