The truth: What it's really like to be a woman in music

IT'S 2016, a year when people finally start talking about women in music, after years and years of speculation it feels as if the debate is coming to a head, but, are we talking about the right issues?

I began The Music Manual in 2012, I was a young girl trying to find my feet in a gigantic swamp of music. My head screwed on, determined and full of optimism I knew how important it is to always stand by judgement, I have always stood by my own, that's what keeps The Music Manual running.

As a girl, I've had a lot of comments made which wouldn't have been made to a male music journalist, I guessed, without people to talk to, to get on with it and work my way to the top - still not quite there! - but, is that the right decision? I know one day it may happen, but what if every woman feels this, that's not cool, surely.

Roanne Wood, lead guitarist from Mums, said: "Are female musicians taken serious enough? Are we just an image still? I have had rubbish experiences which are due to me being a women, in a band, however I know that it is only a minor part of the population who still have prejudice views of women and what they should do in a band.

Patti Smith by Judy Linn, 1969
"Some people found it hard that I didn’t sing and that I just played guitar, which is just ridiculous. My best friends are my band mates, who are lads, and to be honest most of my friends are lads and I
know they are not like this minority, so in no way am I putting it down to men vs women."

The debates have been going on for years, on a whole range of issues surrounding women in the industry.

It's most definitely not a black and white subject, there are so many issues to discuss and combat but that doesn't and hasn't stopped icons such as Annie Leibovitz, Patti Smith, Alison Howe and Mairead Nash make it, so why should it stop us?

In 2015, a list of 50 female music executives was published, names such as CEO of Universal Music Publishing Group, Jody Gerson and Epic Records president Sylvia Rhone made the list, proving that actually there are quite a few powerful females in an industry supposedly dominated by men.

Manual writer and kick-ass musician in her own right, Jenni Kickhefer said: "Apparently there’s ‘not enough women’ I see loads of women engineers, event planners, managers journalists, DJ’s and musicians.

"They’re just getting overshadowed, there seems to be an unwritten rule that only so many women can be in the charts or on the radio at any given point, to keep the fact their female an exciting selling point, it’s ridiculous."

Annie Mac image credit
We have a fantastic nest of women in music, however, with the good, also comes the bad - regardless of any background, for musicians in particular it's very much a case of if you create good music, you create good music and it is as simple as that.

Music blogger, Nessi Holt said: "Musicians who I've worked with, whose music I featured and showcased, have been all supportive, eager and grateful to read my musings and have never taken interest in my sex but in my reasoned views of their creative work only.

"Hence, if you ask me, there shouldn't be made a difference (intentionally or unintentionally) between male and female advocates and artists when talking about music.

"We all are competent at finding, representing and being outspoken about music; it's not something men solely are entitled to nor something women need to accomplish; in fact, they already possess said properties."

In a recent documentary with Ellie Rowsell and Annie Mac called, Where Are the Women in Music? there were many comments made including one that not enough women were 'encouraged' into going into technical roles in music.

Ellie Rowsell, Wolf Alice, by Jono White
They questioned why women are not going for roles such as roadies, sound engineers and tour managers - as we're very much capable. They also commented on how there is a 'fear of going it alone' and that women 'don't have much power' - which to me, is highly absurd.

Front-woman of post-pop outfit, Scarlet, Jessie Robinson said: "I read, watched and researched everything about this documentary/article and I have to say, I disagreed with mostly everything said in it.

"We're all here Annie Mac - outside of your DJ booth and Radio 1 studio but the ‘industry’ is yet to pick up on that fact, and why?

"It’s not like we don't go banging on doors or promoting ourselves to the best of our working class ability… it’s not like these outstanding females aren't gigging relentlessly up and down the country, so why are these people wondering where we all are when we have been trying to contact them and show them exactly what were made of for years.

"I think as a woman in the industry, its as hard as you make it.

"If you are professional, hard working and on the ball, generally, you will be respected just as much, if not more than a man would be for doing the same work."

Izzy Bee by Kluens
I've been sitting on this for quite some time and the only way to change opinions is to adopt that DIY attitude, no-one is going to hand you a multi-million pound record deal for moaning about being a woman in a 'male dominated' industry, it just doesn't happen.

Jessie said: "There is so many people waiting to use you up and spit you out once you are of no more use to them, but if you start doing everything for yourself, making your own career and earning your own money with your own material and being in control of your own public image and social media, you are surely in the best position?"

A huge point Jessie and I discussed was empowering other females, not demoralising.We then talked about the many amazing women out there, Jessie spoke fondly of Izzy Bee from Black Honey, she said: "She's most certainly no ‘poser’ - more than anything, what stands out to me is her camaraderie.

"There's no competitive nature about her, so many times I have played with other females and all you get is cold blank stares but with Izzy, she came bounding over to me and started asking about me! She's a front woman that isn't obsessed with herself.

"After we had played she pulled me to one side and simply told me ‘You have something really special Jessie, don’t let go of that, keep going’.

"It's fantastic to see bands like Black Honey, Desperate Journalist and The Sundowners existing in my industry - because that is what it is, we're in different ponds to the big players like Beyonce.

"They're in a small privileged puddle and we're more or less in a vast ocean.

Ashley Colley
"The industry is filled with talented women just waiting to be noticed and plucked from the masses, some will be lucky enough to succeed while others will go unheard of and I don’t personally feel that has anything to do with gender, it's more to do with quality control."

Australian based triple j recently reported on how under-represented women are in music, we asked front-woman of kick-ass psychedelic band, Indigo Moon, Ashley Colley what she thought.

Colley said: "I understand that it's male dominated and sometimes in the past I've felt that I haven't been taken seriously, whether or not that's been to do with my gender or age I'm unsure.

"But definitely not recently - myself and my band have been given some great opportunities this year which I'm hoping is down to the music we write and our live performances."

Personally, I've seen a huge rise in female musicians over the last year, talking to Roanne the pride felt when seeing a woman in any band line-up is phenomenal.

Roanne said: "I always love watching bands with a female member, it makes me feel proud and I almost want to go over and say ‘thanks’!

"I’m lucky enough to be involved in a scene where I can experience the most amazing musicians and people, both male and female.

"Bands off the top of my head I would love to mention which feature one or more female members are; Elevant, Clean Cut Kid, False Advertising, Doe and LIINES."

Creative, hard-working, intelligent women are creating music, are in high-profiled music jobs, are managing bands, tours, sound-engineering. But still there is this need to over-sexualise, unfortunately like everything, sex sells - regardless of gender.

Award-winning music video director, Dawn Shadforth has won multi-various awards for her work. Her portfolio includes Kylie Minogue's Spinning Around video alongside The Importance of Being Idle for Oasis and Miss Lucifer from Primal Scream.

Dawn Shadforth
In an interview with the Guardian, Shadforth talked of the resurgence of 'Film Noir tactics' in which women, comfortable with flaunting their sexuality, are punished and left to rot.

Ashley said: "I'm so glad the topic is being brought up.

"There definitely is and has been problems - the over sexualisation of female artists gets on my nerves.

"My band in particular have had some direct attraction in the past due to the fact there are three women in it.

"We have never used the feminism theme as a gimmick though."

The multitude of issues women face aren't going to stop, they'll only cease when we realise it's time to work through them, be great at what we do and make a change.

There are women in music, we are right here working our fingers to the bone, its time to give us a break and take note.

Email to tell us your story about being in the music industry.

Words Lauren Jones