Industry Girl: A Social Experiment

Disclaimer: This is not an opinion piece associated with any belief regarding women in the entertainment industry, rather an open discussion meant to inform and provoke your thoughts. Women are intelligent and powerful, and should be able to use their minds and bodies any way they wish.

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Being a woman is hard, and if you are not one, you will never be able to comprehend the struggles we have to face as one.  We especially struggle when we are trying to be taken seriously as professionals. I am also aware that men face their own struggles, but I am not touching on those because I am not a man and simply could not understand them.

Lisa Ling described the struggles she had to face on her way up to becoming an extremely respected journalist, and they were all too familiar to me. She said she received incredible opportunities by men in positions of power, only for them to be retracted when she wouldn’t engage romantically with them. It did not matter that Miss Ling was one of the youngest reporters of her time, or that she would go on to become a published author with multiple documentaries and international reports under her belt. She was beautiful, and therefore was not taken seriously. Somehow, Miss Ling managed to get past all of that. If she can do it along with all the other respected women of the world, any woman can.

My whole goal in writing this piece and sharing my experiment is to shed light on what women in the industry have to deal with. I want to bring a little understanding regarding what women have to face in a profession that is fueled by money and sexualization.

First, let me begin by telling you why I am even relevant in this particular issue. I have been in the industry, more specifically the music industry, for about six years now. I have had my work featured in Seventeen Magazine, Cosmo Girl, Free Press Houston, the Austin Chronicle, Pandora, Spotify, iTunes, and a few others. I have a degree in Communication Studies from Texas State, and I have worked with my fair share of artists and audio engineers throughout the years.

Still, I struggle with losing career opportunities from having to deal with woman- specific issues. At this stage in my career, I feel individuals see me as a woman first, and a professional second. I grew so tired of this that I began to wonder what experiences other women have with this issue, because I simply cannot be the only one.

So this is where my experiment begins. I have taken the time to interview five different women from four different states, simply to gain perspective on the different struggles and challenges they have had to face. I was not surprised to find that each woman had their own unique perspective and experiences regarding the issue. I decided to leave names out and make it anonymous in order for the women to be one hundred percent honest and open about the questions I asked, so I gave them pseudo names. Some questions were not answered by some of the women because they either did not feel comfortable sharing, or had nothing relevant to share on the particular question.

Jane, Natalie, Megan, Hanna, and Kim.

I began by asking these five women a little bit about themselves to loosen them up and get to know them a little better. Many of them moved away from their families across the country and sacrificed a lot to pursue their dreams, which is an incredibly impressive task.

Below you will find the full discussion.

Alright ladies, let’s start off slow and ease into the heavy stuff later. I’m not going to say too much, because I want your answers to speak for themselves. The purpose of this experiment is not to bash anyone. There are plenty of genuine people in the industry who respect women as their equals, and I am sure we all know many. So to begin, tell me about yourselves and let me hear about some of your interests or hobbies.

JANE: I am 25 years old, and I am a singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, and self-published author. I would say my biggest strength is writing. Although I love writing songs, I also love creating stories. Aside from music and writing, I also dabble in visual arts. I used to paint quite a lot, and I still paint and draw on occasion. For a while I had some of my paintings displayed in a gallery studio that my family rented. Although I am perceptibly artistic, I also really enjoy science, particularly natural science, and spirituality. I love being out in nature, hiking trails, driving cross-country, climbing trees, exploring, reading, learning, meditating, dancing, celebrating holidays, and expressing love for the world.

NATALIE: I am 24, a creator, singer, writer, artist. I love cooking, reading, being outside, being with children, talking with others, drawing, painting, and smiling!

MEGAN: I am 20, and I am a singer- songwriter. I can cook. Brunch is my specialty. I also sew all my own clothes.

HANNA: I am 26 and I am a singer-songwriter. I’m also an actress, improvisor, and model. I also like to cook and eat.

KIM: I am 25, a singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. I love painting, photography, and videography as well. I’m also an amateur engineer and mixed/ mastered my first album.

How did you get started in your craft?

JANE :I have been around music my entire life, as my father has been in a band my entire life. Several of my other family members are also musically inclined. When I was six years old I took piano lessons, but I couldn’t get the hang of reading the music so I would just watch my teacher’s hands and memorize where they went on the keyboard and then copy her.

NATALIE:  I have been singing for as long as I can remember. I was in the school choir and forced my family to watch me sing the entire soundtrack to Annie. I began working on music and giving it my creative attention in 2014.

MEGAN: I have played piano since age seven, started writing when I was thirteen, and then found a guitar in my attic and taught myself at fourteen or so.

HANNA: I’ve been singing and writing my whole life, but I didn’t start writing songs until I was eighteen. A friend signed me up for an open mic without my permission. After that I started playing coffee houses, which lead me to playing shows. That lead to making records. Records lead to writing for licensing and sync… and now, here I am.

KIM: I have been playing piano and singing since before I can really remember. I am a self-taught guitarist and the music gene runs in my grandpa, brother, and father. I have been around it for a long time, and have always taken great interest in it.

Now I am going to transition into the heavy stuff. In my opinion, the music industry is undoubtedly a male dominated one, and women have to work twice as hard to gain respect and be taken seriously. It is also scary for women who are often times sexualized and expected to portray a certain appearance or persona. I personally go into meeting someone assuming they do not have good intentions until they prove me otherwise. This is not because I think highly of myself, and this is not because I am rude or stand- offish. This is because I have been taken advantage of, and had my desire to progress in the music world used against me. I find this to be my biggest challenge. In your own opinions, what would you say is the most challenging thing about being a woman in this industry?

JANE: I don’t know if this is a challenge specific to women, but something I have found very challenging as a musician is marketing myself. I think perhaps women have an even harder time with this because in this industry there is a large emphasis on “image”, and a woman’s image is often subtly, and sometimes not so subtly, placed in the forefront. Something I have confronted often among spectators and especially other musicians is the notion that the sound of my voice and the aesthetic of my face and body are more important than my lyrics or musical compositions.

NATALIE: For me, showing my vulnerability. It is hard to do and at the same time is the most rewarding feeling. And honestly, it is just hard to be myself. The challenge is the fun part though. It gives this journey worth!

MEGAN: The fact that you are commonly overlooked or belittled. Often times people, men and women alike, assume that females are less hardworking and do not possess as much talent as their male counterparts.

HANNA: Being judged by what you look like, rather than who you are as a person/artist.  Also, navigating through a business filled with creeps.

KIM: Definitely has to be the fact that I constantly feel overlooked. I feel I’m not taken as seriously and I have to work harder just to be on the same level as the guy players. I just want to be viewed as a professional like everyone else.

Do you have a personal experience regarding these challenges that you would like to share?

JANE: A few years ago I met up with a guitarist I met at an open mic. He and I had many similar inspirations, similar goals, and seemed to click both musically and personally. He mentioned that as we accrue more members, it was important to keep things strictly business, not to let physical attraction or emotions get in the way of the music. I agreed and we began working together. We tried finding other musicians to join us, but this was very difficult, as the genre we wanted to pursue was an uncommon direction for musicians in that area. So, he and I continued working together as a duo, writing and recording songs. A few months went by and he mentioned that he had developed both attraction and possible feelings for me, which he was trying to suppress for the sake of the music. A few weeks later he came onto me. At the time I was still pretty naive and insecure in this regard and was afraid that if I refused him, he would get angry and want to stop working with me, and therefore all the songs we had worked on — songs I had invested a lot of time and emotion into — would be destroyed, or worse, taken from me to be recorded or performed with another singer. This fear led me to comply with his affections, which seemed to be mostly physical in nature, with little emotion attached. I was not sure anymore which part of me he really wanted- the musician or the girl. And the fact that these had to remain separate in order for me to keep control of my own emotional and physical well-being was very disturbing to me.

MEGAN: Not specifically, but, I have experienced (time and time again) a very surprised reaction to my music. When I go on stage with my guitar and say that I am about to play a song I wrote, you can almost feel the entire room lose interest and prepare for an early Taylor Swift rendition. When it becomes apparent that I have more to offer than a cheesy lovesick ballad, people show noticeable surprise. It’s the equivalent of someone saying, “Wow, I didn’t expect you to have talent, because you are a girl.”

HANNA: I try not to let these things negatively affect me. I’ve had a couple scary instances where I’ve been followed to my car or harassed on social media, which have not been pleasant. I don’t think men have to worry as much about these things, making it harder for them to sympathize and approach us with caution.

KIM: I actually have quite a bit, but I’ll just give one experience. I was working on a song with a semi- well known artist. It was going well and I though he was genuinely interested in a collaboration. Turns out, he was trying to “get with me.” Halfway through the songs completion, it became obvious to him I wasn’t interested in giving him what he wanted. So what he did was completely throw the song away and withdrew all support from my music, which he obviously never cared about to begin with. But even worse, all his friends and the people I met through the process withdrew their support too. I think this was because I was the woman and he was the man, and on top of that he had a bigger musical following. Even though everyone knew he was in the wrong, they were afraid of upsetting him and just left me confused and upset. I’m just proud to say I didn’t let the fear of losing his support, our collaboration, and all the “friends” I made through him force me into being romantic with him when I didn’t want to be.

How do you feel men view women in the industry?

JANE: I think that in my experience, musicians in general are overlooked and underestimated. I have also met several female musicians who are greatly admired and praised. But I feel that women in general are overlooked and underestimated, particularly in areas such as intellect and skill as opposed to aesthetic, and I feel that female musicians are critiqued and picked apart more often than male musicians, regardless of image or style.

MEGAN: I will not generalize and say that every man in the music industry looks down upon women, because that is not true in the slightest. However, a good portion do not take our presence seriously or believe that our creative expressions are contributing to the cultural conversation in a beneficial or significant way.

HANNA: I can’t speak for all men. There are a lot of good men in the industry as well as bad men. I’ve dealt with both. Like anything in life, nothing is just one way. I’d say in a general sense, men view themselves as the majority in this industry, and women as the minority. Which is sadly… true.

KIM: This obviously doesn’t go for every man, but I think they don’t see us as being capable of being as talented or creative as them. When I’m hanging around a bunch of my guy musician friends, people assume I am with them because I am one of the guy’s girlfriends or that I am a groupie. They never think that I could possibly be a musician too. And when they find out, they are incredibly surprised.

What are some hurtful things you have been told as an artist due to your gender?

JANE: That I was a horrible singer and a wannabe. I know this isn’t true, and it shouldn’t have bothered me except for the context: He came onto me and I rejected him, so he sent me a very long email totally bashing me and my music. Some of the most hurtful things anyone has said to me were in that email, which I have since deleted. And I have to remind myself that he was never really interested in me, the real me, and he never cared one bit about my art. I still feel ashamed for sharing something so close to my heart to someone who spat it back out at me like that, thinking they were interested in my brain over my body.

HANNA: “Good thing you’re pretty, because that’s the most important thing for a woman to be in music” or something along those lines.

KIM: “Take a look at all the famous women, and then take a look at the man behind them to understand how they got there” or something like that.

I know you ladies have already given me some instances of men, or people in positions of power coming on to you, but I want to dive deeper into that. Does anyone have specific examples of someone using your craft or ambitions to make romantic advances, aside from the ones already discussed?

JANE: I think most of the people who have made such requests did legitimately want to talk and pursue music in a professional manner. I think that if there is any ulterior motive, it is secondary and usually doesn’t come to surface until a personal relationship has been established. Still, as the stories above indicate, this can even then be a detriment to musical pursuits and emotional well-being.

NATALIE: Yes, I have. I was partially to blame though, and it has made me stronger. It still really affects me to this day.

MEGAN: Yeah, I have had guys ask me to hang out and “jam”, but when I get there I see a bottle of wine and there isn’t much jamming going on. Like, I came here to play some music, why are you asking if I want to watch a movie? Not cool.

HANNA: Yes, this has happened a lot, but I don’t think this is exclusive to the music industry. I feel like this happens to women all the time, no matter the industry. You just have to have a good gut instinct to navigate through those waters.

KIM: A lot of guys will ask me to jam or work on a song with them just so they can get me alone in a room with them. At least when a man approaches another man about a collaboration, he knows it is genuinely because the other guy likes his music. Well, for the most part.

Now for the fun part! Aside from all the tough stuff, there are tons of amazing perspectives and ideas women can bring into the industry; on a creative level as well as a professional one. I love being a woman, and I would not change it for the world. Much like everything else, good comes with the bad. What is your favorite part about being a woman in this industry?

JANE: Firstly, the feeling I get when I have just written a new song and it tells some sort of story or illustrates a scene that is beautiful. Secondly, that moment when I am singing in front of an audience and it doesn’t feel like my voice is even trying, it just sings itself with astonishing effortlessness, and I feel so strong and free. Ultimately, my favorite part is being so inspired and determined to express myself that all the walls just disappear and I don’t even need wings to be able to fly.

NATALIE: Expressing who I am truly. It is the greatest feeling of fulfillment for me.

MEGAN: How it allows me to express myself, and sort through everything that happens in my life.

HANNA: Connecting with people as well as the bliss I get from writing.

KIM: The people I meet and having an outlet to express myself. It makes me feel powerful.

What do you feel women can bring to the table?

JANE: I think anything innovative that anyone can bring to the industry should be welcome. I just don’t want anyone, specifically women, to hold back. I don’t want them to be afraid that the way they want to sing or play, the songs they want to perform, the goals they want to accomplish, the collaborations they want to pursue, the projects they want to produce, are somehow impossible or unsuitable for them because they are female. That should not be a factor. Despite the big labels, the money-making schemes, the marketing, the subliminal messages and all that bullshit, this is at its core an industry that is fueled by creative expression. I don’t want complacency and fear to combat that creativity or that expression.

NATALIE: Strength and softness! There cannot be one without the other and we embody both, men and women, masculine and feminine. There must be balance.

MEGAN: Women represent half of the world’s population, thus, half of the world’s potential. To ignore that and renounce it is not in anyone’s best interest or to anyone’s advantage. Our rallying cry should be to recognize, support and cultivate all of that untapped potential.

HANNA: All the things men can bring to the table!

KIM: I think women can bring everything a man can bring to the table, but maybe with a softer side and perspective.

What would you like to see change for women in the industry?

JANE: I want to see female musicians who don’t hold back from fear that they will be regarded as unattractive or unappealing. I want to see women taking leadership roles within the music industry. I want to see women who are able to market themselves based on the content of their songwriting and musical style. I want to see women who inspire other women to be who they are and do what they love. And I do see that, here and there.

NATALIE: There WILL, mark my words, be a day when ALL women and men are free to be who they truly are without feeling as though they need something to sell. Underneath all of the things we, as human beings do, we all seek attention, love, and connection. It is the desire that drives us. I envision a world where truth is the driving force of all action and all expression.

MEGAN: Gender equality, b*****!

HANNA: I think it’s the same change I would like to see in society as a whole; respect and equality.

KIM: I would love for women to be respected and treated as creative equals.

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Thank you to the five women who participated and shed their light and beauty on such a delicate topic.

Instagram: @sleepy_melina