THIS year’s Battle of the Bands tournament was marked by an unsettling realization about the music scene on our campus. To the surprise of many, the four bands chosen to participate in Winterfest’s annual event were all male. This led to inevitable questions: where are all the female musicians, and why haven’t they been represented in one of our school’s high-profile musical events? We talked to three female musicians to get their take on diversity in the field.
Siobhan Scott and Morgan Zych are the founders of a recently formed punk band named Queen Blues. Scott is in her third year studying commerce, economics, and music history and culture, while Zych is studying immunology and genetics. They draw inspiration from bands such as Sonic Youth, Best Coast, Bikini Kill, and Cherry Glazerr.
According to them, there were no groups with female members at the Battle of the Bands, and there were no groups with female members that even auditioned in the first place. Scott mentioned that although this struck her as peculiar, it is reflective of “rock music in general, that rock bands are [typically] straight white guys.”
The comment is accurate; popular bands like Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes, Radiohead, The Killers, and Red Hot Chili Peppers are all male and often dominate the headlines of music festivals. Scott’s observation seems to describe the industry on a larger scale. According to fusion.net, 74 per cent of all bands performing in nine of 2015’s summer music festivals consisted entirely of male musicians. Last year, only seven per cent of Coachella’s line-up was composed of bands that had at least one female member.
Laura Yiu, one of the two front-women of U of T band These Lights took part in last year’s Battle of the Bands, where they won first place in the competition. She returned this year as a judge, and, like Zych and Scott, was struck by the fact that the bands consisted only of white men.
Yiu is in her fourth year of university studying music performance for jazz vocals. She was inspired by her father, the chairman of Toronto’s Chinese Orchestra, to pursue musical studies. She notes that “diversity has always been an issue in any artistic scene,” but that it seems almost anachronistic to be discussing the lack of female representation in music. Female artists like Taylor Swift and Beyoncé dominate Billboard’s Top 40 singles, yet this level of success rarely seems to extend beyond pop music.
Even in the university’s Faculty of Music, Yiu sees the lack of women in her class’ instrumental sections as problematic. She questions why one sees a disproportionate number of women studying voice instead of playing instruments and points out that when women are in bands, they rarely play instruments, such as the drums or the guitar.
Zych, a drummer, notes that her choice of instrument often surprises others. She says she feels pressure to prove that she’s genuinely passionate about music and drumming, and that it’s not just a “party trick.”
The three artists mention feeling “belittled” by their male counterparts. They say that at most performances they are hit on by men and are not recognized for their artistic abilities. Zych and Scott point out that they don’t see the same lack of representation at more casual performances like coffee houses and suggest this is because female artists don’t feel the same kind of pressures as they would in a more typical rock venue.
The interviews with the three musicians suggest that the lack of female representation in the music scene is, in part, due to a lack of confidence. This is perhaps caused by the feeling that they won’t be successful among their male counterparts. So what needs to change?
Zych, Yiu, and Scott agree that exposure is critical. Perhaps there’s a need for more female focused events that promote female musicians and their art. They also believe that there’s definitely a need for women to support other women that want to explore careers in music. Scott says, “Women need to know that they’re welcome; that being a woman and being a rock musician go hand in hand.”