Let’s get it out of the way early: the music industry, like every other in our patriarchal society, is sexist. We all know that. It’s especially prevalent in India where, within certain segments of society our culture forces women to get married by a certain age, not stay out past a certain hour, take care of the house and family, and be suppressed by the weight of what is right and wrong in the eyes of the 'community'. In the UK, female producers represent less than 4% of the industry. In the US, it’s less than 5%. 1 in 5 members of the Australian Performing Rights Association are female. There is no such collection of data for the Indian music industry and very little dialogue about this online so we decided to get in touch with Brinda, Simran Shetty and Anu Anna George to get their perspectives. We sought them out to discuss the misogyny and sexism that takes place behind the scenes in the music industry, a topic that has been gathering momentum in the international media for some time now.
Girl in Sound is a blog about a sound engineer and her experience working in an industry that’s perpetually undermining her. Though the posts are sporadic, the author Brinda, writes content that is compelling and persuasive. Her posts, mainly about life as a sound engineer, piqued our interest as they have a tendency to discuss and dissect the sexism that prevails throughout the industry. Considering she’s been in the business for almost 3 years (two and a half of which were spent as the in-house engineer at The Humming Tree in Bangalore), Brinda had a lot to say: from the elitism Indian music acts portray to the misogyny and bias she faces as one of the new female sound engineers in the industry.
Though her blog posts at times may seem heated and haphazard, Brinda was concise about her message when we interviewed her. She was deliberate in her details when retelling her experiences: “With Indian artists, I’ve realised that they are mostly not certain if I would be able to do sound.” International artists, more prone to meeting other women in Brinda’s field never seem bothered by her gender at first meet. “They’ve always been really supportive,” she said. “But there are a lot of artists [in India] whom I’ve done sound for who aren’t sceptical anymore.” Anu Anna George, an artist manager at Mixtape, agrees with Brinda. Anu asserted that women’s opinions should not be overlooked before having had a chance to voice them, “There may be a sense of women having a lack of knowledge but the bottom line is if we educate ourselves and do enough research there is no reason why our opinions should not be respected.”
Women often have to battle prejudice in work environments. Anu, like Brinda, was once the only woman in her workplace as well, “I know a lot of women working in the music industry in India. There was a point where I was the only girl in the Mixtape team but that is no longer the case. Globally it is definitely something that is being currently addressed.”
In her blog posts, Brinda states that she may be the only professional female sound engineer in the country, especially one that mixes live acts on a regular basis. And because of this, she has a cache full of stories of misogyny, “Once, a band brought in another engineer because they did not believe I would know when to “increase/decrease the guitar levels”, but the funny thing is I mixed the entire band standing next to him and he only moved the faders up and down, throughout. So basically, they paid a man to move faders up and down when I could have done the same.”
Due to societal conditioning, a woman’s opinion or competence for a job is often swiftly dismissed. Well-meaning people may try and “fix” this issue, but it could result in the worst kind of feedback loop where they, too, are overlooked. Though Brinda’s stories are concerning and demonstrate prejudice aptly, there are also good experiences out there. Simran Shetty, an artist manager at KRUNK, has had more positive experiences, “Lucky for me, my colleagues are open-minded and forward thinkers. Moreover, we have been encouraged to take control over certain projects, get out of sticky situations by ourselves.”
If women are to have an equal say, there needs to be a sense of equality in the workplace, which only comes from more involvement of women in the industry. And Simran echoed this, expressing how women are stepping into the roles traditionally occupied by men, “50% of my colleagues are women. This is how we learn and move forward.” She went on to state that sexism is much more complicated than people think, “it’s not only being shut down or ‘put in our place’, it’s facing unwanted attention, tolerating jokes/comments on your appearance, being spoken over.” Ignoring sexism and misogyny isn’t going to put an end to it. Women, but more importantly men, have to stand up to the blatant acts we’ve seen, a sentiment reiterated by many women and one Jackmaster recently mirrored in a series of tweets.
Optimistic of a day when there will be parity between genders, Anu voiced that relationships can develop and strengthen, “The way I see it is we all have to work hard, be it, men or women.” Simran, too, couldn’t agree more. For both of them, mutual respect is the bottom line “All relationships are a two-way street. You have to make the other person understand, vice versa. Without having your mind spoken and getting your point across clearly I guess no one's really going to know what the hell is going on. At the end of the day, it’s about being on the same page.”
Whether that’s a sentiment more women who work in the music industry will be able to share in the coming years remains to be seen. But for those who are struggling to gain recognition for their work, not having their voice acknowledged in offices, or are generally found to be overcoming more obstacles than their male counterparts, there is hope. It’s not the last we’re going to hear of this issue, but the fact that we’re all starting to talk about it is a good step in the right direction. Anu summarised it best by saying, “It is important that women support and encourage each other. But eventually, it all boils down to how much you are willing to put in.”
Below are a number of links and resources women in the industry may find useful:
Shesaid.so connects women across all industry sectors, from PR to management to record labels.
New York based Discwoman started out as a two-day festival back in 2014 and has grown into a platform, collective and booking agency with events taking place in over 15 cities, working with over 150 producers and DJs.
Since its launch in 1998, female:pressure has built an international network of over 1600 female artists across 66 countries working across the spectrum of electronic music.
Point Blank Music School spotlight a range of networking resources and collectives in a bid to help the next generation of female artists to make their mark.
Women in Music
Now in its third decade, Women in Music brings together a broad group of music industry professionals to offer support and cultivate a network of women working across all areas of the music industry.
Words: Dhruva Balram
16 February 2017