I didn’t realize that I was the only woman in the room. That’s just how it is – we’ve become so used to it. It didn’t click until, as we were walking into his office, a powerful music exec said that he would make sure to “bring some girls in the room.” Unsurprisingly, he never did. Afterwards, it was clear to me how misogynistic the music industry was – how it still is – and how the men at the top are acutely aware of it. We’re still “girls” to them. We’re on the outside, unless they invite us in. As a female, I’m terrified of the industry – because of my age, because I’m a mother, because I’m a wife. None of these things are issues for men.
In addition to feeling the need to prove ourselves, women in the music industry are also accustomed to having our looks prioritized. A male exec has never commented on my music without first commenting on my appearance. In my first management meeting, a well-known manager said to me, “If I looked like you, I’d be taking photos of myself all the time.” Sometimes I naively interpret that sort of thing as a compliment, but in reality, it’s a “checkbox.”
What’s more, I’ve also felt like people doubt if I am serious, or if I really “want it” because I am a mother. The idea that a career in music might not be as much of a priority for me as it is for a man, even though many have kids themselves, is absurd. Will there be a time when female artists who are ‘exceptions’ become the norm? Maybe this an archaic definition of ‘making it,’ which I need to stop measuring myself against. If so, where else should I look?
“Earlier this year we had a thirty-one week streak with no woman at number one.”
Recently, I’ve been trying to write down my business and life goals for the next ten years. I’ve looked up every female artist, searching for women with the kind of success I want and analyzing how they got there. For many of them, it’s hard not to attribute their success to their youth, their sex appeal, or who they’re associated with. But, on the other hand, I can go look up any male artist who is achieving at the moment, and they’re all over the map. They’re not all young, beautiful, or under the wing of another achieving male.
Yes, there are obvious exceptions, but that’s exactly what they are – exceptions! And even these women aren’t consistently topping the charts. Earlier this year we had a thirty-one week streak with no woman at number one. Given the amount of talented women in the industry, it feels a bit off. Is it just a coincidence, given almost every gatekeeper is male? I’ve read a slew of articles this past year about companies making an effort to be more diversified and gender-balanced. But how long will it be until this takes effect at the top level?
It’s hard to have hope when the meeting ends with, “Let’s open the door so the ‘girls’ can hear.” So, what I really want to know is: Can you make it in the music industry as a female artist if you aren’t young, unattached, society’s definition of beautiful, and are unwilling to sign your life over to major labels that are dominated by men? I guess I’m about to find out…
Ella Vos is an indie pop singer and songwriter based in Los Angeles. She is set to release her deeply personal debut album titled Words I Never Said on November 17. Her music has an explicit political and feminist angle, touching on taboo subjects like postpartum depression (“White Noise”), abortion and women’s reproductive rights (“You Don’t Know About Me”), and messages of hope and empowerment.