Ashley Kervabon-Stoyanov: Braving the Storm

Facing the winds of a hurricane, the wake of an election, and the ongoing COVID crisis, #WomxnCrush Music Founder and CEO Ashley Kervabon-Stoyanov was forced to adapt the organization’s work to 2020. Photo courtesy Ashley Kervabon-Stoyanov.

It was the day after the elections final results were announced, Sunday, Nov. 8–Joe Biden had won the Presidency–and as Ashley Kervabon-Stoyanov sat in her home in Miramar, Florida, bundled underneath a warm gray shawl and sipping from a hot mug, Hurricane Eda approached with fury just outside. As the storm of the election subsided, a very real storm raged on.

“I do believe it is deterring some of the Republicans who may be upset about creating more of a scene,” Kervabon-Stoyanov said. “That is definitely a good thing.”

Kervabon-Stoyanov founded her non-profit organization, #WomxnCrush Music (recently rebranded from #WomenCrush to the more inclusive and intersectional term), just months before Donald Trump was elected to the Presidency in 2016. Since then, the Portland-born organization has aimed to help create opportunities for rising womxn songwriters in the music industry, making connections and fostering relationships between womxn in the music industry through their live music showcases, networking events, and educational workshops.

They’ve maintained and pushed through for the last four years, growing their organization outwards from their Portland roots into what is now ten chapters nationwide. However, 2020 proved to be the most challenging year yet.

Shutdowns caused by COVID-19 forced Kervabon-Stoyanov and the rest of the organization to assess their work and look at the ways they can adapt themselves to help the new challenges that womxn in the music industry were now facing as a result of the pandemic.

“When the pandemic first hit, we really just tried to think, what does our community need right now? And at the end of the day, that’s what we are always asking ourselves,” Kervabon-Stoyanov said. “In the beginning, it really was–and I think it still is at the top of everyone’s mind–how are we gonna make money right now? Because most artists who write their own music, they make their money off of performing.”

To face these challenges, #WomxnCrush began to translate their work online, implementing new programming that focused more on a hands-on approach to connecting their global community to industries they may not usually have access to. Part of these efforts was a five-month virtual tour, which started in August of 2020 and ran until December. 

When COVID-19 first hit, the organization shifted their live showcases to an online format using Instagram, hosting small live-streamed sessions on the social media platform. However, Kervabon-Stoyanov felt like the local-chapter-feel the organization had become so known for was lost in translation. To better connect with people as well as support the local communities that had been so essential to building the organization, they came up with the idea for a virtual tour, hitting ten different locations across the country–including Portland, Seattle, New York, Boston, and more–and not only provided financial compensation for artists that performed at the virtual showcases but raised money for local womxn-owned music venues as well.

“It just made me sad that all of these venues that have supported us along the way are really struggling right now,” Kervabon-Stoyanov said. “So I thought, what could we do to help these artists but also help the venues and also help the local communities keep connected with industry people?”

The organization has also started a monthly Song Sessions program, which allows artists in the #WomxnCrush community to submit their songs to be live critiqued by industry professionals.

“It’s just been a really great experience that they can connect and hear feedback,” Kervabon-Stoyanov said. “It’s not every day that you can play your song for an A&R rep or a music supervisor.”

Aside from the artists themselves, the organization has faced its own share of hardships due to the pandemic. They lost all of their brand sponsorships over the course of 2020 but luckily were able to receive a small business loan to keep things afloat. 

“There has been light through all of this. People really feel like they want to be a part of something right now,” Kervabon-Stoyanov said. She is clear that everything the organization does to help wouldn’t be possible without its dedicated volunteers, a team of 30 individuals, with 10 acting as the core team, running the virtual tour, marketing, and #WomxnCrush blog.

“I am just so proud of them and unfortunately most of them were let go from their full-time music jobs,” Kervabon-Stoyanov continued.  “But in a way, volunteering with us has helped them kind of stay sane throughout this whole thing.”

Above all else, though, the organization’s biggest goal is to raise awareness of the hardships that those in the industry are currently facing.

“If you’re not in the music industry and not working in it, sometimes you don’t even think about this stuff. You don’t think that my favorite artist is not able to tour right now so they’re not able to make money, and potentially not able to pay their bills,” Kervabon-Stoyanov said. 

So even though the election may be over, and by this time, the storm over Kervabon-Stoyanov’s home has run its course, the challenges that this year–and the last four years–have brought are nowhere near though. Luckily, #WomxnCrush was built to brave it.

“While the world is in crisis, the needs of our songwriters are changing,“ said Kervabon-Stoyanov. “In a time of such craziness in the world, our community needs us and we need them to know we support them. It is very important to us to make sure everyone feels seen, heard, supported, and valued.”

For more information on #WomxnCrush Music’s upcoming events and programming, as well as to donate or get involved, visit womxncrushmusic.com.

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