Do you remember the moment you realized how male-dominated the music industry is? From a casual fan’s perspective, the gender balance seems pretty even: Beyoncé (who grossed USD $105 million in 2017), Adele, Taylor Swift and Céline Dion all seem to be doing pretty well for themselves.
However, the household names are only the tip of the iceberg. The women submerged under, from local artists, to managers, to company owners, are still dealing with varying degrees of backwards thinking, assumptions, and ignorance from men in the industry.
Joining me on this project is an accomplished music blogger with her finger on the pulse of the live scene in Leeds, UK, Sal Wilcox from Sounds Of An Eccentric. While writing gig reviews, Sal began making waves by openly discussing a music festival using affirmative action, and a venue that refuses to let female-fronted bands play.
This article takes a dozen or so common situations women go through in their daily hustle, and features our suggestions of how to handle these moments with class and self-respect. Some situations are funny and casual, others are serious.
Note: “women” in the context of this article just refers to anyone who does not identify as male. We’re obviously inclusive of trans, gender-queer and a-gender music industry professionals, who have more than enough to deal with as it is. Feel free to insert a different pronoun or reimagine details of situations so that you can relate and find a better solution. This is about you.
Live Situation: You show up at your gig load-in with your guitar case, and a bar regular exclaims in all seriousness “is your boyfriend really making you carry his instruments inside? That’s not very gentleman-like!” (Bonus Points if he adds “I’m such a Nice Guy™; I would never make you do that.”)
What Not To Do: Be intimidated and downplay the professionalism of your work.
What Would Sal Do? Laugh it off and tell him it’s your guitar and that you can manage it. Yes it’s a condescending comment, but it’s not meant to be malicious. Sometimes you’ve got to pick your battles.
What Would Clara Do? Go onstage and be amazing. Revel in the regulars’ dropped jaws as your fans cheer so loudly it drowns out the football game on the bar TV.
Sales Situation: After spending months saving up and reading reviews, you confidently walk into your local musical instrument store to purchase a quality piece of gear. The sales associate, who had the very simple task of climbing up on a ladder and operating the cash register, looks you up and down before inexplicably trying to steer you towards something lower-budget.
What Not To Do: Meekly purchase a pink, 3/4 size acoustic guitar, go in and return it the next day and apply the store credit to the $2000 bass you originally came in for.
What Would Sal Do? Tell their manager – since when was being rude to customers a good sales technique? Just be confident in yourself and don’t let people walk all over you.
What Would Clara Do? Politely but firmly stand your ground. You know what you came in for, and if they want your business (and a commission cheque), they should let you lead the sale. Don’t hesitate to walk out empty handed and buy from their competitor if you have to.
Live Situation: You’re in the middle of a performance and a group of drunk men are heckling you.
What Not To Do: Let it affect your performance. Leave the venue in tears after.
What Would Sal Do? If they’re making inappropriate comments, then ask the staff or security to kick them out. If they’re just being generally rude, then shake it off and up your performance.
What Would Clara Do? Ignore them. If things get bad (they try getting onstage, throwing physical objects, shoving loyal fans), signal security or the club bouncer to take care of them. You’re here for your supportive fans, give them an awesome experience at your show.
Personal Relationship Situation: This guy you’re talking to is overly impressed by a woman having career ambitions. Like, he’s just going on and on about how rare it is to meet a women with a clear goal in life.
What Not To Do: Let his assumptions affect the way you view yourself.
What Would Sal Do? Explain to him why that comment isn’t cool. There’s no point being aggressive with people because then you just look jaded. Discussion is a vital part of social change. If he can’t understand why that’s patronizing, then there’s plenty other fish in the sea!
What Would Clara Do? Quickly add in how much you love being around babies, talk about your Pinterest wedding board, and how you’re just doing this music industry thing until you find a husband who will support you as you fulfill your real lifelong ambition of selling pyramid scheme beauty products to other suburban housewives.
Online Situation: Your professional online profiles are being littered with comments (positive or negative) about your appearance, as opposed to your actual talent, intelligence and competencies.
What Not To Do: Take the negative comments to heart, try to take advantage of social media engagement algorithms by posting sexier photos when that makes you uncomfortable.
What Would Sal Do? There’s not a lot you can do to stop comments like this. Obviously delete any comments that make you uncomfortable. You can’t control how people react to you and your work. Just work hard and show the world what you’re capable of.
What Would Clara Do? Delete and/or report the creepy ones. The more polite ones can stay, reply to them with a humble thank you, and add on something that subtly steers the thread back towards your brains and achievements.
Interview Situation: A journalist asks how you are going to go on tour after you have kids (when you haven’t ever mentioned having or wanting children).
What Not To Do: Give a serious, thoughtful answer.
What Would Sal Do? Reply with a blunt: “that’s very presumptuous of you” and leave it at that.
What Would Clara Do? Talk about your cat as if she’s your child.
Personal Relationship Situation: A businessman you’ve just met offers to buy you lunch or drinks. If you want to work in the music industry, networking is essential. However, you’ve also got to stay safe.
What Not To Do: Take the free gifts at face value and automatically trust him.
What Would Sal Do? Meet in a public place and tell a friend where you are in case anything bad happens. That being said, it could just be a nice gesture so don’t live in fear.
What Would Clara Do? If you’ve got enough time, Google him. See if you’ve got any mutual connections. Take a look at who they are. If they’re all young female singers, run. If you both know some reputable people in the industry that you trust, go for it, but stay cautious and wear shoes you can run in.
Trust your instincts. If you are going to accept a drink, don’t leave it unattended – bring it to the bathroom if you must. Know that if he offered you a meal without clearly stating a catch, you don’t owe him anything. If you aren’t driving there, install a taxi app on your phone so that you can leave at any point, or let a close friend with a car know where you are and ask if they can hang out in the area to barge in if things go sour.
Workplace Situation: A male music industry professional of your age/seniority level accuses you of only getting opportunities due to affirmative action, feminine charm, or you sleeping your way up.
What Not To Do: Smile sweetly. Flip your hair and walk away like a BO$$.
What Would Sal Do? I’d actually do the ‘what not to do’! There’s always going to be people who want to put you down but you can’t let it get to you.
What Would Clara Do? Ignore him. Remind yourself that you’ve earned all your success through hard work. Know that this is a common occurrence in male-dominated fields, and you aren’t alone. Try reaching out to fellow women in the music industry to share stories and empower each other.
Live Situation: The house sound engineer ignores your set-up requests or doesn’t take them seriously.
What Not To Do: Let him do it his way. Sure, he doesn’t know the quirks of your gear the way you do, but he probably has a good reason for tearing up your stage plot.
What Would Sal Do? Ask politely for him to listen to your requests. It could be due to the venue, so don’t be a diva. If he is just being obnoxious then avoid working with them again in the future.
What Would Clara Do? If you’ve got an official rider, that’s a legally binding contract between you and the talent buyer. The stage plot must be followed or else you’re allowed to walk out without playing and still get paid.
If it’s a smaller show or bar gig without a rider, your best move is to politely but firmly stand your ground and insist on how you want your instruments mic’ed and such. Your fans are paying to come hear your sound.
Workplace Situation: A colleague condescendingly tries to mansplain how you should do the job you were hired for based on your impressive qualifications and expertise in this field.
What Not To Do: Politely listen, play dumb so that he feels helpful.
What Would Sal Do? Interrupt him in a joking manner and politely say you know what you’re doing. Don’t be rude as that just damages your reputation, but be assertive and confident enough to stand up for yourself and other women.
What Would Clara Do? Interrupt and tell him that you are familiar with this, and that you’d feel so bad if he took time out of doing his own job to try being helpful in vain.
Online Situation: You have receive serious threats and fear for your safety from internet trolls.
What Not To Do: Let it slide. Don’t do anything about it.
What Would Sal Do? Take screenshots and show the police. Don’t let people terrorize you.
What Would Clara Do? Report to social media platform for hate speech, violent threats, or any other category they fit in. Report to police. Try to have all comments with compromising personal information (home address, for example) removed permanently. Block the user.
Live Situation: “So, what does your boyfriend think about you playing gigs in bars late at night?”
What Not To Do: “Actually, I’m single.” Wink.
What Would Clara Do? “Seeing as it’s my way of paying rent…” Wink.
What Would Sal Do? I’d probably say both of those things! Men get comments like that too and it’s a fair point if said in the appropriate context.
Serious Situation: You’ve been sexually assaulted by an older man in a position of power over you.
What Not To Do: Stay quiet, allowing it happen to you again and to other women around you.
What Would Sal Do? Report it; sexual assault has no place in 2018. Talk about it with a loved one or professional if it’s affecting you. Don’t be a silent victim and don’t blame yourself for what happened.
What Would Clara Do? Or rather, this is what I did when I was a victim of workplace sexual assault by my then-manager. I filed a police report first, then reported it to Human Resources. They took me seriously and fired him. I got to keep my job. He was banned from the establishment with an emergency protocol put in place in case he ever showed up or tried to contact us.
Unfortunately, this is not the case with everyone who has ever or will ever go through an experience like this. I’m not going to give a blanket, one-size-fits-all guide to something as serious as being a victim of sexual assault, so here is a list of free resources to professionals who can help you with your individual situation and all the factors in your life that need to be considered for you to make the best decision.
Award Show Situation: A loud-mouthed rapper interrupts your moment of glory by rushing the stage at an awards show and yanking the microphone out of your hands.
What Not To Do: Drag it out in the media for years, cumulating in an album whose lead single goes “Ooh / Look What You Made Me Do / Look What You Made Me Do / Look What You Just Made Me Do / Look What You Made Me Do*”
* Individual results may vary.
If you can relate, or have your own stories and suggestions, write to us! Please consider sharing this article, to teach and empower others. You rock!
ABOUT SAL WILCOX
Sal Wilcox is a journalist and music blogger based in Newcastle and Leeds, UK.
Currently studying Journalism at Leeds Beckett University, Sal is the President of the Journalism Society and head of the student radio and podcast. She also writes content for the University website, Leeds Hacks.
When not writing, one will probably find Sal in a micro-pub with a craft ale or G&T in hand or at a market looking for a weird and wonderful bargain.