This is a true story, by the way, that I’ve been asking around w/ professional women musicians to join my disco band for over a year. 9 out of 10 of these women didn’t even reply to the emails.
I used the exact same approach as I did when asking professional musicians –both men and women– to be involved in a different project, for which I got over 30 yeses, almost all men. I even had to host auditions to narrow it down. And by the way, by all measures, the disco project has far more chance of financial and popular success, and is just plain more fun than the other one was. Even the demos I sent in the introductory/ invitation email sounded better.
But women can’t even be bothered to reply to the emails. And guess what? I don’t even really blame any woman who doesn’t. Because I totally, completely understand where she is coming from. Let me explain:
Have you noticed you don’t see as many women in people’s backing bands? Yes, we do exist, but so rare a breed are we that our presence still elicits the inevitable usage of the label “female” in front of what we do, denoting our status as Exception to the Rule (e.g. “female drummer,” “female bass player”). No, you’re far more likely to see women filling gender-specific roles (such as when a female voice is needed as a backing vocalist) or fronting their own projects. You don’t see more women playing in backing bands or in each others’ bands as a result –at least in part– of the following 3 factors combined:
- Musicians are strongly encouraged to seek out work with people farther along in the industry who will challenge us, help us improve, and help lift us up to the next level
- Men are still the primary industry gatekeepers (i.e., they are the ones who can lift us up)
- People’s mental lists of “professional musicians I can call for my project” are straight-up less likely to contain women’s names by default, due to some kind of cultural conditioning that has occurred
So, again: I really don’t blame women for not jumping in when I ask them to join my disco band. We are spread so thin trying to lift ourselves up and get our own backs, since we are at a disadvantage trying to get that kind of help and support from within our industry.
The thought of diving into some other woman’s project, while nice –or even exciting!– in theory, simply doesn’t feel practical 9 times out of 10 if we want to keep building our own momentum. Because, from experience, we all know that working with men provides more opportunity to propel ourselves forward than working with other women (read about my own experience with male gatekeepers in my previous post). So we stick to our own projects, or joining in on men’s projects on the off chance they ask us to join.
People, no matter the gender, seem terrified of losing momentum. Anything that threatens to stop us making so-called “progress” often feels like a threat to our life itself, so we say “no.” Women say no to each other and to the opportunity to progress our gender’s situation as a whole, by even just replying to emails and giving each others’ ideas a chance. I’d like to see us stop living in such fear. I, personally, commit to reaching out to (both cis and non-) female musicians for collaboration, and accepting offers to participate in their projects based primarily on whether or not those projects resonate with me, and not primarily whether or not they seem like opportunities for my career advancement. I hope others will join me in this kind of commitment.