Sydney Blu: “I Want to Provide a Safe Community for Women, Trans and Non-binary Artists Getting into the Industry”

We speak to Sydney Blu about her ongoing campaign to sign more women, trans and non-binary producers to dance music labels.

14 min
Sydney Blu Beatport 1
Mar 15, 2022
Cameron Holbrook

In November of 2021, techno heavyweight Rebekah and Canadian dance music linchpin Sydney Blu launched a new campaign to make record labels increase the amount of female, trans, and non-binary representation on their imprints by 2023.

The #23by23 campaign is a call to action for all record labels in electronic music, regardless of size and stature, to help boost the percentage of women signed and discovered by various independent dance music imprints to a higher rate of 23% (the percentage currently sits around 2-5%).

Since the start of the campaign, labels such as Soma Records, Toolroom Records, Club Sweat, Desert Hearts, Hospital Records, REALM Records, Rawthentic Music, Anjunadeep, and more have signed on. As their mission continues to gain steam and attention from labels around the globe, we sat down with 23by23 co-founder Sydney Blu to learn more about how the campaign has progressed thus far and the implications it has for the future of dance music.

Check out Sydney Blu’s 23by23 chart on Beatport.
Sydney Blu Beatport 5

First, can you refresh readers on 23by23? Why did you launch it, and why is it important?

The concept of 23by23 is to collaborate with record labels and assist them in discovering new female, trans, and non-binary artists in addition to starting a healthy discussion about why there are so few women, trans and non-binary artists signed to record labels.

The campaign also aims at mentoring women on their production journeys. We are providing Ableton courses, mentoring talks, a video tutorial series from our established female ambassadors, for new artists getting into the business.

I launched this campaign because I wanted to give back and make it easier for women getting into the industry than I had it. I wanted to provide mentorships from women that were established to the young women, trans and non-binary artists getting into the industry. I didn’t have a lot of female producers that I knew personally to look up to getting into the industry and I wanted to provide this for these artists.

The name #23by23 came from wanting this campaign to help boost the percentage of women signed and discovered to a higher percentage of 23% (it’s currently around 2-5% according to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative). Getting signed to a label is always about the music first but I have come to realize through this campaign in just three months, that there is no shortage of talented female producers, they just weren’t sending their demo’s for multiple reasons and the ones that were sending them were having a hard time getting signed. We knew that the goal of 50/50 was unattainable in one year so we figured 23% was a more reasonable goal. Because artists get known for their music, if there were more women signed to bigger labels, this would, in turn, help club and festival lineups equalize.

Once we started talking to record labels it seems like a lot of them wanted to equalize and discover new female talent so we partnered with Native Instruments and started a community on their platform in which we are running remix contests in collaboration with these labels and each month the labels are signing new, talented female, trans and non-binary producers.

Sydney Blu Beatport 6

What was the initial industry reaction like? It seemed mostly positive, but there was some pushback, including by some prominent female DJs.

The overall industry reaction was great. We’ve had unwavering support from artists across the board in all genres. The record labels are now contacting us to get involved, as are established female artists that want to help mentor others. We are now starting a production tip series with our established female, trans, and non-binary ambassadors and we are hosting mentorship courses through Ableton and Native Instruments.

There was pushback from one prominent female DJ, not some. And that one woman clearly read the headline and started making her own assumptions without reading or understanding what the campaign was about. I think it’s really unfortunate that a female artist would go out of their way to tear other women down that are trying to do something good for the industry.

The many prominent artists, women’s collectives, audio software companies and record labels that are supporting this campaign is what we are focusing on.

How has the campaign gone so far? It sounds like there’s now a large community of female and gender-non-conforming producers and a variety of labels that have pledged to the campaign. Can you tell us who’s involved so far?

The campaign is already much bigger than we anticipated and it’s growing more and more each week. We started with less than 30 members in the female, gender non-conforming group on Metapop and now we have 210 members.

Record labels that have partnered with us and will be doing contests are Soma Records, Toolroom Records, Club Sweat, Desert Hearts, Hospital Records, Gorgon City’s REALM Records, Carlo Lio and Nathan Barato’s Rawthentic Music, Anjunadeep, Eton Messy, Walker and Royce’s Rules Don’t Apply Records, Data Transmission Records and a bunch are in discussions to sign on before the end of the year. We have surprisingly had no issues with signing on labels and the campaign is now at a point where people are reaching out to us to sign on. We also have our ambassadors and partners Native Instruments, Baby Weight, Maxinne, J.Worra, LP Giobbi and Femme House, Rebekah, DJ Minx, Samantha Warren from AFEM and In the Key of She, Ableton Live, Music Production for Women, She Knows Tech, all supporting us in one way or another.

Because there are constant activations happening, the community is growing and we are signing on more partners, ambassadors, and labels as each week passes. It’s really exciting.

Sydney Blu Beatport 7

Tell us more about the remix competitions you’ve launched and how you hope these competitions will encourage representation amongst record labels?

Our contests run once a month focusing on one label each month. Each contest is launched in our Metapop group for female and gender non-conforming producers and the stems of each track are given to download at the launch of each contest.

We ask the community to research each label and try to nail the sound that each label is looking for, while also presenting their unique take on each record. I am trying to diversify the genres by presenting a different style of music for each contest. For example, we started with Toolroom and Club Sweat who are focused mostly on house and tech house and next we are going into SOMA Records which is a harder style of techno. After this, we’ll focus on Drum & Bass with Hospital Records and we’ll continue to change things up as much as possible each month.

After a month, we send the label all the submissions and they take about one to two weeks to decide three winners. The third place winner gets the synthesizer Massive X, the second place gets Komplete 13 (totaling about 50 synthesizers by Native Instruments) and the winner will have a chance to release on each label and will receive Komplete Ultimate which is about 100 plug-in synthesizers.

In addition to signing new talent through these contests, the labels are part of an ongoing discussion about discovering and signing new female, trans, and non-binary talent. They get a chance to hear submissions from hundreds of new producers that they may not have discovered outside of this campaign.

Can you tell us more about the Metapop group you’ve created around the campaign? What are some examples of the impactful discourse that’s occurred on this discussion board?

The Metapop group is so important because it’s not only gathered over 200 women and gender-conforming producers, most that I did not know before I started the campaign, but also because it’s created friendships amongst people from all over the world with a common goal and it allows these women have a safe space to talk and ask each other questions and help each other out.

Some topics of discussion have been extremely varying like, ‘what mastering plug-ins do you use?,’ ‘When is a good time to get an agent or a manager?’ ‘What are your favorite plug-in synthesizers?’ ’How did you choose your DJ name?’ ‘How do you deal with discrimination or sexual harassment?’ ‘Why am I having trouble getting booked in my hometown?’ ‘How do I promote my music?’ ‘How do I get my tracks on music blogs?’

We also did a talk about how to submit a demo that Baby Weight and I hosted at the beginning of the campaign that was really insightful for a lot of these artists that did not know the best practices for sending demos.

I think everyone’s questions and concerns are valid and this is a safe place to ask anything.

Sydney Blu Beatport 3

What do you think this campaign means for the future of dance music?

I would hope it will launch a large group of women, trans, and non-binary producers careers. I would also hope that it will help start a discussion among all labels about how they can diversify more. There are ways to expand on the A&R practice of just waiting for demos to come in. Labels can reach out to their followers and state they are looking to diversify and are looking to sign more women, trans and non-binary artists. Several labels have already done this and have been successful at it like Club Sweat, HE.SHE.THEY and Anjundeep. Signing music to a label is always about the music first but having a more diverse roster will inspire more women, trans and non-binary up-and-coming artists to send demos.

What are some benchmarks that 23by23 is trying to achieve by the end of 2022?

I’d like to have 1000 female and gender non-conforming producers in our group by the end of this year. I’d love to have 12-24 new artists signed through this campaign by the end of the year (you can sign the runners up as well). I’d like to help everyone in our Metapop group improve their production skills through all of the mentoring and training we are providing.

Most of all, I want to provide a safe community for new women, trans and non-binary artists, getting into the industry.

Cameron Holbrook is Beatportal’s North American Editor. Find him on Twitter.

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