Harmonizing Change: Bel Aztiria’s Journey and the Impact of EQUAL and GLOW at Spotify

  • Published on:
    December 8, 2023
  • Reading time by:
    7 minutes
Bel Aztiria

In this exclusive interview with Bel Aztiria, the driving force behind Spotify’s groundbreaking social and equity programs, EQUAL and GLOW, we delve into the origin stories, evolution, and impactful achievements of these initiatives. As the Head of Global Music Cultures at Spotify, Bel brings a unique perspective to the table—a woman in music, an immigrant, and someone with deep ties to the women’s rights movement in Argentina. She shares her insights into the importance of representation in the music industry, the connection between mindfulness and creativity during the pandemic, and the future of Spotify’s commitment to social equity in music. Join us as we explore the transformative journey of EQUAL and GLOW and gain a glimpse into Bel’s personal aspirations for a more inclusive and harmonious world, both within and outside the music industry.

Could you share the origin story of EQUAL and GLOW at Spotify? What inspired you to develop these social and equity programs, and what were the key objectives you aimed to achieve with them?

The origin of EQUAL and GLOW at Spotify stemmed from observed disparities in the music industry. EQUAL was inspired by the significant underrepresentation of women in music, with only 30% of charting artists (in the U.S.) being women. Furthermore, GLOW was created as an ongoing commitment to amplify voices within the LGBTQIA+ community and honor its immense contribution to music and culture, all year round, which at times goes overlooked in society. Recognizing these broader issues, we aimed to address equity through our global program, amplifying voices and creating opportunities for artists worldwide. We recognize that equity is a complex, global issue that extends beyond just music, but this artform can be a potent catalyst for change. Elevating artists’ voices can attract more listeners, create further opportunities, and allow more artists to live off their craft.

While we’ve long supported women artists, EQUAL stands out as a singular global program with a profound impact. Celebrating and elevating women in music across 180+ Spotify markets, the initiative operates as an always-on program with 40 local versions and a global layer, enabling music to transcend geographical boundaries.

GLOW is our heartfelt tribute to the LGBTQIA+ community, launched this year as a formal, always-on program. It originated from our ongoing support, driven by a group of passionate LGBTQIA+ employees. GLOW’s goal is to create a safe space where everyone, irrespective of gender identity or sexual orientation, feels recognized and valued.

Our goal in both programs is to promote equity for all artists by dedicating additional resources to historically underrepresented acts. We celebrate them for their incredible artistry and influence, emphasizing the importance of amplifying women and queer voices for a more diverse and accepting world.

Personally, as a woman in music, an immigrant, and with ties to the women’s rights struggle in Argentina, my focus is on driving equity in both my personal and professional spheres. Additionally, contributing to the creation of Spotify’s global program for emerging artists, RADAR, further reinforced my belief in building global brands and structures that uplift artists and connect them worldwide.

How has EQUAL evolved since its inception, and what notable achievements or milestones have been reached since its launch?

EQUAL has experienced exponential growth since its launch, significantly boosting the visibility of women artists. Within just the first month of joining the program, EQUAL artists received nearly a billion editorial streams and have been featured in over 5,000 editorial playlists across the entire Spotify ecosystem since launch.

We’re proud to have amplified the voices of almost 6,000 women globally, supporting artists’ every career stage, from iconic ambassadors like Shakira and Shania Twain to emerging talents such as Poland’s Sara James, who at just 13 years old, became our youngest ambassador and most streamed artist on EQUAL Global in 2022.

Beyond the platform, EQUAL has blossomed into a multifaceted program that impacts the studio, the stage, and the community.

In the studio, we’re addressing representation gaps  through our EQUAL residencies in LA, London, and Toronto, providing hands-on experiences for sound engineers and producers. As such, we’ve created a unique playlist featuring songs entirely created by women.

Globally, we’ve hosted events, training sessions, talks, and panels, fostering essential communities and networks for women in the music industry.

On stage, women have been making ‘her-story.’ 2023 marked a turning point, with artists like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift influencing local economies with their tours. We’re thrilled to support more women on stages through EQUAL. We’ve backed existing festivals like All Things Go in Washington D.C. and FIMPRO in Mexico, and our first EQUAL festival in Bogota, Colombia sold out seven shows.

This year, we expanded with massive EQUAL festivals in Madrid, Spain, and Buenos Aires, Argentina featuring top-tier and emerging women artists. With over 28,000 fans in attendance, these events celebrated EQUAL’s mission and achievements, emphasizing the need to listen to women artists. 

GLOW is a significant addition to Spotify’s social impact initiatives. Can you elaborate on its goals and the impact it has made on the LGBTQIA+ artist and creator community?

The LGBTQIA+ community has long shaped music and culture. We aim to honor this immense contribution all year round, beyond cultural moments. While we’ve supported the community through global pride celebrations, and Social Impact and Diversity and Belonging initiatives, GLOW takes our commitment to the next level. 

GLOW is a global music program designed to uplift and celebrate LGBTQIA+ creators all year round. Our goal is simple: support artists as they are – individuals crafting incredible music – and amplify their voices to create more opportunities and reach more listeners.

GLOW, available in 50+ markets, is more than just a program; it’s a dedicated space on our platform for discovering a wealth of content by queer artists. Within our app, you’ll find the new GLOW playlist, featuring tracks from LGBTQIA+ artists worldwide. Monthly, we spotlight one artist, offering marketing, editorial, and partnership support. We’ve had the privilege of featuring iconic artists like Trixie Mattel and Pabllo Vittar, alongside talents like Mx Blouse and Jean Seizure.

GLOW’s impact extends beyond the digital realm. We’ve made donations to key nonprofits such as QORDS, Astrea, and Black Trans Femmes In The Arts. We prioritize partnerships with LGBTQIA+ businesses and are proud to collaborate with GLAAD across this program.

Our efforts are bearing fruit. GLOW playlists have collectively garnered 209 million streams since inception. GLOW artists received 139 million editorial streams within their first month and secured spots in over 1.3k editorial playlists on Spotify. We’ve also hosted two songwriting camps, honoring creators in the studio, and held educational events in the Philippines, Brazil, and Mexico.

In essence, GLOW is our love letter to the LGBTQIA+ community – an ode to their creativity, resilience, and influence. It’s our way of saying, “We see you, we hear you, and we’re with you.”

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA – OCTOBER 20: Bel Aztiria, Spotify’s Global Music Program & Social Equity Lead talks to Esther Shewry, Artist & Label Partnerships Lead for EQUAL – Australia, Spotify, about EQUAL and how to foster equity for women in audio across the region at Spotify House during SXSW Sydney on October 20, 2023 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Caroline McCredie/Getty Images for Spotify)

In your experience, how important is representation in the music industry, and how does it relate to the overall success of an artist or creator?

Representation is not just important in the music industry; it’s vital. It’s about having a mosaic of unique voices and experiences that resonate with audiences from all walks of life. Being able to include all artists is key for this industry to thrive. 

For artists, seeing representation is motivating and sends a powerful message about achievable success without compromising identity. 

On the flip side, as listeners, we yearn for songs and stories that mirror our life experiences — our identities, beliefs, and the communities we come from. This connection becomes even more profound during pivotal life stages like adolescence, when music often shapes our identity formation. Additionally, for immigrants adjusting to new cultures and for underrepresented communities, music serves as a sanctuary – a place where we truly feel seen and heard.

But clear representation is insufficient without genuine inclusion. This means providing opportunities to all artists, irrespective of identity, and acknowledging their artistic contributions beyond limiting factors.

I believe that by tuning into more diverse voices, we can positively shape our culture. Neuroscience tells us that our thought patterns are influenced by language and the stories we hear. So, if we want to cultivate a culture that’s open, inclusive, and celebrates diversity, we need to listen to more diverse voices.

An artist’s success, talent, authenticity, and hard work are crucial, but those from historically underrepresented backgrounds often face more hurdles. Hence, equity and representation are vital — they help level the playing field and open doors to opportunity.

The pandemic played a significant role in the development of the EQUAL program. Can you tell us more about the specific moment or experience that led to its ideation and how mindfulness and creativity were connected in this process?

During the pandemic, we as a team made an effort to be connected and were encouraged to navigate the hard time as best as we could, taking care of ourselves. I found myself in a unique space, where my connection to nature and my creativity became more profound. In my early mornings and weekends, I was immersed in a shamanic yoga teacher training, a practice that brought mindfulness and inspiration to the forefront of my daily life. 

At the same time, the lack of in-person connections and the glaring injustices for underrepresented communities became more apparent as the pandemic unfolded. Inspiring social movements like Black Lives Matter made their voices heard, further emphasizing the need for change. It was a frustrating, hard, and insightful time, where many of us were inspired and also grieving for all the injustices.

The calmness and turmoil made space for creation and innovation in a new way. Inspired by this particular period, my colleagues’ work towards creating a bigger proposal for women in music, and the fight for women’s rights in Argentina, I envisioned an initiative that would utilize our resources to elevate women’s voices, no matter where they are from, all year long. 

My manager and mentor Madeleine Bennett, Spotify’s Head of Music Strategy, played a pivotal role in shaping and realizing the idea. Her invaluable insights from a music business and strategy perspective served as an inspiring example of leadership. My embodiment coach, Amelia Zadro, provided crucial support in helping  me understand the project on a deep, value-aligned level and offered emotional and spiritual guidance throughout the creative process.

I am conscious of the privilege of having the mind-space, tools, and support  to create this program. The aim was to leverage these privileges for contributing to a more equitable world through music, making the process of building a 360-global program from scratch fun! 

I’m incredibly proud to see EQUAL growing and thriving as more people join the mission. Crafting it was a challenging and deeply fulfilling personal and creative journey. It was a long time in the making, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the collaboration at Spotify, the artists, and our unifying belief in music as a force for positive change. 

We were excited to collaborate during the pandemic, and the release of EQUAL was a moving experience. As a team representing different markets, seeing the 30+ local ambassadors on Times Square for the first time, along with the playlists and the celebration of the artists, was a cherished moment for all of us. 

Spotify’s commitment to social equity in music is clear, but how do you see the future of these initiatives evolving, and what new areas or communities might they target in the coming years?

Spotify is committed to promoting equity in music, with flagship initiatives like EQUAL and GLOW, alongside targeted programs such as Frequency, which supports Black creators across the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Africa, and AMPLIFIKA in Brazil. Looking ahead, we aim to expand these programs to touch more lives and contribute to positive change. We recognize the long road ahead and remain committed to leveraging our global platform to create spaces, spark conversations, and foster opportunities for underrepresented communities worldwide. The future involves celebrating and spotlighting diverse communities as they rightfully deserve – from on-platform to the studio, and onto the stage. 

What advice do you have for individuals who aspire to make a meaningful impact in their careers, especially in the context of promoting social equity and inclusion?

Trust your instincts and embrace your ideas. Take time to listen to your inner wisdom – it often guides us well. Sometimes, it’s our toughest battles and our ability to empathize fuels the most significant change. Feelings of injustice, connection or lack thereof, and the skills developed through life experiences can all contribute to creating positive change.

Heart-centered ideas have a magnetic pull; they draw like-minded people towards them. Seek out companies that mirror your values and build a supportive network of believers. This journey is meant to be shared; seek mentors and collaborators who can walk alongside you, both professionally and personally, especially when an idea becomes personal or time and energy are limited. 

Creating meaningful change is an emotional roller coaster. Celebrate rewarding moments and in tough times, reflect on your progress and lean on your support network.

Stay curious, be open to learning from anyone, and share your perspective. Find allies who resonate with your vision. Embrace failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. The most impactful projects are those shared within a community, fostering a sense of ownership for everyone involved.

When you look back at the journey you’ve taken with EQUAL and GLOW, what is the most rewarding aspect of the impact these programs have had on the artists and communities they serve?

Reflecting on the journey with EQUAL and GLOW, the most significant reward is witnessing artists feel recognized, validated, and celebrated within our playlist ecosystem, events, and channels. Creating safe spaces for networking and free expression, especially through LGBTQIA+ songwriting camps – which have proven to be hubs for connection and friendship – has been impactful. 

The robust support provided by the Spotify global team including billboards on Times Square is a dream come true for many artists; it’s an emotional moment that validates their talent, hard work, and music. We’ve had women and queer artists from all corners of the globe occupy that space for almost 100 days since launch. It’s not just a billboard – it’s a statement.

The EQUAL festivals, organized by the local teams in Argentina, Colombia and Spain, were powerful moments rallying people behind the idea of listening to more women, and creating magical and emotional experiences for both fans and artists. These moments reinforce the program’s purpose and make every minute worth it. 

Beyond your professional achievements, what are some personal goals or dreams you have for the future, both within and outside of the music industry?

As an immigrant, I hope to find a peaceful balance between the homes I inhabit that are a part of who I am. I wish to keep growing as a person, showing up authentically – from a place of love and in alignment with values of acceptance, freedom, and peace that the world so needs right now – and to keep aligning with people and experiences who expand me in that direction. 

As someone working in music – at a fantastic company that’s driven by strong values – I wish to keep contributing to causes that inspire me and have a positive impact on the communities that most need it. I’d like to see a future where a more diverse set of artists and sounds are being enjoyed all around the world, making different stories and having their perspectives accepted, included and celebrated. And to keep listening to great music. 

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