Being a singer song writer means you become the mouthpiece of peoples hearts. Like a poet you also encourage reflection, challenge preconceptions, poke at the status quo and can encourage humanitarian action. You use myth -poetic ways of seeing the world to make people look at things anew. None of these have anything to do with age, gender, ethnicity or socio- economic background. As a songwriter you blend the unique qualities of lyrics, melody and instrumentation into something that is greater than the sum of its parts for society to partake in.
Yet, there is an inequality in the number of women succeeding as singer songwriters and also maintaining that as a continual professional activity. This is not just a modern phenomenon but also historical. Down the ages of man can we name many female composers that stand out, that have visibility? I can only name a few and that is probably only because I have a background in music. I can think of Hildegarde Bingen – the medieval mystic, philosopher and composer. There is Isabella d’Este who was a wealthy renaissance court composer. There is Schumann’s wife Clara, who wrote in her own capacity.
Most people won’t know of these women and the thing they all have in common is that they had the combined factors of education and the means to become visible and consequently, for history to give their talent a tiny corner amongst the great compendium of male composers. Hildegarde was highly educated and had the weight of the church to give her art the means to flourish. Isabella d’Este was a wealthy educated aristocrat who had all the means of her day at her disposal. Clara Schumann was educated and lived within the musical literati of the day, again this allowed her the visibility for her work to grow and flourish.
And what of today? Yes, we have female artists and songwriters but our lives are creatively compressed in a different way to our male counterparts meaning success and development is harder. First of all there are semi conscious assumptions and prejudices that hold sway over the music industry and society in general. Some are historical and some are common sense but they are all limiting to women. Also, the shape and pattern of women’s lives – often truncated by the responsibilities of caring are such that they will naturally fall behind men in their ability to access connectivity or financial support through grants.
So, what are these prejudices and assumptions. Age, youth, beauty, sexual attractiveness. Society is obsessed by youth and how one looks but for women it goes further. I have heard of a professional female singer song writer being told that she is too old to sing her own song! How many wrinkles on one’s face has nothing to do with one’s ability to create, produce or perform! Time for that particular prejudice to be ousted, I think! On twitter I see the pictures of so many young female artists play to their sexuality to obtain visibility rather than the content of their songs. Again, ones vital statistic or the shape of ones eyes has nothing to do with the ability to be creative musically. As an older female emerging song writer I could add a story or two of my own.
Then, there are common sense limitations that need more careful and considered challenge in order to break them down. These are specific to professional musical development today. Most artists rely on grants and funding and young artists on cultural programmes to get them started. They rely on gigs and being savvy with digital technology to promote themselves and create connectivity. Human relationships have a big part to play in the creative workplace. This all makes absolute common sense on the face of it. But, dig a little deeper and these are structures and processes that are actually limiting and not female friendly.
Sadly, a lot of this comes down to money. Of course grants want their recipients to be worthy- to show that they have a track record of some success in the public domain, of course you need connectivity with the working cogs of the machine to help you become visible etc. For younger women on a programme of some sort or who live in an urban place where it is easy to go and gig then this is not such an issue. However, this system discredits women who start later in life, women who don’t live in urban conurbations who can not easily have the means to gig and create connectivity, women who are poor and therefore can not create for themselves the financial means to develop at the very start . Creative development as we all know costs money- equipment, studio costs, PR, marketing to name but a few. It also discredits women who are mothers and have had many years taken up by caring. Their connectivity is only domestic and they do not know the systems and ways of a different milieu.
These women can not got started- or for them it is like the Greek myth about Tartarus pushing a rock uphill to even start at the same point as some of their younger or male counterparts.
Surely it is time for these limiting preconceptions and restrictions to be challenged? It is time to unpick these barriers so female creatives of any age, socio -economic background can have the chance to blossom and flower regardless of their circumstance, age or what they look like.
Blog by Abi Rooley-Towle
Abi is an older emerging singer song writer who lives rurally in Scotland, is a mother, music teacher and home steader. Her new band Karuna, is soon to release it’s debut single for a humanitarian cause. Her own personal story reflects the issues raised in this blog.