At this years Eulenfreunde Festival in Jena, Germany, the local Campusradio invited to a panel discussion on the topic “women in music”. Together with the equal opportunities officer and the student council, the Campusradio brought together several discussion atendees: a DJane, a booker, a radio moderator (female), a music therapist (female) and me (obviously male).

The discussion wanted to bring some light in the question if women have the same chances and opportunities in the music business. Why are there still more male than female musicians? Are women taken seriously in the indie music scene or is it just about being sexy?

Are there equal opportunities?

More or less. We agreed on the point that nowadays suppositions allow the same chances to everyone, no matter if male or female.

It is not about the
sex of a musician.
It is about the music,
its quality and ability
to touch people.

First, making music became easier and cheaper. Instruments, computers and recording systems are easy to get and the support by schools and society gets better. The hurdles to play, produce and record music became lower, for everyone.

Second, within the last years a lot equality work has slowly changed the whole society and as in many parts of our daily life it also doesn’t matter if a musician is male or female. It is about the music, its quality and ability to touch people. Sadly there are still chauvinists listening to music just because they consider the singer hot (female or male). As we are talking mainly about indie music here, this doesn’t really apply in my opinion. More concerning is sexism by music industry professionals. As not only the DJane in the panel tells us, “Career opportunities” are sometimes “offered” for sexual services. Straight forward offers are at some points made as we know from every business. We as music consumers and professionals are called to take action here. We also learned that women in the business know how to fight that.

Nevertheless, we believe that chances and opportunities are the same today, whereas it is harder in the beginning of a career facing problems in not taken seriously.

Are women in music taken seriously?

In general, there are three decisive factors: quality, image (the feeling about the act) and story. But it seems that women are often not taken seriously at the beginning of their career, because they seem to be seen as “the little girl who wants to play music” or “the cute girl who wants to sing”. Obviously there are still people who have this image.

Once the initial step is made, it might be even easier for women to get heard whereas that highly depends on the musical scene. For a woman in the metal scene might it be way harder than in pop music.

There are women in every scene, not with a 50/50 quote, but rising. This especially applies if we look at the professionals behind the music: promoters, labels, press and others. As time goes by, the old decision makers are exchanged by new being either women themselves or bringing a much more open attitude into the business. We should not forget that this discussion is not very old and the “big” business is still made by people beyond their 40s and 50s. We probably witness a change here right now.

Why are there still more male than female bands?

Is that important? From my very personal point of view it is not about the sex of the person behind the drums, the guitar, the bass, the keys or the microphone. It is about the music.

The way we “are raised”
leads to different forms
of expression.

Again differences also come from musical subcultures. The metal, hardcore and rock scenes are male dominated. Not because women are not welcome, but because men and women are raised differently and may have different ways to express themselves. Especially when it comes to the expression of aggression. Hard music is in the first place a way to express extreme feelings in an extreme way. When metal bands grow older, they mostly turn to more complex arrangements and move away from pure aggression. To me its not surprising that more men play instruments, when boys get raised with Matchbox, Lego and other “productive” things, while girls are raised with Barbies and ponies? And I emphasize the formulation that they “are raised” because this is not an individual decision. That leads to different forms of expression and raises the possibility that boys want to learn to play the drums rather than girls.

But as we see changes here, also in the basic concepts of sex and education, maybe someday 90% of the drummers will be women. Since it is the music that matters, I wouldn’t consider that as important as well. What we need to get straight here is to strengthen the awareness that everyone has to be taken seriously in their wishes and plans.

Do women in music have to be good looking and sexy?

It is about authenticity
and not about sex.
To turn it different:
Authenticity is sexy,
on stage and in real life.

It is of course important for musicians to have an image and look that fits to the music and that touches the audience. Appearance raises awareness. So good looking (whatever “good looking” might mean) and a sexy image can help. But that applies for women and men and nobody has to have a sexy image. If this is something the artist does not want, then s/he has the right to say “no”. Especially in the music we are talking about here, this should not be slowing a career. Not every listener is into sexiness and “sexiness” has a different meaning for different people.

And finally it is about authenticity and not about sex. To turn it different: Authenticity is sexy, on stage and in real life. If artists want to play with it, they mostly also know how to deal with it.

Sexual parity in music should not mean that there has to be a 50/50 distribution, but that everyone has the same chances, the same opportunities and that everyone is taken seriously. No matter if men or women, everyone has to have the right to express her- or himself in the way s/he wants. May it be drumming, djing, singing, painting, stonecarving or something else. Art is about passion. Music is a way to express oneself. Music is art. Music is passion. And if a person who does something passionately is a man, woman, hermaphrodite, transsexual or an alien should not be an issue. What should be an issue are the points that I mentioned several times: equal opportunities and respect.

article by Robert Helbig & Axel Kunz