This Woman’s Work: a panel discussion on women in the music industry

On Tuesday evening, March 7,  DU Alternative Music Society (DUAMS) hosted an all-female panel of musicians and music industry professionals to discuss the role of women is the music industry. The panelists included Faye O’Rourke (Little Green Cars), MayKay (Fight Like Apes), Jess Kav (BARQ), Angela Doogan (CEO First Music Contact) and Nadine O’Regan (DJ Today FM).

The discussion opened with O’Regan reminiscing on her time spent in Trinity as a student. She praised societies like DUAMS that provided her with “the chance to go forward and fail.. and get better”. She continued to talk about her interest in philosophy and the idea that you can be who you want to be, and that circumstances do not dictate who you are. However, she noted that following from her time at Trinity, as a woman she has found that this has not continued to be the case.

Maykay continued along this thread, touching on the pressure women experience in the music industry to sexualise and objectify themselves, affirming that, “I was never concerned with looking pretty. I liked looking dramatic”. It appeared the pressure to be “desirable” was a shared experience among the those on the panel. Kav explained “you’re perceived as a decoration”, with Faye recalling meeting a representative of Universal who initially asked her “do you like to play dress up?”.

Alluding to the consequences of such pressure, Faye revealed how she became self-conscious, valuing things like her appearance and desirability over her talent. MayKay had a similar experience at a photoshoot where her body had be sprayed to enhance her appearance, while her male bandmate posed behind her with tomato ketchup on his shirt. She offered some words of reassurance to the crowd, however, emphasizing that “Vulnerability can be beautiful; powerful aggression, channeled in the right way, can be beautiful”.

The other women agreed as Faye commented on her first impressions of the industry, and particularly the lack of eye contact. Angela Doogan recalled professionals looking around the room for” literally anyone with a penis to talk to instead of me”.

The need for women in this industry to prove themselves is an obstacle that the panel agreed is exclusive to their gender, but were keen to acknowledge the fact that no male-bashing is intended with this statement. Interestingly, Doogan admitted that the best feminists she knows are her brothers, thought she warned anyone aspiring to go into the industry that there are certainly some darker elements you may fall victim to, referencing that you may be felt up in the mosh pit -” because what were you doing in the mosh-pit anyway?”. She remarked, “There are snakes out there”.

The overwhelming message of this discussion was a strong one: even in an industry that inherently encourages freedom of expression, women are constantly being restricted. The panel urged that people take responsibility in becoming gender-aware, not questioning one of Ireland’s most successful female singer/songwriters on why she’s buying a jack-to-jack, not assuming that the women on the tour bus must be groupies or that if a female vocalist asks for more reverb it is because she thinks it’s “like lipstick for [her] vocal chords”.

In an industry where you “might not see a female face in a working day”, strong female role models are needed. Thankfully, this particular industry is not lacking in that area.