Girls, guitars and sexism in the music industry
Mercury shortlisted guitar group The Big Moon are sick of the music industry putting everyone in boxes.
Guitarist Soph Nathann says: “Because there’s not enough [women] out there it’s like a separate genre – rock, pop, then women!”
I catch up with the guitar band – whose album Love in the 4th Dimension made the Mercury shortlist for 2017 – just before they take to the stage for the Reading leg of the Reading and Leeds Festivals.
They are one of just a handful of all-female bands to make it onto the bill.
Bassist Celia Archer says it’s something most female rock groups have come to accept: “Society is still generally sexist, it’s ingrained. It’s such an entrenched problem but hopefully it’s slowly getting better.”
This year, embarrassed festival organisers across the UK found themselves having to apologise after almost all headline slots went to men.
The gender imbalance has been a stark reflection of how the music scene tends to be skewed towards a male demographic.
Californian rockers Deep Valley say, put simply, women trying to succeed in rock have to work twice as hard to make it.
“You’re a novelty at first as a female musician,” drummer Julie Edwards explains.
“You have a surge and then it plateaus out… It seems like the male rock bands have a more lubricated ride to the top.”
Male rock groups might have secured top billing, but could female spending power be key to reviving guitar sales which, over a decade, have flat-lined?
Guitar-maker Fender is doing all it can “to support and cater” for female buyers. The iconic music brand found 50% of its new sales last year were to women.
Its CEO, Andy Mooney, says the industry is finally waking up to that fact: “The guitar business… has often been viewed as a boys’ club.
“We are constantly identifying new artists and incorporating female talent into our marketing launches.”
Fender isn’t alone in recognising the importance of opening up the market. A concerted industry effort is under way to find new ways of reaching out to women.
Paul McManus, chief executive of the Music Industries Association, says companies are finally starting to wise-up to the fact that women who love music are just as vital to the industry as men.
“The industry is gradually moving away from the stereotypical marketing imagery of the average guitarist being a long-haired male in full rock pose… to appeal more to both genders.”
But the music scene still has quite some way to go.
Chantel McGregor has been playing since she was three. Now in her early 30s, she is one of Britain’s best guitarists.
Currently on tour, she’s carved out a career in music, singing and performing blisteringly complicated electric guitar solos.
But when she was just 14, a major music label told her to switch to an acoustic because men might struggle to buy into her sound.
She said: “You can still go into a guitar shop in a dress and people go up to you and say ‘this is plectrum, do you know what one is?’ and I’m like ‘yes!’
“A lot of music manufacturers probably think it’s mainly men that they’re catering for but women want to spend money on things like guitars, not shoes and handbags or whatever it is we’re perceived to buy.”
Specialist music fanzine Ladyfuzz was born out of musician Lucinda Livingstone’s frustration over seeing lazy stereotypes.
The Kamikaze Girls vocalist and guitarist said: “When I was a kid I wasn’t introduced to guitar music that had females in it, I had to find that by myself and I don’t think it has to be like that.”
“Making things like press materials and advertising more friendly and more gender fluid would be way better. Not just having a picture of a guy with a guitar or a picture of a girl used in a sexual way to advertise music.
Reading and Leeds Festivals are on until 27 August.