2107 has been quite an eventful year for women in general: millions of women marched against the inauguration of Trump and later, again millions stood up against sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, followed by a wave of confessions by women around the world, breaking the silence on their own personal experiences of harassment. Naturally, there were the inevitable number of male individuals that felt the need to downplay the events in question and counteract. Some would even go as far as saying that women take the “edge” out of rock ‘n roll? Like mister Bono himself currently stated: “Music has gotten very girly. And there are some good things about that, but hip-hop is the only place for young male anger at the moment — and that’s not good” I played around with the idea of doing an article on woman in dreampop/shoegaze/ indie ever since I started this blog, but somehow just never got around to it. I thought that now would be an appropriate time to hear the girls out! 7 great ladies have given me their thoughts on what it’s like to be a girl being in an indie band. These tough cookies broke their “pretty” heads over these same questions from me :
1) Do you think the music industry is still mainly dominated by men? or has there been a change?
2)Dreampop/shoegaze/indie have always been relatively woman-friendly as opposed to rock, and pop (in which woman are seen as a marketing tool rather than artists).. any thoughts?
3)What role do your looks play in your musical course? Do you think instruments are mainly designed for “male” proportions? as in heavy guitars and wide necks etc…
Krissy Vanderwoude (Whimsical)
“I feel that woman have made many strides in this area and we are definitely moving in the right direction. There seems to be a bit more balance & support for equality these days. However, I do think that overall it still remains a male dominated industry, at the moment.
I find this to be true especially when it comes to certain areas of the industry & those who are “calling the shots”: record labels, PR, managers, etc.
I love how supportive and accepting the dreampop/shoegaze/indie movements have been towards women. Women seem to be much less objectified and sexualized in these genres and instead are embraced, praised and celebrated for their actual talent. I have noticed that these genres in particular show a healthy respect and appreciation for women and hold them in a very high regard.
Personally, I will often listen to a band for a very long time before I even know what they look like. Eventually it is nice to pull the curtain back and place a a face with the talent. It’s no secret that everyone loves a pretty face, so finding out that there is a pretty girl behind a pretty voice, or someone beautiful strumming the guitar, is never a bad thing and certainly cannot hurt. However, that should never be a requirement or determining factor as to whether or not the music will be listened to or the artist have a chance at being successful. Attractive people will attract other people, that is a given, so I can see how it would be an advantage. If someone is banking on their good looks to carry their success, or using it to open doors in the industry, then I find that to be really sad. It also makes me sick to think that a potential fan would dismiss music or not want to listen to it because the artist didn’t live up to their physical appearance standards.
I definitely think that the success of a woman is largely determined by her looks, when it comes to the mainstream circles of the music industry. To have any kind of commercial success, sadly she’ll usually never be given a fair shake if she doesn’t measure up to societal standards of beauty. If a girl/woman wants to “make it” in that side of the industry, she will usually have to be prepared to live on a “coffee and cigarettes diet”, practically starve herself, wear low cut shirts and high cut skirts, leave nothing to the imagination, and sleep her way up the ladder. It’s degrading and disgusting. It takes such a toll on these women, as they tirelessly pursue unachievable perfection and fame. I’m very happy to see that this type of mentality doesn’t seem to plague the dream pop/shoegaze movements, overall. There will always be a few sexist pigs in every crowd, but for the most part I’ve seen a huge level of respect for women in those genres and a united lack of tolerance for anyone who acts otherwise.
Considering that I only play my vocal chords, I haven’t really put much thought into potential problems with instruments
I will leave this one to the other ladies, who may have stronger opinions based on their experience with the instruments.”
Eve Komp (Pia Fraus)
“Actually I have not very much think about it in that sense in music. I think in Estonia it has been more balanced, but it depends from the genre what kind of ratio between women and men there is. For me, it has never been an issue being a woman in music industry, I have not categorized myself like that. As I am also working daily in architecture office I can say that in that field there is much more discrimination. Overall, in the world lots of people are trying to achieve the balance between gender and it seems it is getting better.
Yes, I agree, in the indie or alternative music you have much more freedom to be yourself. And as more unique and talented one is as a musician than better it is – and this goes for both gender. Probably there are many unwritten requirements you should fulfill if you want to be a good pop artist.
People tend to expect some kind of personal look from the artist, especially from female artist. It is definitely so in pop genre but not so much in indie music field in my opinion.
If I think about Pia Fraus and how it was started, the looks was not a question at all – it was the desire to do the band and make your own music. And of course it is so also today. I joined with the band a bit later, but I cant say that my looks had anything to do with it. I was their friend and they knew that I can sing. Still it is important when we are making promo material, photos or videos, we for sure think about how could everything be presented well.
I have studied piano eight years when I was at school and I have played mainly keyboards, so i can say something about that. Of course the size of the keyboard originates probably from the hand size of the man rather then a woman. In Pia Fraus I play with my small microKORG, which has also advantages when traveling but for sure not designed for men :). My hand is small, but still I actually prefer the real size keyboards for playing because of the learned cognition.”
Hilma Nikolaisen ( Serena Maneesh, solo)
“I guess there´s been a change. At least in Norway there seems to be more women contributing in all the different domains of the music industry.
I can only speak for myself, of course, but the female role has to some extent appeared as limited, the way I see it, also in the dreampop/shoegaze/indie scene. Women would sometimes get feedback based on the female appearance itself, instead of feedback based on the actual contribution/work. Maybe now or in the future we´ll be talking about feminine/masculine sides and colours rather than female and male contributors. All in all I think it would be more interesting to talk about the Work as the center object instead of the person behind it. Of course gender is an aspect /issue in many occasions, but gender in itself doesn’t always have to be interesting or relevant.
In some ways looks are always important. It is a valuable opportunity to express an other dimension/side to an expression. Maybe for women it can be more prominent, in the way women traditionally have been presented. Ambitions and expectations, both from the outside world and from oneself, will always be present, I guess.
Well. Different human beings and their different sizes and proportions might make a creative variety and diversity in different ways of approaching the instruments. I dont know. I am quite tall.. 🙂 Maybe in
some ways my “six feet two” made it easier or more natural for me to play
Kim Field ( The Stargazer Lillies, Soundpool)
“I’m not sure about the the music industry at large. I can only go by my own personal experience which is yes, it is dominated by mostly men. To me, that is not at all a negative thing, as the men I’ve been surrounded by in the industry have been my greatest champions and have been total sweet hearts. I wouldn’t have the catalog of work I do or have had all the incredible (challenging and hard as they have been) experiences that I have with out that belief, friendship and support.
The Dreampop/shoegaze scene is special in the way that most bands tend to have male and female members. But, this is a super indie, even underground scene. Basically, that equals living like relatively unknown, poor and struggling artists for the most part, unless you’re super lucky. That’s because our music is too good for the masses and in general we’re probably mostly anti- corporate thinkers. The rock, pop scene is more commercial. Yes, the women dominating that scene are used as marketing tools. But they’re also extremely successful. That’s not all bad. Commercial equals successful marketing. Commercial means big money/corporate backing. You can’t really say Lady Gaga or Beyonce or other women in pop and rock aren’t considered artists. Their art is just more commercial. They are ruling that world. I just don’t understand the mainstream music style or culture. I don’t understand the appeal. It’s become so body centric and so much about dance moves that it’s too much for women like me. Maybe that’s just what our society asks of female artists, in general, in trade for monetary success. Supply and demand. Have they all been manipulated by the men marketing the music? Or is this what those female artists want to do? How did it get like this? Who am I to know? I do admire their careers and power. So good for them. In the end our genre differences are all about style. I think the genre views, as far as what gives an artist cred or not, may be simple. Like it’s just that Dreampop/Shoegaze/Indie female artists are more commonly found playing instruments and writing songs. You don’t see a lot of instruments being played in commercial music by either male of female artists (Gaga being an exception, but she’s different and has distanced herself from the scene I’m referring to anyway). It’s almost as if main stream music has been hijacked (like many things in our society). But, image and marketing have always been important. Even for male artists. Look at Bowie. He finally made it when he started dressing provocatively and blurred gender lines. He used himself and his sexuality as a marketing tool for his incredible talent. He just did it in a cool way and his music was good. This is not about men vs women. It’s just the nature of the industry
I’m setting my musical course when I’m in the studio creating. I’m not thinking about my looks. I’m under a lot of personal pressure to create the best songs I can. Of course looks probably play a role at some point for most women artists, including me. Our society is really good at giving us that added pressure. We signed up to be performers. I personally put a lot of effort in to honoring that. If I’m asking people to give me their time and money and make the effort to come out to my show and I’m asking them to give us their attention for 30-45 minutes, then I’m going to make the effort to look as good as I can while I’m performing the music I’ve asked them to come out and support. That’s part of my job. We as a band (male and female) are aware of this. But we’ve also tried to alleviate some of the pressure off of our looks by adding other visual entertainment for our audience. To me your looks mean nothing without style. I’ve actually left shows where I was annoyed with how little a band cared about how they looked. It’s lazy and boring to look at. Style has always played a big role in an artist’s musical course. It’s entertainment value. As far as instruments go, I’m not an expert but I think in general there are a lot of guitars that work really well for the average petite women proportions. Also, men can be very petite too just as some women are gifted with longer proportions. Like, if you’re Alex Ghering of Ringo Deathstarr, who is one of the most talented bassists I know, for instance, some men may even envy you for the length of your arms and fingers just like most women would probably envy the length of your legs. I happen to be on the petite side so I’ve chosen to play short scale basses which work really comfortably and well for me. My 1968 Gibson Melody Maker proves that this is no new thing. This also brings me back to style and the fact that sexuality has always sold and that’s o.k. Men and women are different. That’s o.k. We can work together and respect each other. Jane Birkin, 1968 in her see through mini dress wearing nothing but panties underneath, hand in hand with Serge Gainsbourg. Was she simply a marketing tool? I recently saw an interview where she had nothing but beautiful things to say about Serge and how well he took care of her even after his death. I think she made her own decisions and had a lot of power. We weren’t all blessed with being born with Jane Birkin looks but she had such style and became a classic icon because of it. You choose your style and you choose your power and you can do it hand in hand with the men or women who champion you.
Kedra Caroline (The Morelings)
” I don’t really think about if music was or is dominated by men, but I can say that, when I’ve looked to the past, I personally have focused on women vocalists/musicians who had something original to offer and that’s what continues to interests me most now.
The independent music scene allows women artists to present their own version of the music and image they have created or co-created. When any kind of manufacturing or repurposing comes into play, the pure essence falls at risk. Indie women artists are some of the most hardworking people I’ve ever met, and I think this shows in all areas of the music production they have their hand in. We’re not merely decorative. We’re working really hard to create and get the music out there with vision.
As for instruments, the one with the best tone and sound is going to win out, and sometimes that means it isn’t the ideal shape. As for image, I love creating looks for the music videos we make, the shows we play. In The Morelings, the visual aesthetic serves the music and I’ve really enjoyed producing the videos we’ve released. I feel it’s important to be who you are and, if that means wearing a t-shirt and work boots on stage or a full-length tulle dress and kitten heels, then do that. Tune out the voices that try to tell you how you should and should not look or be. I try to be intentional when it comes to The Morelings and I think that’s what ultimately develops an aesthetic. Although I’m interested in turning that on its head too, so we’ll see what that looks like.”
Ana Breton (Dead Leaf Echo)
“It sounds flip, but I don’t really pay too much attention to the music “industry” at large. I’ve always felt very deeply immersed in the indie-scene both in shoegaze and indie-rock and been somewhat blissfully blinded by bands that always featured women playing. In the early 90s I was seeing bands like Yo La Tengo, Stereolab, Echobelly and smaller American bands like Unrest, Small Factory, Versus and Scarce who all had incredibly powerful and cool women in balance with the males. Currently in my local Brooklyn scene I am blown away at how many amazing bands there are founded by women or with a similar balance of women and men, including Beverly, Shana Falana, Sunflower Bean, Haybaby, Debbie Downer, Weeping Icon, Grim Streaker.
There will forever be agro know-it-all patriarchal types in the scene. It’s unavoidable but I’ve always mostly felt very encouraged and supported to play music, sans the occasional sound guy who thinks I don’t know my set up.
Just in my personal perception, I do think things have changed though in terms of more women being more involved in music in broader ways than when I was growing up. I feel like the 90s had an impact. Also, even though the news lately has been sickening with the amount of revelations around sexual abuse, I think it is helping engender a new awareness and conversation. There are a lot of really tough young women who don’t take shit and who are incredibly woke- and many of the ones I know are musicians or artists and they are getting the message across in many varied ways. I learn from them all the time. I think things that a previous society might let slip by, this generation isn’t allowing. The next wave keeps rolling in!
I loved how the shoegaze documentary “Beautiful Noise” captured this aspect of the time. I was always aware of the incongruencies at the major industry level and female artists not getting played because they were a supposed “genre” or that quota had already been filled, but was seeing hundreds of shows and listing to bands demonstrating the opposite could be true.
Before I began playing music, I just never didn’t think I couldn’t be in a band if I wanted to and that was 100% inspired by the scene I was in and the women I was watching on stage. The indie-rock DIY and experimental shoegaze aesthetic made me incredibly confident that I “should” definitely try to play and I never really thought otherwise.
Looks play a role in every industry, but in music it is a particularly powerful and can get you noticed. It’s hard to say it doesn’t matter – but ultimately being a great musician is what prevails. For me, I think it’s more about trying to feel as comfortable in my own skin as possible and have as much fun as I can. That can mean different things on different nights. Sometimes, I feel most comfortable being understated and sometimes I like to feel more glam. I think of the show environment and being myself to the fullest, but also like to take on roles a bit. Costume, make up and hair matters and can be really fun but it’s all meant as a tool for revealing yourself.
I think your musical instrument finds you – or at least it’s always been that way with me. Yes there are definitely guitars made for different physical frames, but you have to find the one that works for you and literally resonates with your energy, your grasp, your body. I play a Telecaster Deluxe and I really like how it feels. I’m not a guitar guru, but I’ve always had immediate instincts for the guitars that I’ve ended up owning and playing in bands. It’s always feels and sounds “right” from the first moment I play it, and when it feels good to play, it inspires me to want to play more.
I wouldn’t say women don’t play guitar because of the way they are made. I think it’s just hard to learn at first and there’s this idea you have to be able to shred right away – which unfortunately is associated with males. I always tell my friends who want to learn, to just look online and learn the basic chords, G, C, D, A. And then get yourself or borrow a reverb and delay pedal. HIT ONE STRING. Find the next note that sounds right. Play with the knobs and see what they do. Just hit strings. You can make really rad sounds with the simplest of notes. For shoegaze and dream pop, I was always playing in really dense sounding bands so I “had” to keep it simple and you soon realize a lot of the lines you may love from your favorite songs are not complex.
Louise Trehy (Swallow, Strata Florida)
Superficially it seems there are many female artists (in pop and rock) – they are many singers, but as not as many musicians, engineers or producers. There are still too few women on the production and technical side, but I think that is getting better as we become more familiar with using technology.
Certainly, there are not enough women in management positions. I can only think of a handful who run record labels and I have never met a female engineer or producer, though I am sure some exist. As in other industries, there are plenty of women working in PR and admin roles; but not many work at higher management levels in comparison to men. For women with families, the music industry is particularly hostile. One friend who has a management company told me the hours are difficult and not at all child friendly, especially if you’re expected to go to gigs 5 nights a week-though she adds male parents would not feel guilty about this. Until domestic responsibility is shared equally, this won’t change-there’s no evening childcare.
I work in the visual arts, 50 years ago, Western Art was dominated by men as producers. Now, female artists at least for producing work, have access to the same opportunities as men. We have seen significantly higher numbers of female Fine Art students for the past decade at least. Therefore, I hope music as a creative art will follow but it will only be because women will instigate the change.
Perhaps it is one genre of rock music where there is a good female presence of songwriters and musicians who also are equally involved with the production, from recording to marketing. I have been lucky in that I have worked with wonderful men in production and engineering who like to work with this kind of music. I am though more assertive now though than when I was younger and have learned to articulate what I want musically. I didn’t have the vocabulary or knowledge when I was with 4AD and was very naive about the process. The good thing about getting older is you learn to say no, and ask for help occasionally too!
In the early 1990s the girls I knew in indie bands consciously dressed down- t-shirts, jeans, Doc Marten boots, the same uniform as our male contemporaries. We didn’t want to be the token girl but wanted to be taken seriously. I love make-up and dressing-up but I didn’t do it when I was in Swallow as that kind of look was associated with pop and was very much frowned upon.
I remember being asked to do poses for press photographs that were sexual (I refused). Certainly, my male band member wasn’t asked to do them. I think girls in bands will always be sexualised, no matter how good you are or what your role is.
I became self-taught in basic analogue engineering out of necessity to have more control in creating the sounds I wanted. Digital technology became very natural to me and I am very comfortable with it-I love sound editing. Physically, I still find it some chord shapes difficult to play on the guitar simply because my hands are small but at the same time, my male music partner finds some chords I write impossible to play for that reason. I also found difficulty in the past with microphones for softer voices, especially for live vocals. AKG brought out a microphone for girls (even though some boys have soft voices and some girls have great big powerful ones) called rather unimaginatively ‘Elle’ but I do rather like it!”