There is cocktail sauce on my shirt as I write this.
I was asked to write this article a month ago.
“How has the music industry changed for women?”
“Where do artists need support?”
“How can artists stay creative when there is hardly time to BE creative?”
These questions have shadowed me since I entered the industry at nine years old, instilling anxiety and writer’s block. So, it feels fitting that I write this on the eve of my deadline after my 12-hour shift serving appetizers to the music industry elite.
I wish I had a perfectly packaged answer to these questions, but I’m unable to read the label from inside the jar, so all I can tell you is what I’ve learned the hard way.
For starters, being an artist is riding the highest of highs, lowest of lows, and constant reinvention before the invention even takes shape.
Being an artist is attending the Grammys one year and working it the next.
It’s spending hours in a studio cultivating inspiration while combating the anxiety of paying the producer fee AND studio fee out of my own pocket.
How has the music industry changed for women?
When I was nine, I loved artists like Sheryl Crow and Alanis Morrisette. My teacher told me they were great because they were real musicians and real songwriters. So, if I wanted to be great, I must also be a real musician and a real songwriter.
I ran with this.
I learned how to chart music longhand for live session players, and how to play my own guitar parts. I learned how to sing without auto tune, and the songwriting formula that I was trauma-bonded to from the windowless writer rooms of Nashville: Verse, Chorus, Verse, Lunch, Bridge, Chorus. 3 minutes and 30 seconds.
What I didn’t learn or have the opportunity to learn was how to market myself. I spent a decade becoming the best artist I could be, and I never learned how to share it with the world.
What I did do was say yes to everything. Managers who told me to be edgy, folky, pop-y, country. I said yes to being the chameleon until I had no identity at all.
For better or worse, social media has changed everything for all artists, and especially women.
Female artists are empowered to be their own audio engineers in a way we weren’t even five years ago… As well as be our own videographers, photographers, stylists, makeup artists, campaign managers, email marketers, content strategists, website creators, streaming liaisons, booking agents, social media personalities, publishers, graphic designers, publicists…DAMN.
I’m exhausted reading that.
Now, don’t forget, we the artists must be all of this, as well as the songwriter and the performer. Yes, we are more in the driver’s seat than ever before. The problem I run into is the actual time to create. Where is the artistry? There is no product without feeling, and THERE IS NO TIME FOR FEELINGS.
Girl boss culture. Cool! Constantly being in our masculine to protect our journey? Not a great place to create from. At least not for me. Yes, pressure makes diamonds, but what about burnout?
The influencer and the artist walk hand in hand, which can be difficult to maneuver when a career is in the gray zone between starting out and making a full-time income off brand deals and streams. The middle ground is the hardest terrain to navigate because that’s the land of maintaining a skillfully curated reality while pretending you don’t have three day jobs.
I think where artists need support the most is getting out of survival mode. A landing pad somewhere between a record label and complete independence.
Most of the time, “big breaks” and promises lead to nothing, and there is nothing more frustrating than feedback without suggestion. So, we carry on and keep knocking on doors! Building grit and dirt under our fingernails. It’s all good — if it was easy, everyone would do it, right?
But what if the commentary around artist development meant more?
Women are in strong executive positions, and I’m hopeful that drive will prevail toward programs that honor time to create, with the credibility that there will be opportunities at the end of the tunnel.
When I said yes to the villains in my story asking for my autonomy in exchange for shouldering the burden of having to “do it all myself,” it would have been cool to know there were other options, had those options existed.