female musicians call out a publicist for sexual misconduct

Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors tweeted about a sexual assault, and started a conversation the music industry couldn’t ignore.

by Wendy Syfret
20 January 2016, 3:48pm

Image via Wikipedia

Anyone woman who has ever played in a band, been to a show, or spent time in the music industry environment knows the hyper-masculine scene is regularly riddled with creepy dudes and unwanted advances. As a women who has played in bands for years, Amber Coffman of Dirty Projectors knows this better than anyone. Yesterday, she decided to call bullshit and make her own experience of music industry sexual misconduct very public. She took to Twitter and shared experience with a publicist that had taken place years earlier. She soon found out it that was a pretty regular behavior for him.

Across a series of posts, she discussed both her revulsion with him, and her disappointment in herself for not punching him in the face. Amber, like so many women, was angry. Not just that he did it, but that he had faced no consequences and—at the time of her first Tweet—was still enjoying a massive amount of professional success.

Knowing there was one sure way to make him accountable, she named him: "It was Heathcliff Berru, at Life or Death PR and MGMT." Life or Death was founded by Heathcliff, and represented D'Angelo, Earl Sweatshirt, DIIV, Kelela, and Killer Mike among others. Amber went on to point out that Berru's actions were not only widely known, but also ignored as "dudes overlook it and keep hiring him," adding that she was "Tired of sketchy ass dudes and sexual predators getting a pass from their 'bros.' Grow a spine and hold your friends accountable."

Her statement had an immediate and tangible impact, with Bethany Cosentino from Best Coast replying that she'd had a similar experience with Berru, and also been too freaked out to say anything. Soon the conversation exploded as more women joined in and increasingly violent episodes of assault were revealed.

After Amber shared her experience with Berru her label, Domino, stopped working with him. She explained: "They told me they've held their commitment of not working with him ever since, and I really appreciate that gesture," continuing, "More should follow suit."

With other industry figures like Deradoorian, Tearist and former MTV host Shirley Braha coming forward on Twitter with their own experiences, it appeared that the issue was finally too visible to be continue to be ignored. Wavves was Life and Death's first client to end their relationship with his agency in the wake of the revelations, with Kelela and DIIV leaving soon after. Sadie Dupuis of Speedy Oritz (who have worked with Life and Death) also tweeted that they will also no longer work with them.

Late last night, Life or Death PR issued a statement saying that Berru had stepped down as CEO. After so many women kept quiet for so many years, social media's ability to connect and support them allowed them to topple Berru in a day. A decade of seeming industry-driven untouchability proved chalky in the face of Twitter. The story echoes numerous other situations that have played out on social media in the past year—demonstrating not only the difference one person speaking out can make, but also how far we've come as a receptive and supportive audience.

Since the 60s, rumors of Bill Cosby's sexual misconduct reverberated around him. But his celebrity, and the women he assaulted's isolation from one another meant it took almost five decades for the public to become engaged with that narrative. Even then, it was when one person, Hannibal Buress, spoke out and a clip of it was shared on YouTube.

In stark contrast to the Cosby situation, when adult entertainer Stoya used Twitter to speak about her own experiences of sexual violence at the hands of her ex-boyfriend James Deen, the public responded immediately. Not only were other women able to tell their own stories, but the majority public response rolled in support of Stoya. Within weeks Deen had become widely boycotted within the industry.

It took 24 hours for Amber to see the result that she, and so many other women, should have been afforded years ago. And while it's late, it's also uplifting that as an audience, our response to someone taking a stand over has become so efficient and supportive. 


Text Wendy Syfret
Image via Wikicommons

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