From the first glance it might seem like women are doing well in the music industry given the amount of power that artists like Beyonce and Lady Gaga have in the industry. However if you look at the statistics, women only made up about 21.7% of artists in general 1Kelley, Caitlin. “The Music Industry Still Has A Long Way To Go For Gender Equality.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, April 28, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/caitlinkelley/2019/02/06/music-industry-study-annenberg-gender-equality/?sh=4da03885f81f.. It is important to have representation in the music industry given how much it influences the public all over the world. Media affects how people see others and how they see themselves so if there is less representation then they may feel as if they are not as good as others or that they do not belong in that role compared to other people. While the data that 21.7% of artists are women shows the low representation, it gets even more drastic when talking about specific genres of music. For female composers, that number drops all the way down to 1.8% 2“By the Numbers: Female Composers.” Accessed December 7, 2020. https://www.bsomusic.org/stories/by-the-numbers-female-composers/. which is very close to the representation of female producers in the electronic dance music (EDM) industry as they only make up about 2.1% of all producers3Kelley, Caitlin. “The Music Industry Still Has A Long Way To Go For Gender Equality.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, April 28, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/caitlinkelley/2019/02/06/music-industry-study-annenberg-gender-equality/?sh=4da03885f81f.. This paper will be talking about the representation of women in the EDM industry and how it can be improved upon.
History of EDM
To start off, we should talk about how the current mainstream forms of EDM came to be. Technically, things that could be considered as experimental EDM sounds can be found all the way back in the 1900s and if you want to then you can go look at this page that breaks down all the genres and places them in a timeline by emergence of that genre of EDM. However, in the 1970s is when the beginnings of what we know as EDM today is formed. House music, one genre of EDM, originated from Chicago, IL at an African-American gay club by DJ Frankie Knuckles. Along with Detroit techno which was pioneered by Juan Atkins, these two genres started off the rise in EDM 4“Electronic Dance Music.” Accessed December 7, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/art/electronic-dance-music.. Both of these show that the roots of EDM was forged by marginalized communities but has been transformed and dominated by straight white males. Moving forward to the 1980s, this is when EDM started racking up popularity in Europe and got its reputation of being associated with drugs, specifically MDMA (ecstasy, E, molly), through one summer party in Ibiza5“Electronic Dance Music.” Accessed December 7, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/art/electronic-dance-music.. Eventually in the 1990s-2000s, the rave scene, which is what a dance party with EDM playing is called, became widespread in the U.S.. At this point, if you have listened to the radio and/or kept up with mainstream music in the past couple of years then you would know of some popular EDM artists such as Calvin Harris, Skrillex, Marshmello, David Guetta, etc. They have dominated the EDM charts and made the mix into pop music as well. It is kind of interesting to see how much EDM has changed and evolved throughout the years, while the consumers are diverse, the producers are not.
Stereotypes of Women
As said before, there is barely any representation of women in the technical and producer roles in the music industry. In the top 150 clubs, the amount of female DJs per year that play there is 6% and in 2019, only 5 of the top 100 DJs were female 6“Underplayed.” Accessed December 7, 2020. https://www.underplayedthefilm.com/.. Let us take a look into the possibilities as to why there is such a low representation of females in this industry. The big overarching idea that accounts for the lack of women is probably due to stereotypes. As we have seen in the multiple readings in class, it was uncommon for women to be in the spotlight and be on stage performing in front of others. Instead, they were meant to play in the house where it is private and not show off their talents to the public. This can be seen with Mozart’s sister as she also played the piano and went on tour when she was younger. After that, all the attention went to Mozart as his sister was getting to the age where she could not be shown to the public eye in that way. It is totally possible that she could have reached the same levels of Mozart given her talents but she was held back from progressing due to the thought that women should be at home and entertain in the private sector not the public. Along the same line, the term “girling” that we saw from Solie’s “Girling” at the Parlor Piano can be seen with Mozart’s sister taking the responsibility of what it means to be a girl at home instead of playing music for the people all over the world since she is more needed at home than out there according to the social practices back then 7Ruth A. Solie, “Girling at the Parlor Piano,” in Music in Other Words: Victorian Conversations (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004), pp. 85-117.. Even though that was centuries ago, it is still relevant today since the way that the past played out significantly impacts how the present turns out. This idea that the roles that women are meant to play are domestic made it so that men had an advantage to explore more creative outlets compared to women. Since women did not have the opportunities to explore music the way men have, it makes sense that men would dominate the music charts. This is especially true for EDM since you also now add in that aspect of technology instead of using an actual physical instrument. You can loosely connect this to the STEM field and how there is also a low representation of women in the STEM field which is why there have been all sorts of initiatives and push for more diverse representation within the field. The topic of computers and electronics are associated with men rather than women so less women are likely to go into a field that deals with those items. Given how expensive it is to be a DJ since the equipment is costly, it makes sense that less women would want to try experimenting with it because of the financial responsibilities that come with it. Not only that but learning how to use the equipment can be confusing for someone new to the scene. You can connect this to Eliot’s Middlemarch with the idea that teaching girls is too taxing and/or would make them rebel 8Eliot, George. Middlemarch. Köln: Könemann, 1997.. If you search on youtube “how to DJ”, the top videos that show up are of males except for the series that the EDM artist Alison Wonderland posted.
I think that this is a great way for her to connect with her fans and/or people who are interested in becoming a DJ. It’s a way for other females to see her and be inspired to learn about this skill when they might not have felt like they belong in that scene. These long held stereotypes of what women should and should not do have impacted the way music is right now and the reason why there are not as many women in the industry.
Highlighting Women in EDM
Since we’ve established that there is a problem in the lack of female artists, the next step is to bring awareness to it. I think that the documentary Underplayed is a great way to get a feel for the problems that these female DJs and producers face. The trailer brings up different issues and how the artists themselves feel about it.
One of the artists that I’ll be talking about is Krewella. They formed back in 2007 in Chicago and originally were sisters, Yasmine and Jahan, along with Jahan’s boyfriend at the time Kris Trindl (Rain Man). After a couple of years, Kris was no longer part of the group because he had problems with drugs and alcohol and would pretend to DJ during shows 9“Krewella Biography, Discography, Chart History.” Accessed December 8, 2020. https://top40-charts.com/artist.php?aid=14456. Once Kris left, there were a lot of previous fans who did not want to listen to Krewella anymore because they believed that Kris was the one producing everything. It was not just fans that thought this, but also well-known Canadian producer deadmau5. It’s one thing to be pushed down by your fans because of your gender but it’s another to hear it from a popular male artist in your industry who has influential power. In response to all of this, they made a music video for their song “Bitch of the Year” back in 2018.
You might be able to notice that in the background, there are flashing images of men who have been accused of misogyny and/or sexual harassment. Deadmau5 was actually in the first version of the video; however, he threatened to sue them for using his picture so they made a new one without his image.
Another artist is Alison Wonderland, whom I’ve mentioned earlier. She is a producer from Sydney, Australia and released her debut single in 2013 10Jeffries, David. “Alison Wonderland: Biography & History.” Accessed December 8, 2020. https://www.allmusic.com/artist/alison-wonderland-mn0001868950/biography.. In 2018, she was #96 on DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJ list along with being Coachella’s highest paid female DJ in history 11Newstead, Al. “Alison Wonderland on Being the Highest Billed Female DJ in Coachella History,” April 16, 2018. https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/news/musicnews/alison-wonderland-highest-billed-coachella-history/9662370.. She doesn’t generally like to speak about being a female in the industry but she has said that “I’m an artist. I’m not a female artist. I’m a woman and I’m proud of being a woman and I love being a woman. But my art doesn’t have a gender and it never has” 12Staff, MTV News. “How Women In EDM Are Fighting Sexism With Success,” August 15, 2019. http://www.mtv.com/news/3135331/women-in-edm-fighting-sexism-gg-magree-lp-giobbi-alison-wonderland/.. This goes back to “girling” and how we assign genders to everything when in reality things like music and art are gender neutral. One of the things I’ve noticed with her is that she sometimes brings real instruments onto her set shown in the video below (from 2:50-4).
Not a lot of DJs do this and I feel like it brings in some intimacy into the set which may be a reason why they typically don’t do this. To go along with that, we talked about the sound-body dichotomy before in class and this relates since EDM can be classified as a lower class of music given that it is dance music, especially since dance is in the name of the genre. I think it is interesting to see the difference between the performances of male and female DJs. Their stage presence and actions I feel like pushes the distinction between male and females even more. The next two videos will be performances from Kayzo, an American DJ/producer, and Alison Wonderland.
As you can see in the first video, Kayzo definitely has some bigger movements and more energy packed behind his actions while Alison’s stage presence is smaller with less energy but more emotion. They both embody this sound-body dichotomy but it seems to be more like the male DJs have more physical responses to their music while female DJs have more mental and emotional responses to their music.
In conclusion, the low representation of females in EDM has made it harder for other females to pursue it as a career or even a hobby, but there has been some progress being made towards being more inclusive. It all starts with noticing that there is an issue and then making it known in order to figure out how to fix the problem.
|↑1, ↑3||Kelley, Caitlin. “The Music Industry Still Has A Long Way To Go For Gender Equality.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, April 28, 2019. https://www.forbes.com/sites/caitlinkelley/2019/02/06/music-industry-study-annenberg-gender-equality/?sh=4da03885f81f.|
|↑2||“By the Numbers: Female Composers.” Accessed December 7, 2020. https://www.bsomusic.org/stories/by-the-numbers-female-composers/.|
|↑4||“Electronic Dance Music.” Accessed December 7, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/art/electronic-dance-music.|
|↑5||“Electronic Dance Music.” Accessed December 7, 2020. https://www.britannica.com/art/electronic-dance-music.|
|↑6||“Underplayed.” Accessed December 7, 2020. https://www.underplayedthefilm.com/.|
|↑7||Ruth A. Solie, “Girling at the Parlor Piano,” in Music in Other Words: Victorian Conversations (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2004), pp. 85-117.|
|↑8||Eliot, George. Middlemarch. Köln: Könemann, 1997.|
|↑9||“Krewella Biography, Discography, Chart History.” Accessed December 8, 2020. https://top40-charts.com/artist.php?aid=14456|
|↑10||Jeffries, David. “Alison Wonderland: Biography & History.” Accessed December 8, 2020. https://www.allmusic.com/artist/alison-wonderland-mn0001868950/biography.|
|↑11||Newstead, Al. “Alison Wonderland on Being the Highest Billed Female DJ in Coachella History,” April 16, 2018. https://www.abc.net.au/triplej/news/musicnews/alison-wonderland-highest-billed-coachella-history/9662370.|
|↑12||Staff, MTV News. “How Women In EDM Are Fighting Sexism With Success,” August 15, 2019. http://www.mtv.com/news/3135331/women-in-edm-fighting-sexism-gg-magree-lp-giobbi-alison-wonderland/.|