When she started #WomenCrush Music in 2016, Portland-via-NYC singer-songwriter Ashley Kervabon was simply an artist—and recent transplant—looking for a community. Since its humble start as a showcase series at SE Portland’s Jade Lounge, #WomenCrush has grown into an international movement with the mission to connect, educate and inspire its community of female songwriters.
As the scale of the organization grew, so too did Kervabon’s need for knowledge on how to run something so huge.
“The ambition was always there,” Kervabon says. “But I didn’t go to business school. I didn’t know how to draft a booking budget, or pitch and apply for grants, how to manage a staff, how to fire my first person. All that stuff, that’s crazy. I would have never imagined myself doing any of that when I started #WomenCrush.”
In search of more growth not only for the organization but also for herself, Kervabon made her move back to the East Coast this summer, earning her certificate in nonprofit leadership at Fordham University and searching for more business opportunities for the organization, including further fundraising by seeking out possible sponsorships and grants.
Even in its beginnings, the goals Kervabon sought to achieve with her organization impacted the community in large ways, providing songwriters with resources and connections that can be difficult to come by in an increasingly competitive industry. The nonprofit’s mission is especially relevant in light of the #MeToo movement. For many songwriters involved with the organization, the community #WomenCrush provides can be vital.
“This community that we’re building with every chapter is a network of artists who can recommend safe people to work with. I think in this situation, it’s really helpful, especially now that people are aware that these things are happening,” Kervabon says. “For me, it wasn’t news. Something did happen to me when I was 20 years old, 19 or 20, I blocked it out of my memory. But when all the stuff with Kesha starting happening, it all came back to me.”
At that time in her career, Kervabon had just moved out to Portland from her home in New York City. She was trying to find a community to help with her goals as an artist, but the prospect of talking to so many men in the industry wasn’t an easy one. Luckily, at an open mic night, Jen Deale of Portland new wave pop band Camp Crush recommended a producer she should work with. Later, another fellow artist recommended the same one.
“I thought, ‘Okay good, this guy must be good, he must be safe because two other women are recommending him,’ so we ended up working together,” Kervabon says. “But it was that initial time where they were giving me resources that made me think, ‘How can we build this?’”
Though the organization’s seeds may have been planted in a Portland lounge, the goals of #WomenCrush Music have surely outgrown its local beginnings. With chapters already located in 15 cities across the continent, including established music hubs like Austin, Nashville and New Orleans plus recent additions Denver and Missoula, Kervabon’s movement is now impacting on a global scale, connecting women with women through regular showcases, educational workshops, and an ever-growing community.
“Almost every woman I have met through #WomenCrush I have sat with and shared stories, struggles, breakthroughs, contacts and ideas,” tells singer-songwriter Haley Johnsen, also a board member of the nonprofit. “When you have that kind of relationship with someone who can understand what you’re going through, it makes being a female in the industry a little less daunting. I feel more confident knowing that I am not in competition with the other women in the Portland music scene, but in sisterhood.”