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Musicians smashing the patriarchal music industry

We have all been at a music gig and been nudged out of the way—a push here and a shove there, and before you know it you are stuck at the back watching everyone dance in your spot. This is literally the reality of Australia’s modern-day music industry: women are getting pushed to the back while men dominate the dancefloors over the country.

The landscape of modern day society has marginally evened out the playing field between women and men, yet there are still gaping oceans of inequality, especially in the creative industries and higher level positions of power. This does not begin to account for the gross inequality facing non-binary conforming individuals or those with other diversity factors, like race, sexuality, or (dis)ability. Our modern world is a battleground of identity politics. The solace we usually take in music is not immune to this rife unfairness: a disproportionate amount of men are overrepresented while women and non-binary artists often make up lower-paid and unappreciated positions such as administrative or assistant roles.

Only 1 in 5 artists registered with the Australian Performing Rights Association is a woman – meaning women are less likely to get paid royalties for their work when it is used commercially. Even Triple J, one of the most progressive radio stations in Australia, played 61% all-male/male solo artists in a typical February week compared to a mere 16% female solo artists. Triple J’s feature albums/artists in 2016 included 71% all-male/male solo artists compared to 29% acts with at least one woman. Groovin the Moo’s 2016 line-up had 79% all-male/male solo artists compared with a disappointing 21% acts with at least one woman. Yet undergraduate university students studying music are comprised of 53% males and 47% females; and Year 12 students had an even closer representation still, with 49% males and 51% females.

The fact that men and women are both equally enrolled and graduating from music degrees suggest that it isn’t because women musicians aren’t talented or interested in pursuing a career in the industry – it is a cultural-wide perception of women. A woman’s role is projected as a caregiver, homemaker or supporter for the dominant male. If women do not believe they are valued in an industry, role models are few and far between, and music festivals are headlined by predominantly male acts, where does a non-male identity fit in? How does an individual with a non-dominant narrative gain the confidence to perform on stage, make their own music or even pick up an instrument with the social queues ingrained in them whispering doubts? And what is with the persistent use of placing ‘Female’ in front of musicians that happen to be female-identifying – is this a marketing ploy or a subtle signifier of the difference excluding them from the mere single-worded ‘musician’ club? Women can be awesome, talented, varied artists like David Bowie, but you don’t see people labelling him a ‘Male’ musician.

Your social position and cultural conditioning unconsciously inculcates what you like and don’t like. For example, consider classical orchestras. When blind auditions were introduced recently, the number of women who were accepted into orchestras jumped up dramatically, proving that gender perception does instil assumed expectations.

Music, and everything in the wider society, is filtered through patriarchal lenses infused with signifiers telling us how to think, feel and act. The fact that women are not being adequately and equally represented in music is catastrophic, and what we are surrounded by in the arts is both a representation of the wider culture and a determinant of change. If there is no equality on the radio, how is representation on company boards or in parliament going to fare? The wider cultural narrative constructs women in a certain light, and without changing it, they will continue to be marginalised and inadequately represented.

Keeping these factors in mind, here are a bunch of killer Australian musicians that happen to be female as well, and this is just the alt-music scene – thank me later for the recommendations.

Courtney Barnett ~ Alex Lahey ~ Ali Barter ~ Gretta Ray ~ Saatsuma ~ Alison Wonderland ~ Nina Las Vegas ~ KLP ~ Emma Louise ~ Vera Blue ~ Lisa Mitchell ~ Julia Jacklin ~ Tash Sultana ~ Tia Gostelow ~ Amy Shark ~ Montaigne ~ Banoffee~ Camp Cope ~ Meg Mac ~ Mallrat ~ Tkay Maidza ~ Julia Stone ~ Sarah Blasko ~ Megan Washington ~ Anna Lunoe ~ Katie Noonan ~ Kate Miller-Heidke ~ Stonefield ~ Melody Pool ~ Little May ~ Olympia ~ Ngairre ~ Thelma Plum ~ Elizabeth Rose ~ Clare Bowditch ~ Helena ~ Kučka  ~ Sampa the Great  ~ Asta  ~ Jess Kent  ~ Gordi  ~ E^st  ~ George Maple ~ Owl Eyes  ~ Bec Sandridge  ~ Jack River ~ Rackett  ~ Bodytype  ~ Sloan Peterson ~ Samsaruh ~ Julien Baker ~ Maddy Jane ~ Ruby Fields ~ Stella Donnelly ~ Jess Locke

Pick up an instrument, download an iTunes album, buy a gig ticket, and let’s smash the patriarchy one banger at a time.

Jessica Lehmann

The author Jessica Lehmann

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