Many sounds, many stories covered in new women in music documentary

Twenty five years ago, legendary musician Lindy Morrison (The Go-Betweens) filmed a documentary about women in the Australian music industry called ‘Australian Women in Rock and Pop Music’. In 2019 she shared the stage at new music festival and industry conference BIGSOUND in her hometown Brisbane with Claudia Sangiorgi Dalmore and Michelle Grace Hunter, the creators of their own film exploring a similar theme in a more contemporary Australian music scene. ‘Her Sound Her Story’ is a documentary exploring the personal experiences, histories and significant social impacts of women in the Australian music industry. After a successful cinematic release in 2018, ‘Her Sound Her Story’ has been released online. Blank GC asked Claudia about the some of the barriers facing women in Australian music.

Adding to sexism, women are up against the added layers of age discrimination, racism, body shaming, transgender bashing, antipodean disadvantage and whether or not you have a ‘triple J’ sound amongst other barriers. You’d have to be Wonder Woman to stick around the Australian music industry as a female musician wouldn’t you? 

It would seem like that when you write it down on paper. I often think that’s it in a women’s nature to forge through anything life throws at her. There’s certain kind of grace and endurance a lot of women are just born with. Yes, it’s a shame that in their journey they face more adversity. But part of the journey would also play a role in why when we see these“wonder women”out in the world there’s nothing quite like it to behold.

The statistics around gender ratios at Australian music festivals is pretty sobering. Festivals such as Splendour and Falls clearly need to be more proactive about gender parity when booking artists and putting women into later time slots. Should Australia have all female festivals such as Brandi Carlisle’s Girls Just Wanna, or Sarah McLaughlan’s Lilith Fair? 

Since we started the ‘Her Sound, Her Story’ project there’s been a lot more all female only line up and events. We even hosted a concert like this one for Melbourne music week and yes it was a sell out hit. I dare say that someone is in the background as I type this is conjuring up the very plan to make a festival like the three you mentioned above. I know I have thought about it!

Kathy McCabe and Claire Bowditch discuss women being pitted against each other and the need to not buy into it. However, if there are so few slots for women at music festivals, women need to be competitive to get them. How can female musicians be competitive enough to get the exposure yet remain supportive of each other’s work to advance the cause of recognition of women in music? 

I don’t think getting billed for music festival falls on the rivalry of two individual artists competing for the spot. These are bookers and festival directors making these decisions, big music businesses making business decisions. There’s a beautiful camaraderie amongst the female artists in Aus right now. Through making ‘Her Sound, Her Story’ we were lucky enough to be able to foster some these connections. Artists sharing each others music, going to gigs, buying each others records, it’s evident to see that helps to cultivate larger audiences for each other. The hugging, the togetherness , the community you witness in the film that is all real.

The paucity of women in senior management roles in record labels (only 28%) reflects the general corporate world. Does that mean that the music industry will only change when attitudes to women in the general population change? What incentive is there to accelerate change in their boardrooms? 

I think this is an interesting part of the conversation. Yes, we need more women in positions of powers, in the major decision-making roles. But we are not asking for just any women to fill these roles, we are asking for these women to be kind, thoughtful, well aware and somewhat of a feminist. In turn in these boardrooms we are not just changing quotas but we are appointing people, women who are actually attuned to the fundamental shifts needed for social and cultural change to begin.

In the film, Kate Ceberano says she is “thrilled that artists today are self-governed…autonomous and they don’t have anyone to answer to anyone for their creation…” That is only true to a degree isn’t it? Eventually female artists are going to have to face male-dominated music executives at record labels as they become more successful aren’t they? 

Not if they own their own label that they distribute their music through. The success of an artist is no longer solely defined by the major labels in the world. I applaud the generations like Kate’s who had no other way to forge carers other than to be signed to a major and then still come out proud of their careers and the choices that were made with and for them.

Petra Salsjo says “When I let the music lead the way, then all is equal”. Yet the film gives the impression it’s not really equal no matter how good a woman’s music is, is it? 

Petra speaks of her own outlook on how she doesn’t let gender slander her creative process. This is the same sentiment carried throughout a lot of the film’s conversation. The playing field may not feel equal, yet that is not something any of these artists let get in the way of making great art. All of the artists we spoke to are leading examples of forging on in the face of adversity.

One of the most moving parts of the film is when Okenyo talked about having a confidence dip then hearing a young girl’s comments about her favourite musician; “She’s brown like me.” Okenyo then comments that she realised she had to keep going. Mojo Juju says she doesn’t see herself reflected in the media that often and it’s nice to know that she might be that for someone else. Does being a female musician, especially a non-white, non-hetero, non-cisgender one, mean being a role model above being an artist? 

Not above anyone’s artistry but yes, by default a lot of artists are also role models. I’m sure you will hear them say sometimes that is tiresome and some days that it feels inspiring to be viewed as a role model. Being in the public eye of any description makes you a role model, whether you choose it or not. Buy default who we see on our screens, phones, in cinemas. The stories that are we are told, that’s who reflects our society.

Go to hersoundherstory.com to watch the documentary.

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