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The Table Women Podcast: By and About Women in the Entertainment Industry

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L-R Sarah DeFors and Victoria Banks

The Table Women Podcast. A podcast by and about women in the entertainment industry that provides a fun, easygoing, and safe space to discuss the ups and downs of the female experience in entertainment. Whether they’re telling stories with guests, chatting about new projects, or discussing how women can change (and have changed) the industry for the better, they aim to always provide an honest look into what it takes to get your seat at the table and pull up a chair for the next in line. Hosted by Sarah DeFors and Victoria Banks.

“Have you pulled up your seat at the table?” How did you choose the podcast’s name?

Sarah: Victoria and I had just gotten off of a call where we discussed what we wanted to achieve overall for women in entertainment. We actually both mentioned how stumped we were on what to call the podcast, and so much of that call revolved around some form of “Women deserve a seat at the table. How do we communicate that in a few words?” Soon after we hung up it hit me, it was right in front of our faces! I texted her the idea and we agreed it was the perfect title for what we’re trying to do!

Passion project. Quarantine. How has the pandemic motivated each of you to start the podcast?

Victoria: For me, the pandemic was the second bit of insanity to hit our household after the tornado hit our house this spring. Between repairing the house and entertaining my kids when the school and daycare facilities shut down, I felt like I wasn’t being able to participate in the kind of intellectual social justice commentary and community that my normal day-to-day music business life allows me to be a part of. When Sarah reached out about doing the podcast, it felt like the right topic at the right time. I could spend my days confined in my house with the kids and loads of laundry and diapers, but then after I tucked them into bed, I could pour a glass of wine and have important conversations with inspiring women. It allowed me to live in a bigger world beyond my own little pandemic bubble.

Sarah: Quarantine really gave us a forced pause on life, it was (and is) a time of so much uncertainty that we took on a sort of “Why not?!” attitude. On my part, I was at such a burn-out point and felt like I wasn’t utilizing my talents to the best of my abilities. I got a recording set-up and started doing all my own vocals, started writing a lot digitally, and learned more about how I could utilize technology to create with people all over the country. Even with all that I wanted to do some good with the thing that I loved, and really missed the in-depth conversations that I had been having at college as a Communications major focusing in social justice. So, what better way than to just have the conversation where others of every level could participate? I’d had the concept for “The Table” for a while but never felt like things were lining up quite right. Just before quarantine I saw Victoria at a writer’s retreat where we had a few conversations that made me think that maybe she could be the missing piece! Then a few days later the tornado happened (which Vic was impacted by), and next quarantine. After a week or two I was bored, creatively and professionally frustrated, and figured I might as well shoot my podcast shot! Thankfully Victoria, even in the craziness of family and natural disaster, immediately jumped on board with her can-do attitude and we were off! Coincidentally, in the midst of recording season 1 our country and world began to delve deep into social justice of all kinds. With such timely conversations going on all around us, we are proud to use our voices and elevate others for positive change.

What does your podcast cover and logo represent?

Sarah: We loved the idea of getting drawings done as Victoria and I couldn’t be together in person to take a photo for the podcast, and none of our artist photos looked even remotely like they could go together! We knew we wanted a drawing of Vic and I sitting at a (metaphorical and literal) table just as if you were hanging out with us having coffee or a cocktail! The cover and logo represent the warmth, love, and community that we hope to provide to our listeners and peers. You’re our friends that we’re discussing the good and bad of life with. We want everyone to feel like a part of the family, and like they’re being heard and supported.

You have graphic artist Madison Walker and Anchor Publicity’s Colleen Lippert “at your table.” What does it mean to you to pull up a seat for others?

Sarah: We want to talk the talk and walk the walk in every area of what we do. When we came across Madison on Instagram and Anchor Publicity on Facebook, it felt like a great opportunity to partner with up-and-coming female businesses! Pulling up a seat for others isn’t just conversations, it’s supporting small businesses, promoting good work, giving opportunities, making more room and so much more. We will always try to uplift as many female voices and strive for diversity in every facet of what we do.

Co-host Sarah DeFors. What song was your most challenging topline write and why?

Sarah: It’s actually a very recent session where my co-writers and I had the opportunity to write for a pitch to a few major Latin-American artists. We spent hours crafting an awesome song that switches between English and Spanish. We were all set with our demo and I had just finished the vocals when our co-writer texted to say his girlfriend (who speaks fluent Spanish as opposed to our conversational Spanish) told him we had misunderstood something she’d translated for us — we had to completely re-work the chorus! It ended up great but that demo was definitely a reward hard earned!

Co-host Victoria Banks. Can you describe how the co-write started for “What Are You Gonna Tell Her?” with Mickey Guyton that was eight years in the making?

Victoria: Mickey and I had been writing together since she was first signed to Capitol records, over 8 years ago now. We bonded from the beginning and wrote a TON of great songs, but we struggled to give her record label what they were looking for. How do you “break” a female country artist in a world where women are given such meager radio play, and new female artists are having to compete with established ones for just a couple of spots on the radio playlist? We tried throwing darts at the wall and writing every kind of song we could think of, but the record label just never wanted to take a chance on any of them. Eventually it just wore us down, to the point where we began to get angry about it. Mickey was watching her male counterparts fly up the charts with songs about beer and backroads, and it was so frustrating.

One day, Mickey was at a music industry event in LA, and she had an epiphany moment. She was looking around a room full of incredible female artists who were all having to compete for the attention of powerful male record executives in suits. She flew home on the red-eye to write with me, Emma Lee and producer Karen Kosowski, and she flew into the room like a cannonball and told us the story. She said “we don’t OWN ourselves. How are we supposed to thrive as female artists when we are OWNED by men in suits? Victoria, you have daughters. What are you gonna tell them? What the heck are you gonna tell them?!!” The moment the phrase came out of her mouth, we knew that was what we had to write. We’d had that conversation before, in so many ways, about the unfairness of the world that my daughters have been born into. So, we wrote it, and we wrote it ugly. The cold, hard, bitter truth, without the sugar coating you usually put on a song lyric to make it palatable to the listener. We just didn’t care anymore, and we couldn’t take anymore. And ironically, that was the song that changed everything for her.

Being inspired by many different genres, Sarah, how have you utilized your love of musical diversity to your advantage?

Sarah: With parents from the Bay Area CA and just outside of Detroit, I grew up listening to: top 40, country, Motown, classical and everything in-between! I played classical violin as a kid but always dreamed of writing songs and performing on big stages, so as I grew creatively I began to mix all of the things I loved about music regardless of genre. When I was starting out, lots of those things were instincts I was told I should un-learn, such as my love of rappy rhythmic lyrics, big vocals, odd timing or phrasing, and genre-mixing. Now, it’s become my signature and the reason I’m asked into a lot of songwriting sessions! I think diversity is key, especially today, and listeners crave something different! I’m proud I leaned into those instincts instead of listening when people said “that’s just not how it’s done”.

Going from a voice memo to a work tape to a demo, like with Sara Evans’ “Gotta Have You”. Victoria, which recorded song of yours changed the most from the initial write to the final version?

Victoria: Actually, I think the song that changed the most from concept to release is one that I put out myself on my Indigo record. It’s called “Get on the Train”, and it’s the first song I wrote after my mom’s death by suicide back in 2009. I was petrified to write again, because I knew I was gonna have to dig into my feelings about what I had just gone through, and I didn’t know how to do that. I scheduled that first writing session with my friend Tia Sillers (“I Hope You Dance”, “Blue on Black”, “There’s Your Trouble”) because I knew she would help me create a safe space to explore what I needed to say. I came into the session and told her “the whole way here in the car, I just kept hearing this pulsing guitar note with the phrase ‘get on the train, get on the train’ over and over again, and I don’t know what it means.” I kept playing the guitar part over and over again, and she just sat there and looked at me and said “I think I know exactly what this means. It means sometimes you just wanna lay on the tracks and wait for the train to come and run you over, but you’ve gotta get up and get on the train and keep going.” So, we wrote the whole song around that thumping guitar train rhythm. But when it came time to record it for my album, I wanted to strip the song down and make it even more raw and real and sparse, just to get everything else out of the way and let the song speak for itself. So, I teamed up with my co-producer Park Chisolm to build the entire song with nothing but voices and percussion. We made these guttural “uh uh” sounds, and then banged on pots and pans, and rang bells, and smashed garbage cans, and beat boxed. I invited a bunch of my friends over and traded them pizza for hundreds of harmony vocals. In the end, it turned into this crazy track that sounds like a steam train rolling out of a station, and I love it!

Writing what country radio has now labeled ‘outlaw country’ — music that is “too female, too intellectual, or too radical to play”. Stereotypes. How can female artists work together to overcome these labels?

Victoria: I think the best way to overcome these labels is to be loudly and proudly and honestly real. In order to be a fringe or a niche or an “outlaw”, you have to be a minority — an exception to the rule. If there was more of this kind of music in the world, we would not be a minority anymore. Let’s not allow “female music”, or “intellectual music”, or music that speaks about social justice, to be an exception to the rule. Let’s make it be the default. Our listeners deserve that from us. They don’t need things to be dumbed down…they can handle it. In fact, they are craving it, and you can see that from the response every time Mickey Guyton releases a single that says something important. So, let’s not wait for country radio to endorse it. We have to do what we do, and keep doing it, until radio plays it or radio loses its listeners because they’re turning off the dial to find it somewhere else. And we can do it, because one song that has meaning and impact can drown out 25 songs that don’t.

How can fans help artists get their music heard on radio?

Victoria: Pretty much all the major country radio stations in America are run by a handful of (male) programmers who decide the playlists. So, if you call and ask your local DJ to play a song, it probably won’t happen. You’ll probably hear them say “I can’t do that, it’s not on the playlist.” But don’t let that stop you. Call and ask for it…and call and ask for it again…and call and ask for it again. Be a pain in the butt. Ask them how you can sign up to be part of their research audience, so they poll you for your feedback on what you want to hear. And in the meantime, promote and share the heck out of your favorite artists’ content online to help them find the exposure that radio isn’t giving them. Show up at their concerts, buy their merch. That’s how you ensure they can afford to keep making more of the music that you love.

The podcast aims to always provide an honest look into what it takes to get your seat at the table and pull up a chair for the next person in line. How can other artists and industry behind-the-scenes employees get in touch with you?

You can email us at thetablewomen@gmail.com, or reach out via social media on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram at the handle @thetablewomen. We would love to hear from you!

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