Women in Music’s Nicole Barsalona talks diversity, evolving music industry ahead of organization’s 35th anniversary

Photo of Nicole Barsalona
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Some women dream of being roadies, sound techs, artist managers, industry executives and more within the music industry. The organization Women in Music, or WIM, lives to give these women key resources they need to achieve those goals. WIM began as a local nonprofit in New York, founded in 1985 with the goal of empowering women in the music industry. Celebrating its 35th anniversary this December, WIM has since grown to be a global organization with 25 chapters worldwide.

Keeping with its original goal of giving women tools to succeed in what has traditionally been a male-dominated field, WIM continues to offer resources such as networking opportunities, mentorship and educational materials to its members. These opportunities span a breadth of music industry career pathways, including tech, songwriting, publishing, music business management and more. 

According to Nicole Barsalona, president of WIM and founder of Everyday Rebellion Entertainment/525 Entertainment Group, the music industry and the needs of women working in it have changed in the past 35 years, and WIM has evolved alongside this changing landscape. 

For example, music business programs are now more common in colleges than they were in previous decades, making the industry more accessible than when it was largely an experience-based field. With these additional programs available, WIM’s members are able to gain perspective and mentorship from lived experiences shared within the organization.

“One of the greatest benefits of WIM is the storytelling that happens through our panels and seminars,” Barsalona said in an interview with The Daily Californian.

One such panel is Moms in Music, an annual event by WIM in which women with children share their experiences raising families while active in the industry. These stories from mothers have a new significance in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, when mothers have been leaving the workforce at concerning rates, which Barsalona said could potentially cause a leadership imbalance in years to come.

Barsalona, who grew up with parents in the music industry and has served on the WIM board of directors since 2013, said she needed the resources and mentorship WIM provided due to the industry’s experience-based nature, as she was building up her own company.

“Women in Music was the place where I could go find peers who I felt comfortable asking questions to (when) I didn’t feel comfortable asking a male who was three times my age and a super-senior executive,” Barsalona said. “There weren’t as many female executives when I started out, and being able to see someone living the life and crafting the career that you aspire to is so important.”

Since Barsalona became president of WIM in 2019, one of her biggest goals has been to expand WIM’s traditional objective of gender equality to encompass broader diversity and inclusion as a whole. This widened goal for more inclusion has been advanced by WIM’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, which was launched in 2019 and is led by co-chairs Chissy Nkemere and Nikisha Bailey.

Whether it’s amplifying Black voices or working with the Asian American community, or working on disability awareness or the LGBTQ+ community, (we’re) making sure that we’re providing opportunities and giving a voice to the diversity within the Women in Music community,” Barsalona said.

To this end, WIM has also partnered with organizations such as Diversify the Stage, which was founded by Noelle Scaggs and works to bring greater representation to the live side of the music industry. Supporting such like-minded organizations and amplifying their work, Barsalona said, is integral to WIM’s mission.

Although there are more women in the industry than there were in 1985, WIM is working to bridge the gender gap in leadership and executive positions, as these are the decision-making roles that will shape the industry’s future. This goal is being pursued via mentorship and programming initiatives for 2021, including the launch of an internship program that will be available to those outside of higher learning, allowing a broader population to get their foot in the door of the music industry.

“We know the numbers don’t lie, and they say that having a more inclusive and diverse workplace also helps the bottom line,” Barsalona said. “So it’s not only in the best interest of us as a community, but certainly in the best interest of the music industry as a whole to make sure that we’re including women, and more diverse women at that.” 

Since the onslaught of the COVID-19 pandemic, WIM’s programming has moved to an online webinar format, which has allowed the worldwide members to engage in unprecedented ways. Barsalona hopes this wider accessibility to content will continue beyond the pandemic.

Approaching its 35th anniversary, WIM will celebrate the work that has been done in the community and the voices that made it possible.

“We have hundreds of volunteers working on our mission across the globe,” Barsalona said. “And every day they pour heart and soul into the work.”

Contact Sarena Kuhn at [email protected].