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MTSU’s Keel helps combat gender inequities in country music

Beverly Keel wants to change the conversation about women in country music, and her recent public sit-down with country music powerhouse Reba McEntire is evidence that she is helping to do just that.

A music business veteran and currently chair of MTSU’s highly respected Department of Recording Industry, Keel co-founded the Change the Conversation advocacy group in 2014 with Leslie Fram, CMT senior vice president, and Tracy Gershon, Rounder Records Group’s vice president of A&R.

The Change the Conversation group recently launched its mentoring sessions for young artists at the Bluebird Café in Nashville, Tennessee. Pictured, from left, are Beverly Keel, chair of MTSU's Department of Recording Industry and co-founder of Change the Conversation; Leslie Fram, CMT senior vice president and Change the Conversation co-founder; country music legend and special guest Reba McEntire; and Tracy Gershon, Rounder Records Group's vice president of A&R and Change the Conversation co-founder. (Photo courtesy of Justin McIntosh)

The Change the Conversation group recently launched its mentoring sessions for young artists at the Bluebird Café in Nashville, Tennessee. Pictured, from left, are Beverly Keel, chair of MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry and co-founder of Change the Conversation; Leslie Fram, CMT senior vice president and Change the Conversation co-founder; country music legend and special guest Reba McEntire; and Tracy Gershon, Rounder Records Group’s vice president of A&R and Change the Conversation co-founder. (Photo courtesy of Justin McIntosh)

The group is made up of largely Nashville-based women from various music backgrounds who are working together to improve the environment for women in country music, including mentoring aspiring female artists.

“Our goals include getting more women played on country radio, getting more women signed to major record label and publishing company deals and getting more women featured in high-profile opportunities, whether it is an appearance on an awards show or TV show,” Keel said.

On Tuesday, the group launched “Change the Conversation Presents: Rising Young Artists Mentoring Sessions,” with Keel doing a Q&A with special guest mentor and music legend Reba McEntire at the famous Bluebird Café in Nashville.

During the session, as reported by musicrow.com and billboard.com, McEntire announced that she was forming her own management company, Reba’s Business Inc., to direct her career and that she would serve as president. Read more at http://bit.ly/1UVnO6g.

Keel, who has been an award-winning music industry journalist, expects Change the Conversation will be a resource that MTSU recording industry students can tap into for guidance, networking and awareness as they complete their degrees and start on their own paths in the music industry.

“We are working to help create a level playing field for females, which would benefit our female students, whether they want to be artists or music executives, after they graduate and launch their careers,” Keel said. “One of the goals of Change the Conversation was to create a mentoring program, so both MTSU students and alumni will benefit from this program.”

Efforts to address gender inequity in the country music industry took off in spring 2015 following the “Tomato-gate” incident. A country music radio executive told a trade publication at the time that he advised radio stations not to play too many songs by female artists, using the analogy of a salad in which the male artists were the lettuce of country music radio and female artists were “the tomatoes of our salad.”

Keel and others publicly criticized the comments and helped bring greater awareness about gender inequities in the industry. Keel recently traveled to Northeastern University in Boston to talk to students about gender equality in music and to present a case study on Change the Conversation.

“My hope is that we are raising awareness so that both male and female students know of the problem that exists regarding inequality in the music industry so they too will remain committed to seeking fairness in their careers,” she said.

For more information about Change the Conversation, contact Keel at Beverly.Keel@mtsu.edu.

For more information about MTSU’s Department of Recording Industry, visit http://www.mtsu.edu/recording-industry/.

— Jimmy Hart (jimmy.hart@mtsu.edu)