15 Feb 2013

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Blog | The Best Advice To Women In Music From Female Musicians

Alice Glass

You’re just about to get on the roller coaster. You and your mates are laughing, on the outside, although each of you is secretly wondering whether screaming is for fools, if the thrill-shock value is worth the possible heart attack, or the lows, after the highs, might result in nauseau? Well, that’s how the girls are feel as we, knowingly but hopefully, flick through these Twenty Top Tips to other female musicians, about making a success out of music-making @ Flavorwire.

We know it’s dangerous to read, or transcribe quotes, out of context, but we’ve got our fireproof clothing on. Honestly? Its title, The Best Advice to Women Musicians, proves to be ironic. It requires a question mark at the end. We don’t think it started out that way. With some exceptions – three cheers for Liz Phair and Shirley Manson  – there’s a disheartening sub-text here, a lack of self-worth, low expectations, a requirement to become a heretic or at least stay single, along with a total assumption that the whole world is heterosexual, that women performers have a responsibility to think about how they are coming across, as women, ad infinitum, and don’t forget, make sure everybody else is happy and fulfilled, first.

And we think Alison Nastasi, the writer of the piece, is just as sad as we are. Is this it? Is this really the best advice women in music can give to female musicians?

The Skinny
The article refers to recent American research, from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film at San Diego State University, which indicates that only 9% of directors of the top 250 grossing Hollywood films in 2012 were women. However, she explains, the same report applauds the number of women involved in the independent movie industry and suggests that there are often parallels between what is happening in this scene and what’s going on in the indie music world, particularly in relation to the representation of women in executive, creative roles. This pleases us since we see evidence of it every day at the girls are. Yet, there’s a but: “…only eight of last year’s top female earners ranked among the world’s 25 highest-paid musicians.”

Inevitably this leads us all to wonder at what pearls of wisdom our successful female artists may have to share? How can we overcome the statistics? And here the fun begins; the kind that comes because if you don’t laugh, you’ll cry, openly and in an embarrassingly dramatic fashion. Twenty tips are here, scanned from sources, and cited, quoting everyone from Madonna, “Get your boxing gloves on” to Tori Amos, taking a spiritual approach, in an “identify with the goddess in you Jungian type of way” with a twist, e.g. whatever mythology suits you, in the end. Erykah Badu: “Do some ho shit.” Helpful. The big surprise is admired feminist icon Ani DiFranco: “…Being benevolent and kind for someone else is doing it for yourself.”

Is it just us or does that last quote bring-on those huge warning bells? E.g. Warning, this is the expectation of nice girls and remember nice girls don’t put themselves forward. Warning, this will slow you down. Warning this may be at trick: [We want to believe that she actually means remember you’re part of a team, and you’re the leader.]

The quote from Crystal Castles’ Alice Glass is utterly refreshing, “We need an army, because the mainstream hates women.”

Die-Hard Facts
Well now we’ve had that out, what we need next, on behalf of female musicians everywhere is a strategy, details, die-hard facts and figures, possibly with diagrams.

You’d expect a collection of useful quotes from powerhouse women in music to be a tour de force, but for us, it only goes to show how isolated the female artist still is, which we hadn’t realised, because the rest of us have been out there organising ourselves.  Even more glaring, those who have nothing to say, it seems anyway: Lady Gaga, Rihanna, Beyoncé. Sadly no quotes from some of the very people who have influenced girls in bands: Moe Tucker, Marianne Faithfull, The Go Gos, Patti Smith, Hole, L7, Tegan & Sara. Though Cherie Currie of The Runaways advice still rings true: “Protection and good management. Just make sure that you’re with someone that’s on the up and up.”

Perhaps we need to ask every artist we review or interview, every band, over a three month period? We’d like to hear what Mica [Michachu And The Shapes] says about the dearth of female producers and engineers. Also, for starters, let’s ask Harmony Boucher [Vuvuvulures], Josephine, Hannah Cohen, those Unthanks sisters, The Tuts! Woodpecker Wooliams, AMiTY and Stealing Sheep – what works for them and how does it work?

In this collection, even if the comments are tongue in cheek,  they come across as heart-breaking, most famously Chrissie Hynde’s take on How I Did It, featured originally on the Last Of The Independents album, and referenced here  “Don’t moan about being a chick, refer to feminism or complain about sexist discrimination… Don’t insist on working with other females; that’s just more bs…”

Heartbreaking, firstly, because it could be said that this advice, taken literally, is still, in 2013, the best advice – see P. J. Harvey, Adele, and  remember  when X Factor starlet Ella Henderson’s male publicist didn’t allow her to answer whether she was a feminist or not, during an interview? And,  cheerless, overall, because of the tone. For example: Laura Ballance, Superchunk: “… Keep your day job.” Why not treat it like a day job, get up and get going? Regina Spektor: “I try not to write about my not-so-important life…”

“There’s a disheartening sub-text here, a lack of self-worth, low expectations, a requirement to become a heretic or at least stay single, along with a total assumption that the whole world is heterosexual, that women performers have a responsibility to think about how they are coming across, as women, ad infinitum, and don’t forget, make sure everybody else is happy and fulfilled, first.”

As Time Goes By
If you take a chronological approach things do appear more positive.

Beth Tacular, of Bowerbirds, says: ‘Women have more power now, and more of us have grown up with mothers and other female role models who were creative and who didn’t allow themselves to be dominated by the men in their lives… I just watched what the women did who I admired, and tried to learn from them.’

As always though, this depends on whom you’re watching. Feminism has to be about the freedom of personal choice, but, putting on our granny hat, the rap artist Shawnna, by appearances,  encourages the same old thing, music being about male sexual titillation [so maybe we shouldn't worry about her mis-directing her female audience since there probably isn't one]. A Chrissie Hynde classic resonates: “Don’t think that sticking your boobs out and trying to look f*ckable will help. Remember you’re in a rock and roll band. It’s not ‘F*ck me,’ it’s ‘F*ck you!”

Shawnna has a song called ‘Big Booty Judy [Strip Club Anthem]‘ and is planning a 2013 spring tour using strip clubs, as venues. But we’re appreciating the focus, with regard to her advice: “Keep your legs closed. That’s not going to get you a better deal. Get in where you fit in. Learn the game… Know every aspect of your career. Know the terms in your contract to a T.”

Is “playing the game” giving up? Surely that was why Riot Grrrrl happened? And don’t think about learning the game or even re-writing the rules. The Internet, and it’s DIY ethic, is a whole new game, liberating for savvy women musicians such as Lizzie Grant [Lana Del Ray], Laura Kidd, Louise Distras, Amanda Fucking Palmer. No mention of that within these quotes?

In this camp difference of opinion is reassuring: Do it for fun. Work really hard. Work as a team. Be singular and focused. We recommend all of that. Unfortunately, even when a quote reflects a genuine desire to “share” knowledge and understanding, it’s in a “bless” way; there still seems to be a lot of emphasis on getting the personal sorted, so the creative can flow and the professional can follow.

Listen right. We’re emotionally and mentally sound, we’ve got millions of ideas and songs in our head and actually, we just want information. And don’t give us that crap about making your own mistakes.

Ngaire Ruth

3 Responses to “Blog | The Best Advice To Women In Music From Female Musicians”

  1. Cx says:

    Always be present when money is being discussed or changing hands. Gig payments/tour plans/rehearsal rooms/recording/posters/whatever. Never slack off, or get put off on this. If it sounds obsessive or uncool, (especially about tiny amounts) – you’re working for it, invested your self in it. And it sets a standard for future business dealings. If no-one thinks you’re interested, they’ll not bother with keeping you informed. People you think are cool are more likely to have funky ways to skim the pot than anyone – never trust a hipster!

  2. Frances says:

    Bluffing is just another form of creativity, respect your own bullshit….. whatever works

  3. Jennifer says:

    I think the “expectation of nice girls” is at the root of the biggest hurdle facing female artist.
    If you don’t play nice and have something to say that pisses some people off, you’re a bitch or a diva. Or even worse, stupid and have no idea what you’re talking about. The most powerful tool that a female artist has is her voice/lyrics. I would hate to think of a musical world without some of the people you mentioned that cleared a path for every one else at the expense of not playing nice. What they did was, write and speak from the heart and inspire and influence a generation!

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