Thursday, April 23, 2009

Females in the Athens Music Industry: 40 Watt.

Statement of the Issue:

Women have often faced gender discrimination in the workplace but especially in the music business industry. This feminist issue of inequality between the sexes is evident in the business side of the industry in which club owners and promoters are predominately male but also in the creative side where women performers are frequently stereotyped and their music is coined as “chick music” created by “chick bands,” both of which have negative connotations. For our interview project we decided to take a closer look into the industry to discover just how much discrimination exists therein and how women have been able to become successful in this business despite gender stereotyping and gender discrimination. We also were able to further examine the tactics of three specific women and discuss whether or not they believe this industry is heading in a more female-friendly direction.

Purpose of Research:

The purpose of our research is to shed light on women’s experiences in the inner-workings of the Athens music business industry. By interviewing three women with three very different jobs within the industry, the group was able to gain knowledge about their individual experiences in the business and whether or not they believe being a woman has helped or hindered their career advancement. The three women that our group chose to interview were Lisa Hunt, a club promoter, Velena Vego, the booking agent for the 40 Watt Club located in downtown Athens, and Jessica Forbes, a local performer and blues singer. All three women have also worked with the 40 Watt Club before in helping to put together a concert, which made this project even more interesting because the interviewers got to analyze the role that each individual interviewee plays in making specific concerts at this venue a success. We also were sure to address with these women the role that female sexuality plays in the success or failure of female performers and determine if each interviewee believes that this business has evolved as a whole overtime.

Interview #1- Lisa Hunt:

While interviewing local Athenian Lisa Hunt, promoter/DJ extraordinaire, we explored the female plight in the male-dominated music market. Lisa considers her job as a promoter as a social networking strategy which arose from her boredom with monotony of Athens music scene, in which she considers herself a socialite. Through her business ventures, Lisa has come to terms with the face that the music scene is largely male-dominated. Because of this there were issues that she faced as a female such as clients thinking of dating or sleeping with her before they start to take her seriously as a music promoter. But Lisa says that she "deals with cards she has been dealt" and tries to stay positive rather than let it discourage her. In her view, her gender isn't entirely disadvantageous, as being a female in a largely male environment helps her to stand out. Although, in her opinion, the fact that her sexuality is noticed before her ideas is not necessarily a good thing, she harnesses the power of her sexuality with confidence and upholds high morals and standards that are soon recognizable by her clients. In throwing a very successful event at the 40 Watt Club, the Adult Swim Dance Party, Lisa has garnered respect from not only the establishment in which it was thrown, but also by the bands that preformed and the residents of Athens, Ga. Her words seemed to be the mantra she lived by when she said simply,“As long as you are good at your job, gender should be irrelevant.” 

Interview #2- Velena Vego:

Velena Vego is the booking agent of the 40 Watt Club, whose experience in the music scene has spanned 18 years. Aside from her job at the 40 Watt Club, she also manages a band and heads a record label, Pitch a Tent Records. Her wide spread participation in the Athens music industry made her a prime candidate for our topic. We quickly found out through our interview that there is certainly more men than women in her work environment. She didn't however feel that being a women among men kept her from being taken seriously. "I've been doing this for a long time" she said "people see how seriously I take my job, and I think that helps me to be taken seriously". When asked about the experiences she has had as a female musician, she said that certainly women do have to work harder to be taken seriously. The idea of  the "chick band" can certainly be applied in a negative way, people will be more worried about "who is the cute one" than if the band is actually any good. As a female, she said, you have to deal with ideas like "girl drummers are never good, girl guitar players aren't as good as guy guitar players", but, she added, "now though, the mood has kind of changed". And change is certainly something Velena herself is promoting. When she was hired as a booking agent, there were very few women in her line of work, so over the course of her career, she has taken on a large number of female interns, and mentored them in order to help them get their feet in a male dominated field. Though females do face some gender issues in music, she said that there are certainly advantages to being a female in the music industry, something which seemed to be a common theme amongst all of our interviewees. "Women are more detail oriented" she claimed, and though there is a disproportionate amount of men in her field she says "I grew up with a lot of these guys...I have their respect".  When asked about women's sexuality and it's place in music, her thoughts were just this: "don't use it!". Rather, she claimed "you'd better know the industry pretty well, cause looks won't take you that far". After talking with Velena, it was clear that she did know the industry well and that gender was in no way holding her back. The key to her success was summed up when she said simply "you just gotta have a tough skin."

Interview #3- Jessica Forbes:  

Jessica Forbes is a local artist and blues singer who has performed at many different venues around Athens including the 40 Watt club. Jessica Forbes has also performed with a wide array of bands including Hope for Agoldensummer, an all female group, and many all male bands. When interviewed, Jessica affirmed that it has definitely been hard to gain the respect of many local male musicians and that more often than not, guy musicians tend to dismiss her without even giving her a chance to showcase her talent. When asked if she believed she would be taken more seriously if she chose to exploit her femininity and sexuality, Jessica argued that she has never seen herself as a "beautiful girl that could use my gender and sexuality to advance my career- nor would I want to if I was." What seems more important to Jessica is being able to prove herself and use her talent to set her apart from other industry professionals. Jessica is now performing around Athens as a solo artist hoping to make an even bigger brake into this male-dominated field but finding it very difficult to gain positive exposure within the market. Despite these setbacks however, Jessica still acknowledges that women in the music business industry have come a long way and hopes that the field will continue to diversify to where there is an equal representation of both genders within the music business industry. 


All three women we interviewed were eventually able to combat negative stereotypes of women in music business by continually exhibiting their talent, merit, and hard-work ethics. This proves that although many of these women faced some resistance when they first appeared in this field, for the most part it is possible to become successful in the music business industry and garner the respect of your male-coworkers if you work hard enough to prove yourself and be taken seriously. Every interviewee also seemed to agree that it is essential to leave your sexuality out of the workplace if you hope to gain this respect. All three women seemed adamant about the fact that exploiting your sexuality for personal gain in fact only hurts you by degrading your own image and the image of other industry professional women. From this it is possible to learn that even if you are not responded to well from the beginning, it is important to pursue your ambitions and achieve the goals you have set out for yourself, just like these women have to been able to do in the Athens music business scene.

Group Reflection:

Many of our group members have not only a passion for music, but also an interest in music business as a career field. That is why it was so interesting to be able to do our interview project on this subject, because the experiences of these women might personally affect many of us one day and ultimately reveal how our female group members will be treated if they are to enter the music industry. The fact that each interviewee says that they have faced resistance is important for our group members to consider but also important is the fact that every interviewer argues that the industry is slowly becoming more female-friendly as a whole. What the group was able to gather from this project and our interviews is that no matter how you’re treated by others, if you have a passion for something and are willing to work hard enough to achieve your goals, nothing can stop you. The views of others did not stop these women, which is truly inspirational for our group, and they have been able to proudly represent the female gender by becoming prominent success stories in the Athens music business industry.

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