Dear friends, something happened yesterday that I need to share with you.
I was having a really nice day. I’d been listening to the first mix of the first song from the new album I’ve been working on all year (it sounds MASSIVE), the sun was out – sort of – and one of my strawberry plants was finally bearing fruit. Gardening success! I was enjoying a fleeting moment of feeling a sense of accomplishment as a songwriter / producer / engineer, galvanised to keep on working to shape this new set of songs into something I’m excited to share.
I set off to collect my husband from the airport, looking forward to seeing him after a few days away, stopping off for excellent coffee at Girls Who Grind (inside Glitch in Old Market, highly recomemnded). It was just one of those lovely days where you feel you’re spending time on the right things in life, and the seeds you planted are starting to bear fruit, literally and figuratively.
And then something stopped me in my tracks.
Isn’t it funny how a six word email can simultaneously make you want to throw up, cry and smash something violently to pieces? Even, fleetingly, make you want to throw in the towel and admit defeat, give up on your lifelong dreams and say “okay world, you were fucking with me the whole time, if we’re honest, and I’ve finally had enough now – YOU WIN”.
Let me take you back a couple of months. With the very exciting news that very brilliant US band Skating Polly were inviting me to be their special guest for their European dates in October (joint headliner in the UK), I started looking into extending my European run of touring, going out earlier to play more gigs. I’ve toured Germany fairly extensively in the past, taking my solo show all around the country travelling on trains, coaches and, eventually, the autobahn. I love musical adventuring, and have had some wonderful experiences and made some firm friends gigging in this way.
I realised I hadn’t been out there since 2017 – time flies! – and thought it would be a shame to play just the four booked gigs, so I asked my tour friends for ideas. The man who booked my first ever Germany tour in 2014 suggested I try to get a support slot for a bigger artist playing in his town. The date made sense, and I was delighted to see that I was very familiar with this artist, having supported their music making for the last I don’t know how many years, buying their albums direct from @bandcamp (to ensure they get the most money possible) and actively sharing their work online.
A good support gig is the holy grail for artists like me. Do I get to play on a bill with someone whose music I love? Is there a decent chance their audience will like my stuff too? It’s rare when you operate independently to be offered plum supports that tick both those boxes, but not impossible – my gigging history shows what can happen if you’re proactive, sending polite emails to promoters / venues / artists / managers, showing your work in its best light and then turning up to deliver the goods.
So, it’s not at all unusual to contact an artist (or their agent), the promoter or the venue to see if there’s a possibility of filling a support slot. My friend contacted the venue for me, and we contacted the agent. I thought no more of it really, I don’t pin my hopes on individual events (a sure path to misery!) and am used to being told 1) the support slot is taken 2) there will be no support or 3) your music doesn’t fit / it’s not for us etc. No harm, no foul.
Last week my friend contacted me to say the venue had told him they like what I do but don’t think it would be a good fit for that night. What a shame, we said, as we (as objectively as possible) disagreed. Puzzled at this response, I decided to send a DM to the artist (as we’d been in touch briefly online before), because I’ve heard about so many instances of bands with agents or managers never hearing about requests like this, later saying if they’d known about the idea they’d have loved to make it happen. Their agent hadn’t written back yet either, so I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity, if there was one. Hi ____, I hope you’re well! I’m writing because I’m touring Germany/France/UK in October and am trying to set up a few extra dates before the currently booked dates. My friend suggested I try and support you in _____ at the end of September so my guy has reached out to your agent and the aforementioned friend reached out to the venue, who just got back to him saying they love my stuff but don’t think I would “fit”… I was just wondering if this is something you’d be up for, and if so perhaps I could discuss it with your agent? It would be amazing to play together! I’m touring Europe solo so would be on electric guitar and loops and stuff, I think it would fit brilliantly! Hope you’re super well x
Professional, friendly, not expecting anything…I didn’t hear anything back, but that’s also fine – that artist owes me nothing, it’s was just a casual request on the off-chance they don’t have anything sorted, I’m used to trying lots of angles and being knocked back. Two weeks later I told my friend I hadn’t heard anything and we started discussing other options. No biggie…UNTIL this six word email dropped into my life yesterday.
Six words that took my breath away, six words that made me choke up with angry tears while I was driving home from the airport, six words that mean I will be deleting every trace of this artist’s music from my collection, unfollowing them on all platforms and never supporting their work again. Six words that show such a lack of character and generosity of spirit that I can’t fathom how they can reconcile their career success with this outlook. Six words that are so tone deaf for the times that I’m scratching my head over the stupidity of writing them down in an email.
Are you ready for the six words?
“- – – – – – – prefers no female supports sorry…”
And the artist? Well, as a woman who has spent her entire career trying to share whatever platform I’ve managed to carve out for myself in a world where independent musicians have to make their own luck and build their careers brick by brick, I’m not in the business of tearing down another female artist. Yes, a WOMAN said that she doesn’t want other women on the bill.
I was immediately thrown back in time to my pop session days, where I’d be sent for auditions to make up fake bands for fresh faced singers. Or, more usually, I’d be asked if I was interested in auditioning for so-and-so, I’d say “yes please” and save a date and time, only to be informed that Appleton / Alesha Dixon / whoever else weren’t interested in hiring female musicians. It was annoying but way too normal.
It was brushed off as a “look” thing – the labels wanted to put together bands who looked a certain way and being female or a person of colour or having a mohican was considered “a look” by these people. Yep, awful! Other times I’d show up for auditions only to share the waiting area with 15 other blonde female bassists, my heart dropping as I entered the room. Being a blonde, female bassist was clearly “a look” to someone that day. It wasn’t just the miming bands either – some friends of mine played for a female pop artist whose music I really liked, and when I asked them to recommend me if her bassist was ever unavailable I was told it would never happen, because “she likes to be the Queen of the bus”.
Eventually I managed to fight through all this utter bullshit to get proper paid live bass work, occasionally miming on big TV shows of course, but knowing I was a valid, skilled member of the backing band. Still there would be problems – I was told by one manager he’d had to fight to keep me in the band after a TV appearance because the label were concerned about me stealing focus from the pop star. They were angry because the editor of the show had put too many closeups of me on screen (like that was anything to do with me), and made sure that never happened again. I eventually gave up on the whole session thing when I was replaced for a tour by email (with two weeks notice), after I’d been playing in a female artist’s band for a couple of months. “We want the vibe and sound of a boy on bass”, the email read.
Nine years on, I’m even more astonished to read words like that, and as a producer / solo artist working on her fifth album, it feels like a far bigger kick in the teeth than when I was a bassist for hire. To be told by someone I (used to) respect that all the hard work I’ve put into this project over the last decade means nothing because I’ve got a vagina is off the charts disgusting. Maybe everyone else who thinks this way is too clever to write it in an email, maybe I occasionally benefit from positive discrimination, maybe I don’t get the opportunities I would like because I don’t have representation. Don’t even get me STARTED on my experiences with sound engineers. I’ve said so many times that if someone’s being troublesome I prefer to approach the situation thinking they’re having a bad day than automatically assume they’re being sexist, but I’m often disappointed there too.
But wow, to be told that another female artist who surely has similar career tales to me to share is actively blocking women from live opportunities really makes me sick.
I’m not one for sharing every petty gripe on the internet – in fact, I called my second album “Little Battles” as a joke at my own expense, pointing out that whatever problems I thought I had, I was in a position of privilege and needed to acknowledge that – but this incident has been rolling around my head all morning and I want it OUT so I can move on and keep working on my new songs. My fifth album is nearing completion and that’s my priority, not yet-another-gig-I-didn’t-get-booHOO.
I’d like to take a moment to thank all the wonderful artists who’ve invited me to play with them over the years because they like the music I’ve made as a HUMAN. They didn’t book me BECAUSE I’m female, and more importantly, they didn’t NOT book me because I’m female. Music isn’t a meritocracy by any means (I so wish it was!), but it doesn’t have to be a spiteful, jealous fight to the death either.
Lastly, if you’re someone who’s overlooked me or someone else for music opportunities because of their genitals, their skin colour, their sexual orientation or because you’ve decided what they sound like / represent without bothering to listen, here’s a great big juicy FUCK YOU for you.
And fuck you – – – – – – – – – – – – -.
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