Have you ever heard the phrase “You have as many hours in a day as Beyoncé”? Hard to believe, when she broke the Grammy record, was the first Black woman to headline Coachella, win Best Dance/Electronic Album, and somehow the one who made baby bumps admirable and sexy. We all remember her radiant golden image when she performed pregnant with her twins. Last year, Rihanna turned up at her Super Bowl halftime show pregnant and almost broke the internet. The image of a baby belly on stage still creates a lot of attention. 

In many cases, the clash between the stereotypical image of a rock star and the responsibilities of raising a child becomes strikingly apparent. In 2015, Amanda Palmer managed to build a supportive community on Patreon to ensure a steady financial income for all the structures needed to produce her music: She pays for her office, her small staff, her collaborators, and her personal expenses – because it’s hard to focus on music without a roof over your head. No one seemed to complain until a few weeks later when she announced her pregnancy. In a raw and vulnerable open letter, she shares and comments on a message from a fan accusing her of cheating her supporters by using the money to buy nappies. This must stem from the unsustainable but widespread idea that an artist has to sacrifice anything and everything for the sake of art. But how can we ask artists to distinguish between the money they need to make art and the money they need to live when their lives and their craft are often inextricably intertwined?

“Good art needs real experiences, you know? And I think when you start to treat artists like factories and machines you get a product, you get a song. But where is the art?” I meet anaiis on a video call. The London-based neo-soul singer shares her experiences in navigating having both a toddler and a music career. Her new role as a mother has not only changed her everyday life but also her taste in music, her creative process, and ultimately her approach to art. In Berlin, Wayne Snow tells me a similar story: “What an artist has to offer is their life. If you’re a father or a mother, that should be part of what you show, because people look up to art to find a solution to everything. We’re just offering them a way to deal with chaos.” The neo-soul singer and new father mentioned how he has seen others fail to find that balance: “I think it’s because they’ve made a separation between their creative life and their family life, and I think it should all be mixed together and that’s what you should represent.”

Laura Lee, lead singer of Laura Lee and the Jettes, also known as one half of the indie band Gurr, found that her new life as a mother influenced her writing. The last verse of her band’s song “Dieser Tag” is about the birth of her daughter. “As an artist, I always want to share whatever happens in my life,” she tells me during our video call.

Having a child inspires and enriches a musician’s art, arguably contributing to a more diverse musical landscape. But how does a career in music fit in with a parenting schedule? There’s certainly no one-size-fits-all approach to separating or intertwining life as artists with life as parents. Whether it’s taking the kids on tour, building a community to help with childcare, or shifting to a home studio. Talking to parents working in the industry has shown me the many different scenarios that are possible. However, there is one common theme: the need to adapt your schedule and become much more efficient. This means more focused rehearsal time, leaving straight after the set rather than staying for the rest of the night, and being more selective about the offers you accept. Or as anaiis puts it: “I had to take myself even more seriously, you know? Before I made myself available for a lot of things. Now, I’m a lot more cautious about what feels meaningful and what feels like it’s worth my time.”

Breaking the Mold

By framing their baby bumps in red latex, rhinestones, and pearls, the likes of Beyonce, Rihanna, Lana del Rey and Cardi B have deliberately highlighted what others used to hide behind flowing dresses. And while the image of a pregnant woman might be slowly changing, the public eye still has a strong opinion on women’s bodies. Producer and DJ Amelie Lens, one of the leading figures in the current techno scene, announced her pregnancy last summer. Since then, she has been posting photos of herself in the DJ booth, wearing her usual crop top but with a large baby bump underneath. The image of a pregnant woman behind the decks has been irritating to many, to say the least. From unsolicited parenting advice to shaming for showing too much skin, there’s hardly been a post since without some criticism in the comments section.

“Of course, I have fun when I’m DJing. I’m playing music I love and I’m really into it. But then I come home and I still have my responsibilities. There is this image of the party-loving DJ living a totally hedonistic life. But in many cases that’s not the reality.” I meet Jaxx TMS in a café near her daughter’s kindergarten. The Berlin-based DJ, who also hosts regular parties and radio shows, is part of the rising all-female collective Slic Unit and a single mother. 

Jaxx TMS

In my research for this article, I initially struggled to find artists who have children, let alone feel comfortable talking about it openly. Women in particular, tend to be afraid that if promoters and bookers know about their motherhood, they won’t be considered for gigs: “It wasn’t until I had a child that I found out from many musicians that they were also parents. But it was especially noticeable with the mothers because they were afraid of not getting jobs.” Jaxx TMS tells me how she was excited to show the world that she could be both a mother and a successful DJ, but instead was faced with accusations and incomprehension.

“The scene always likes to act enlightened and modern, but we women are always put into this traditional mother role.” – Jaxx TMS

I also spoke to Hannah Joy, lead singer of Australian indie rock band Middle Kids, who decided to fully embrace her pregnancy for the video for the single “Bend”, including shots of her bare belly. Although she first feared the video might not be very “rock’n’roll”, she now loves the outcome: “My thought was just to lean into the fact that I was so pregnant and just let the belly hang out. I think it matches the song. It’s a very vulnerable and raw song.”

But for Hannah, it is also about representation and tackling the lack of role models. “I want to be able to encourage mums and women who are thinking about it. Sometimes, I talk to artists who are women and they feel like they can’t or shouldn’t have kids, because they then can’t be an artist anymore or they’ll have to give up their dreams”, the artist told me during our call.

Laura Lee (Photo by Stefanie Schmid Rincon)

Similarly, Laura Lee grew up with a different image of what it means to be a mother.

“I never had a role model of a mother who set boundaries for herself from a young age and demanded time for herself. […] I think in the long run she [Laura’s daughter] will benefit from seeing that her mum has a job, is happy and has a passion.”
– Laura Lee

Making Ends Meet

We may all have the same 24 hours in a day, but we certainly don’t all have the same amount of Queen Bey money. Research shows that while the gender pay gap in the UK may be narrowing slightly over time, the gender pay gap in regard to parents is widening. The study suggests that working mothers often stagnate in their careers and are less likely to be in the highest-paid positions. How does this translate into an industry that tends to glorify long hours, late-night deals, cramped tour vans, and the occasional bottle of whisky backstage? 

When asked what changes needed to be made within the industry to make it easier for parents to maintain a career in music, money was mentioned several times. “A lot of it revolves around financing to me because that’s what it takes to be able to take care of your child and to be able to work on any given project. I think that there are too many scenarios where we’re being stretched as artists,” anaiis shares. The often precarious situations artists have to face become even more apparent when children are involved. In my interview with Laura Lee, she tells me that she feels much more pressure to be financially successful with her music since becoming a parent. Now she has to be more conscious of how she spends her time and what gigs she takes. “I’m much more concerned that the whole thing has to pay off financially. I didn’t care as much about that when it was just about me.” It’s not easy to defend one’s worth in a music industry where recorded music doesn’t bring in much money and the cost of organising a concert often doesn’t match the income from ticket sales. Laura also feels that being a mother has helped her understand her value as an artist. But setting boundaries is difficult in the competitive environment of the music industry: “If I don’t do the job, then there are a hundred other people who want to play the concert.”

Behind the Curtains

Marit and Steffi (Photo by Anna Wyszomierska)

I also spoke to Marit Posch and Steffi von Kannemann who initiated Parenthood in Music. Their aim is to bring the issue into conversations about the music industry as a whole. It is not only artists who are affected by the precarious working conditions in the industry but also those who work behind the scenes, backstage, in management, booking, promotion, the press, and so on. “First and foremost, we want the issue to be on the agenda. The industry needs to consider it in every step, in every action. When you see how quickly mental health and diversity have managed to become part of everything, I am, of course, delighted on the one hand. On the other hand, I wonder why the topic of parenthood isn’t just as relevant, because it plays right into both mental health and diversity, but is often left out,” Steffi tells me. Even though no recent music industry conference is complete without a panel on well-being or how to make stages more diverse, there is still much more that needs to be done to truly make the music industry a more just and equal place. Including the needs of parents at all stages should be part of a multi-faceted intersectional discussion.

Donna Arendse, founder of label and creative house Lekker Collective, also feels that there is not enough awareness and empathy for the needs of parents. “There is definitely a lack of visibility. I feel like there is a definite hesitation for parents, but especially women to say they have kids. But I am not less professional because I have kids.” Donna tells me during a late phone call, after she has put her twins to bed, how she feels that parents, especially mothers, are misjudged as lazy or less capable. In a capitalist system, care work is devalued within and beyond the music industry. Donna holds down a full-time job, the label as a sideline and passion project, and is a single mother. To counter the white patriarchal structures, which especially mariginalise Black women like herself, Donna prioritises female, non-binary, and BiPoC artists on her label and at her events. The concerts usually take place on Sunday afternoons, with the bonus that parents can bring their kids along and generations come together.

“Kids are not just tolerated, they are encouraged to come. Kids should have access to culture as well.”  – Donna Arendse

Donna Ardense by Colette Pomerleau

Talking to different people in the industry, I’ve heard many stories of mistreatment – where sexism and prejudice against mothers combine to create unfair expectations and conditions. I’ve heard stories of inappropriate questions (think: “Can you still play the gig if your child gets sick?”) or unequal treatment, like having to fill in timesheets when male colleagues don’t. They are met with suspicion when what they really need is more flexibility and awareness of their situation. As a result, women tend to leave the industry when they become mothers. The reasons are plenty: Poor pay, incompatible working hours, unstable conditions, a lot of networking and interfering with personal life. Switching to a 9-to-5 or 9-to-1 job seems not only tempting but reasonable to many. Deals within the industry are still done in nightclubs or at festivals between shows and G&Ts. The music industry is a hostile environment for women in general, as recently confirmed by a warning from UK MPs, and it is even more incompatible with the schedule of a primary carer – which in most cases is the mother. For Donna, the most sustainable and important change that needs to happen is to have more people in high-level positions who truly understand and have lived the experience of caring fully for children.

With the same goal in mind, Marit and Steffi offer workshops for music companies, such as labels or event agencies. The main aim of these workshops is to raise awareness of the issue and the needs of carers but also to provide guidance on how to create better structures for employees with children. They receive a lot of positive feedback and open-mindedness for their work, even from big players in the industry. Their decision-makers seem to have understood that forcing mothers out of the industry will have negative long-term effects on their businesses. Not only are they losing a lot of talent and expertise, but long-term employees are the most effective form of company management.

Navigating it All

Leon Giseke

On the artist’s side, it is even harder to implement structures in a one-size-fits-all style. They are not only lacking some sort of a union, but an artist’s everyday life just has nothing like a set schedule. “The fact that you don’t have a nine-to-five job means that you don’t really get to finish work ever. Of course, you can close your laptop, but thinking about the next project or the new music video never stops. I’ve always been afraid of that. Am I even able to free myself from all that stuff so that I can play with him [his son] properly in the afternoon without my head being somewhere else all the time?” I managed to catch Leon Giseke, also known as Bluestaeb on a video call from his Paris flat. The freshly baked father and producer tells me how his 2021 album Giseke was a big milestone in his music career and something he put all his focus towards. Finishing a project that he felt fully confident about freed him to even consider starting a family. 

Hannah Joy is expecting her second child when we meet for the call. Her first kid was born at roughly the same time when the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Once things opened up again, she and her partner, who is also part of the band, decided to bring their first kid on tour. “I definitely feel like it is my responsibility to create the boundaries and the safe space for my child. The music industry is not like you going to a workplace where there’s gonna be a breastfeeding room or time off. That’s just not how the lifestyle of an artist works.” 

But why is the thought of a breastfeeding room in the backstage area so inconceivable? Why are childcare expenses not covered in the same way as travel expenses? Again, the demand is to consider the topic in its entirety and at every step. That starts with funding programmes that offer subsidies for childcare and festivals or promoters actively providing quiet spaces and options for childcare. Support with bureaucratic matters, be it with funding applications or applications for parental allowance, would also often help. Especially if you don’t have any other parents around to ask, the paperwork can be a lot. Or as Leon puts it: “You’re a bit on your own, because as an artist you usually work freelance. So you do the tax return yourself, and all the paperwork is on your desk. And then having a child, you’re overwhelmed anyway.” So even if there is financial aid for artists, such as in Germany, the barriers of access and the lack of guidance build up obstacles.

Wayne Snow

But as always, there is a flip side. Wayne mentioned how it has become easier to balance family life and a career in music now that artists are often much more independent of big companies and infrastructures. New technology makes it possible to record at home, and independence from major labels allows artists to work at their own time and pace. For the same reason, Leon has decided to release his next project without a label. Much of his early work is done in his home studio, with the working day interrupted when it’s time to pick up his son from nursery. Before becoming a father, he could have gone on endlessly with his producing sessions. Now, he strategically creates spaces that allow him to get back into that zone: “Now, I very consciously organise sessions in other cities when his mother is looking after him. My head is in a different space then. When I’m in these other cities, it’s only about music for three days.” Hannah also escapes to a little shack by the sea every now and then to focus on music: “I had to learn a whole new way of writing because the energy of motherhood is very responsive, meeting the needs, it’s very immediate. Whereas, for me creatively, to write, I need space and time. They are very different energies.”

Talking to fathers and mothers just stated the obvious: Their experiences as parents in the music industry are quite different. Adding onto that, nuanced intersections of gender roles, relationship dynamics, and various identities have an impact on the reality of life. The reality of a Black single mother is different to a queer couple, is different to a heteronormative couple, and is different to being a part of a family dynamic with multiple caregivers. Many of the challenges parents in music face are deeply rooted in structural issues and will require comprehensive revamping of systems that go beyond the industry. We have to overcome this narrative of biological reasoning for the mother to be the primal caregiver. Perhaps we also need to completely rethink our work environments and redefine the demands we place on people at their jobs. But ultimately, everyone in the industry would benefit from more flexibility for and consideration of those who have to do care work.

Jaxx TMS

Stay up to date with anaiis, Wayne Snow, Laura Lee, Marit Posch and Steffi von Kannemann, Donna Arendse, Leon Giseke, and Hannah Joy