I had dinner recently with my good friend Carla Black, founder of Rockrgrl magazine and MEOW (Musicians for Equal Opportunities for Women). She spent decades as a tireless advocate for women in music. Sadly, that’s no way to make a living, so she’s recently jumped the wall and will make her first million selling precious Austin real estate. You go, girl.
Leveling the playing field for women in music is a tougher nut to crack than most people realize–at least, people who aren’t in the biz.
I’ve definitely been on the receiving end of some condescending behavior in more than one music store over the years from sales clerks who think I don’t know the difference between a G string and a g-string. I don’t know a female peer who wouldn’t nod her head in agreement.
The big problem is that we just don’t book the gigs as often as men–and that takes money out of our wallets. I thought as much for years, but couldn’t find the data on it, so I conducted a little unscientific analysis of my own here in Austin. It confirmed my assumptions. In a typical month, women and female-front bands only received 14% of bookings in the city.
Now here’s the key takeaway from that little study: we may know that only a fraction of gigs typically go to women (or female-fronted bands), but we don’t know why. I have a few hypotheses, all of which warrant a more data collection:
- The true disparity may actually be smaller than it appears. Women may be 51% of the population, but that doesn’t mean we make up an equal percentage of the city’s musicians actively in search of a gig. Until we have reasonably accurate number of women musicians in town, we can’t be certain of the true disparity.
- It’s probable that an “old boy’s network” still contributes to the disparity. The majority of club bookers are men; almost universally across other industries and sectors, when men do most of the hiring, women are historically hired less often for high profile work. There is every reason to believe that a parallel can be drawn in the music business. It’s not at all unreasonable to hypothesize that some bookers assume that women are professionally/artistically “less than.” We may be perceived as less talented, less driven, less dedicated, less professional. And unless we’re young and hot, we’re pretty much screwed.
- Women are not pursuing high profile gig opportunities as much as men, or they are pursuing them in less successful ways. Boy, we’d need some research on this one. While anyone might experience self-esteem issues, I speculate that women respond more “personally” to rejection (or just the fear of rejection). This may mean that women don’t even try to get the big gigs out there.
All of the above is clumsily written, but if this fascinates you, you can read the full draft, full of charts and tables, here: Booking Trends in Austin. And if anyone wants to fund some research (or can point me to a funding source), let me know!
In the meantime, I’ve posted an infographic I threw together for Carla’s blog last year. When I tell you that it incited some insane reaction from men out there on the Interwebs, I ain’t kidding. It was toxic!
Comments welcome below, even the haters. Just don’t expect me to share in the hate.