The music industry, and particularly instrumental jazz, has been a male dominated field for such a long time. What do you find the challenges have been for you as women in the music industry
It doesn’t take much to realise that there are far more men playing music in Melbourne than there are women, especially a genre such as instrumental jazz. I’ve read many great articles and studies that outline the reasons for this and I’ll add in links so you can take a look yourself. The element that I was most unprepared for, that is probably the least tangible reason but to me the most affecting, is the matter of perception. Going in to a rehearsal, usually of all males, and being perceived as a woman first before as a fellow person and musician. Being a woman should be irrelevant to the whole experience. Studies have shown that women don’t differ in musical ability to men; there is no reason to assume a difference in potential musical ability, and yet, a lot of the time, from the moment I’ve first encountered a bunch of males in a musical setting I get treated differently. There will be assumptions made about my ability to play, the style of my playing, my sense of humour (which usually just means not being included in jokes) and so on… I’ve exchanged stories of similar experiences with almost every female musician that the topic has come up with.
The silver lining is that, as I had previously thought, this isn’t the inevitable experience for being a female musician in Melbourne. You don’t have to accept this as your reality in order to do the thing you love. I am so glad to be able to say that I currently play in a whole range of bands and musical settings with men and women alike and never feel like my gender is my defining feature. People are perfectly capable of treating each other equally, regardless of gender or anything else for that matter, they just need to be aware of themselves and these issues enough to get over their preconceptions.
Tell me a little bit about Quadrifid – how did you all meet and what prompted you to start the band?
I had recently left a band (of mostly men) which I’d never really felt at ease in. After realising that feeling that way wasn’t necessarily something I’d have to deal with as long as I wanted to play in a group musical setting, I got up and left.
This was followed by reading some material about sexism in the Melbourne scene, as well as finding a documentary called ‘The Girls in the Band’. This is a relatively recently made film mostly focusing on the women who played in bands in the ‘jazz age’, so around 1940-1960, when it was popular music. Finding out about all these amazing female musicians that had NEVER BEEN MENTIONED in my studies of music, many of which formed all-female bands mostly because the men simply wouldn’t let them in their bands. Watching this made me feel so much. I think I was crying for a good part of it, mostly out of pure emotion at what I was seeing. It made me realise that I had never and probably would never be in an instrumental band of all-women unless I put it together myself.
Most bands are all men to the extent that it’s not even a distinguishing feature, yet a band with all women or even a women in it usually is, it’s such a rarity. We can only look forward to the day that an all-female band is just called a band and we lose the novelty.
I knew I wanted to play jazz – this genre full of self expression and collaboration, but I didn’t want to play in an environment in which I’d be constantly be scared to make mistakes or be treated differently by my peers when the music wasn’t happening. Alex, Elise and Ellie were all musicians who I’d either played with, heard great things about or seen them play and really enjoyed it.
In November 2016 I was asked to put together a jazz quartet for an event which was great motivation to rustle up some tunes and get the band together.
I couldn’t have anticipated how supported I would feel from the very start playing with these people as well as how much joy I’d get from playing music with them. And yes, one of the things that comes up a lot is our similar experiences in the music scene, not just because we are all women, but because of the assumptions that people have made because we aren’t men.
Which artists to you admire and inspire you most as a group?
Something that I really enjoy about Quadrifid is that our musical influences are so diverse, it is hard to name any musicians that we are collectively are very inspired by. This means that we have a huge pool of influences to put into our music and are constantly learning from each other. Some artists and bands that come up a lot are: Shannon Barnett, Sandy Evans, Spoke, Gerry Mulligan Quartet, Esperanza Spalding, The Vampires and Tokyo Brass Style.
What advice can you give to young women trying to make their creative dreams a reality?
If you love it go for it! None of us would rather be doing anything else! You’ll never be rich but if it’s something you’re passionate about playing music is such an enriching thing and nothing else can quite compare.
Unfortunately (especially if you are a female) it’s likely that at some point you are going to be made to feel that you don’t belong, you play too loud, too soft, the wrong instrument, the wrong genre, that’s all a load of bullshit. You have as much right to express yourself musically in whatever way you want as anyone. Generally though, the Melbourne music scene is open minded and supportive and you will be able to find people who are like-minded and great musicians, even if it takes some time and effort to do so.
Especially in the last few years a lot more awareness has been raised in regard to the issues surrounding women in music, if you want some related material on the topic, check out:
- Biddy Healy’s blog post: http://www.biddyhealey.com/blog/2016/6/18/be-a-good-girl-or-play-like-a-man
- Cat Hope’s article in The Coversation: https://theconversation.com/why-is-there-so-little-space-for-women-in-jazz-music-79181
- Marc Hannaford’s study: http://mtosmt.org/issues/mto.17.23.2/mto.17.23.2.hannaford.html
- Girls in the Band film: http://thegirlsintheband.com/
And some music programs and organisations in Melbourne that address the issue:
- YOWO music: http://www.yowomusic.com/
- Girls Rock (Melbourne): http://www.girlsrockmelbourne.com/
- All In: https://www.facebook.com/allinmelbourne/
Do you have any upcoming events?
We certainly do! Our next gig is on September 14th at Think Thorbury, we are headlining a gig they are putting on as part of a monthly residency curated by All In. We are also playing at the B.East on September 24th with Sludge Party.
How can people follow your work?