Announcing their findings in a wide variety of languages, femalepressure, a 56-country network representing hundreds of women in music from bookings to DJing, have put the electronic music scene into numbers. In a report formally released today, they quantify the sinking suspicion that labels, festivals, and media outlets are badly lacking in female representation.
Just how few women are there in top festivals, label releases, and the media? Few enough that when the numbers break 10%, the results “can be considered above average.”
Press Release (English) [femalepressure]
Full March 2013 Report [PDF; worth reading in its entirety to see where these numbers come from]
The report is, perhaps, not perfect. American festivals, for instance, are limited to CommuniKey and Electric Daisy Festival (though I suspect if more of the so-called Aerican “EDM” scene were included, the picture would only get worse). It’s best thought of as a sampling, particularly in regards to the handful of press outlets surveyed.
But that almost doesn’t matter. The numbers are so far skewed as to suggest that any accounting reveals a devastatingly-clear trend. Comprehensive or not, the message is still obvious: no, it’s not your imagination. In fact, the only part of the press release with which I’d strong disagree is this: “the results are shocking and disheartening.” Disheartening, perhaps, but I’m sorry to say, the results look about dead-on with what I’d expect.
I would go further. I often hear people say they feel the electronic or digital music scene isn’t alive, that it’s contracting or becoming less interesting. But part of what make a scene feel alive are growth and change. This kind of dimension, then, is both a symptom and cause of contraction. And I love the medium enough to believe it shouldn’t be that way.
My question is, where do we go from here?
As one of the white males (ahem), I can strongly say this: I believe the climate around gender in society is ultimately detrimental to all. One side effect of strong gender roles is to create norms that can restrict everyone. That seems the antithesis of the spirit of musical self-expression, in which music could be an outlet for playing with one’s own identity, or being able to express personal feelings beyond the limits of what society might allow. That could be everything from the clothes you wear to the kind of music you make. Most of all, I don’t think anyone should feel guilty or self-conscious about their own identity, least of all when you’re born that way.
A metric is a good wake-up call; I hope it leads to a more nuanced discussion about what to do. Just recognizing a problem often isn’t enough, so it’s worth considering what the next steps might be. I’ve been in on discussions in which curators – indeed, in which female curators – lamented that they weren’t programming more women. I’ve also noticed that other categories are frequently left out of the discussion. Transgender individuals have made irreplaceable contributions to electronic music, and indeed CDM itself in its few years of operation; I would hate it if people who identified as transgender felt they weren’t valued, too. And that’s only gender identity; talk to anyone in this scene, and you’ll find almost everyone has at one time or another felt out of place or excluded in their social life. (That’s not a criticism of this report: you can bet that the same trends that suggest a lack of diversity leave all kinds of people feeling left out.)
So, I can only say, I hope people don’t only feel disheartened. I can’t speak for anyone but myself, but I can say this: yes, this concerns me, too. Yes, I feel personally responsible for having contributed to the problem, or, very often, simply having failed to get to know more artists. No, I don’t think I’m doing a good enough job – not at helping diversity, not at discovering music in general. (A big goal for me personally has been to better improve coverage of music and artists on CDM. The advantage of running a daily site is, I can every day say, this isn’t good enough; I hope today will be better than yesterday — and repeat. I suppose that’s probably how I feel about everything I do.)
I wonder how different this community would be if we tried to get out of our own heads with every artist we got to know, to try to be more compassionate with discovering other musical perspectives generally.
For its part, femalepressure isn’t just talking about the problems; they’re also actively building their network and sharing loads of great artists and other individuals. It’s worth following their Facebook page to find a wealth of artists they know – if for no other reason than finding new music.
The other article I read this week that I really appreciated, from tech blog The Verge, examined women trying to break into the startup scene. Replace “looking for funding” with “looking for a gig” or “looking for a record deal,” and I think a lot of the criticisms there, too, might hold:
Money matters: why women founders struggle in Silicon Valley
I don’t doubt that I’m sometimes lazy in finding new music. But discovering artists and music, extending the circles of people we know and care about, should be the opposite of disheartening. It should be part of the pleasure of being in the music community. Identity politics matter, but partly because diversity is a deeper issue than identity alone – that’s why we make music, presumably, because we each have our own voice.
We could build a more welcoming, inclusive musical scene. We should never feel that resources are too scarce, that there isn’t room for more people. Music benefits from criticism, from selection and curation. But it should also be limitless. I always thought this quote from Kermit the Frog in The Muppets Take Manhattan summed up what arts programming was to me:
“That’s it! That’s what’s been missing from the show! That’s what we need! “More frogs and dogs and bears and chickens and… and whatever! You’re not gonna watch the show, you’re gonna be in the show! Come on, everyone!”
That’s how I feel; I’m curious to hear about what you feel. And because nearly every idea of what and who to cover on this site has come from readers, I hope none of you is shy about sending in suggestions. We can’t respond to everyone – very often great stuff can’t get a response – but it does matter that it shows up in our inbox.
One addendum, as I reflect on comments: consider this. If any group of people, whether by gender or geography or background, has been under-represented or disproportionately disinterested in a field, those may be the people from whom the greatest future transformation could come. In electronic music making, we’re not by any means an “average” group of society, so we may not look like the society as a whole. That means there’s greater opportunity to produce communities that deviate from society as a whole – hopefully in positive ways.
To put it succinctly:
The people who have been absent could bring the greatest change – and the fact that electronic music makers don’t always look like the population as a whole can be, in the end, an opportunity, rather than only an impediment to diversity.
For a different take on this…
Neither this report nor my own writing her deals with the question of what would determine whether women (or anyone else) is attracted to electronic music making in the first place. Madeleine Bloom does:
Why Not More Women Make Electronic Music and How This Could Change
Madeleine puts forward a theory for what would keep women from making music – having to do with typical gender perception and clichés.
Note that while the femalepressure release explicitly says that they believe white male journalists, label operators, and curators are excluding women, even intentionally (or in keeping with social norms), Madeleine Bloom observes that Ableton Live users a couple of years ago were only 7% female. (That’s not to say that the press, labels, and festivals off the hook, of course, as that would presumably contribute to reduced demand for production software. It does suggest that this is multi-dimensional.)