The female factor in Australian music. Epilogue: Lessons learned

So here we are. “The Female Factor in Australian music” limited series is done and dusted.

One of the women that have contributed to it said this, “It really made me think of how little I knew about current female artists and testified to how tough the industry is for them to get a look in – food for thought“.

I couldn’t agree more. Exploring that world with women either working in the music business in Australia in different capacities or being on the other side of the barricade, as music fans, has been an eye-opening experience for me, too.

Let’s start with the things I’ve learnt that require an urgent “mentality-shift”, in my humble view.

When I first had the idea to dedicate the entire month of March SOLELY to female-identifying artists in Australian music, I didn’t know exactly where that quick journey would take me. Being a blogger girl, I did have a pretty good idea of where the problem’s at, but I hugely underestimated its scale.

Not only in music, it turns out, because the issue of under-representation and mistreatment of female-identifying individuals is a broad topic that exists practically in any industry. Here’s an example of musicians and entertainers standing with politicians, with Jaguar Jonze being at the forefront of the movement of the music biz Down Under.

David Novak, the singing half of the Sydney-based band Polish Club who – I’d like to stress that – are huge supporters of equity and fairness in the music biz in Oz, has recently penned a very honest piece for the Junkee mag.

In “Dear Men In Australian Music: It’s Time We Cut The Bullshit” he calls out the general ignorance of a rather burning problem in the industry: that women have to deal with a lot of shit, on many different levels. From being assaulted at gigs and in their workplaces, ignored when dealing with the business execs, to hearing insults and being laughed at when trying to speak out and claim their rightful place.

Novak’s conclusion is pretty obvious. It’s hard not to nod your head when you read, “We need to stop letting it slide”. But haven’t we heard that all before? Don’t get me wrong – this is not to say I don’t appreciate a man standing up for his female counterparts in the industry he’s a part of as well. Yet, there seems to be a lot of talking done on the topic and visibly fewer actions taken to change anything. So I hope that – because it was a guy who wrote it – maybe, just maybe, it will be taken a little more seriously this time.

One of my interviewees for this short blog series, Suzanne Phoenix from photospunctuatemylife, has pointed out in our catch-up that live music photography (like many other genres in photography) is dominated by white men. There’s more about it here:

Suzanne’s findings might not be a shocker for anyone any more. But the worrying part is that our passiveness towards it creates a certain vibe in the profession and dictates the working conditions that are not very female-friendly. And that, as a result, has an even more profound effect on females not being able to keep up with men in this branch of the business.

Coincidentally, Beat Magazine has recently published an article on the same topic. They engaged one of the most recognisable and successful Aussie female live music photographers, Michelle G. Hunder, who put out a call to her peers willing to share their experiences.

Their accounts, under the poignant title “The pit can be a scary place for female photographers, and it’s time their story is told”, is quite aligned with what Suzanne and I talked about. It’s yet another proof that what needs to change is not only the appalling behaviour towards females in that job. It’s the whole industry’s attitude and mentality, to say the least.

One of my other goals in March was also to only share news related to female-identifying individuals working in the music biz in Oz. I just wanted to see if I’d notice any difference at all. And that, ladies and gents, proved quite difficult. Not because women in music Down Under don’t make the headlines at all. But the number of bands, events, developments etc. that involve men is disproportionately higher than those involving women.

I literally had to stop and think whether there was a female figure behind that news story I was going to publish. And, many times, the answer was “no”. So if you go through my social media feeds in March, you’ll see a lot less activity for that same reason. And you’ll also notice that I didn’t always manage to stick to my plan because of that overwhelming ratio. So there was a difference and a big one, too.

But let’s focus on the positive outcomes of my little quest, and there have been plenty. The short venture into the “Female Factor in Australian music” has also allowed me to shine a bit more light on amazing women who have been kicking ass in music Down Under. Although not everyone might know about it.

Firstly, if you want to test your knowledge of the local Australian music scene, check out this extended post where I’ve asked four Aussie music fans to talk about their female faves. If you know even half of the artists mentioned by them, you’re my hero. Because I didn’t. And that clearly shows how diverse and abundant the female scene really is.

So we need to keep doing more to let all those musos be heard. You can start supporting them by checking out the playlist I put together with over 40 songs, and at least one by each of the artists my collaborators named. I guarantee you’ll find something right up your alley because the mix of genres and moods is pretty wild.

On the same note, I’ve started a new theme on my FB page called #FoundYou where I share short info about an up-and-coming artist with their most recent release. Thanks to digging through Unearthed’s catalogue and signing up to more local industry news aggregators, in March I discovered four rad female musos: Nyssa Ray, Peach PRC, Kirsten Salty and Sappho. Go give them a listen as well. I’m looking forward to bringing you more names soon.

In the second episode of my limited “Female Factor” series, I concentrated on the link between fashion/stage image and the female artists behind them. I mentioned Barkaa and her song, “For My Tittas” there. At the same time, it turned out the artist is also a part of Support Act’s #TuneUps – a series of short movies talking about some life experiences that influenced the featured musos’ lives.

I’m fairly sure it wasn’t easy but Barkaa opened up about her hardships: spending time in jail, being addicted to drugs and alcohol, finding herself homeless whilst being pregnant and not seeing any light at the end of the tunnel. She used the example of the same song to reflect on that difficult period in her life.

The episode with the Indigenous musician nearly broke my heart, but it has such an empowering message at the end, “Sometimes I do talk to my inner child and tell her that she’s worthy, and that she’s important, and that she deserves a better life”. Check it out here:

Other females who have taken part in the project so far include G Flip and Fanny Lumsden – their confessions are equally thought-provoking but, at the same time, very hopeful.

I can’t stress enough how important it is that we pay more attention to the stories female-identifying artists choose to share with us. They’re seldom fairly tales, precisely because being a woman in the music industry often seems more like hard yakka than doing what you love. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that females need to exhibit extra strength, perseverance and commitment to prove themselves.

Like LIVSKA, the Melbourne-based artist I spoke to for the last episode of my series. In the video interview, we chatted about her musical journey. Especially that one of her previous projects didn’t stand the test of time, and she’s sort of been forced to start building her profile and reputation from scratch again.

Despite the many obstacles that every new beginning brings, I’m amazed by how enthusiastic she remains about her future. She’s definitely used her time in the pandemic wisely as well, methodically planning her moves and giving it a good thought before taking the plunge again. See it for yourself:

Last but not least, there is one thing involving an Aussie female artist that I’d like to mention here, even though it’s not strictly related to my humble blog series.

At the beautiful memorial to the Australian music industry legend, Michael Gudinski, who passed away on 2 March, Kylie Minogue did something I hadn’t expected. Being a megastar and one of the most successful Aussie women globally that she is, Kylie walked out on stage a humble person. No fireworks, no showing off. It was just a stripped-back performance with Ed Sheeran accompanying on the guitar.

And it really touched me. Kylie owes Gudinski and his company (Mushroom Group) her worldwide recognition to a certain extent. And she chose the best way to show her gratitude – by being that unpretentious, respectful and modest girl she was back when she started.

Obviously, not every female-identifying musician will get to be Kylie in the future. And that’s not the point. The point is that there’s still a long way to go for women in music Down Under to be taken seriously the way Miss Minogue is today. But you gotta start somewhere. Good things ARE happening, but we still need to help them gain more speed and traction.

So, as one of my contributor’s said on her blog, “SUPPORT – SUPPORT – SUPPORT” female-identifying artists in Australia.