Have you made your list?
Good. Now tell me how many women’s names are on that list.
As a producer, songwriter/ composer, arranger, bassist, and vocalist let me tell you, music is my life and my work, and as much as I love to live, I love to do the work. And truly: all I want to do is more of it.
I think this is evidenced by my active pursuit of this career these last 17 years. I’ve been HAPPY to put in my time, pay my dues, lay more and more and more groundwork, to do whatever hard work I have to in order to get more gigs.
Now, I have to tell you something I’m getting a little fed up with: As a general rule, I keep an open mind about stuff And with that open mind, sometimes I’ve dared to ponder aloud about why I’m seemingly not on anyone’s list of names to call for this-or-that project. And when I do, I’m routinely getting people giving me the tongue-biting stare of “Come on, dude… don’t be greedy. You have to put in your time Little Miss… sorry, what was your name again?” (By the way, you may call me “Sir.”)
Trust me – the side of me that was raised in a culture where humility-above-all was key to being a wholesome person? She feels like an uncivilized, petulant child for even asking! Thinks, “Of course, of course, no one knows me, and My! How selfish/ egotistical to think anyone would or ever should!”
But the other side of me has watched over these 17 years from a bird’s eye view, asking:
“Wait… was I not ‘putting in my dues’ when I began gigging as a bassist in musical theater pits at age 17? Was I not ‘laying groundwork’ when I did a 4 year degree
in music theory and composition, followed by a 3 year professional apprenticeship with a multi award-winning film composer and the genius songwriter/ arranger/ producer behind The Free Design, Chris Dedrick? What about when I secured two back-to-back composer-in-residence gigs from age 20-23?
And what about when I’ve worked with Fleet Foxes, the Metropole Orchestra, Benny Sings, Michael Leonhart (Steely Dan), Bauer, wrote hundreds of songs, and got my voice, arrangements, and productions on TV, radio, film, major art galleries? *Mightn’t* that be considered ‘putting in my time’?”
Next you’ll tell me that networking and knowing the right people is a huge part of it, too. Well, gee! You don’t say! Guess what. I networked my ass off to get EVERY SINGLE ONE of these gigs (each one came through a male gatekeeper, by the way, because yes, the gatekeepers are still primarily men. And I am deeply grateful for each of these men for helping me get “in,” otherwise… who knows…).
But notably, about 4/5 the projects I get asked for specifically require a female character (voice) for their project. When it comes to filling a non-gender-specific part, whether it’s bass player, songwriter, arranger, producer… I’m pretty certain I’m not even making it onto their list of “pros I know,” and sorry to blow your theory: it’s NOT because I’m not good, haven’t paid my dues, or haven’t networked. I am hardcore at all of these things, and frankly I’d better be after 17 years making this my life and work and accumulating the CV I have! Wouldn’t you think you’d be?!
No. The reason I don’t come to mind is because it’s simply not the go-to, normal, default thing to put women’s names in your “mental list” of musicians to call up for those non-gender-specific roles. Especially not for the male gatekeepers.
And I’m ex-haus-ted by this being reality. 17 years of this sh*t?? Seriously? And still always waiting for that moment I’m gonna finally have become “good enough” to make it onto people’s mental lists? Naw. Enough is enough. Time to admit to myself, the problem isn’t me and my skill-level, my time put in, or my network. I’m not the reason my music career is slogging along. And if you’re a woman in music for as long as me, you probably aren’t either.
I never get vulnerable on this stuff in a public forum. “Music biz experts” and friendly colleagues alike have hammered it into my head that to do so shows the kind of weakness and/or whininess that will keep people from calling me in the future. Screw it, I have nothing to lose, since people aren’t exactly banging down my door at the moment anyway. So what’s my point? What do I hope to accomplish in writing this? Not sure. I’m just certain my experience is not mine alone. Many other women are putting up with this same garbage – many much like I’ve been – without even knowing it, sitting around hoping one day they’ll be worthy, when in reality they already are. I’m hurting for all of us today so I guess I’m just trying to give it some voice.