Read a powerful essay on sexism in the music industry by Lou James from Alpine
Revealing the difficulties they faced in the early days, up to now where things are improving.
All images by Matsu Photography.
At Freda's in Sydney on Thursday April 27, For Film's Sake will be screening a new documentary, Play Your Gender, exploring the question "Why aren't there more female producers?" along with an awesome Women In Electronic Music Showcase, hosting Andy Garvey, Heart People, ptwiggs and Vetiver. In the lead-up to it, those four acts told us about their experience in the music industry, and we asked Phoebe and Lou from Alpine to review the film. But instead Lou sent us the below essay on her experience as a woman in the Australian music industry. Check back for Phoebe's review next week, and read a really important essay from one of Australia's finest frontladies, below:
Starting off our career as two young singers in Alpine was an exciting and exhilarating time, yet it was also the time when we were first introduced to the world of sexism in music.
My first impressions of the music industry came from interactions with our management, A&R, booking agent and members of our publishing team all of whom were male. Even the roster of bands on our label was predominantly male.
At this pivotal and early stage in our career, I placed so much trust in the opinions of male industry figures because they were everywhere and I didn’t know any better. The music industry in Australia was a male dominated arena and at that time it seemed that only a few women had credible roles and even these appeared to be behind the scenes.
As the years went on, I had numerous encounters with male industry figures being sexist, they would mansplain and patronise my intelligence, suggesting that I was “over-acting” when I wasn’t happy with my or the band's image. These attitudes also extended into gig environments - I’ll never forget when a male punter at a show yelled out, “I’d do you both from behind” in-between songs. So for Phoebe and I, situations like these killed our confidence and for a lot of the time it felt as though we were simply expected to write “hits”, look “good” and act “arty”...whatever that meant? These preoccupations with physical expectations placed upon us by the industry could distract us from the core of our profession, the music! Who cares how I cut my hair!?
I was well aware of how amazing it was to have this rare opportunity and I really didn’t want to seem ungrateful or risk fucking it up for everyone else by speaking up or being difficult – I was in a constant internal dilemma about whether I was allowed to have an opinion and it stifled me.
So, at every photo shoot and at every music video shoot, if Phoebe or myself tried to speak up about our dissatisfaction, this was usually followed by a reply such as, “ummm, sorry ladies but this is what your management/label wants” – so, in these circumstances we just remained subordinate.
These early experiences of sexism had a damaging effect on my development as a young woman and as a musician and I really related with the concept of feeling exhausted by the idea of wanting and needing to prove myself all the time. Sometimes I was so exhausted that I found being in Alpine a little bit less enjoyable, which was disappointing considering some of the incredible musical experiences we had.
But I do really want to stress that it wasn’t all male dominated doom and gloom. There was a positive change when our label promoted a female as label manager and when our manager hired a female assistant that began communicating more directly with us. Finally it felt like Phoebe and I had women to confide in and it became a lot easier to express our opinions and to feel in control.
I am nearly 29 years old, and despite it taking me nearly eight years to understand the music industry, I almost feel like I have an equal place as a female performer and most importantly as me.
My growth and confidence is reflected upon the stage. Performing gives me the opportunity to unleash it all; unusual sounds, dance moves, facial expressions, costumes and an ample of body language to say a big ol’ fuck you, or on the other end of the spectrum, a big ol’ fuck yes, to anything that’s been laying dormant and desperate to get out of my system.
I’m also no longer intimated or wondering if I’ve gained the respect of any of the “old school” males in the industry because to be honest they're just a dying breed and I’d rather put my energy somewhere more useful.
Thankfully, the Australian music industry has been changing and I’ve noticed such a huge, positive development with an increase in the numbers of women with respected roles.
As we continue to talk about gender issues, the industry is also recognising the women who I consider passionate, creative, intelligent, strong-willed and sensitive are equally - if not more - capable than their male counterparts.
I want women to be in high demand in what used to be considered as traditionally male-only-roles, whether it’s as a producer, a mixer, tour manager, band manager etc. Breaking down barriers inspires and it's important for us to continue building a global support network for women in the music industry to exist and thrive.
- Lou James