The modern music industry is a predominantly male occupied field. From musicians to producers, press and every other profession found within the nooks and crannies of the industry, a noticeable amount of the people responsible for these jobs are men…but this article isn’t about that. This article is about celebrating all the intelligent, intensely passionate, and beautiful work put into the industry by women.
As early as the 19th-century women had to make enormous strides to gain even the slightest recognition. It was the nature of the beast during that time; women were to perform to the music; not make it. Few women actually had their songs published for public listening as they were societally viewed to be ‘lacking the creative ability’ to make music, due to the biased and sexist views placed upon women during that time. Thankfully, with the uprise of jazz music in the 20th-century, women started to receive the recognition they deserved. Now famous singers such as Billie Holliday and Ella Fitzgerald became pioneers for music and equality in the late 50s, establishing a new chapter in the history of the industry.
In the early to mid-60s, it became slightly more acceptable for women to sing as a hobby, but not professionally. Songwriting, playing instruments, contributing to the business in any manner was still not seen as a widespread socially accepted felid of work for women. By the late-60s singer-songwriters such as Joni Mitchell and Lotti Golden became icons for music in that time. For a lot of women today, their work, along with the many other talented female musicians of that time period, are regarded as part of the major advances the industry acquired to be in the place we are today, with regards to equal acceptance and access.
Fast forward to the 70’s and 80’s and women were breaking the rules of societal norms like they meant it. In the words of Johnny Rotten of the legendary punk band the Sex Pistols: ‘During the Pistols era, women were out there playing with the men, taking us on in equal terms … It wasn’t combative, but compatible.’ The punk, metal, pop and grunge genres, in particular, took significant overtures in forming an almost female-dominated presence. The discrimination women endured throughout all the years past had diminished to a minute amount. Taking the stage in fishnets and spikes was a ‘f**k you’ call to anyone and everyone who still tried to suppress the talent these women possessed. Kim Gordon of the alternative-rock band Sonic Youth stated: “I think women are natural anarchists because you’re always operating in a male framework.” The nature of the beast that had encompassed the music industry for so long was now being crushed by the hands of women through some kickass music.
The modern industry has become something partially unrecognizable from what it used to be. Take Julie Greenwald for example; currently, she is the residing Chairman/COO of Atlantic Records Group, which is an amazing accomplishment taking into consideration the condition that the industry first presented. Jody Gerson is the Chairman/CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group. She is responsible for making some of the biggest publishing deals ever, signing R.E.M., Pearl Jam, and rapper Travis Scott, among other big names. In 2015 she was named Executive of the Year. “I don’t do anything half-assed, I go all the way”, she said to Billboard. These women, among the many others leading the corporate aspect of the industry, send a message of hope to young aspiring industry professionals. They not only help to obliterate the mental image of the music industry as being ‘men in suits smoking cigars’ but they do it with pride and class.
A quick google search of ‘women in music’ will bring up a countless amount of hits, but I wanted more. I wanted the opinion of a modern day, working female musician. I wanted the information right from the source. Does the industry’s discrimination still have the impact it once did? I had the amazing opportunity to speak on this matter with Aussie musician Andie Isalie. Currently, with over 250,000 youtube subscribers and well over 16,000,000 channel views, Andie is a 20-year-old artist with an incredible knack for jazz resembling vocals and folk-inspired finger-picking. Through the magic of social media and her incredible talent for music, Andie has turned fans into friends, connecting people far and wide, welcoming them into the online music community with open arms. Andie has been playing music since she was 11, busking and playing professionally, and developing throughout the years, a unique and unparalleled expression of her art. Unsigned and fully self-managed, I chose Andie for this piece because I believe she represents fully and completely, the modern day female working musician in the most genuine form possible. Here’s what she had to say:
1.Do you feel that your experience working as a musician has been made harder or easier based solely on your gender?
Andie: As a female working in the industry, I’m yet to face too many setbacks due to my gender. I’ve mostly noticed sexism acting in my favour, which in some ways I think is unfortunate because I’ll be given a gig or an opportunity because a female is seen as more marketable than a man. In other ways, it’s benefitted me quite well because it gives me the opportunity to jump on any favoritism to get myself ahead. In this Patriarchal world, I want to call sexism on its bluff – you want to give me a specific gig or opportunity because you want something from me? Well, I’m going to use that opportunity the best I can to prove that I deserve it regardless of the sexism that drove them to give me the gig.
2.Thoughts on women opening record labels/producing music?
Andie: Women opening record labels is the sickest shit ever. It’s so so good. It’s just as good as men opening record labels and producing music. Who in their right mind wouldn’t think so?
3.What is your opinion on the media’s perception of women in the music industry?
Andie: I’m actually really sick of seeing women with legitimate talent being heavily sexualized in the media. What that makes me consider, is how they end up in that situation. Is it always the artists choice to appear semi or fully naked in their music video or has that been forced upon them by a record label? Let me just add also, that I don’t have an issue with nudity at all, unless it seems to have been trivialized, or it’s the artists only selling point. Yeah, I guess what I’m saying is fuck the media for making everything about sex… grow up.
4.Who are some of your favorite female musicians/bands?
Esperanza Spalding, Lianne la Havas, St Vincent, Kimbra, Nai Palm / Hiatus Kaiyote, Jaala, Gabriella Cohen, Angel Olsen, Nina Simone, Regina Spektor, Amy Winehouse.
5. Do you feel that women have to ‘prove’ themselves more than others to be taken seriously in the industry?
Personally, I’m very very lucky as I’m yet to experience needing to prove myself. I’m naturally a very assertive and confident person, so I don’t have any issues telling people what I like, what I want, or how to do something, and I guess that confidence is something that often puts people in their place. I feel that as a self-managed performer I’m respected but that doesn’t mean that women in different areas of the music industry don’t have to go above and beyond to be given the same respect that dudes automatically have bestowed upon them, which sucks. So yeah, I do feel that on the whole, women are for some very very stupid reason required to prove themselves in this industry, which is so often dominated as a man’s game.
6. Who are some of your women music industry (PR, Independent recording studios, etc) inspirations?
Aw man I have a lot of respect for Gabriella Cohen, her crew and what they’re doing. Recording their own music, setting up their own music label and playing the games of this industry so so well. I also friggin adoooore Kimbra, and her musical production. I think it’s so complex and intelligent, yet funky and feel good at the same time, and she’s created those arrangements and so many of those sounds herself.
7. Do you feel that women are being more accepted by the industry or less accepted in the modern day?
I’m not really sure what my thoughts are on this because I don’t feel like I’m involved enough in the industry as such in this current moment to really comment constructively! I’d like to think that in comparison to the past couple of decades, women are definitely better accepted and respected in this industry, and although we may continue to move forward as a society, there are still some huge issues that are present with the way that women are treated in all industries. We’ve still got a long way to go ya know.
8. Thoughts on girl power?
I think the concept of ‘girl power’ is important. Gals sticking together, supporting one another, sisterhoods, all great in theory and often in practice, as long as nobody uses it as an excuse to smite down the entire male population, become sexist in an attempt to conquer sexism. I guess I’ve seen this so often, especially on social media, and we as a society just have to get better at not creating double standards. As women, we have to agree that if we are allowed to get together and celebrate femininity in all its glorious aspects, then men too should feel comfortable to come together to celebrate their gender as well – both should feel free to do as long as neither celebrate acts of sexism. 🙂
9. How important is it to you that women are included/represented in the industry?
It’s greatly important to me that women are given access to the same opportunities as men. I don’t mind so much if my music taste is not 50/50 balanced with male and female artists, because, to me, my music taste isn’t gendered. But we need to have equal access for men and women! There could be so many incredible artists out there that we don’t even get exposed to in the same way as others may be pushed in our face my social and public media.
10. What’s it like putting yourself out into the world via youtube as a female musician?
The only issue I’ve ever had with putting myself into the youtube sphere as a woman is criticism on my appearance and my sexuality – which nobody is actually in a particularly informed place to judge. In the recent past few months, I posted a photo on Instagram which revealed my armpit hair, which I received a good handful of insensitive, intentionally rude and insulting comments about how “I’m not as attractive as I used to be”. Whilst men in the youtube sphere also face the potential of ‘trolls’ insulting them about their appearance, women statistically are much more likely to receive criticism on their body and appearance. I also get told how much people love me or want to fuck me or whatever, so regardless of the opinion of whether or not I’m shaggable, the negative opinions are often about my sex appeal! Which is in my opinion, completely f**ing irrelevant to the video.
The modern industry is becoming a more and more equally accessible and accepted field for women each and every day…but we’ve still got a long ways to go. However, I believe through the power of music and equality, we can all come together to make the industry what it should be, what it needs to be.
“You can’t just sit there and wait for people to give you that golden dream. You’ve got to get out there and make it happen for yourself.” – Diana Ross
All photographs used within this article are credited to Nick Mckinlay.