By: Juliette Shipp
The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music
As a woman in the music industry, I know that my experience is completely different than that of a man. As both a musician and prospective industry personnel, I have experienced firsthand how I am treated differently as a direct result of my femininity. One would THINK that in the year 2016, us musicians would have risen above the antiquated attitude of misogyny… WRONG!
From my personal experience, the music industry, especially the jazz scene, has become a “Boy’s Club” more than ever. Jazz music and its’ scene has always had an elitist attitude associated with it. Jazz musicians tend to be more critical of not only the music itself but also its’ musicians and composers. Paired with the overly critical eye of jazz is a longstanding, pernicious attitude which we call the “chick singer mentality”.
In essence, the “chick singer mentality” is a general thought that female singers and musicians in general know very little to nothing about music and are significantly less talented and capable than male musicians.
However, in an industry dominated by male musicians, it can easily feel as though there is a proverbial brick wall at every turn! Musicians like Ella Fitzgerald, Dianne Reeves, Fiona Apple, Carol King, Cyndi Lauper, Sara Bareilles, and so many more have proven this thought to be wrong time and time again. However, this attitude still persists. Why? In her interview at NPR Jazz, Andrea Wolper states it perfectly that “the jazz music genre has historically been skewed toward macho” (Wolper, NPR Jazz). This means that to destroy this mentality against women in jazz is also to flip an age-old paradigm on its head. Not an easy task.
As a jazz vocalist myself, I have been faced with this negative attitude directly. I have been condescended to and almost always assumed to be just another girl without a clue. However, things started to change for me when I decided that the only way to combat this treatment was to work harder and earn the respect that I deserve. It has become a goal of mine to defy this “chick singer mentality”. By obtaining a music degree and making absolutely sure that I am always prepared and knowledgeable about everything piece of music I perform or produce I have been able to earn respect. Vocalist Libby York adds that “Overcoming the stereotype of being a ‘chick singer’ demands that I be even more on top of things than other band members.” Although it is clearly unfair and unjust that women are required to work harder to gain basic respect from other male musicians, this is a factor that us women in music face constantly.
The cure? Educate yourself ladies and always be prepared. Never give a male musician any reason to feel as though your position on the band- stand would better filled by a male. Vocalists in particular, you must always know your keys, prepare your music, and be confident to count off and end a song as the strong, independent leader that you are. With knowledge and preparation, we can even the playing field between men and women and finally put an end to the musical patriarchy!
Check out this article that asks women directly about their experiences in music: http://www.npr.org/sections/ablogsupreme/2010/11/12/131276820/hey-ladies-being-a-woman-in-jazz