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Women Underground: Music Industry

"This is a man's world. But it wouldn't be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl."

“This is a man’s world. But it wouldn’t be nothing, nothing without a woman or a girl.” Godfather of soul, James Brown, crooned these lines in 1966 in a ceremonial fashion praising his stance while admitting he would still be lost without women. Decades later women are still trying to surface within their craft as something more than the anchor in a man’s world, more than “a reason to not be lost,” but just as enough; just as individuals.

In the music industry, not that different from many other industries, there’s still a lot of work to do in this male dominated world. Some might think that women are being too sensitive, like Stacie Huckeba who tried telling herself this when she recollected being talked down to from the sound man, who then called her defensive attitude bitchy, rather than assertive. This notion has been expressed as “damn if you do, damn if you don’t.”

You’re too nice, you get walked over. You’re too connected, you must be sleeping with someone in the industry. You become aggressive, you’re automatically a bitch.

Regardless of this double edged sword, women like Huckeba still try to talk themselves into that they were in the “wrong.” This conditioning not only needs to stop but then transitions into a separate jab cut from the same cloth. The cycle continues as women assume this is normal and lash on each other, shaming left and right in order to get a spot on this narrow road.

It’s not just in the United States where women in the music industry are still trying to compete with the boys, it’s everywhere. Gender gap in Australia held similar complaints in a recent article for “hack’s second annual Girls to the Front Investigation,”  while the U.K. had a different type of diversity. Finally making improvements with “women making up more than half of entry-level positions,” the percentage of women in Senior Executive roles was a measly 30%.

Like with any problem it needs to be talked about. It needs to be addressed multiple times in order for women in the music industry, and really any profession, to be valued for their work without barriers that men fortunately do not have. Of course, not all women in the music industry have gone through this- which is reassuring to an extent that there is hope.

We are headed in the right direction, but still have work to do.  Seems as though this bears repeating, despite the deaf ears we see. We could go on and on about how unfair this all is and back it up with numerous stats and stories. But we shouldn’t have to rip ourselves open to hail a “I believe you.” We could also isolate ourselves from the world and only work with women. But we shouldn’t have to separate for inclusion.

Instead, let’s celebrate all who have swam against the current and still manage to rise above it all. Let’s celebrate how far we will continue to go. Let’s celebrate those times where women didn’t feel unsupported. Let’s just celebrate. It’s not a man’s world. It’s not a woman’s world. It’s our world.

What advice would you give women pursuing similar roles?

 

Rynn Miller, DJ Zomb-E

Rynn Miller, DJ Zomb-E, KSPC: “So my advice is (to) be an activist, be an ally, be intersectional, speak up where you want change, work together, work for the changes you want, hold people accountable for violating safe spaces or harassment when and where you can, talk to the women around you to find support. The networks are there, find them and collaborate. Don’t ever stop making things but rest when you need to so you can come back stronger. You’re far more capable than you realize, so believe in and love yourself.”

Emma and Rachel, Her Music PR, Park Fires:

“We would say keep going and doing what you’re doing and don’t be afraid to speak out! We all need to work together and support each other in order to make this change happen. If anyone is thinking about taking the leap or already has and wants a chat we would love to hear from you to share stories and help any way we can!”

Cassie Gaffaney, vocalist/guitarist Santa Barbara: “Don’t waste time on negative emotions and try to surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you.”

Amalia Sepulveda, freelance videographer and photographer: “People are going to look at you different and think your incompetent. But work hard for what drives you to make your dreams become a reality. I don’t want to say ‘prove them wrong’ because that would drive you to pay attention to their thoughts and negative ways. Focus on you and what you will accomplish.”

Leandra Graves, vocalist /guitarist Graves and the Bad Weather: “Never stop working for it! Pursue, pursue, pursue! And learn the strengths that being a woman gives you as an artist. It allows you to stand out in a world full of male dominated rock bands. It allows you to express a different view than your male counterparts. It makes the world a more colorful place.”

What (if any) barriers did you have to overcome?

 

Park Fires feat
Rachel Lissenburg & Emma Duffy, Park Fires

Emma and Rachel, Music PR, and Park Fires: “It’s sad to say that there were a lot of barriers to overcome, from managers telling us to lie about our age and dress a certain way to sound techs asking if we had plugged our equipment in yet? If we were having any technical issues.”

Emma: “But, as a young mum, I think the hardest barrier for me was feeling the pressure that as a women it was wrong to have a child and be in a band. Whenever we approached labels, management or booking agents feeling the need to NEVER mention my daughter out of fear and all the countless people at gigs asking me where my child was as if I wasn’t allowed to leave the house without her. There are hundreds of men in bands with children and these types of pressures and questions would never be directed towards them.

“At the time, when we started out as PARK FIRES, we were naive to the inequality within the music industry and didn’t necessarily notice straight away how we were changing ourselves to fit with societies image of who a women should be in the music industry in order to succeed. After one particular experience with a sound engineer we really opened our eyes and decided to make a change, go it alone and adopted a very DIY approach to our music and remained completely true to ourselves.”

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Cassie Gaffaney // Photo: Justin Bieggar, Sketched Sounds, for GUM

Cassie Gaffaney: “Most barriers I’ve overcome have been personal/emotional ones. I was a singer/songwriter all though my teens and into my early 20’s. I ended up giving up music because I was really intimidated by another female singer at the time who was really successful at the time. She also happened to be the ex-girlfriend of my husband, so there were all these weird jealous insecurities I was going through. I felt so obsolete and helpless that I decided to give up music completely.

“I spent several years working as a professional actress in theater/tv/commercials in New Zealand, but I never really felt like I was really in my element. It took moving to LA to realize that you really need to harness your true talents and for me that was always music. I feel like I’ve truly found a new clarity and purpose in life and outgrown those insecurities that plagued my early 20s.”

Amalia Sepulveda : “Having to learn on my own. Or proving myself to others that I was able to create photos and videos. ”

Leandra Graves: “Anxiety and insecurity. The music industry is hard. It requires a lot of patience and thick skin due to the fact the word no is one you’ll hear a lot. I’ve had to learn to work while I’m waiting, and to not let rejection dictate how I feel about myself and my music. Because there will eventually be a “yes.”

Do you feel that there isn’t enough support for women in the music industry?

 

Rynn Miller: “Every industry is a male dominated industry and it is a systematic issue. We were born into a world with privileges that was meant to keep those less fortunate down, rather than empower. People don’t start to take notice until we speak out and use our voices.”

Cassie Gaffaney: “Personally, I have felt nothing but support from people. From bookers and venues, to sound engineers, bands and bloggers. I don’t know if it’s just the huge echo chamber of amazing women that I follow on social media – but from where I’m standing all I can see are talented women making waves in the music scene and I think that’s wonderful.  Looking back on how I felt when I was young, I probably would’ve been threatened by successful and talented women in the same field as me. Now – I see these people as peers and feel inspired by them.”

pexels_women fist in air

Krista Norsworthy, publicist and online branding professional: “No, I don’t feel there is enough support. There will be in the future though. As more and more women break barriers and stand firm in being taken seriously. Especially if you’re trying to brand yourself as your own person in the industry.”

Leandra Graves: “Sometimes there will be a sexist promoter or venue owner I have to deal with, and that is frustrating. Luckily I am backed by lots of supportive men in my life and band [though], so they help me out in sucky situations like that.”

Amalia Sepulveda: “There isn’t enough support. There are always an excuse or a separate category that is always separating woman in the music industry as if it isn’t the same industry.”

If no support- How can “we” change this?

 

Rynn Miller: “By working together, demanding more female fronted shows, holding festivals accountable for their lack of diversity, collaborating with each other, making art, and offering support to each other we can make more progress.”

Krista Norsworthy: “We change it by literally staying in the game, professional and focused. We can’t give up when we are discouraged, we need to keep going. By doing this we ensure the future generations of women trying to make a name in the music industry, will face less hurdles. By giving them examples outside of “sex symbol,” “assistant” or “intern,” we show young women that it can be done with true grit and endless passion. Again, don’t enter the music industry as a woman, if it isn’t completely in your heart. If you enter it with your full heart and professional focus,  success is closer than you know.”

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Leandra Graves, courtesy of the artist

Leandra Graves: “Have each other’s backs! Men and women!”

 Thank you to the women who took their time to contribute and share their views.
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