A guest post by Anna Coddington
(Editor/Flip That Script’s note)- “As the New Zealand Music Awards of 2016 was running, a group of women in the industry were talking. Facebook chat. We’re professionals. We have babies. We were talking, because the music industry can be an uncomfortable place for women.
The industry is simply over run by men. It’s hard to get a foot in the door, let alone a word in. It doesn’t matter whether you are an instrumentalist, a producer, a lighting-rigger, a manager, or a singer – you’re outnumbered. We’d realised that only one woman had ever won ‘Best Video’ since the awards inception, and not a single woman had been nominated since 2011 for that award.
It really is a boys club. So we were sending power vibes to Aaradhna, we hoped she would take the night out. And she did. Very calmly and succinctly, she explained that she would not accept her second award of the night for Best Urban/Hip-hop artist, as she was a singer – not a rapper (giving it to Onehunga based rappers SWIDT instead). And more importantly, she showed the award for what it was, the ‘brown musician’ award. Boom. Institutionalised racism called OUT.
So once again, the internet has blown up – because women have stuff to say. AND sometimes, these women have been brown. I know, its shocking right. Who knew women were even allowed to express their opinions at all?
Another singer who experiences being lumped together with other brown musicians is Anna Coddington. As Aaradhna was laying it down at the awards that night and we were chatting, Anna brought up another pertinent issue, one which compounds the ‘brown-blindness’ – The seeming dearth of female music critics in New Zealand. We talked at length.
Then Anna wrote this. He mihi nui ki a koe e hoa – you speak for many of us.”
‘Recently, I was part of a panel for ‘LATE at the Museum: ‘The Music Machine’, a curated evening of discussion, performance and exhibitions at the Auckland Museum. Chaired by the lovely and knowledgeable Charlotte Ryan, the other panelists were musicians Chip Matthews and James Milne, and music manager Scott MacLachlan. We were charged with discussing, basically, whether musos give a shit about what critics think.
It seemed a potentially interesting discussion so, despite my 5-month-old baby induced sleep deprivation and inability to string a sentence together at the best of times, I signed up.
It was well received, “blew up my twitter for a minnit” and we covered a lot of ground in the time available.
What’s the role of a critic these days? Do musicians care what they think? Do listeners? Are they still relevant? etc. But as the hour started winding down I got a sinking feeling as I realized the issue that I thought was the most glaring, relevant and important was not going to be raised – unless I raised it.
In the last ten or so minutes I was trying to find a way to slip it in without straight up yelling over top of my fellow panelists, but no one else seemed to be going anywhere near it. “What is it?” You say. “WHAT?!”
Do a roll call of the first names of music critics in NZ, those you can think of who are writing today. The ones that spring to mind. The “main” ones for lack of a better term. I got:
Simon, Graham, Russell, Grant, Gary, Henry, Nick, Marty, Michael…
My list was short because it’s a small country and an even smaller industry, and like I said, I’m eternally tired slash lazy. Even still – the fact that they are all male and possibly (probably) all white was striking to me. Google the term “music critic” and you’ll see 15 images of white males, then a brown male, then more white males.
White males. They are great. I have two children with one. My Dad’s one. But to note that they dominate yet another element of our industry/society/life – is it surprising? No. Is it noteworthy? Well, it certainly is to a brown female. That’s me. And many of my friends.
I realize now, it was on me to bring it up that night but I missed my chance and immediately regretted it, and it’s been eating at me ever since. Happily though, I feel like Aaradhna and her delightful refusal of the “brown person” Tui at the music awards has opened a window for this kind of sentiment to be aired….
So why didn’t I say it on the night? Other than the fact that the opportunity just didn’t present itself between one hour and five people’s opinions’- I just couldn’t see a way to come out with it and not seem like a brown female with an axe to grind. It is intimidating to be the minority in the room and speak out on a minority issue – to be “that feminist” or that brown person “claiming racism”.
The opinions of white males are as valid as anyone else’s sure, but we all listen to music. Surely the lens through which it’s analysed in the media could be a little broader.
As Aaradhna pointed out, there’s a feeling that brown musicians get lumped in together. And brown female musicians – even more so. I’ve spent my pretty low-key career being compared to my famous brown female mates Anika Moa and Bic Runga. And I do get it – there are musical similarities and our personal relationships probably encourage it a bit, plus they are great and that’s fine. But I’ve not been compared in the same way to my famous friends who are not brown or female, even where I think there are some musical similarities. I haven’t really witnessed any of NZ’s male solo artists suffer the same fate. For example Liam Finn, Connan Mockasin and Lawrence Arabia aren’t exactly occupying different musical continents but they are (rightly) celebrated as individuals even with their ongoing collaborations.
So is it really that us brown women fail to differentiate ourselves while the white men succeed? Or is it that the people publicly assessing these things are better at discerning between one group than they are the other? It’s not for me to answer those questions and they are only examples of course, but in an alternate universe where all the “main” music reviewers were female and brown (you can’t even imagine it, admit it!) I reckon things would pan out pretty differently.
Above: The Koi Boys, wrongly identified as Sol3 Mio at the awards, and the real deal, right.
We recently had a prominent female music writer who was well-respected and even (gasp) well liked by musicians. She was criticized for not being brutal enough and giving too many positive reviews. I understand that if someone is only giving out A+s all the time, that mark loses its value a bit, but that wasn’t the case. It felt a bit like saying she needed to be more man-like in her criticisms. (If she had, no doubt she would’ve been considered a bitch but that’s another essay…)
I also heard of a woman who tried to get in as a music writer for a well-known magazine but the male critic-in-residence had such a fit, the suggestion was shut down.
The problem of a lack of women’s voices being heard is of course not unique to music criticism, or to the music industry.
The tendency for everyone to gravitate to a male voice over a female voice as the voice of reason and authority is everywhere. This happens at a subconscious level where it goes unnoticed aaaallll the time.
A woman who went through broadcasting school told me that one of the first things she learned was to lower her voice in pitch. Why? Why can’t a lady sound like a lady? (And for another essay again, why not a whole slew of interesting linguistic variation in our media being taken seriously?)
For the record, we do have female music critics (listed at the end of this post). They’re just not given the platform that the male ones are. And unfortunately, as Ellen Willis says in this article,
‘Female expertise, when it appears, is repeatedly dismissed as fraudulent….. and becoming a recognized “expert” (a musician, a critic) will not save you from accusations of fakery.’
At the end of the panel discussion the lingering conclusion seemed to be that music critics don’t matter these days. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but I think it’s important for music to have that space in the media, as music has been so severely devalued overall, that discussing it in these public forums is helping to hold it aloft as something actually worth paying for (yes everyone- musicians like to get paid for their work).
The Spinoff adding a new music arm to their website is great and I think Henry Oliver is a great choice for editor, but I do hope they introduce a wider range of voices to the chorus of humans opining about music, because- shit do I really need to say why?
Diversity comes in all shapes, sizes, colours, genders, sexual orientations, etc. There’s a big ol’ range of humans making music and an even bigger range of people listening to it so it seems strange to have such a small range listened to for comment on it.
So here I am- a brown female grinding my axe about a thing that it seems most people don’t even notice. Not my usual vibe to jump in at length on this stuff but I’ve seen a lot of mana wāhine lately speaking up on “the issues” and I feel like not saying this in the panel was shirking my responsibility as the brown woman in the room. Because of course I was the only one who felt this way. Of course it was on me to say it. And now I have. Kia ora.’
Āmene to that, and kia ora to you Anna!
If you are interested in changing the tide, and supporting women in the industry, you can do so! Here are some of the female music writers and critics in New Zealand. We all need to know their names and work:
- Charlotte Ryan – Air NZs ‘The Pitch’
- Silke Hartung – NZ Musician
- Lydia Jenkins – formerly NZ Herald
- Vicki Anderson – The Press
- Melody Thomas – RNZ music 101
- Kirsten Johnstone – RNZ, music 101
- Yadana Saw – RNZ music 101
- Emma Smith – formerly RNZ & formerly The Listener
- Leonie Hayden – Spinoff & Mana Magazine
- Briar Lawry – RNZ ‘The Wireless’
- Eliza Beca – bFM
- Rachel Morton – RDU
- Amanda Mills – NZ Musician & Audioculture
- Aleisha Ward – Audio Culture & nzjazz.wordpress.com, NZ Musician
- Laura Dooney – Dominion Post
- Sam Vegar – NNZ Musician
- Kiran Dass – NZ Listener, NZ Herald, Sunday magazine, Sunday Star-Times, Metro, Landfall, The Wire (UK), RNZ & 95bFM
- Claire Duncan – Pantograph Punch
- Anna Loveys -NZ Musician
- Danielle Street – Undertheradar
- Ania Glowacz – Radio active & NZ Musician
- Dee Muir – NZ Musician
- Jennifer Sheilds – RDU
- Pip Ormrod – Newstalk ZB
- Ellen Falconer – RNZ
- Frances Morton – VICE/ ex Metro
- Courteney Peters – Gather & Hunt
And I know there will be more of you! Please mention yourselves/others in a comment
Their writing shines a bright light on other women in the industry, and brings a bit more justice into our world.