Influential women in dance culture share their thoughts on female empowerment.
When you’re a part of what is arguably one of the most globally-recognized cultures in the music industry today, how do you break free and prove yourself? For aspiring female producers, the answer is challenging. Women represent less than 5% of music producers and engineers. Additionally, DJ Mag’s annual list of Top 100 DJs was incredibly gender-imbalanced this year, featuring only two female acts. This results in a disturbing consensus that the music industry is a male-dominated world. Women do not have easy access to highly visible platforms like men, and they must carve out alternative spaces and opportunities in order to make themselves seen. The perceived sexism of the industry inhibits opportunities for female producers to step into the spotlight, inherently creating a block for people of diverse styles and opinions. The result sadly excludes a new world of sounds and perspectives. Industry gatekeepers must recognize that talent has no gender in order to solve this inequality.
Although electronic music eliminates the problem between male and female sound by the use of hardware and manipulated beatmatching, gender and identity are inescapable when performing in front of an audience. One problem is that women are quickly judged by their appearance. The music industry is conservative, leaving no room for new archetypes. Furthermore, the monopolized booking industry is a self-perpetuating loop, initiated by fear of failure and the belief female DJs do not sell tickets. This intimidating thought causes most women to be less likely to try something new. However, for the women who are bold enough to challenge the imbalance, there are a lot of open doors. I believe women should not worry about "inadequacy" and follow their greatest ambitions.
EDM.com spoke to five powerful women in the industry and collected their thoughts on female empowerment, their success as female DJs, and advice to aspiring women producers.
Sydney Blu has established her powerful identity as a female producer with a worldwide touring schedule, her own record label Blu Music, a radio show, and a production career. “I think the most consistent thing about my identity is that I've always been known for someone who plays House and all different kinds of it,” Sydney said. “I have proved that I am relentless about work after fourteen years.” Fearless and confident, she is also respected for her annual Blu Parties during Miami Music Week. Impressively, Sydney was the first female electronic producer to ever have a top 10 hit on Beatport with her release "Give It Up On Me" on Mau5trap Recordings. Challenging herself, Sydney said, “I taught myself to write music over along period of time, I took private classes, went to audio engineering school, took piano lessons, and took online courses. I consistently try to get better and I do my best.” Sydney believes one of the most challenging aspects of a producing career is uncertainty. “Being a DJ is an emotional roller coaster. A lot of women like stability. It's a lot of work and you need to put your life into it if you want to be successful at it.”
Heavygrinder has toured non-stop for the past ten years, breaking new grounds in the playing field by mixing rock with electronic music. As a female pioneer, she has achieved respect in the scene through integrity. “I’ve always kept true to my core. I strongly believe that if you do what’s in your heart — and in my case that’s music — and you’re resilient in achieving your goals, people will end up respecting your dedication and commitment,” she believes. “You cannot make everyone happy, but that should never be the goal.” Heavygrinder proves that persistence and hard work pay off. “It takes a lot more effort for female producers and performers to get the same respect as their male counterparts. Although looks matter on both sides, on the female side it is especially unforgiving given the demographic. However, I believe and see that things are clearly changing and the playing field is leveling up slowly but surely.”
Raised in New York City, Gina Turner is an internationally touring, multi-label releasing DJ, radio host, producer and label boss. Gina, with a degree in Audio Production and Radio Broadcasting, keeps the education through DJing alive. Throughout her career, Gina has had releases on labels including Ultra Records, Ministry of Sound, Mixmash Records, Defected and her own imprint Turn It Records. Discussing her success, Gina said, “Music has always been a huge part of my life. I grew up in a time when New York had legendary places open, like Sound Factory and Shelter. I quickly fell in love with house music and began to buy vinyl and play around. However, I was always geared to be more of a radio DJ. So becoming a club DJ happened organically in college when I was studying audio production and radio broadcasting.” With several releases planned for the upcoming year, Gina stays true to her identity. “I’m still finding myself everyday.”
Dani Deahl, who recently spoke about women in dance music in a powerful TEDx talk, is a Chicago-native electro/trap producer. Speaking out about female empowerment, Dani told EDM.com, “I think it's cultural and societal. Women are still brought up surrounded by influences that steer them towards certain careers, certain mindsets, certain pathways. It's a lot of learned behavior - I found while researching for my talk that almost all the female producers I interviewed were brought up in households similar to mine - ones where parents didn't differentiate between 'boy' activities and 'girl' activities. We get so wrapped up in gender roles.” Navigating her path into the male-dominated business, Dani said, “As far as music, I just do what feels right. Lately that's been incorporating bits of riddim and lots of drum work into tracks, because that ignites a visceral feeling for me when I make it and play it. At the end of the day, it's just about feeling like I'm being honest with myself and all the fans, who are like friends. You wouldn't lie to your friends.” Dani’s success includes producing a Billboard charted track, three performances at Lollapalooza, and running a successful blog. For aspiring female producers, Dani is open to discussing and sharing her thoughts with others. “People can go ahead and tweet me questions, I'm always more than happy to answer.”
Australian sisters Mim and Liv, collectively known as NERVO, are one of the most sought-after progressive and electro house acts today. Fully immersed in the world of dance music, the duo found themselves drafting lyrics and co-writing for several electronic music titans. “I think one of our 'make-it' moments was when we were making records and having success under other major DJs,” the girls said discussing their success. "Once 'When Love Takes Over' won a Grammy for David Guetta, we knew we had to step out and make records under our own name.” The pop writers and club addicts engrave their name at large-scale nightclubs and festivals worldwide. “As females, we do need to work harder to get the same recognition, but that’s what makes it so sweet when we succeed. Some people think if a woman uses her sexuality too much ‘she’s not a real DJ.’ As women, we think about our appearance but we are always focused on the music first.” The girls massive success potentially ranks them as the highest paid female act in EDM. “In the mid 2000s, we almost decided to give up on our career in music after only a mild level of success. We ended up sticking it out and here we are now.”
Cover Photo Credit: KC Lifestyle