It was an unseasonably warm morning when Nicole Barsalona came on the line, which probably helps explain how the Bostonian sounded just about as lively as a person could at 10 a.m.
As we talked over the phone Monday morning about her nonprofit Women in Music and its upcoming 35th anniversary, that warmth and energy radiated into topics as varied as politics, allyship, work-life balance and diversity in the entertainment field.
Barsalona’s resume is as impressive as it gets. She’s toured with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band as a road manager to guitarist “Little” Steven Van Zandt. She founded Everyday Rebellion, where she manages artists such as Prateek Kuhad and Mark Wilkinson. And she has been a board member of the Women in Music organization since 2013, where she currently serves as the president.
Barsalona is a major force for female autonomy in the entertainment field, but back when she first began in the early 2000s, she was fully aware of the hurdles she faced.
“[The industry was] really intimidating if you were starting out in it, and especially as a woman being underrepresented, it just felt more of an uphill battle,” Barsalona said.
With the goal of making it less of a battle, Women in Music provides education, networking opportunities and career advancement opportunities through panels, mentorship programs and workshops, among other things. The organization has chapters all over the world, and its global initiatives work to advance women past what Barsalona called a “broken rung in the ladder.”
“The goal is really just working toward equity together and making the industry, which used to be male-dominated, just more inclusive and diverse,” Barsalona said.
Diversity was clearly on Barsalona’s mind as we talked, mainly due to the major political shift that occurred just two days prior to our chat, when the 2020 presidential election was called for former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.).
“Having the first woman of color as a vice president certainly gives us hope that the whole focus on diversity and inclusion … will become more of a fabric of who we are as Americans,” she said. “And I hope that really trickles down so that we can continue the work in the music industry.”
That work has faced hurdles on a federal level. President Donald Trump has led a fight to defund and eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts. Even with a more progressive president set to take over, the root of the problem may be more cultural than political.
“[The U.S.] is one of the countries that doesn’t value art in a way that is so critical,” Barsalona said. “And I think that we have seen that our lack of focus on education across the board is part of that.”
Still, Women in Music is making progress. Barsalona credits new panels — including one focusing on the roles of female Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and one about disability awareness — that involve “really digging down under that gender equity umbrella” for boosting the organization’s membership over the past year and progressing it for a new generation.
Part of that progress involves allies, whose work in Women in Music Barsalona called “invaluable.”
“When someone is either interrupted or something is said that is maybe misogynistic or homophobic or racist or anti-Semitic or whatever it may be,” she said, “We’ve learned over the last year that being an ally doesn’t just mean behind the scenes saying or doing things, but really stepping up and making sure that your position is known.”
The pandemic has affected the planned celebrations for the organization’s anniversary. They were supposed to have a big gala in New York, she said.
“Obviously, that’s not happening,” she said.
But the new virtual event taking its place will still feature a fair amount of pomp and circumstance.
“We just want to really celebrate everyone in the community and make sure that we’re focused on thanking all of our members and volunteers,” Barsalona said. “It’s been a long year for everybody, and it’ll just be a nice time to get to celebrate.”