I fell into the indie rock scene December of my freshman year of college. I was a mere eighteen years old when my sister and I were sought out by a band on campus to play cello and violin. Eventually, what started off as a few accompaniments eventually turned into membership in the band. As time went on and we worked with the band we began to notice that the boys in the band, who had only taken up music in their teens, while we were classically trained, were always trying to explain the musical theory of their songs to us. It was in a condescending way, almost as if saying implying that there rock songs were too complex for our delicate minds. I told my concerns to a few friends, but was told that I was possibly overreacting, but the more my sister and I tried to contribute to the band by writing songs or contributing lyrics, the more resistance we got from the male members of the band, calling the songs and lyrics, “too girly.” They would explain to us that they wrote “boy music” not “girl music.” And I’d usually respond with a remark about music not being constrained to the gender binary.
Not only did my sister and I experience backlash from our male band members due to our female status, but from those working with us in this predominantly male industry, from sound guys, and recording engineers. At shows the sound guys, more often than not, would take special care to explain where we’d plug in our instruments, even though we’d thank them for their help and explain that we had plugged into a sound system, like we had done many times before. One of the most traumatizing experiences was when we recorded an album with our first band. The recording engineer would talk about our bodies like we weren’t even their, objectifying us, and then not take our advice when recommending mixing levels and tuning on the instruments. It was humiliating, but we couldn’t say anything in order to not create a hostile environment for recording, so we laughed it off.
Eventually the constant belittling set us out to create our own musical project (they would probably claim they kicked me out because I was being a bitch, but I had mentally left that band months before). Though the boys were skeptical because we couldn’t possibly know anything about equipment and playing live, we have actually surpassed their skills. By trial and error we learned how to record our own music, mix, master, create beats, and program keyboards and samplers. Not only that, but we also devised an extensive social networking presence, an idea that wasn’t taken seriously years ago when I presented it to our other band.
However, as a woman in indie rock, even though we have chosen to work with those who take us seriously as young female musicians due to having control of our work, there are many obstacles we still face. One is our appearance, an issue that most men in the same position don’t have to face, at least as publicly as women do. As a group, the band is most comfortable dressing up in dresses and heels, but there is the constant question whether we need to dress down appear to be one of the boys in order to be taken seriously, or in the opposite spectrum be more sexualized, our dresses tighter, more skin showing, our heels higher. It’s harder than it appears to create a look you are comfortable with as well as one that could survive scrutiny.
Even now the people working with the current band; the sound guys, recording engineers, and fellow musicians, seem to not take us seriously despite our extensive classical training and continual hard work. At venues we play out sound guys still treat us like silly little girls, slowly explaining which cord goes where, despite our previous knowledge. We went to a recording engineer and explained to him what we wanted, and ended up having to leave the session because he would not listen to what we had to say and instead wanted to make the song his way to show off our “sexy little voices.” Even other musicians don’t want to play shows with us because we make “girl music” even though statistically, fifty three percent of our fans on Facebook are male.
Though it’s hard being in the female minority of the music industry through the constant assumptions made about our competency and judgment on our appearance, this situation provides a unique opportunity to find another motivation to keep on pursuing our music. If I ever give up and leave music, other women in my position will only find themselves more and more outnumbered by men. Men will continue to drive the industry and use women as objects of profit. I am more motivated not only to be a music artist, but to also participate behind the scenes as a songwriter, producer, or perhaps work at a label. If there are more women, such as myself in the music industry, then soon I will not be in the minority, and people will be less inclined to assume I’m inexperienced or judge me by my appearance and treat me like an object. Instead I will be a peer and an equal. In the end I love making music and performing it, and will hopefully prove wrong all of those who didn’t take me seriously just because I’m a woman.
P.S. You have no idea how much we appreciate everyone we have chosen to work with, from the recording engineer who recorded out EP, to those at our new label, and there’s nothing wrong with working with men, it’s just misogynistic mansplaning men I can’t stand.