The Struggling Musician Part 4: Is It Harder For Women in the Music World?

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Performing at Mermaid Cafe, Folkestone 2008

Before you read this grab a pen and paper and quickly jot down, without thinking too much, the top ten greatest songwriters of all time.

How many of those names you jotted down were women? (See top 50 British Songwriters Article)

Being a male singer/songwriter I am fortunate. I am fortunate because I know that there is more chance of me being taken seriously as a songwriter than if I were a woman. Even in the 21st century, and I’m talking from experience here, I have noticed that female musicians simply don’t get taken seriously for the artists that they are. You only have to look at comments on YouTube when female musicians are performing covers or their own compositions. The comments are mostly “You’re well fit” or “Damn, she’s hot” or even the more explicit “I’d fuck that”.

YouTube views speak for themselves. The internet is saturated with female performers who have thousands of views. Some are incredibly talented but others have no real talent. So why would would a female get tens of thousands of views? Many I have seen simply stoop to showing ample cleavage or have a pretty face. These “musicians” are undermining the talent of real female musicians who take their profession seriously.

In the pop world, and Rhianna and Miley Cyrus are prime examples of this, sex sells. If we were unable to see these women perform live or in music videos I very much doubt that Miley Cyrus would sell many records. However I don’t dislike the girl. She is simply acknowledging that she will never be taken seriously as a musician and is using what she has, and I use that term loosely, to gain popularity. It will however only be short lived.

See this Guardian response to Miley Cyrus’ Wrecking Ball video

And one for Rhianna too Guardian

Now I wouldn’t exactly say that I was up to date with the latest tunes on Radio One (Partly because I’m not in the 16-29 age demographic that they pride themselves on attracting) but I can’t remember the last time a female musician was taken seriously as a songwriter…oh wait yes I can it was 1997 with Alanis Morissette’s ‘Jagged Little Pill’ album. I listened to the album again recently and it just blows me away. I love the edginess, the anger, the lyrics…so why do we take her seriously over others?

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Alanis Morisette’s 1997 album blew me away when I first heard it.

Now I know some of you will be saying “What about Adele? She writes her own songs” and I agree she does but is she being taken seriously as a songwriter or is she seen as just another X-Factor-type singer? Would you listen to Adele unplugged in a coffee shop? I know I would. I love how she also has standards about her image. She doesn’t wear scantily clad outfits or twerk. And why not? She doesn’t need to. She is talented enough not to need to. My point is that even if we were to acknowledge Adele as a talented songwriter how many other females can we include in the last twenty years? Sheryl Crow possibly. Carly Simon? Definitely! The number is still astoundingly low compared to male singer/songwriters. For some reason we assume that women don’t write their own material.

What about Alicia Keys? Katy Perry? Lady Gaga? Amy Winehouse? Joni Mitchell? Carole King? Etc……..I guess the only test is to ask yourself would you listen to them in a coffee shop stripped back with just an acoustic guitar. Take away the gimmicks and what do you have left? Joni Mictchell and Carole King, I certainly admire as songwriters. Amy Winehouse possibly and maybe even Alicia Keys. But Katy Perry and Lady Gaga? Take away Lady Gaga’s outrageous costumes and sexually charged music videos and her songs aren’t exactly making us sit up and think, “Hey, this is really good songwriting”. I’m not saying she isn’t a talented performer…but songwriter?

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Carly Simon‘s 50 year career has seen her achieve 13 top 40 hits including her number 1 hit “You’re So Vain”. Many of which we all know and love.

I have a few female friends who are in my opinion very talented singer/songwriters. The only problem is that they also have the disadvantage (or advantage whichever way you want to look at it) of being very physically attractive. Over their careers they will be approached by “Producers” who want to “further their career”. Sadly 99.9% of these “producers” are doing it to get in their pants. Admittedly as a male I am naturally attracted to these women because of their physical attractiveness. Call me shallow but it’s simply biology. If you win the genetic lottery, whether male or female, you will find more success in life than if your don’t. We cannot control this initial feeling. The difference is that I do not, or at least try not, to let these primal urges cloud my judgement of who I think has talent.

On the contrary I am also drawn to these women because of their musical talent. One in particular has written songs that I listen to regularly on YouTube because I think she is that good. When I talk about these women to other people in general I always mention that they are wonderful musicians first because I believe it is important to express merits other than physical attributes.

Now let’s forget the signed female musicians for a while and look at the unsigned artists. The one’s who perform at local bars and pubs. I have attended many gigs of female musicians and listened to the mutterings of the audience members. The majority of males tend to ignore the musical talent and concentrate on the physical attributes of the performer and a good portion of the females will bitch about the performer no doubt out of jealousy of the fact that her partner is eyeing the “talent”.

One controversial argument is that women simply aren’t good enough songwriters on their own and so have to resort to gimmicks and using their bodies to gain success in the music world. Now before I get inundated with “Sexist” accusations hear me out. Is it possible that men in general are better songwriters because it is another way of “Peacocking”? (Showing your talents to attract a mate). Remember as a human, it is up to the male to show his worth to the female. Or is it simply that the reason women aren’t taken as seriously as men in the music industry is because it is still a bit of a “boy’s club”? When we see a man perform we assume he wrote the song but when we see a woman perform we assume the song is written for her. It is old fashioned, misogynistic and it needs to stop.

Now I may of course be wrong on all accounts in this post (I am in a pessimistic mood today after all) but I can only go by what I have experienced. I would love to hear from female musicians about their own experiences and tell me whether my views are misguided or not.

If you are interested in listening to some talented, unsigned female musicians then check out the following:

Natalie Muzos

Jenn Fiorentino

If you haven’t already, check out:

The Struggling Musician Part 3: Dealing with other Musicians

The Struggling Musician Part 5: Open Mic Etiquette (This one is controversial)

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7 responses to “The Struggling Musician Part 4: Is It Harder For Women in the Music World?

  1. There are many ways to come at this, maybe a large percentile of women that have succeeded in the industry have been lazy and taken advantage of the idea they can sing well, and look good in a skirt, to not have to make the effort of great songwriting?
    Maybe the music industry is still a boy’s club, and therefore the guys write the lion’s share of the music to keep control?
    Maybe, the listeners the world over have voted with their money in the past and have a tendancy to male penned songs?
    There are talented females out there, and I truely believe the best will always come through. But, at the same time, I personally feel a massive amount of music written, produced and sold by the skip load is, quite frankly, utter tosh. Irrelvant of who wrote it, the market is flooded with bilge, because, it would appear, that’s what the masses crave. I know personally for you and I to value songwriting it will create and stir emotion and thought, and not very much ticks those boxes these days. How many of those songwriters you thought of in your opening gambit were current, or even, recent?
    Maybe, there are just as many good female songwriters in prominence as male, but they are all swimming in an ocean of poor to average male writing?
    I must admit, these days, I don’t always know who writes their own stuff and who writes it for them. And what about if they’re just the lyricist? Do they count?

    • Thanks for you comment. You pose some very interesting questions that someone could write a dissertation on. I guess the question is also is today’s music tosh or are we just getting old? 🙂

  2. It rather depends on the genre of music you look at, and how that woman defines ‘success’, in my opinion.
    But out of curiosity, I went and had a look in my ipod to see just how many I had.
    Ayria, Bonnie Tyler, Emilie Autumn, Amy Lee (from much younger teenage years), Enya (who hell yes, I would always see. Guilty pleasure.), Felicia Day (Favorite geek. Very -in my opinion- successful), Katrina & the waves, Lindsay Stirling (would never turn down the chance to see acoustic, although, that said, she rarely does anything else), Pat Benetar, Malukah (probably my all time favorite female singer currently unsigned- but hugely popular.)

    The sad truth is, if you have the money to pay for the fancy backing, the advertisement, or even the jolly good luck of getting on x-factor (which might produce shambles, but I sincerely doubt they’re crying into their cornflakes about selling their souls when they have multiple ferrari’s ect;.) then you get signed, you get the views, you get… well, recognition. I’m not a musician by any stretch of the imagination, but I imagine that recognition is a major part of why you do what you do, otherwise you’d be singing to yourself in the shower instead of on a stage, however small that may be.
    In a way, you might say that women have it easier, regardless of talent, women can get in on the act by showing their… assets. Which is something much harder for men to do. Men have to be talented, REALLY talented, to get recognized.

    Just a few thoughts to add to the cooking pot (my own, likely.) But you raise some certainly interesting points. As I certainly have a lot more male artists hiding in my ipod than female, which in certainty reflects the standards of female- to male singer/songwriter ratios.
    Or maybe the male voice is just more appealing to me. Who knows.

    • Hey Vicky,
      The success I’m referring to is if people within and without the music industry look at these female musicians and see ‘songwriters’ as oppose to just ‘performers’.
      You are right about money. I know many musicians, male and female, who aren’t really that good but have the money to record professional albums and videos.
      You are right recognition is a big part of it. We write songs and bare our souls to the audience we want them to say “Dude, your song really hit a chord with me” or some cheesy cliche like that.
      That is a good point. Women may find success easier because of certain ‘attributes’ they may have and they may be happy with that success but they wouldn’t get taken seriously as a professional.
      Thank you for commenting you had some really good points. Maybe you’ll hear me perform one day 🙂

  3. Reblogged this on Women Power Chords and commented:
    “I have a few female friends who are in my opinion very talented singer/songwriters. The only problem is that they also have the disadvantage (or advantage whichever way you want to look at it) of being very physically attractive. Over their careers they will be approached by “Producers” who want to “further their career”. Sadly 99.9% of these “producers” are doing it to get in their pants.”

  4. Pingback: The Struggling Musician Part 6: Busking | Lawrence of Canadia·

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