Monthly, in partnership with Artist Home and Womxn in Music, music journalist Alexa Peters will explore the stories that are instrumental to the equitable treatment of and creation of opportunity for womxn in the music industry.
I’m Alexa Peters, a Seattle-based music journalist. For about six years, I’ve written widely about music—particularly womxn artists—for publications like Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls, The Seattle Times, Paste Magazine, No Depression, Fretboard Journal, and Audiofemme.
And now—in partnership with two incredible local organizations, Artist Home and Womxn in Music—I’ll have the honor of exploring the state of womxn in music in Seattle and beyond, every month.
This column may take the form of artist features, album and single reviews, Q&As, industry news and scene reporting, but will be unified by one intent—to create more understanding around the specific challenges that disproportionately affect this demographic of the music industry. These are challenges I know well.
Long before I became a professional writer, I was a musician. My dad is a professional musician in Seattle, and I was raised among my parents’ array of guitar-playing friends, taking private piano lessons, going to concerts, and playing and singing with anyone that would have me.
Naturally, when I got to college, I was hoping to study music. Toying with becoming a jazz studies major, I arranged a version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” in a jazz style for an assignment. It was the first arrangement I’d ever done, and I performed this rendition for a notable male professor in the jazz department. As the final chord dissipated, this professor proceeded to pick it apart in a way I did not find constructive. I asked for a meeting during his office hours to better understand his criticism and he agreed.
When I arrived at this meeting days later, I found this professor had called another male jazz professor in to sit in the corner of the office. They shut the door behind me.
I began by discussing my response to his comments and how his teaching style impacted me. I was kind and respectful. From there, this fifty-something-year-old male did something I will never forget—he began to berate me.
He told me he had “never received critique of his teaching before,” that I was “too emotional,” and that I needed to “seek counseling to learn how to receive criticism.” He said he could say these things because “his wife was a counselor.” Even worse: he wouldn’t let me leave his office until I agreed that all the nasty things he said were true. (The other professor sat silently during the whole meeting.)
This was a disgusting abuse of power. I see that now. But in my late teens, the idea of leaving the room while the head of the jazz department—an older, white man I was supposed to respect—just didn’t seem possible. What’s more, I thought it would cost me my ability to be in the music department. In his position as gatekeeper, he prayed on my vulnerability and fear.
This is what sexism in music can look like—and, for many others, it looks much worse. Take those who were victimized by Dave Meinert, a Seattle music “power broker” who has 11 allegations of sexual misconduct to his name. One accuser said she couldn’t speak up about what happened to her because she didn’t want to “lose her standing in the community.” (Meanwhile, even after the allegations, Meinert has been able to get back into business as the owner of Seattle’s Mecca Café.)
These sorts of abuses have massive impact—namely, they deter women from staying in (or even entering) the industry. Even amidst the sort of reckoning we’ve seen in response to the #metoo movement, Forbes reports “dismal numbers as far as gender equality in the music industry goes.”
In February 2019, a report entitled “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” looked at the gender and ethnicity of artists, songwriters, and producers across 700 chart-topping songs from 2012-2017. What they found was indeed, dismal. Not only did women make up only “21.7 percent of artists, 12.3 percent of songwriters and 2.1 percent of producers,” but over 40 percent of respondents admitted their colleagues “dismissed” their work and 39 percent had experienced “stereotyping and sexualization.” And the numbers were even worse for women of color.
The report concluded that women are “missing” from the music industry—and this isn’t a new trend. The Rock N’ Roll Hall of Fame, a 34 year-old institution, is still under eight percent women, Billboard reports.
This sort of power imbalance doesn’t happen overnight—nor is it fixed overnight. It’s the result of a lack of awareness, and even more, a lack of accountability and justice for womxn—even as Lizzo tops the charts. Plus, these issues are coming to a head during an already-turbulent time for the industry as a whole.
So, I am overjoyed to make a deliberate space for all of this complexity. I hope shedding light on issues that are important to womxn musicians and industry members can help light the path to safety, equity and opportunity for every womxn in the craft.