Gender Inequality in the Music Industry...
Let's Start the Conversation
I love the Triple J Hottest 100. Always have. It invokes in me a hazy feeling of sunshine and happiness, of days off and beer and friends and backyard pools and hour upon hour of tunes. I vote every year almost as soon as the polls open, and I studiously avoid all those aggravating articles of statistics predicting the countdown in order to retain some element of happy surprise as each new song is played.
But the backlash that has swirled in the wake of this year’s countdown has left me feeling pretty uncomfortable, and has certainly overtaken any residual Hottest 100 happy feelings that were lurking around. The issue at hand is something that I have long been aware of, but never acknowledged or felt passionately enough about to address to the extent that I am today. I’ll offer a word of warning at this point: this post will not contain endless statistics to justify my argument, it is simply my thoughts in words. If you are someone who thinks the debate about gender and privilege in the music industry is something that can be explained by numbers and data then the following paragraphs are not for you.
I know that those two words, ‘gender’ and ‘privilege’, are red flags to a lot of people and often start more arguments than productive conversations. Perhaps it’s the divisiveness of clarifying ‘gender’ as something that separates us, perhaps it’s the negative connotations of the word ‘privilege’ that suggest that a person has been handed the world on a plate when that is far from being the case. I don’t know. I haven’t studied sociology. But I found it quite surprising, and more than a little telling, that one of the world’s biggest musicians and someone who has had a lot of love from Hottest 100 voters immediately jumped to the defensive when Erin Reily tweeted this on January 26:
Vance Joy and Chet Faker went to school together, which means the Hottest 100 has had more winners from St Kevin's Toorak than women.
I am certainly not going to join the bandwagon of people condemning Chet for his reaction, and won’t copy every individual tweet he made here because it’s beside the point. I have a lot of respect for his very public acknowledgement that he completely missed the purpose of Reily’s tweet. His second of three tweets apologising for his reaction stated the following:
I mistakenly took it personally. I realise now the tweet was referencing a much larger issue entrenched in our society.
And perhaps that’s the whole point - that when this issue is raised a lot of people are mistakenly taking it personally. This issue is never about one individual, if it was it would have been rectified long ago. Reading through some of the hundreds (of thousands) of comments that people have been posting on Facebook in response to articles about this often indicate to me that people are taking it very personally. And I definitely say ‘people’ rather than ‘men’ or ‘women’, as there seems to be a pretty even divide between those who think that gender inequality in the music industry is a hysterical fantasy perpetuated by man-haters and those who think that something really needs to change.
One of the most significant things that I see impeding this debate is the constant ‘them vs. us’ conversation. In response to the severe lack of female musicians featuring in the Hottest 100 I have read numerous comments on social media from people claiming that ‘it is a completely democratic vote, people vote based on talent alone’. Of course most people vote based on talent alone, it would be pretty weird not to vote for a band you love because of their gender. But are we honestly, honestly trying to say in 2016 that men are just more talented that women when it comes to creating music? Or is it possible, just possible, that we are hearing less female musicians than male musicians and this is informing our vote? Not according to this comment though, which I read several times in an effort to uncover the sarcasm:
Thing is... Women have won the Hottest 100. Kimbra was featured in “Somebody That I Used To Know” that won in 2011.
“Ok, but she was only featured on that song”.
Well, Angus and Julia Stone won in 2010 with “Big Jet Plane”.
“But you see? That’s still got a man singing.”
Well okay, go back to 1994 and The Cranberries won with “Zombie”, a song written and sung by the very cool Dolores O’Riordan.
(This is not separate conversations by the way, this is one individuals comment copied here verbatim. See it here if it hasn’t been deleted.)
I scoured this post several times and indeed checked back in throughout the day to make sure that they hadn’t posted *sarcasm or ^^jjokes underneath...sadly not. As far as I can tell they passionately believe that the fact that not one female solo artist, and only three female musicians in total, have scored the number one spot in sixteen years of the ‘biggest democratic music vote’ that exists is completely justifiable and understandable. Women have won the Hottest 100 guys...
To clarify, this is not an attack on Triple J indicating that they are to blame because they don’t play enough female musicians - I have discovered most of my favourite female musicians by listening to Triple J. I also don’t have the stats to prove what they do or don’t play, although I’m sure they exist. I’m thinking the issue might extend a little further than what one radio station - albeit a pretty significant one - plays to their audience.
Instead of stating what other people should or shouldn’t do let’s point the finger at me for a second. Let’s look at my vote for 2015’s Hottest 100. I was really proud of my vote, firstly because I voted 100% Australian and secondly because three of my ten votes were from Perth. I voted for these songs consciously because I honestly love every single one of them, and I think that music coming out of Perth and Australia in 2015/16 is phenomenal and should be better recognised. However, when I look at my votes a different way I’m not quite so proud. One of my ten votes was for a solo female musician (Meg Mac), and only two others were for bands including a female musician (GRRL PAL and Tired Lion). If we break it down into individual band members, twenty two dudes got my vote versus just three ladies. But this is only a coincidence, right?
I have watched with sadness today as conflict has blown up close to home between the jazz band All My Exes Live In Texas and Perth’s Ellington Jazz Club. There are a few articles floating around on the topic so you can check them out, but what I thought most interesting was the reaction of one of the venues owners (interestingly, not the owner who was the reason for the bands boycott of the venue). Firstly, I’m always a bit surprised when people whose business relies on their reputation decide to bring the argument to the Facebook comments, as intention often becomes skewed in the miasma that is social media debate. However, that’s completely beside the point. A significant comment made by the owner was:
If a space can’t be found for you, it’s probably due more to the fact that you have no talent, as opposed to being a woman.
And we’re right back to that talent issue. Bypassing the conversation entirely about the comments made by the venues’ other owner, which triggered the entire debacle:
As usual, the lane the man is running in has no obstacles. That is what annoys men so much about this line of argument is they face just as many obstacles, they are just better equipped to deal with them.
What annoys me so much about this comment is the notion that by highlighting gender inequality in the music industry people are dismissing the struggle that every person trying to make it in the industry faces. It’s a bloody hard industry full of obstacles for every single person who strives to make a career through their music, which is why I was motivated to start Good Nights in the first place. Gender inequality is another conversation entirely. So, again, instead of pointing the finger at the Ellington Jazz Club, whose male-to-female ratio of bookings I have absolutely no statistics about, let’s point it back at me for a second.
I started Good Nights to give up-and-coming musicians a new platform to get their music out there in Bunbury and the South West, and to get paid well for doing it. To date I have run four gigs, with two more on the very near horizon. Excluding the Sing for the South West concert coming up in March, I have booked eight male solo musicians or entirely male bands. I have booked exactly one female solo musician, and two bands including female musicians. Breaking it down into individual musicians again, I have booked fourteen male musicians as opposed to just four female musicians. Obviously many factors come into play when I make the decision to book my musicians, and not one of those factors is gender. So the fact that there is such a significantly different gender ratio is obviously a coincidence, yes? There couldn’t possibly be anything else contributing to the fact that close to 80% of the artists I have booked are male?
Let me clarify the paragraph above by saying that every musician I have booked for Good Nights has been supremely talented. Every one of them, regardless of gender, are phenomenal musicians who are forging a career in a harsh and challenging industry and deserve every success. But I can’t honestly sit here and acknowledge the lack of female representation in my extremely small pool of data without recognising that there is a much broader issue here. Perhaps what I am hoping for is that instead of fighting against each other and effectively sweeping the issue under the carpet, we can recognise it for what it is and look at how we can work together to improve it.
I won’t end this post by summarising the reasons for gender inequality in the music industry and how it will be fixed - I have absolutely no idea and am in no position to make assumptions. However, I can let you know what I will do.
Will I keep listening to Triple J? Of course. Will I keep voting in the Hottest 100 countdown? For sure. But maybe I will think a little harder about my votes and question how I am consuming my music. Will I keep booking male musicians to play at Good Nights? You bet your ass. They’re incredible. But I will be working really hard from this point forward to make sure that female musicians are equally as well represented on my small platform. I don’t expect to be able to make any dramatic changes as to how the public at large addresses this issue, but hopefully I can generate some positive conversations among my own circle that inspires change and doesn't degenerate back into ‘the us vs. them’ talent debate.
Let’s start the conversation.