Updated: Feb 10
Happy Women's History Month to all gals, guys, and non-binary pals! To kick off the most feminist month of the year, this week at music is her passion is all about musical stars on the rise. Featuring the work and vision of equality-empowering newcomers is our bread and butter all year but in today's article, we specifically want to examine the challenges faced by non-male presenting artists starting off their musical careers.
Setting foot in the music industry
Some might say, pursuing a career in the music industry takes some balls. It does not, literally speaking, but it does require a certain amount of talent, passion, motivation, connections - and resilience. Nobody who has ever made it into the Hall of Fame had it completely easy, but some do have an advantage simply because of how they look, their ethnicity, their cultural background, and what sex they were assigned at birth.
Setting foot in the music industry first and foremost means connecting with the right people. Be it, fellow artists to learn from and exchange tips with, managers, label employees, A&Rs, venue owners, and other professionals from behind the scenes - talent or musical skill alone has rarely helped anyone gain the public's attention. Both on and behind the stages of the music industry, males fill the majority of powerful positions. In 2018, for instance, only 17 of Billboard's "Power 100" list of most influential players of the music industry were women. According to SoundGirls, women make up only 5% of all sound engineers working in the UK according, and the Music Producers Guild estimates only 6% of its members are female-presenting. When it comes to live music, the numbers speak for themselves, too: over two-thirds of the music acts performing in the UK are made up of male members only. Always being part of the minority within a professional setting can be discouraging for female-presenting artists at best.
"Unfortunately, there are so many males in the industry, and some of them might just abuse their position to take advantage of you. Which I think would not happen if you work with women."
Even if the possibilities of discrimination and sexual harassment are taken out of the equation, a sense of feeling alienated or misunderstood is commonly felt by female-presenting artists in a male-dominated environment. "Women want to be taught by women, with women”, said Swiss music producer and artist Jessiquoi. Furthermore, in an interview from December last year, Finnish artist New Ro explained to us, that the underrepresentation of females made it difficult for her to find her own voice as a young artist. At that time, she often lacked the confidence and experience to speak up in the male-dominated studio environment.
“Just seeing women – and non-cis hetero men – doing stuff, that would’ve been helpful.” -
Who knows how many young female-presenting artists do not live up to their full potential because a male "professional" is forcing them into a pre-existing mold of what he deems to be the key to success? With a lack of female and non-binary role models, many up-and-coming artists struggle to find their voice and take control of their careers. For instance, they might be hesitant to learn how to produce their own songs because they have not been invited to the "boys club" that remains music production. It takes a lot of balls - or should we say ovaries - to break the cycle and take control of one's music career, even without sufficient female role models around.
“If you prevent women from seeing any examples of them achieving, then it prevents them from believing they can achieve it.” -
Resilience is Key
Unfortunately, speaking up and going one's own way is not enough for most to succeed. In fact, womxn on the rise in the music industry must be one thing first and foremost: resilient. Many structures within the music industry attempt to force womxn artists into a certain mold of the perfect starlet: sexy, submissive, and suitable for the male gaze. Labels and managers might apply pressure to fit in, get the perfect exterior and adjust one's image to cater to the audience's demands. Media and magazines are quick to label womxn artists "difficult" or "crazy" if they speak up and swim against the current. Additionally, female-presenting artists are significantly underpaid in comparison to their male counterparts. This applies to both newcomers and established artists: for instance, the band HAIM once parted ways with their booker after finding out that they were paid a mere 10% of what his male clients were being offered for the same gig. It comes as no surprise that these obstacles faced by all womxn - but even increasingly so by non-white cisgender females - force many an artist to throw in the towel. However, if they choose to hang in there against all odds or break free and go their own way within the industry, they can become an inspirational force of nature, paving the way for many womxn to come. Rappers like Nebraska-born Qveen Herby and Puerto Rican-American artist BIA address their frustration with some parts of the industry in killer songs, inspiring young womxn on a similar path to go their own way.
The Key to Success
Many female artists that are celebrated as newcomers on major music events, like the GRAMMYS, are not in fact newcomers at all. Most of the most inspiring female-presenting stars of music history took their first steps within an environment that taught them the ways of the industry but did not allow for them to release their full potential. Cher, Diana Ross, Tina Turner, Lauryn Hill, and many more sheroes of the past only reached the height of their musical careers after overcoming oppression and misrepresentation. Even many of today's powerful women have had to go through immense struggles before they made it big. Be it leaving behind the perfect girl group and embracing one's community fully like Beyoncé, re-recording one's vocals to re-gain ownership of her work like Taylor Swift, or only celebrating a major breakthrough with one's third full-length studio album like Lizzo. Even last year's breakthrough-star and "newcomer of the year" Doja Cat had been releasing music for over six years before she made it big. The road to success for newcomers is long and filled with obstacles, more so for womxn, LGBTQI+ individuals, and BIPOC than their white cisgender male colleagues. Yet, it is their resilience that makes them shine even brighter once they reached the top. They know, they have not reached it in vain - but to inspire more womxn artists to come.
One thing all of our female-presenting interview guests have in common is that they all aim to inspire all womxn that look up to them, be it their fans or upcoming artists. "When women are empowered, they tend to empower other young women and girls. In a male-dominated industry, we need more women - and we need more women who do it for the community, and the for the purpose of upliftment", South African poet and musical artist Busiswa says. With this in mind, we at music is her passion strive to use our platform to uplift those that fight to empower others. This is also our mission throughout Women's History Month, be it through artists with inspiring newcomers or womxn behind the scenes of the industry. Stay tuned for a whole month of equality empowerment ahead!