Does Alternative Music Lack A Female Touch?
The Harvest lineup was released last Thursday to much ooh-ing, ahh-ing and fuck yes-ing. Rightly so too, the line-up is pretty great.
In fact in the past few years, most major Australian music festivals haven’t disappointed with international musicians finally realising that the 24-hour flight here is well worth their trouble.
This years lineup struck us for another reason though: the lack of women on the bill. Why is it that this year’s Harvest line-up is a little shy of equal billing for our favourite female artists? Yes, Santigold has been announced, as have a few bands featuring female instrumentalists or singers, but all in all, the line-up is overwhelmingly male-centric.
But Harvest is a pretty good representation of what’s popular in alternative music, which got us thinking: why is there such a disparity between females and males in alternative music in general?
Maybe there aren’t as many alternative female musicians as we think
Sure we can rattle off a dozen or so names off the tops of our heads, but by no means is it an even playing field. Bands are mostly made up of guys and we don’t want to get all gross and righteously feminist on your asses, but there isn’t really any form of gender equality in alternative music.
There’s no one in particular to blame, either. We’re fairly confident that no label would turn down a kick ass musician because of their gender. In saying this, there does seem this cyclical trend of promoting one female artist to death until absolutely everyone has accepted the media-given titles like “new queen of indie-rock”.
A huge part of the promotion, branding and by extension, reception of left of centre female artists is this notion that one woman is replacing another; as if to insinuate that there’s only room for one at a time. We all know that’s wrong, right? Ok, good.
Women do have a place in music, just not anything left of centre
It wouldn’t be fair to say women don’t have a place in the music industry. They absolutely do. The problem is that somewhere along the way, we all decided their place was half-naked on billboards promoting a perfume.
Chicks do dominate the pop world. This is undeniable. Women are putting in more than their fair share of work to keep record sales up and more importantly, existent. The top selling record and single on iTunes last year was released by Adele and Katy Perry, while Rhianna, Lady Gaga and Niikki Minaj all pulled their weight too with sales in the millions.
The issue isn’t that these musical women sell perfume, or appear half-naked on magazines or sell sex as part of their image – that’s entirely their prerogative. The issue isn’t even that they’re more successful than other, less commercial women.
The issue is that this sexed-up image seems to have become a sort of default perception of what a successful, marketable female musician is.
Maybe this is all because women without sex isn’t as easy to sell. Cynical, maybe but countless female artists have told tales of music executives acknowledging their musical talents but being rejected as said executives ‘don’t know what to do with them’.
Sure, sex sells. But so does great music, right? Yes, great music does sell, eventually. The issue is that it doesn’t sell quite as quickly or assuredly. Laura Marling’s lyrics are beautiful but so is Katy Perry’s naked body, and you can only put one of the two on a poster.
We’re not saying that women like Regina Spektor, or Florence Welch aren’t sexy. What we’re saying is that sex isn’t a main part of what they’re selling, and that’s undeniably harder.
The fear that girl-fronted bands/female musicians alienate a male audience
A big part of the issue is perceptions. Much of the music industry is antiquated in the sense that the people at the top haven’t quite worked out how to move on from the way things were done decades ago.
If people with power in music perceive that alternative female musicians or bands are isolating a male audience, chances are they wont book or promote them and understandably so. We’re hedging our bets on the fact that the idea that women are the only ones listening to girl-fronted bands isn’t the case, but the perception is most definitely there.
The imbalance starts from the bottom up
This disparity isn’t just happening at the top either, it starts from the bottom up. If you look even hyper-locally, the number of women looking to get into music is alarmingly low. So low in fact, that every time there is a woman in a band, huge mention needs to be made of it.
This might stem from the fact that there aren’t many role models to look up to. It’s harder for a woman to aspire to be the next Beck, or for an all female band to be the next Grizzly Bear when the likeness just isn’t there, and while there are female musicians and bands to aspire to be like, they come in no great majority.
So in a sense the problem is cyclical: not enough women in music means not enough examples for future musicians means not enough women in music.
Antiquated marketing, false perceptions and a lack of role models for aspiring female musician are all relevant factors in the disparity of gender balance in alternative music and there might be many other reasons that can adequately explain why things are the way they are. Maybe it’s a case of needing to wait it out and let the music industry catch up with the rest of the world.
Harvest’s first line-up does provide a pretty sincere representation of the alternative music scene as a whole, and as easy as it is to get cynical and righteous about the lack of female artists on the bill, there are still many more additions to be made, so here’s hoping more chicks get added, and more importantly, that there are enough female musicians to make up a more balanced, representative bill.
After being told by her guitar teacher at 15 that girls "don’t play electric guitar," Jett became one of the most successful women in rock n’ roll, despite continual pressure from The Runaways manager Kim Fowley to sexualise their image. “He wanted us to be young fuckable jailbait,” Jett said of Fowley. “Assholes still come up to us and think we get laid all the time. I just look at them and either I get angry or I think it's really funny”. After being rejected by twenty three record companies, Jett decided to create Blackheart records, one of the first women to do so, and is still going strong. Now who’s laughing? Watch this slideshow »