Story by Sam Long | Assistant Editor
Photo: GBTRS members at Bonnaroo in 2019
Shelby’s voice hitched in her throat as her eyes began to gimmer with tears.
As the six year anniversary of the creation of organization Girls Behind the Rock Show passed this week, the organization’s founder and executive director reflected on how it has helped break barriers for women and gender diverse individuals in the music industry.
“The music industry is not an easy place,” she said. “For a lot of young women, they feel like they have to stick this out. I don’t want that to have to be true.”
For years, Shelby Chargin has refused to let jobs in the music industry take advantage of her, having had her own history of maltreatment in the industry. She is striving to do the same with GBTRS.
Chargin moved to Los Angeles, Calif. in 2015 for a music industry position and found herself to be the only person in the office who didn’t identify as male. Coming face-to-face with the reality of the music industry, she thought about what she could do to change it.
How could she make it better and get women to the big cities?
Named after the Blink 182 song “Girl at the Rock Show,” GBTRS began from the confines of Chargin’s living room, with nothing but a computer and a big dream.
The organization has grown over the past six years to help provide networking and job opportunities in addition to hands-on industry experience, partnering with organizations such as Bonnaroo Music Festival and Sad Summer Fest as well as industry artist grandson.
The non-profit has reached music industry professionals both internationally and locally, with Middle Tennessee State University music business student Elise O’Leary serving as the Head of Tours and Programming.
Native of Baltimore, Maryland, sophomore O’Leary said she became involved with GBTRS initially in high school through a friend and immediately felt a sense of community.
Hoping to become a road manager, O’Leary resonated with GBTRS’s mission to break barriers in a male-dominated industry and started with the organization solely as a lurking community member on the group’s Facebook networking page. She later became an admin for the group and has since transitioned to the Head of Tours and Programming.
“We want to see people who are not given the chance to thrive, thrive,” she said. “We want to facilitate that growth not just for them but for others to learn about what that struggle has been like for us.”
Drawn by the campus’s music business program, connection to Nashville and the affordability for out-of-state students, O’Leary felt MTSU could help drive her career forward in a way other schools in her home-state could not.
With the support of industry experience faculty on campus and GBTRS, O’Leary feels she has been pushed to embrace her goals with security and high energy.
“It’s caused me to really go at it whole-heartedly, instead of having those lingering doubts,“ she said. “Seeing even just the director doing this communicates that it is possible. It’s helped me feel more secure in my choices and feel more security for women of the future and marginalized genders.”
The nonprofit has supported underserved individuals in the music industry in opportunities such as Roadie for a Day, Festival Immersion and other hands-on programming.
Roadie for a Day participant Aliyah English said in the program’s recap video that getting to participate in the program helped to demystify the experience of working behind the scenes in live music.
“Getting to see the magic is opening my eyes to so much,” she said.
English continued and said the experience opened up her up to the lack of diversity in the music industry as well. In what can be a cut-throat industry, English said that seeing a lack of women and people of color was a sobering moment for her.
“I always look if there’s any women and people of color in the room because I really don’t see a lot in the industry and it really tugs at my heartstrings,” she said. “Where is everyone?”
According to a 2021 report from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, women made up less than 50% of the individuals within executive positions at major music companies with 17.7 white male executives for every Black female executive.
This disparity in the music industry is what Chagrin and Girls Behind the Rock Show strives to diminish.
Since its humble beginnings six years ago, the nonprofit and its respective Facebook networking group has grown into an 11,000-member community that has helped provide and fill over 1,000 job postings.
With over 84 percent of members been connected with paid opportunities in a male-dominated field, Girls Behind the Rock Show is seeking to break barriers for individuals who otherwise didn’t have a place.
“Not only have we created something that helps people get in but helps them start their own thing,” Chargin said. “The point isn’t just to take a sledgehammer to the glass ceiling and break down the barrier together, but also to have your option. Like, if the barrier comes down, you have somewhere safe to go.”
As live music makes its return and COVID-19 restrictions lift, GBTRS is dedicating its sixth year of existence to new program creation and touring opportunities. Regardless, Chargin wants her audience to know that the community is connected and dedicated to creating a better world.
“When someone puts that pressure on you, stand up for yourself,” Chargin said.
You are worth every room you walk intoShelby Chargin