Indie Inclusitivity: The unstoppable female force in independent music

Categories:  Music    The Arts
Wednesday, March 13th, 2019 at 5:47 PM

Women’s History Month arrives this year during what seems to be a new wave of female power, specifically in the music industry. Artists such as Ariana Grande, Lana Del Rey and even sixteen year-olds Billie Eilish and Bhad Bhabie are dominating the pop charts, and country sweetheart Kacey Musgraves took home four Grammys including Album of the Year for “Golden Hour” at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards on Feb. 10. 

But the mainstream only shows a fraction of what women in music are truly capable of. Today’s female leaders in indie music include Mitski, St. Vincent, Jenny Lewis, Phoebe Bridgers and Stella Donnelly, but even those names barely scratch the surface. It seems like every week, a fantastic new female-written album is dropped in my lap, and the jams won’t quit. 

Perhaps awareness is half the battle though, as there’s always been plenty of female musicians, but the visibility and inclusion has never been better. Women in music were either a novelty or seen as something to lend the art some sex appeal. Truthfully, the fact that we’re still saying “Women in Music” and using such a term to spotlight a womanly presence in different genres is proof enough of an ever-present lack regarding the representation of women and female-presenting individuals. Today, more and more women musicians are shifting the narrative their way, telling their stories the way they see fit.  

Currently, the side of the music industry that is corporate-driven still has very much power over the women they sign, whether it be through contracts dictating what they wear, or through singing songs written by other people. Not that there aren’t pop powerhouses like Beyonce who have a stake in writing their own music, while presenting themselves the way they want. But it takes that level of power and influence to combat male-owned industry standards. 

With more small-time and independently-owned record companies and the option of self-releasing tunes, there is an absolute abundance of music written and performed by women from that side of the industry.

In fact, a 2018 study by Fender stated that over 50 percent of new guitar buyers are female. This revelation has not started to shift sexist industry standards, but it certainly redefines who participates in and produces music, which is, in fact, men AND women. So long and good riddance to the days of marketing strategies which relied on lingerie-clad women to sell the instrument, while not even highlighting the successful women who actually played music. The fact that Sister Rosetta Tharpe, one of the first female guitarists and the godmother of rock ’n’ roll, isn’t a household name shows how much credit women have not properly received when it comes to what they’ve contributed to music throughout the years. 

I was lucky to grow up in a family of musicians, because I was always taught that music was for me as a female. But still, it was difficult to see where I could fit in. Although the media of the 2000s offered plenty of female pop stars and solo artists, that wasn’t where I had interest. I loved bands. My dad was in a band, and I wanted to be in a band someday too, but there were only a handful of women in bands who also played instruments. I didn’t see very many women shredding, other than Nancy Wilson of Heart or Joan Jett. There were a decent amount of female singers in bands, along with female-driven back-up vocals in rock music, but women mostly had a shadowy presence. 

However, I was introduced to the steady variety of female musicians my family also liked, such as Fleetwood Mac, The Mamas and the Papas, The Supremes and Heart. I enjoyed many pop artists like P!nk, Nicki Minaj and MARINA (fka. Marina and the Diamonds) through the years. I was also exposed to singer-songwriters like Shawn Colvin and Brandi Carlile, who my father took me to see as my first concert in 2006. These all remain some of my favorite artists to this day. However, these ladies were just on the surface of the enormous iceberg that is female musicianship. 

When I discovered indie music as a young teen, my already broad musical world opened up wider. When I saw bands like Pity Sex, Tigers Jaw and The XX, along with the incredible guitar work of St. Vincent and Lights’ eclectic electronica, I knew that there was absolutely a place for me and the many other ladies in music. I always loved singing, and I knew I wanted to play an instrument. My dad gave me one of his electric guitars to learn on, showed me how to play some basic open chords, and the rest is history. I also found that most women in indie wrote their own music and lyrics, which only encouraged me to try to write my own music. 

It was especially inspiring to hear what these women were talking about in their music. Sure, there’s a lot of relationship talk (love and heartbreak), but there was something else in there that was crucial: growth and imperfection. Florist’s “Vacation” allowed me to ruminate on the memories of childhood joys, along with the way that innocence gets lost in adulthood. Emily Sprague sings: “Cause I’ve got it all, got it all mistaken for meaningful life and a fun family vacation. Like when I used to ride rollercoasters with my dad, when a swimming pool in a hotel was a gift from God.” The power-trio of Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker as Boygenius, meanwhile, are creating some of the most lonesome, homesick ballads around.

Their haunting harmonies shine on “Ketchum, ID” and in lines like: “I am never anywhere, anywhere I go. When I’m home, I’m never there long enough to know.”

Even within all the heartbreak, the discovery of confidence and independence are also prevailing themes in many songs these days. The ever-sassy “Your Dog” by Soccer Mommy is only a drop in the ocean of self-love these women are striving for. I get goosebumps every time I listen to Noname’s assured “Self,” as she laughs dismissively, saying, “and you really thought a bitch can’t rap, huh?” Their stories and bold statements continue to inspire myself and women everywhere, as well as be something we can groove to. 

Currently, there is a monumental amount of talented and creative female artists who have been established and are currently rising through the indie scene. As I was researching, I found even more talented artists such as Adrianne Lenker, BANKS, Vagabon and the trio of Mountain Man. I think that in this era, although the corporate machine is still resistant to artists being in control of their work, the presence of women in music can only grow stronger as long as we keep supporting all the fantastic music that women are working so hard to put out there. 

Livia Homerski | ae.spectator@gmail.com

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