The following article was written by our contributor Yaiza Varona.
I don´t pretend to speak on behalf of other professionals here (female or not); I have just been asked to give my opinion on different aspects about the role of female composers in the music industry and so I humbly share some of my thoughts and experiences as an individual.
How does it feel to be a female composer?
Let´s make this clear: I am a composer. Yes, I´m also female. I´m also Spanish, Gemini and allergic to peppers. I’m still waiting for someone to ask me how do I feel about being a Gemini composer…!
What I mean is that I, for one, don´t really consider myself as a female composer anymore than I consider myself a Spanish composer, or anything else; I am just a composer.
How is it to be both composer and male? This I don´t know!
What is so fascinating about this? Many people see female composers and feel there is something strange about it. I say it´s a problem of the sense they´re using. They should not see female composers – they should hear them – this would remove all differences possible.
Now just for trivia, an example: when I was in University, a colleague and I had to expose to our classmates (musicologists) an essay on Feminism in Music, and we opened it with a little experiment: before revealing the subject of our work, we presented them with an audition of a SXX track that our colleagues identified for its style as by Messaien and praised it largely. Sadly, they began critisizing harshly it when they learned that the author was Sofia Gubaidulina. And it´s specialists we are talking about! It was a shock to discover that, really.
When people out of the music industry learn that I am a composer, they usually are surprised because in the end being a composer is not really a very common profession – they ask about what is it like to be a composer, not what is it like to be a female composer. Funny enough, it´s usually only inside the industry that the gender distinction becomes more evident.
Main point: Composers shouldn’t be seen, they should be heard! If anything stands out in their appearance you’re simply using the wrong sense to assess their work.
Have you ever felt discriminated in the music industry for being female?
Not that this would at all define my career, but especially in my early years sadly yes, in ocassions I have noticed to be treated differently for being female. I also know from other composers that they’ve noticed a certain degree of discrimination for their race or country of origin. This mainly goes to show one thing: as in any industry, as well as great people you can also find morons.
If I do something wrong, it’s because I made a mistake like any other composer, not because I’m female. And if I write something good that someone appreciates it’s not due to my lack of facial hair either (most of non full moon nights anyway).
It´s all about reliability – is this person (that somehow doesn´t happen to fit my preconceived image of how a composer looks like) trustworthy to take care of my project? Is this person knowledgable enough, resourceful enough, talented enough, easy to work with? No composing gig shall ever be given to anyone lacking talent and reliability for having a determined appearance because it entails real hard work and great responsibility.
To believe that someone got somewhere in their careers out of a determinate look is insulting producers and directors´ intelligence and responsibility for their project because they really take great risks when trusting someone with audio in general, and this is no joke. No one wastes business time in meetings that don’t lead to collaborations. In an industry where productivity and quality are extreme, talent and reliability for delivering are taken as conditio sine qua non when a client contacts you for the first time. To think otherwise (a non talented pretty face can still get the job) it’s just delussional.
Musicological, potentially boring rant about how it all started (cut me some slack, it´s only two paragraphs)
There is more than what meets the eye as to what validates a composer as a good professional, and this goes back as far as Greece. For different reasons that could lead us into a whole new debate, Western culture has always validated mathematical reason beyond any other mean to experience reality. As a result of this, pure intellect has been traditionally considered superior to physical development involving activities, and this caused perceiving a different degree of respect to different professions regarding their use of intellectual thinking (as opposed to mechanical tasks) and also levels within these professions.
Of course, this included music: for example, on the top of the list we would have composers, who have always been considered both genius and scientists (because they were creating with their brain, and also were literate as to read and write) whereas performers were considered mere players, hand users, instruments themselves, with no artistic input or influence – this would only change as late as Romanticism.
Also, in this denial of the classic, non purely mathematical intelligence (only what Maths can messure can be proven good) many alternate visions were discarded, including folk music (not educated enough), non western music (not adapted to major / minor accepted modes) and of course music that came from women (again, it had a dodgy origin since women couldn´t access proper education).
This previous rant is intented to show that women traditionally have been ignored in music, not only nowadays, and even if there were really remarkable female figures since the very early ages (Hildegard Von Bingen for example), they always remained hidden, or even were ghost writers to male composers (sisters, wives, daughters of composers we all know- music was the family business so to speak). The point being here is that because of this lack of open recognition to female composers in History, it still nowadays stands out as something odd that a woman might be a composer. General public can immediately think of Beethoven as a composer but can´t immediately think of a comparable female figure for it.
On top of this all, this “only maths rule” western rational tradition had another effect on the way we respect music: the importance of “gear” and tech-talk nowadays. Traditionally there were requierements to prove the proficiency of an art or science, and those parameters had to be measurable. You can´t messure expressiveness or sensitivity, but you can write down harmony, or count technology parameters. Hence, the master of technology often tries to act as a proof of how good one´s work is, it is a messurable justification of the quality of it. In this respect, not very technology oriented composers could seem to lose a “rational” validation of their work…and unfortunately very often women in general seem to be considered less capable than men in managing machines.
Now, two of the most technology knowledgeable minds I think of first are female, but let´s not allow real life to ruin a perfect cliché! A composer, both for good and bad, is not his/ her gear. You can have the best gear ever, even be flawless production wise and yet move no one and viceversa. However, knowing beforehand where, how and using which equipment something was produced unfortunately does prejudice us into validating a work, and simply yet again, because if we don´t we might fear we are showning we are not that technology literate ourselves :)
This all may sound exaggerated but still works in the collective subconscious. Many of these reasonings are still present and accepted as sole guarantee of truth!
Are you planning to end this insufferable rant at some point?
Sure, my bad. All in all, a composer is as good as he/she sounds, no matter what is behind. When a music track touches you, moves you, does what it should, no one really cares whether it was recorded at Abbey Road studios and using state of the art equipment or if you recorded it in your kitchen using two sticks banging on a pot. It doesn´t matter if you are 15 years old or 80. It doesn´t matter if you know deeply music theory or not. It doesn´t matter if you´re male or female. It doesn´t matter where in the world the track was born. Music is universal and the greatness of it is that it reaches us all equally independently of all our differences and background.
Would you like to hear more knowledgeable female composers than me sharing their insight about this?