In choosing to pursue the former resolution, that being to challenge the barricades which are poised before you, there are two distinct methods one can undertake: 1) to bulldoze through the front gates with weapons a-blazing or 2) to unassumingly gain entry through the backdoor and to change things from the inside out. Of these two strategies, though I’m all for putting up a strong front, in the business world, it is the savvy and perceptive individual who is able to recognize that the latter plan of attack will bring into fruition the most desirable results.
Though the “sexism-fighting” contributions of popular artists such as Sarah Mclachlan and Shiragirl with their Lilith Fair and all girls Warped Tour stage respectively, are commendable and have worked to carve out niches for female artists in performance venues, neither endeavour did much in the way of shaking up the industry’s male-dominated infrastructure. At the end of the day, these artists were still left playing within a man’s game. Further, often times, in-your-face efforts, such as these, have perpetuated negative “man-hating” (and lesbian) feminist stereotypes, rather than actually addressing the real issues that feminists fight for: those being; equal access and rights for all, irrespective of race, gender, or any other minority difference. Consequently, over the years, as one can imagine, the fem rocker has garnered what Joan Jett refers to as a bit of a “bad reputation”.
Taking note of their own industry battles as former “rockstars-in-the-making” and learning from efforts such as those aforementioned, three fiery ladies from the US recognized that change needed to work with, not in obstruction of the prevailing music marketplace. Frowning upon cattiness, and instead, encouraging female friendly communities and collaboration, the real forces behind a move towards ending gender discrimination in the music biz are unsung business women: Tish Ciravolo, founder of DaisyRock Guitars, the first ever guitar manufacturer to specialize in creating lightweight and manoeuvrable instruments with female physiology in mind, Carla DeSantis, creator of RockRGrl Magazine, a national music rag strictly devoted to featuring female rockers as its name suggests, and in fact, the very first of its kind, and finally, Madalyn Sklar, the brains behind the online female artist community, GoGirlsMusic, which assists artists in establishing networks, generating exposure, and obtaining performance placements at some of the world’s top annual music conferences. Not only have these three women managed to gain greater respect and recognition for “chicks with picks”, but as well, they have empowered females not to be afraid to pick up an electric and rock it with the best of them. For my final instalment on sexism in the biz, I was lucky enough to catch up with all three of these inspiring women. Below is a compilation of some of our significant points of discussion:
When asked whether they still felt sexism was still a relevant issue facing contemporary female musicians, Tish, Carla, and Madalyn responded in unison with a resounding yes. Though they all agreed that the indie market allows for more freedoms, and acceptance, amongst the majors, the beliefs concerning how to market women artists, in their eyes, have remained relatively unchanged, and the ever increasing global conglomeration of these labels is only making the problem worst.
In Sklar’s view, the male label reps aren’t interested in taking on anyone that is over 21, and unwilling to market herself as a sex kitten. However, she believes, that the labels aren’t exclusively at fault. In fact, Sklar contends that female artists, often just as much as the male reps, buy into the “sex sells” mantra, and consequently, it’s proving more difficult to disrupt than one would have hoped. But, this is not to say that a woman shouldn’t embrace her sexuality and be proud to flaunt it like Madonna. All three ladies, admittedly, purport Ms. Ciccone as being highly influential, and groundbreaking in terms of her business skill and staying power. The difference, as DeSantis points out, “is that you know that Madonna is in charge – she’s not anyone’s puppet.” On that note, all three ladies chimed in that the most important thing for any artist, whether male, female, independent, or major, is to remain true to themselves, stay positive, and to listen to their inner critics.
As for the business side of things in the music biz, Carla and Tish offered their own personal examples as corroboration that sexism is still alive and kicking. When the first issues of RockRGrl were launched, DeSantis explained, that it was automatically assumed that the magazine was aimed at the gay community, and was anti-men. In fact, some female rockers outright refused to be interviewed because they didn’t want this sort of association hanging over their heads. Likewise, when DaisyRock introduced its product line, Ciravolo received a seemingly unending mountain of hate mail that blasted her for having the “ridiculous” idea that girls should have their own instruments. Seven years later (and after a great deal of success I might add), she quips that the very guitar companies that criticized and lauded her for conveying the myth of the pink guitar have now ripped off her ideas…Go figure. But enough of an introduction:
The point behind these stories that I want to emphasis is this: rather than dwelling on the adversity that each of them has had to overcome due to their visionary efforts, Tish, Carla, and Madalyn’s dialogues were full of hope, strength, sincerity, and compassion; skills that are praiseworthy for both rockstars and corporate suits alike.
Though eradicating sexism (and building a female-friendly music community in doing so) is clearly at the forefront of each of their enterprises, Tish, Carla and Madalyn’s efforts expand to encompass helping all independent artists by offering up the knowledge that they’ve acquired from their own experiences. As spokeswomen at several important music festivals, all three women are concerned additionally with the bigger issue at hand: that of the crumbling music industry. But, instead of evaluating the music biz’s current climate of illegal downloading and industry corruption as a downfall, Sklar believes that the “music industry has been headed down the independent, do‑it‑yourself route for sometime now, and [with the changes that are being forced to take place], the playing field is becoming increasingly levelled each day - you don’t [necessarily] need a label to get noticed anymore.” For Sklar, it’s an exciting time to be an indie artist, and though the future of the music industry’s infrastructure is uncertain, both Tish and Carla agree that music will always be around, with or without the bigwigs. To this, DeSantis adds, that essentially the record labels are getting their just desserts: “they pissed off their consumers by demanding that we buy expensive albums that only contain one or two tracks that we actually care about. The labels didn’t work with what the customers wanted and now there’s a karmic debt to be paid.”
As evident by this statement, DeSantis clearly feels that the major labels’ lust for capital has been the most detrimental force in deconstructing the industry. She went on to note that the fact that contracts in which artists are only entitled to a mere 2% of their albums’ takings, yet are required to entirely fund their own touring operations, can exist, acts as further evidence supporting this assertion.
For Ciravolo, the biggest sin ever committed against artists by the corporate music biz falls into related territory: that being, the lack of regard for artistic development and creative growth. In her view, we’ve gotten to a point where musical talent and/or merit are not considered prerequisites to superstardom. It’s become all about pre-packaged marketing ploys meant to play to the lowest common denominator, and generate a quick buck.
However, in saying all of this, DeSantis is quick to reiterate that, “the industry sucks, but it has always sucked, and the key to success is simply to find likeminded, trustworthy individuals, and to build your own community of support.” She was also adamant about explaining that due to the current predicament with which the music industry is entangled, “complaining about how bad things are for women is like trying to save the people on the 4th floor of a building that is on fire. The system is so broken and in flux that it is not necessarily any worse for women than men [in the grand scheme of things]. Everyone is facing a hard time [which can definitively] be routed to bad business practises.”
As some final offerings of advice for the aspiring artist, Sklar encourages to not be afraid to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way, and Ciravolo endorses being proud and confident of your art, however “un-mainstream” it may be.
In closing, it’s interesting to consider that all three of my interview subjects were unable to name just one female in rock history whom they deemed as being the most influential which indicates to me that they are tons of great examples out there, you may just have to dig a little deeper. In my opinion, this makes perfect sense, because if life’s taught me anything, it’s that things that are the most rewarding, fulfilling, and worthwhile never are obtained without a challenge. In relaying the views of these three rather impressive ladies, I hope to leave you with the promising thought of a future in which musicianship is judged purely based on one’s talent, and nothing more. I know that this is a goal these women and others are working towards; and an admirable one at that.
Rose Cora Perry is the frontwoman for Canadian hard rock band ANTI-HERO known as “The 21st Century Answer to Nirvana”, as well as the sole owner and operator of HER Records, a management company in which she offers marketing, promotion, publicity, tour booking, and artist development services.
Her band ANTI-HERO has toured extensively across North America playing notable festivals such as Warped Tour, Canadian Music Week, NorthbyNorthEast, Wakefest, and MEANYFest.
Voted “Best Rock Act of the Year” by numerous industry publications, their critically acclaimed debut album, "Unpretty" is available worldwide for purchase. Rose Cora Perry is a dedicated promoter of D.I.Y. ethics, and an avid supporter of independent musicians.
For more information on Rose Cora Perry and her band's accomplishments, please visit http://www.anti-hero.ca/ or http://www.rosecoraperry.com/