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Sounds of Change
BY Claire Galloway / Edinburgh Napier University | 15-May-2018
Will the music industry ride the post-Weinstein wave? "We come in peace, but we mean business." That was the warning from Janelle Monáe to the music industry during this year’s Grammy Awards ceremony. The annual event - in its 60th incarnation - set the stage for intensified red-carpet activism, as celebrities used white roses to symbolise their allegiance with the #TimesUp movement. The award winners, however, remain predominantly male, and soon #OscarsSoWhite was joined by #GrammysSoMale. Just over 90 per cent of the 899 individuals nominated for Grammy Awards between 2013 and 2018 were male. Since 1947, only six women have been nominated for the Grammys' prestigious Producer of the Year. A woman has yet to win. #WomenInMusic #MeToo #GrammysSoMale #Timesup @Surgemag
In an interview with Vogue magazine, Recording Academy president, Neil Portnow, threw down a challenge, saying:
"Women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level … they need to step up."
You only have to Google female producers to uncover endless articles asking the awkward questions: Where are they? Why are they so rare? It isn’t just laziness, a lack of passion, or absence of talent that is preventing women from succeeding.
It’s time to face the music. Studio culture is a boys' club and the music industry is unapologetically patriarchal. It is a mixtape of women’s prevented progress that replays on a constant loop.
Madeleine Bloom was the first woman to work at music software company Ableton and is an innovator of electronic music. Bloom draws attention to the divergence between women playing music and women in music production:
"Music production and technology is coded as masculine. I can’t count the times I’ve been told that girls don’t do this sort of thing. The more advanced a woman becomes, the more hostile sexism she’ll experience. So, a lot end up dropping out and not working professionally in the field.”
Indicating a similar pattern across all STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) industries, contemporary music culture models wider gender stereotypes, sexism and patriarchy, aligning masculinity with technology and excluding women from Portnow’s 'executive roles.’ This has created a dichotomy that sees woman as performer and man as producer.
This is a myth. Women were actually pioneers in the field of electronic music. Have you ever heard of Daphne Oram or Delia Derbyshire? Like so many in history, these women have become invisible.
Next-gen DJ and co-founder of Grrrl Crush, BOB, took the DIY approach when mastering the decks, and told us: "I didn’t have the luxury of being in an all-female environment. I learnt by being surrounded by males in the music industry, forcing me into the school of thought: ‘if they can do it, I can do it."
Joanna Campbell's account of club culture is similar. A promoter for the Bongo’s Club’s all girl/non-binary club night, Hotline, Joanna saw the lack of female-led DJ nights as an opportunity to create a space in the market, which would increase the representation of women and the LGBTQ+ community within the Edinburgh scene:
"I started it when I had worked at the Bongo Club for over a year and was fed up (and also a bit taken aback) at how few women were actually involved, whether promoters or DJs. In my opinion, they seemed outnumbered 20 to 1."
While the electronic soundscape is beginning to change with the rise of female-led club nights, festivals dedicated to all-women line ups and other grassroots projects, you only have to check out Forbes’ top paid DJ list to know that a gender pay gap still exists.
Frustrated DJs, like BOB, aren’t alone when they say that the scene needs to 'up its game' in terms of female support:
"Go check out your average DJ line-up on a weekend and it will be probably be super-duper male-heavy with lots of RA-worshipping bros saying ‘It’s your boi!’ – especially within club DJing. Sometimes there’s one token girl on the line-up, if you’re lucky.
"I once found out a male DJ pal of mine was being paid more for exactly the same gig at the same venue on the same night. Maybe that’s because he asked, but it’s still not cool in the slightest,"
In Glasgow, Pretty Ugly Club (duo Lynne Johnston and Aarti Josh) boast the city’s longest running alternative club night, blasting out electro-pop since 2005. They have become a household name after dominating the decks for over a decade.
Pretty Ugly Club, who have played at A-lister events including the Scottish BAFTAs and the after shows for Madonna and Beyoncé, say that it is not a lack of ability that prevents women from getting booked:
"We never struggle to book females, so promoters who only book male line ups are just being lazy.
"The more women who get into DJing, producing and promoting across all genres, the better it will be for everyone. The techno scene appears to be more of an old boys’ club than other genres which usually just comes down to muso snobbery" claims Lynne.
The power-pair have shown that women can create a career out of DJing and have, by way of disco-pop, created their own unique brand that appeals to a wide audience, regardless of gender.
Experiencing sexism in a club is not a rarity for women, but Lynne had some advice:
"Gender equality is an issue in almost every industry and music is no exception. We've certainly had run-ins with guys in the past who think they know better than us, so you need to stand your ground and not take any ****."
It seems that on a small-scale people are finally taking notice by initiating a dialogue to trigger a change in the composition of the music industry. There needs to be real action - gender equality can’t be solved by simply asking the question ‘Why?’
Now leading her own courses and workshops for women and girls is Madeleine Bloom:
"We need to make sure that the next generation learns that there’s no such thing as 'this is for boys' or 'this is for girls' first and foremost.
"The numbers are changing slowly. Too slowly. And it isn’t necessarily just a lack of female producers, but them not being offered the same opportunities. When people think of a producer, they still think of a man, and this kind of thinking ultimately needs to change."