What I really wanted to say about music criticism in Aotearoa…

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.

Actors, not musicians, but you get the idea.

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.

pjimage2Above: 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

Here is another comprehensive list of women from all over the world, who write about music!

Their writing shines a bright light on other women in the industry, and brings a bit more justice into our world.


Only 1 woman has ever won ‘Best Video’ at the NZ music awards. In 1990.

Ok good people. Just a short post today.

Last year Faye McNeil of MoFresh alerted me to the fact that in 2011 she had been the first woman nominated for Best Music Video for the (Vodaphone) New Zealand Music Awards since Alyx Duncan in 2006.

Faye and LadiFaye was nominated for the video ‘Like Water’ by Ladi6

To date, 127 people have been nominated for this award, for a total of 99 videos. 11 have been women. 11/127!!!

ONE WOMAN has won in the HIStory of the awards. That was Niki Caro for Straightjacket Fits, way the hell back in 1990. Heck, there are women winning awards today, who weren’t even born then! Actual ancient HIStory. Way to role model for women today everybody.

The awards are tonight (17/11/16) however the winner for the video category has already been announced. Well done Chris Lane and Avalanche City.

But really. Let’s make sure that girls growing up today are not pushed out of technology, and let’s change the power structures and the bullshit bro-conomy that dominates the music industry. The production side of music is overwhelmingly male and does not represent our society fully.

How can we expect good stories to be shown through music, if women are hardly ever behind the camera or script, and if they are, they get ignored? I’m going to post video by each of the 11 nominees over the coming 11 days. SHARE THEM!!! And if you are a musician, find a woman to shoot your video next time. They’re awesome.

The HIStory is here:

1965 – Recorded Music NZ starts the ‘New Zealand Music Awards’.

1983 – The award for Best Music Video (best director) is created.

1985 – Debra Bustin nominated for ‘Krazy Legs’ (The Pelicans)

1988 – Janine Morell nominated – ‘Haere Mai’ (Cara Pewhairangi)

1989 – Polly Walker & Debbie Watson nominated alongside Paul Middleditch / – ‘I Feel Love’ (Fan Club)

1990 – Niki Caro wins, for ‘Straighjacket Fits’

1999 – Sima & Makerita Urale are nominated –   ‘Sub Cranium Feeling’ (King Kapisi) AND Fiona Champtloup with Mark Tierney -‘Unlikely’ (NV) -‘Unlikely’ (NV)

2003 – Bic Runga nominated with Chris Graham – ‘Something Good’

2006- Alyx Duncan nominated for -“Fuji” (Minuit)

2011 – Faye McNeil (MoFresh) nominated for ‘Like Water’ (Ladi6)

2012 – 2016 Men men men men men men men! Sometimes all the same men, all the time, many times over.

So sum up – ONE WOMAN HAS WON IN THE HISTORY OF THE AWARDS!!! This is quite a bit less than 1% of the time, 0.78% actually. Are you outraged yet?

How Moana Maniapoto’s APRA speech proves Don Brash wrong

This week was a good one for my young whānau. We spent it at a kura reo (language course), run by and for the various hapū of my partner and children’s marae. We spent the days extending our Te Reo, composing mōteatea and pātere (forms of waiata) and whakataukī (proverbial sayings). As well as collecting pipi, and wrangling many, many children at the local papa rēhia (playground).

The marae was noisy, busy and happy the whole week. There was a real sense of arriving at a destination for these whānau, or at least being back on track. Fulfilling the dreams of many tīpuna who had been punished for speaking their own language, by bringing Te Reo back into the marae. Reclaiming and revitalising a culture and language that were long suppressed, and bringing life to land that was stolen, forcibly removed or sold under duress – is no mean feat. It takes decades.

One evening, after my kids were asleep, and while far too many were not, I took advantage of the wireless connection at the local motor camp. Far enough from all the haututūs, I loaded up the APRA Silver Scrolls live stream on my computer. This night has become an annual event in my living room. I was so happy when I remembered that Moana Maniapoto was being inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame that night. Rawe!

My mother in law and I sat absolutely mesmerised throughout her heart-felt and thoroughly straight shooting speech.  Less than a minute in I wished I had stayed at the marae to watch this after all. All those kids ruckusing around on their mattresses needed to hear her acceptance speech.

It is an affirmation that being Māori is fantastic and a rousing call to action for everyone. Kids need both those things. And after reading and listening to a lot of media over the past week, I realise almost all New Zealanders do.

After her speech, and in between the other awards, I flicked back and forth between various news sources. I noticed my social media feeds (so news-y) were heaving with Don Brash and separatism – goodie, oh how I had missed him. I read a few articles; academic, personal blogs, Māori TV and the Spinoff about Hobsons Pledge and got the picture. Brash’s racism, ignorance and attitude momentarily indented a little corner of my over inflated bubble – but it didn’t pop it. You’re just not that sharp sorry, Don.

Moana Maniapoto, Don Brash

All week, I had been floating on a cloud of hope and vision held high by the steadfast fortitude of the many dedicated Māori who include me in their lives, share with and teach me.  People who are committed to their language, their (and our shared) histories, and not the least of all, their children’s futures.

The contrast between Moana’s speech and all the rubbish about ‘one law for all’ and the appropriation of the phrase ‘he iwi tahi tātou’ couldn’t have been more stark that night. Moana has worked tirelessly in her 30 year career to advance opportunities for Māori. She sees politics and her music as inseparable. And thank goodness for that. Still, since the 90s she feels that very little has changed.

When she grew up, her people didn’t hear their own reo on the radio. Recalling this bought her to tears. Because, apparently it didn’t  ‘fit the format’ – to this day there is no quota for music in Te Reo, it still doesn’t fit the format.

Music in sung Te Reo rarely gets played on mainstream radio, even when the likes of Park Jae-Sang’s Korean language ‘Gangnam Style’ single swept the country and globe. So we know it isn’t really about the language.

It’s about the culture, the people and the politics of power and greed. And if we’re being honest, the Pāhekā fear of te Ao Māori. It is about the largely unchallenged and accepted dominance of Pākehā culture in this country. Whiteness is the format, and this is what Brash really means when he says we can all be one.

Now, I’m sorry to go back to Brash for a bit. But only so we can see the connect, or more, the disconnect between his thinking and Moana’s.

He is Pāhekā, and I am Pāhekā, and as such I have a responsibility to say that I utterly disagree. To stress that he is completely misguided. To show he does not understand Te Tiriti o Waitangi, that he does not get mana motuhake, and that his followers do real damage every time they wave the separatist flag (they are the ones raising it, not Māori) and cry foul at supposed special race based treatment. Does he not understand cultural structures, and that New Zealand is entirely guided by British, Western and Pāhekā frameworks?!

For years there was scant representation of things Māori at the APRA awards – (this was the structural real race based privilege, Don) until Moana and some friends asked Mike Chunn if APRA would create a Maioha award for Te Reo Māori music content. It has been in existence since 2003.  Now, I’m sure Brash can’t stand this, race based treatment! How dare they!

It is glaringly obvious that Brash denies history and doesn’t understand equality verse equity. So perhaps this image will help. Because at the top of the list of what the Hobson’s Pledgers believe is:

  • All New Zealanders should be equal before the law, irrespective of when they or their ancestors arrived in New Zealand.


When one group (English/Pāhekā) not only take the vast majority of resources from another group (Māori) but actively strip a culture of its centrifugal force, its language, the playing field is completely unfair. Thus, the Maioha award is necessary all these decades after colonisation began. It is needed because Te Reo music does not get fair play. And because Te Reo is not understood by most New Zulanders. If these songs were in the mix with the other entries, they would have much less of a chance. And we would all hear less waiata Māori.

When one culture has been oppressed for over 150 years by another, the descendants of the oppressors are obligated to right the wrongs, and this is APRAs contribution. This is equity in action.

Now, on the note of most Pāhekā not bothering to learn Te Reo, ka aroha, you missed a lot during the Silver Scrolls.

The Māori world is one of eloquent speakers. What can be expressed in Te Reo is not necessarily translatable into English. Connections are made, acknowledgements are given and the love is spread at the start of speeches in Te Reo. Rarely is all this said again in English.

Rob Ruha’s acceptance speech for his second Maioha award was no exception. He spent at least the first 2/3 of talking about others, and made special note of Moana.  During his tribute, he said:

“E tika ana te whakahonore i a koe i tēnei pō, i te whakahōnoretanga i a koe, e ta, kua wini katoa mātou”.  “It is right that you are honored tonight, and in your honouring, my friend, we all win.” I urge you to watch his whole speech, click on the Te Reo above.


Beautiful eh. And so true.

After their parents and grandparents were stripped of their rights to a Māori identity in the eyes of the law,  her peers struggled to see themselves reflected in the world around them, to see that their lives mattered. “music and the arts are not just a window to the world, but a mirror to our own”. She uplifts all Māori – and Te Reo really was the winner on the night. She has done her generation proud and has changed the course for those who follow her.

I support a Māori music commission in order to see Te Reo really hit the airwaves and stages with full force. So that more bands like Alien Weaponry have a fair shot at success. It is about putting things right, celebrating Māori, Te Reo, and ourselves in this country. So go take that race based idea Don, put it in your pipe and smoke it.

And the winner is…Mr Man Pants

This week I was asked to join a panel at Radio New Zealand to discuss the 23 April release of Lemonade, the second out-of-the-blue album to be dropped by Beyoncé in 3 years. The panel was really fun. I said cool things like ‘baseball’ instead of ‘baseball bat’. Because smashing things with a baseball is so smashy. But really, it was cool. It is a secret, not-so-secret desire of mine to be on radio.

Unsurprisingly, I was invited to the panel to rep for the feminists of the world.  And also, feminists who also like Beyoncé, or who are interested in her and her feminism. And we all know how much people like to talk about Bey and her qualifications as a feminist. Now I’m not here to debate this (right now). And, I don’t really know either. So I’ll be brief. My first thought is: if someone says they are a feminist, it is probably because they are.

A feminist

Feminists are not a homogeneous bunch of people. We all have different ideas, but many, many fundamental truths that we speak.  Loud, clear, and together (lots of the time). But most feminists are not in a constant spotlight-come-microscope. If we were, we’d probably all fail the fabled-feminist test. Most feminists are also not the most powerful woman in pop music, or the richest African American woman in the world. This is an irreconcilable coin that just keeps on flipping for Bey. She is in an unreachable position but marketed as the embodiment of women’s liberation….Neo-liberal ‘choice’ feminism. Capitalism loves it. Here – have some choices, but from the few options we give you, and be sure to blame yourself for your circumstances if anything goes wrong – not the system.

Or perhaps I was on the panel speaking for the people who have an interest in women in the music industry. There are lots of different ‘ins’ into this group. The aforementioned people, ‘those who have an interest in women in the music industry’ are everywhere. This is a good group of people, trust me.

It could be that you are very, very much into your underground, and now rather old skool Riot Grrrl herstory and sounds. Or more of an 80s bebe like me, and dissolve in fizzy goosebumps to Tracy Chapman, when she sings Behind The Wall. Or perhaps you enjoy Haim; three sisters who are really good at playing their instruments, singing and writing songs. Go figure. Like, wow. But really, wow.


Or maybe you go right back to Elizabeth Cotton and Sister Rosetta Tharpe and know that women have always slain’ the guitar. I know this is hard for some people to get their heads around, but…..wait for it. Women have bodies too. That means they have heads and brains in them, hands too, feet for drum pedals, fingers for beat machines. Oh yes Sir! Hold the phone. Stop the truck. Call ya Grandaddy. This means women can make music and do other music-y  related things.

Ok, back to the panel – There is so much to say on the topic of Lemonade and I think we were just getting into it. There is one particular facet I want to discuss more: the issue of who controls the image of women in the music industry. Again, there are a lot angles. The actual images of women or the way they are presented in music videos are just two.  Who has the say here? the balance of power? does this matter? I say it does. The male gaze is real, and the only way the picture will change is by having more women in the frame; letting it be known that women will not be dictated to. That gender and expression of gender are not binary or fixed. That women are not objects, but active agents. 

This is where we move on to some solid evidence of sexism the the New Zealand music industry, showcasing one place where the problem exists. So after all this preamble, there is a link between Lemonade and our industry in this blog. And it is in the fine print: the credits.

At the end of Lemonade just as in any film, I squint my eyes, searching for the women. And if I have the power to pause, as I do with Lemonade, pause away I do. Of the 41 strong production team, from Bey the Executive Director right to the Glam department there are 18 women to 41 men. Kind of odd considering women make up 51% of the population. However, a much better representation than in many other large productions.

When Queen Bee asked “Who Runs the world” and answered “Girls”, she was right – and she was wrong. Right, because women are indeed the oppressed working-underclass of the world (mostly unpaid), without whom, the world would actually grind to a halt.  Wrong, in that men still hold the balance of power in almost all spheres of life, in almost all decisions made. They weld huge power in creating the images of women, in deciding what is to be celebrated, what is beautiful, what is ok. It is crucial that more women are represented across the board in the industry, so that women’s stories are told by women, as well as by men.

MC of the 2015 awards and his, err…’helpers’?

So, the Vodaphone New Zealand Music Awards. Love them or hate them, they showcase some of the industry talent that New Zealand has to offer. Including the talents of film makers who make music videos. I think NZ does pretty well making music videos – we have some excellent film makers. World class even.

Here is the hard data on the Vodaphone New Zealand Music Awards. The small print, the credits we don’t usually notice. It speaks for itself. Each year three nominations are put forward. From 1983 – 2015 there have been 96 nominations (124 people, as some nominations are for teamwork of 2-3 people). Here is what you need to know:

1965 – Recorded Music NZ starts the ‘New Zealand Music Awards’.

1983 – The award for Best Music Video (best director) is created.

1985 – Debra Bustin nominated for ‘Krazy Legs’ (The Pelicans)

1988 – Janine Morell nominated – ‘Haere Mai’ (Cara Pewhairangi)

1989 – Polly Walker & Debbie Watson nominated alongside Paul Middleditch / – ‘I Feel Love’ (Fan Club)

1990 – Niki Caro wins, for ‘Straighjacket Fits’

1999 – Sima & Makerita Urale are nominated –   ‘Sub Cranium Feeling’ (King Kapisi) AND    Fiona Champtloup with Mark Tierney -‘Unlikely’ (NV) -‘Unlikely’ (NV)

2003 – Bic Runga nominated with Chris Graham – ‘Something Good’

2006- Alyx Duncan nominated for -“Fuji” (Minuit)

2011 – Faye McNeil (MoFresh) nominated for ‘Like Water’ (Ladi6)

2012 – 2015 Men men men men men men men! Sometimes all the same men, all the time, many times over.

And, the breakdown: 11 women have been nominated in all 96 nominations. That is 11/124 people. Let me say it one last time. 11 nominations of women to Best Director for a Music Video and 113 men nominated. When Faye McNeil was nominated in 2011, she was the first in 6 years since Alyx Duncan in 2006.

And the finale – ONE WOMAN HAS WON IN THE HISTORY OF THE AWARDS!!! This is quite a bit less than 1% of the time, 0.8% actually. Are you outraged yet?

Faye and Ladi
Ladi6 and Faye McNeil on the set for ‘Like water’ in 2011

The last time I checked, women and men and everyone else who isn’t women and men, mostly have all the same bits and pieces. And we also know that cameras and computers are not operated by vulvas and breasts, or penis’ and smelly armpits. So, what is the issue here? Sexism in the industry is what.

The sexism starts young. Women are re-directed from pursuing certain careers in the arts. Girls are taught that boys play with toys and toys turn into technologies. Boys exclude girls at high school and form bands. Not ‘boy bands’, just bands. Women have children (as do men, but we all know the usual scenario here). Children and the music industry are a hard mix to maintain. Women are objectified. It is ok if they sing, but not so much if the play the bass guitar or drums. Or pick up a camera.

Now, I could keep looking into this for you myself, but I don’t need to. Wellywood Woman already has. Thank goodness. Please read. Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts Wellywood Woman, you incredible person. I think she is probably a part of the awesome group: the group that loves women in the industry. Just as Ladi and Faye do.

Support women to exist in the creative arts. Support women to create their own images. Bey put women front and centre in Lemonade, and did a reasonable job with her production team too. But as for the representation and celebration of women in the NZ music video industry….a long way to go people, a long way to go.







Broads-casting Beats

There has been a lot of discussion lately in the New Zealand press, entertainment and social media worlds, about the rampant and insidious sexism and misogyny in our music industry. I would like to pay particular thanks to Alex Casey and Duncan Greive of the Spinoff right now. Not only have they been doing a stellar job of supporting many women in exposing the revolting predatory and illegal behaviour of Andrew Tidball (Cheese on Toast) –  at the extreme end of the spectrum – but also in providing a platform for women in the scene to tell it how it is for them in the industry in a much more mundane day-to-day kind of a way. This was all so familiar, Emily Edrosa.

Just as in any other sector of society, any corner of our many cultures or our own complicated personal relationships, in any work place or sphere of life at all. Sexism is at play.

I’ve got a lot to say on this topic and am so grateful that music and sexism has become a common topic of conversation around the traps lately. It hasn’t always been my best conversation starter. But some people are cooler than others, and these two are particularly outstanding – and were willing to talk to me.

So, here is a piece I put together in 2015. Hard times and adversity aside, there is so much goodness in the music industry, a lot of it from many industrious women. I want everyone to know how much harder women often have to work in order to achieve what they want. Let us all take a trip in these women’s shoes, and take a moment to ask ourselves ‘where are all the women in the scene?’ and ‘why’? ‘Should there not be more of them’?

Women and non-cis men are people, and they make music. Simple right? Hmm, not always. Please, enjoy this conversation as I did. There are some gems in it.

Melody Thomas and Estère Dalton talk with Flip That Script

Melody Thomas

(this interview originally appeared in ‘Freerange Vol.10: Feminism and Technology Wor(l)ds, July 2015  – get that article and the whole journal for free at Freerange Press)

Melody Thomas, Radio New Zealand broadcaster and journalist, met with producer and singer Estère Dalton and myself, a songwriter, writer and feminist, on a sunny, still autumn morning. As we converged in a Newtown kitchen from different corners of Wellington city, conversation quickly turned to the music industry. Melody recounts an article about Björk we’ve both recently read, detailing Björk’s constant battle to be recognised as the producer of her own music in the male-dominated industry. One question that she is commonly confronted with – ‘Who produces your music?’ – instantly reinforces gender stereotypes and downplays her abilities. Estère understands – she deals with the same assumptions about her music.

Estère Dalton


Flip That Script – What does feminism mean to you and what place does it have in your life?

Estère – To me it means equality of opportunity and respect.

Melody – It’s exactly the same for me. In my life, that practice is mostly to do with my daughter, raising her so that she is aware of those things.

FTS to M – What place do you see feminism holding in your professional life as a broadcaster and journalist.

M – Having a feminist base gives me a lot of courage when asking for what I want, not holding back and believing that I can do those things. Within the organisation at Radio New Zealand there are a few really inspiring women, and I get a real buzz knowing these women are there if I need them, to reach out and ask advice.

FTS – Research shows all the areas that wrap around music, broadcasting, media and publicity are horizontally and vertically segregated. Vertically you will see the powerful structures at the top dominated by men, down to the cleaners of organisations who are most likely to be women. Horizontally men and women congregate together in gendered areas, such as women more often being publicists, the pretty voice and face of organisations.

M – That’s interesting because one of the first things we were taught from the beginning at broadcasting school, when we are learning how to speak on radio, is that people find women’s vocal frequencies agitating to the ear – we are taught to lower our voices!

E – In respected news media, there is a common tendency with presenters for an equal ratio of men and women. I don’t know about behind the scenes.

M – Television is different though isn’t it, because all those women are really good looking, a nice conventionally attractive face, nothing too abrasive so you just soak up what they are saying.

E – You could say that about the men too, except for the older guys.

M – I don’t know – we were watching the news the other day and a particularly ‘interesting’-looking male New Zealand reporter came on, and it occurred to me that if he were a woman he might not be given the platform he has been. I also remember reading about a male news presenter last year, who wore the same cheap suit everyday as a test, because his female partner got letters daily about what she was wearing, mostly being criticised. It was a year before anyone noticed.

FTS – Estère, do you see feminism playing out in you life?

E – Definitely when it comes to being represented as a musician or producer as opposed to just a singer. That is something that I am very aware of and put a lot of emphasis on, or else I feel it will get washed away (being a producer). There are just so many more men sitting in their bedrooms, making music.

M – We have a friend staying from England, and I showed him your video last night, he said it was so cool to see girls play instruments.

E – It is so cool

M – Yeah, but I wish it wasn’t like that, ‘Wow look at that woman playing the guitar’.

E – Like seeing Sheep Dog Wolf play yesterday, and the female bass player, I couldn’t take my eyes off her.

M – And a girl on a horn as well . . . fuck, I wish it wasn’t like that.

E – And there are gendered instruments – you’re more likely to see a girl on horn instruments. I would say that saxophone is middle ground.

FTS – When people talk about women playing instruments, it’s mentioned: ‘the female drummer’ and so on. On the one hand it’s good to draw attention to women playing, but should it even have to be mentioned?

M – It would be nice if we lived in a world where it didn’t have to be mentioned. But for the 10-year-old girl, I think it should be said.

E – Yes it needs to be emphasised. It would lead to more active movement towards the end goal if it is talked about and highlighted.

FTS – If you are in a band of female players, a ‘girl band’, and labelled as such, how would you feel Estère?

E – It depends on the capacity. If it was just a girl band because of having only women in it, then that is stupid – guys wouldn’t get that label. Only if there are five singers out the front, like with boy bands. Only if it is equal.

M – It’s interesting though, because it’s a great marketing tool, like you were saying in your TED talk that while the female musician thing really grates you, it’s also given you opportunities, a selling point, people want you in their magazine.

FTS – What do you say to the rise of home recording, and demystification of the recording process, meaning that women now have greater access to creating music without having to rely on boys clubs in studios? Could this be interpreted as being ‘re-segregated’ into a lower status of music production rather than being assimilated into the recording industry?

E – The world is much more open and easier to explore, so I don’t think the home studio is any less…

M – I think the rise of home recording has demystified the recording process for men and women alike, and that anyone who sees home-recorded music as lower status is trying to hold onto an old model that is increasingly redundant. If it sounds good, what’s the difference?

E – My question is how do men get to that position where they are sitting in the engineer’s studio producing music for other people? Because I want to do that! I think that studio production is seen as a more polished way of doing it, but it’s becoming more and more redundant.

M – With his first Unknown Mortal Orchestra album I’m pretty sure Ruban Nielson recorded a lot of his vocals at home into a dictaphone, and his second was all in a home studio too. Flying Lotus does it all in his home, although with heaps of flash gear.

E – But there are no female producers with his (Flying Lotus) status at that level. There are definitely more male beatmakers and producers out there. I think this is due to a lack of role models – women don’t really associate themselves as much with the beats/producer culture in comparison to their male counterparts. That being said, there are still some girls out there representing.

FTS –What is your experience of collaborating with others, finding people to work with?

M – I’m lucky with Music 101, we are mostly women. But interestingly, I sometimes feel very much like I am the only one looking out for myself, like there is this unnecessary competition. And I’m guilty of it! Another producer came on-board recently and I caught myself diminishing her and her work, and actively had to stop myself. It’s almost as if you feel like there are only so many places for women in the industry and you don’t want to give yours up. What a sad state of affairs that is! I’d be curious to know if men feel like they have to protect their place.

E – Good point, I’d say the same for me.

FTS to E – If there are three bands in a gig, and only one woman in the mix, she will stick out more, and get more relative criticism. Do you feel you have to work harder to get to where you are, because you are so visible as a beatmaker?

E – People are surprised by my beats, impressed by the beats. I really like making beats and I’m confident. I have very clear musical vision and I don’t really care what anyone else thinks in terms of that capacity. You need to hold on to that, you can be affected by things about musicianship, being a female. When I hang around with heaps of boys that went to jazz school, cause I don’t know any theory, I just retain my faith in my own musical abilities. I know what I like. I’m not going to let insecurity compromise that.

M – I am going to start working with a new presenter soon, a man who has years of experience, and I feel like I’m in way over my head but I’m just going ahead with it anyway hoping that I’ll pass the test.

E – I don’t think that guys feel like this too, none of this ‘I don’t know what I am going to do, or doing’.

FTS – Do you think that women are more uncertain . . . second-guess themselves?

E – It’s constructed that they would. Not only is it a reality they are given far fewer role models and are less encouraged, girls and boys are brought up in gender constructs, like going out and playing trucks and climbing trees. Females are encouraged to be analytical. I don’t think that same culture exists around men. Stopping themselves and starting again.

M – I’ve read somewhere that women are less likely to do something they don’t think they’ll succeed at, to even try.

FTS – What were you both interested in and encouraged to do as children?

M – I was interested in writing and music, I wrote stories all the time and played around on whatever instrument I could get my hands on (though we never had any at home). A big part of my confidence comes from growing up on a farm with a really ungendered upbringing. I don’t even remember feeling like a girl as a child. Jumping in rivers and rescuing lambs!

E – I liked to read and to make things, like sculptures out of old flower stems. I liked singing.

And with visions of Estère and Melody as lamb-rescuing, countryside-wandering flower sculptors, our interesting conversation abruptly comes to an end. My baby has woken from her nap. Her cries and our coos intermingle on my Garageband interview as chatter turns from the music industry to a cute baby.