A student at Penn State Harrisburg, reached out to mel (along with other female musicians) to ask a few questions about what it means to be a woman in rock music today. Here’s some excerpts from my portion of the interview….
Can you think of a time that your music or credibility as a musician was discounted due to being a woman?
…I remember working on a challenging solo piece that was an arrangement of a cover song. The point of the arrangement was to master a new and difficult technique. I was trying a bass out at a music store I worked at. I played the piece on the instrument, just to see how it felt. A co-worker was nearby; he was also a bass player. After I finished, his only comment was, “That’s such a tired tune. Everyone plays it.”
“You will not have been playing long enough to be a successful professional musician by the time you graduate.” – this said by a college professor. Funny thing is, I never saw him actually play any gigs the whole time I was in school. Or quite frankly, even practice. On the other hand, the other students knew I was out gigging or working shows as much as I possibly could during college.
What has been the most difficult part of being a woman musician?
Men feeling entitled to hit on you when you are on the job just trying to work. The whole process of becoming a musician is laden with opportunities where men…and to be clear it’s definitely not all men, but men with a certain mindset…men who believe they have an entitlement to take advantage of the situation. To me, I’m on the job….I’m just trying to show up, be a good musician, be agreeable to work with, and be a team player.
And men with this sense of entitlement are all along the journey, from the time when you are a music student all the way into the “workplace”. Just look at the Berklee sexual harassment stories from the last few years;
Teachers…people in a real position to ruin your career and years of hard work. We all know this isn’t just Berklee. I’ve had to skillfully deflect advances from several teachers over the years. One teacher commented to me at one point “I’d pay good money to see those breasts.” I just as quickly replied, “I’d keep your wallet in your pocket, you can’t afford them.” Skillfully means, with regard to this situation, deflecting those advances with humor so that retaliation isn’t felt to be merited. Still…it’s not a great feeling to have to navigate these situations and continuously be on your guard.
Other artists can be the problem. At least two married men I’ve been in bands with have made advances. One person I gigged with was put off after I rejected his advances. Add to that, he started making my life miserable for awhile when I started dating someone I wanted to be with.
Two other men…on entirely different occasions…took me aside at one point and laid out what they saw as their version of the truth about women working in the business. It was their way…albeit rather an odd way…of trying to protect me I suppose. The essence of what they both said was men are in a position to take advantage of women when and if they want to. We’re not necessarily talking physically taking advantage of someone; we’re talking mind games, emotional manipulation, disrespecting boundaries and the like. No big surprise there in those statements….the bigger surprise was the honesty of admitting to it. However, one gentleman told me I would be better off to remain single for these reasons; in order to not let anyone in (ie an opportunist) who could ruin the career I was steadily building for myself. As I said, this is describing men of a certain mindset. Not all men. But they are out there.
I’ve begun telling my older, high performing female students about some of the circumstances I’ve been in so they would be empowered to act effectively when and if similar things happen to them.
I teach private lessons in addition to gigging. So then there’s the situation of men hitting on you during lessons. I have thrown a few adult males out of my studio for inappropriate comments and intentions.
What have been your most positive experiences as a musician?
I want to tell this story to balance out the content of question number two. So let’s call it a positive experience as a female musician. When I went to my first Winter NAMM, I made a lot of professional connections that have grown into friendships. But that first year, people were still getting to know me. So the folks you are interacting with don’t really see you with any depth yet. You are, simply put, too new to others in those circles. So, I got hit on a lot. It can be a compliment on one level; people find you attractive. Cool. But sometimes, some people will be trying to hit on you well past the expiration date of their welcome. It happens.
Fast forward a few years…I was playing at another event. I finished and moved my gear offstage to make room for the next performer. Another artist saw me that I knew, and started catching up with me. Surprisingly, the artist brought up the first NAMM where he met me and asked if I remembered that he had been hitting on me a bit. He then surprised me by apologizing. It was a turning point; I was seen as a person, an artist, as a whole being.
It appears that more men are starting to really listen, to be aware of what women are dealing with, take it seriously, and are inserting themselves in the process of making a positive change. A friend recently commented to me “This last year has opened my eyes up to so much that women have to deal with. We men have to do a better job policing our own.” And he is acting on it. Another artist started hitting on me at a trade show. I was a bit startled by those advances…really more so because I had no idea who this person was…so I said something to my friend to get more information. And then…the advances stopped. Almost immediately. I found out later that my friend took it upon himself to take the gentleman aside, privately, and tell him his advances were not welcome and he needed to stop.
Now, to directly answer your question…positive experiences as a musician…
1) Playing shows across the country for the first time on a tour. Going across the country with a circle of new friends made on the course of that trip. That experience was such a gift.
2) All the places I’ve gotten to travel to and experience. I’m not the most widely traveled musician for sure, but I am still grateful for all that I have gotten to experience already.
3) All that I have learned from some many great mentors along the way who made me a better musician, a better business woman, and better person.
4) Meeting my musical heroes, and then…on occasion…even getting to work with them and for them. If I could time travel back and talk to a younger version of myself, the younger version of me would never believe some of the experiences I’ve had.
5) Community; there’s all the friends I’ve made in this industry. There’s a lot of really amazing people….artists, musicians, builders, authors, engineers…all who inspire me to grow and be a better version of myself. The really good ones will actively encourage me to grow and be the best version of myself. When you find the good people in this industry, it can be an amazing experience. People know this business is hard. That being said, it is amazing how generous, kind and supportive the people in this industry can be.