Festival uplifts women artists

Photo of AZRA performing onstage at the Women in The Music Industry Festival
Women In The Music Industry paired with nonprofit organization The FAM to hold a festival celebrating  successful women in the music industry and six student performers this past Saturday. (Becca Speier | Daily Trojan)

The afternoon sun lit up the backyard of a house just off USC’s campus Saturday as woman-identifying panelists, student performers and audience members gathered to celebrate the first-ever Women In The Music Industry Festival. 

Community organization Women in the Music Industry paired with nonprofit organization The FAM to host the festival, which featured two different panels of successful women involved in the music industry and six student performers. The festival ended with headliner AZRA, a Los Angeles-based independent pop-rock artist.

At the core of the WITMI Fest was an overall sense of shared community that gave space for artists to connect with one another and share both their experiences and challenges faced in the industry.

Anna Barringer, founder of social media agency Loud and one of the panel members, spoke about the personal challenges of starting her own company and emphasized the importance of having a community that pushes  one to succeed, which the WITMI Festival sought to create. 

“You have to surround yourself with people that love you and speak life and encourage you,” Barringer said. “If I didn’t have those people, I would have stopped a long time ago.”

To Taylor Contarino, a junior majoring in journalism and music industry as well as  WITMI’s founder, the organization’s mission is not only to uplift and inspire women in the music industry, but to emphasize collaboration over competition. 

“There’s enough space for everyone to win, and there’s enough space for everyone to be successful,” Contarino said. “Just because someone’s doing good, doesn’t mean that you can’t be doing good.”

Contarino said she founded WITMI because of times during her pursuit in a career in the music industry in which she had felt like she didn’t have a voice or a sense of guidance. The organization first started on Discord, where people could share job opportunities, network with each other and offer internships. As the community grew, the organization moved to Instagram, then to LinkedIn and, eventually, Facebook. 

Now, the organization has expanded past the digital platforms and has entered the physical space in the form of its first-ever festival. To Contarino, though, this is only the first step in helping to empower women through WITMI.

In the future, Cantarino said she hopes to increase outreach internationally and to those who are from disenfranchised communities who might not have the same opportunities that USC students have access to. 

“I want my organization to help everyone, especially the people who haven’t been able to find jobs in music and haven’t been able to find internships because of circumstances,” she said.

Similar to WITMI, The FAM seeks to make the music industry more accessible to artists.

“I want to create a space and bring a more positive and collaborative energy to the music industry where we can continue to support each other,” said Aaron Raus, The FAM’s founder and a 2018 USC graduate. 

Raus said he was excited to also see men attend the event.

“It’s really important to encourage women to support each other, but it’s just as important to encourage men to support the women, especially in an industry that is so heavily built around this ‘boys club’,” Raus said. 

To performer Eva Kaleigh, a junior majoring in psychology and music industry, being a woman in the music industry means taking up space. She said she believes that organizations like WITMI and The FAM help foster this idea and are changing the landscape of the male-dominated industry. 

“I love that the attitude is changing,” Kaleigh said. “I feel like women and every little minority group that can band together are banding together, and we’re also supporting each other.”

At the end of the day, Contarino hopes that WITMI provides a community of women in the music industry that can inspire each other. 

“All I want is to bring people together to connect and empower,” Contarino said. “Being able to create a space like this is everything I’ve dreamed of.”