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Craig Anderton’s Open Channel: Stepping Up to the Tipping Point

Women dominated the Grammy Awards. Not because they had a special welcome mat, but because they made music that people wanted to hear.

Craig Anderton.
Craig Anderton.

Six years ago, Recording Academy President Neil Portnow infamously said that women who wanted to be part of the industry needed to “step up.” Granted, he didn’t say they needed to step up in high heels, but the meaning was clear: It’s on them.

Of course, a lot of women had already stepped up. However, the rest of what Portnow said is not often mentioned: “I think it has to begin with women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, who want to be producers, who want to be part of the industry on the executive level to step up. Because I think they would be welcome. I don’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls that you face, but I think it’s really a combination. Us as an industry making the welcome mat very obvious, creating mentorships, creating opportunities not only for women but all people who want to be creative and really paying it forward and creating that next generation of artists who feel like they can do anything, they can say anything.”

Credit him for saying that he didn’t have personal experience of those kinds of brick walls. And I’ll grudgingly give him somewhat of a pass for being a product of a particular time and mindset. But the rest was perhaps as tone deaf as the “step up” comment, because it implied it was up to men to create the opportunities, provide the mentorships because (ahem) we know better, and lay out the welcome mat (and who owned that mat, anyway?). It reminded me of the “she’s a good guitar player— for a girl” mentality, which wrapped patronizing judgment in a faux compliment.

Fast-forward to 2024, and women dominated the Grammy Awards. Not because they had a special welcome mat, but because they made music that people wanted to hear. Consider the two biggest cultural events of 2023— the Eras tour, and the Barbie movie. The lesson we can draw from them isn’t about sex or gender. It’s way simpler: Give people music they want to hear and movies they want to see, and they’ll show up.


So, is the “year of the woman” a blip? You wouldn’t think that if you attended Winter NAMM 2024. Sure, there were the usual old white guys— as there should be. (Some civilizations even revere elders for their wisdom. Really! I’m not making that up!) But this year’s NAMM, like the Grammys, showed that the importance and influence of women in this industry is destined to increase. Before too long, the idea of having special “women in engineering” groups may seem as antiquated as separate drinking fountains for people of different races. No one has ever referred to me as a “male engineer.” In the future, I sure as hell hope that engineers will just be…engineers. Or guitar players. Or producers.

I’m not naïve enough to think that all the obstacles facing women are gone. They’re not. But I do believe those obstacles will never again have as much power as they had in the past. Sometimes cultural changes take decades, bsometimes they change in the blink of an eye. Look at the influence music had in the ’60s: After the Beatles showed up, the culture seemingly changed overnight—and never went back to the world of 1950s sitcoms.

I’m touching a third rail here, but I don’t think the problem has been men not doing enough “empowering” of women. Women can empower just fine. The problem is men not getting out of the way. Of course, helpful gestures were appreciated, but women didn’t need men to put out a welcome mat and “mentor” them to, for example, become inspired to play guitar. All they needed was to see how much fun Taylor Swift was having.


This in no way diminishes the men who did what they could to make it less difficult for women to break into the industry. And there were plenty of women who didn’t need help from anyone, of any sex, to power through the obstructions thrown in their way. But the process of change was glacially slow. Now, it’s accelerating.

Will the ascent of women marginalize men? No. Politicians to the contrary, life is not a zero-sum game where if there are winners, there must be losers. Just ask Luke Combs and Tracy Chapman; their individual successes culminated in an even greater shared success.

Again, touching the third rail, I think women and men are wired somewhat differently. Each brings different ideas, backgrounds and cultural identities. Neither is inherently better or worse, but the combination can yield a sum that’s greater than the whole of its parts.

For a while, people in this industry wondered what would happen when the old white guys died out. Now we know: There will be a next generation of musicians, engineers and producers where all that matters is results. It’s no longer possible for anyone to deny that women deliver the results.

And ultimately, Neil Portnow was right, even if it might have been for the wrong reasons: we are seeing that “next generation of artists who feel like they can do anything, they can say anything.” Bring it on!