Winter Jazzfest in New York has joined 44 international music festivals to sign onto Keychange, a European music industry initiative for gender parity according to a recent report on PPS. This is a good start.
Traditionally women are seen as vocalists but not instrumentalists. I have faced this all of my life. Whenever I have pulled out my flute in a setting where the fellow musicians don’t know my playing there is a discernible slump. I can almost hear them thinking “oh crap…. A chubby chick with a flute”. I have come to force myself into musical situations, knowing that once the players around me hear me play, they will discover what I already know: I am likely as good or better than anyone in the room.
This has always happened, regardless of the Genre. Over time, I have simply taken and held my space in until the courtesy of inclusion is extended. At its core, this is a discussion about pre-judging people based upon a generalized view of them. We learn to get a thick skin and not let us bother us. We tell jokes to be “one of the guys” and know that we will have to navigate unwanted advances from patrons and musicians alike. These things are “part of the territory”.
The real cost
But more important is the opportunity inequality. More men get booked than women. In small venues and large. Festivals and Studios. In an industry which is already difficult to break into for the most talented of musicians, this lack of exposure adds one more barrier.
It starts at the top
Not just a barrier, it’s a stone wall. According to a January 25th article in the New York Times, this problem starts all the way at the front of the musical food chain with around 2% of top rated billboard music being produced by women. The producer is the one who determines what the “sound” is going to be. Without our input in creative decisions, the public has very little exposure to what music created by women really sounds like. Until we see a culture of inclusion where opportunity is offered solely on merit, these numbers won’t change.
The solution leads to better music
As a musician of 40 years and a Business owner, my experience has always been that additional creative input almost always yields a more interesting and appealing result. This is surely the case in music. Gender parity adds to the quality, it doesn’t replace it.
There you have it!