Regrettably, there are those in the music industry who don’t see gender inequity as an issue at all. As in all areas of society, they instead turn complaints of sexism in the industry around to blame the harassed. Or, in response to a lack of female representation, they’ll argue that female musicians barely exist; or that they do, but simply aren’t as talented or skilled or generally up to the task as men. This last notion makes your stomach turn, and it emphasises the need for an industry-wide attitudinal shift.
But many are yet to recognise what these arguments are typically missing: the experiences of musicians – the female, trans and non-binary musicians who are constantly left out of the conversation.
Rosie Taylor and Elise Reitz, founders of label and platform Women of Music Production Perth (WOMPP), have said: ‘If it’s bad for us (women) then how bad is it for trans, binary or female-identifying people? That’s why they absolutely had to be included in WOMPP, because there was no place for them.’
WOMPP was founded in January 2017 to support women, trans and non-binary electronic artists in any way it could. It has built a community of over sixty people and continues to teach confidence, build social awareness and create a supportive base for those who are struggling most for a public music platform.
Female, trans and non-binary performers are extremely under-represented in festivals, and it is not because these musicians and industry workers ‘don’t exist’. They do – everywhere – and arguably the music they produce surpasses average industry quality, because the experiences and lives of these musicians are simply different. I’d argue that diversity of experience is actually key to the evolution of our music sphere.
The music industry in its entirety, from the seediest open-mic night all the way to its upper echelons, is rife with sexism, as seen through countless cases of sexual harassment and vile misconduct (like those recently documented in this magazine). From the most awful and extreme examples – including the allegations currently against record-label mogul Russel Simmons, accused of raping four women between 1988 and 2014 – to the daily micro-aggressions that female, trans and non-binary musicians endure, there is ample proof that the industry is awash in misogyny.
Singer-songwriter Alison Weiss tweeted in 2016, ‘Venue dude looks right past me to Soupy (Dan Campbell of the Wonder Years) and asks, “Is she doing merch?” No dude, I’m direct support …’
The #menomore: open letter to the music industry now has more than a thousand signatures. It outlines the sexism plaguing the industry better than this article could.
Rosie and Elise perform together in an act called Feels. They just dropped a track called ‘they need us’. It includes phrases like, ‘Did you make that beat yourself?’, and, ‘Are you here with someone else?’. They wrote this song to ‘address the mechanical bullshit that is directed at women every day.’
A money-grabbing, pro-market ethos at the heart of the industry enables its most crass examples of sexism. It’s not just that festival bookers, promoters and labels are sexist in the way that they operate; it’s that they simply don’t care.
In my interview with Rosie and Elise, they observed that:
festival promoters need to do their job and actually research more artists (…) and even on a local level, when a festival comes around they will have a sort of local line up that will also be a part of the festival but not a part of the tour and at that point it’s a great opportunity to actually do the job and say, ‘Okay, who’s out there? And who’s on the scene? And, you know, play this festival, and it’s crazy to see how many males (…) perform.
Some of the smaller festivals aren’t interested in gender diversity because they aren’t held accountable. There are no real statistics covering the acts and artists small festivals book. This could be one of the reasons we don’t see equal platforms for women, trans and non-binary artists in the mainstream, as the smaller shows are where artists build their fan bases.
Elise says, ‘If we [don’t] have female, trans and non-binary artists up there performing, then how in the hell are a) people going to know they exist, and b) the performers in the crowd to think: oh I could do that you know … so, where are the role models?’
So, besides WOMPP … where are the role models? And why are they being left out of the conversation?
Meanwhile, analysis from the larger festivals reveal shocking statistics: in 2016, twelve per cent of acts in the ten major music festivals in the US were women, and ten per cent were mixed-gender groups. Bookers have realised that people are taking issue with the inherent sexism that is so blatant on the flyers they hand out, and some festivals have more women this year, but it’s still far from an equal playing field. These statistics, sourced from The Guardian, completely omit information about trans or non-binary participation in these festivals.
Nicole Beyer, Executive Director of Theatre Network Australia, released a directory of live performance designers that prioritised gender equity, stating: ‘Artists are taking leadership – gender inequity is an issue that needs addressing – so we need to back these initiatives and challenge ourselves and our practices for culture to shift.’
I asked Rosie and Elise how important a platform like WOMPP is. They were extremely positive about the impact they are having, and talked about ‘actually giving people a platform to get up and play their first gig in which they otherwise would have been quite lost, because not everyone comes from the same background, as maybe studying music or being aware of how to do these things that other people may have taken for granted.’
In the saturated and competitive industry that is music, the under-represented can find solidarity in communities that work together to combat misogyny, and discrimination against trans and non-binary artists. Through this solidarity, they can build platforms with their music, and prove that it’s artists that matter, not gender.
Image: Musicians / Bernardo Bozza