It is a cold February day, the sun is shining but the harsh wind cuts merciless through the streets of East London. Tucked away in the corner of Old St Records I have met with some really talented musicians who are currently rocking their careers. We find each other in the green room of the venue, hidden behind some heavy dark green curtains with a sofa that has probably seen some really messy nights and an old road case littered with artist stickers serving as a makeshift table.
We are here to talk about women in the music industry and the battles that young emerging acts have to fight on a daily basis, when the majority of the industry is still male led.
‘The situation is definitely improving.’ Shauna opens the conversation.
‘I remember in the very beginning stages when I first started out there were very few female musicians but I was lucky enough to meet this amazing female drummer before I met Collette and we jammed a lot together.
However, I also remember feeling intimidated by the presence of just guys in the industry. When you went to gigs people would always make comments like ‘So cute the girlfriend is carrying the boyfriends gear’ and I was like ‘ actually its mine and I’m about to rock!’
It seems like playing in a band that falls under the broad rock genre isn’t the easiest to find your foot in the industry, when you are a woman.
‘Whenever people hear that you are in a band they are quick to make assumptions like ‘Ah you must be the singer, or the guitarist, or play keys.’ They won’t guess drums until they are remembered that there are drums in every rock band.’ Phoebe who hits the drums in the Happy Accidents elaborates.
Collette the other kick ass drummer in the room is quick to add her own thoughts. ‘People are still in that shallow zone, where they always pigeonhole you into being a vocalist. Rather than being open minded and letting the artist elaborate on their story and talent.’
We discuss if putting musicians into boxes is a thing that is common for women that play their own instruments and don’t necessarily fall into the mainstream outlook on who people expect to play which instrument or if it is just a misfortune.
After some thought Collette goes on and tries to put it into words, ‘I think it is more genre driven these days rather than gender defined. Which is probably led by the outward presentation, people are totally fine with a female country artist being a guitarist but when you say you play guitar or drums in a rock band they can’t really picture it. Unless you put a Slipknot mask on and go full metal! , she jokes and has us all in stitches.
Next thing we know we are talking festivals and all the great things that have happened and how valuable festival appearances can be at any stage of a musician’s career. We also touch on the lack of women working in the live music industry and that we all would love to see more and more skilled ladies coming through and leaving a mark.
Between all of us we figure that most festivals have male stage managers and an all male backline tech cast on the grounds. Which unavoidably leads to some uncomfortable situations almost each of the artists in the room have found themselves in. The two drummers decide to tell their stories.
Phoebe remembers her first ever festival experience as an artist ‘My first ever festival I played the sound guy went ‘ Alright Misses drummer lady, it’s your time to sound check now.’ and I was taken aback by that. But I am much better now on calling things out! There were people watching as we sound checked and it just felt degrading.’
Being a female drummer seems to be extra hard as Collette goes on to share her story of being completely underestimated by a guy. ‘The worst I ever experienced was a festival in Poland. The backline tech was actually angry that I – a woman – was the drummer and he wouldn’t even allow me to touch my equipment unless to play on it. He had set everything up and when I just went to adjust the snare drum and he went absolutely mad. ‘
The conversation reaches a point where the #metoo campaigns hits full force as everyone in the room has faced sexual harassment at some point in their music career.
It seems like the main issues with these things happening is that sometimes people can’t understand that a musician is just a human being, and purely because they decide to live their life on stage in the bright spotlight doesn’t automatically mean that unsolicited touches or advances by fans or strangers are ok.
These things don’t go hand in hand. Standing in the spotlight is by choice, having to deal with sexual harassment should never even be considered!
‘I think when you are starting out at the beginning of your career you feel like any attention is good. Which is obviously wrong! ‘ ZoZo speaks up.
‘People complementing you makes you sometimes questions things. Do you really like my music or do you have any bad intentions? I don’t want to think like that but in some situations you have to, simply to take care of yourself!’
Shauna is quick to add to the topic, ‘ We have had times when there were older guys who want to have photos with you after your set. And when you are in front of these people you should be able to speak up when they have their hand right at the small of your back or around your waist. Realistically you should say something, but when there are a lot of people around you and you can’t really escape the situation, it is hard.’
Phoebes story tops it all as she was once showered with some unwelcome love after a gig. ‘I have been kissed on the cheek by an older fan. It took me by surprise and I just froze and didn’t say anything. He didn’t have a right to enter my space but I am not an aggressive person so I didn’t say anything. I probably should have but I didn’t.’
I ask the ladies if they think there is an appropriate way to deal with any indecent behaviour professionally and how to prevent these things happening in the future.
‘Probably just calling it out more.’ Phoebe exclaims whilst munching on a cookie. ‘It will be more frowned upon by more people and eventually it won’t be as normal as it might be at the moment.’
Sitting on the cozy sofa thinking about this difficult topic, Collette adds ‘Ironically, when there are other people or fans around you, you could end up feeling embarrassed for standing your ground. But I think, that in these scenarios when you do speak up people will immediately support you and look out for you and make sure that you are protected.
She nails it with an easy yet strong comment ‘Let’s stop mincing our words and just say NO!’
A full on conversations erupts at the back of the sexual harassment topic, that girls are always portrayed in a certain way in today’s world. As a girl you are expected to be pretty, be graceful, quiet and do as you’re told.
Only for society to completely fail to recognize that the 50’s are a long time gone and the girls of today’s world are more outspoken than ever. Fighting for your rights and raising your voices has never been so crucial than in this day and age.
And if you are feeling rough or your confidence has suffered some scratches just follow ZoZo’s advice and ‘just throw glitter’ at the troublemaker.
Staying in line with the stigmatisation of women in music we chat about the adjective female being overused in music media and how it can affect the tone of writing and sometimes put the artist in a light they rather not be standing under.
‘It works both ways.’ Collette starts explaining calmly. ‘We have been guilty to playing up the novelty of that and so have our label. Sometimes they have specifically marketed us a female rock duo. Simply because of the head turning argument about us being females.’ she continues. ‘So I guess it can be a positive attribute.’
‘It depends on how it is written and the intention behind it.’ ZoZo chirps in.
Picking up on that Phoebe adds ‘Magazines like ‘She Shreds’ and ‘Tom Tom Mag’ which are female focused outlets, will obviously use those terms but their content is all centred on girls doing amazing things. So when they use the term they put it in a nice positive light.’
Racking her brain for an answer that hits the nail on the head Shauna explains her thoughts.
‘I think we should try to not use that word in that sense, but it needs to be spoken about first. Because if we don’t encourage more females to be inspired by other female musicians than what? The more females there are, the more younger girls will come up through the ranks and the whole female branding will go and it will just be the term ‘musicians.’
Leading nicely on to some firsthand advice for all the young girls that are at the very start of their career or haven’t even picked up an instrument yet, but have always dream about it.
Take these words from the four strong ladies who have taken a stance, their goals in firm sight and their instruments at the ready!
First one to share her advice is Collette; ‘Become resilient. Work on building your resilience, put yourself in scenarios that you are not comfortable in or go for something that you might not be able to achieve because sometimes I have learnt more from the knock backs, the failed auditions and the failed bands than from the successful ones. ‘
‘Don’t give up and keep going.’ Phoebe adds. Supporting her advice ZoZo elaborates ‘If you are really passionate about something, just go for it!’
Shauna rounds it all up by explaining that you should always follow your heart and you need to allow yourself to feel the pain every now and then.
‘Just freaking rock it! Bring more music to the world!’ she laughs.
Rounding off our chat we come to the inevitably question that has been looming over our heads for a while now. What can we do to make the music industry an equal place?
‘Every band would be like ‘Gorillaz’ and play behind screens so you would never know who is playing!’ Collette jokes and has us all laughing along.
‘More respect for each other.’ Phoebe says strongly. ‘I think it is really great that bands are starting to have gender neutral toilets which make some people feel more comfortable. It is a really small thing but with a great outcome.’
All jokes aside Collette sums it up quiet well with her quote:
Communication. Talking about things like we are doing right. It breaks down common misconceptions, it changes assumptions. It allows you to understand someone. And it allows you to hopefully go away with a new opinion or a new direction of someone else’s thought which you might take on board. So the next time you meet someone it might help with all of those things.’
After the inspiring afternoon, we all agree that as a woman you shouldn’t feel the need to care about how you look whilst rocking out on stage or if you hit the drums as hard as you want to. A girl’s self esteem is easily broken by social media and the general consensus of society nowadays, but how about if we all stop caring and just do our own thing?
Wouldn’t that be a great world to live in? Far away from the polished and manufactured pop music world, a parallel universe does exist. Where the music is loud, the girls are tough and can rock your world even more than you could have ever imagined.
So get up, grab your instrument of choice and show the world that women rock!
In need of a live music fix? Head over to Old St Records this Friday night for a banging all girls line up!
Get to know these four kick ass ladies even more, listen to their music, give them a follow and support each other!