Thoughts and Peel-ings…

Just some thoughts following this year’s John Peel Lecture on Women and their Representation in the Music Industry :-

I very much enjoyed catching up on this year’s John Peel Lecture while Eurostar-ing my way across the channel last week. If you haven’t caught it yet, the wonderful people at 6 Music have made it available for download here – http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/jpl

This year’s topic – the role of Women in the Music Industry rears its controversial head after PRS announced earlier this year that only a meagre 13% of songwriter royalties go to women. I was naturally intrigued. A decent proportion of the almost 20,000 miles I’ve clocked up this year have been spent with Jennie Murray and Jane Garvey and the various members of the Woman’s Hour Power List punctuating my boring drives with the sharp truth about the woman’s world today. I’m becoming well versed in the industries and workplaces nozzling more fuel into the gender-imbalanced tank. Practical experience had taught me that indeed aspects of a life in music mean finding me too knocking self-consciously on the door of the “boys club” and facing attitudes to women that make my working life unnecessarily challenging. I don’t think it ever really hit home until now, however, the repercussions of under-representation of not simply women in music but women earning from music. I was keen to hear what the lecture would reveal.

So what was getting Charlotte Church’s number one goat? Over sexualisation of women through medium of music video, thats what. Fare cop. Annie Lennox calls for age ratings on music videos. Is poor Rhiannah destined of a life of near-naked booty-shaking at the proverbial ‘grind’ stone, at beck and call of record execs? I think my pal Blair says it best when he describes in his song ‘Less The Pawn’ “channels that say its music when they’re showing camouflaged porn.” Most shocking for me was to hear that the American charts actually provide incentive for the teams behind the kinds of videos that we’re all spitting feathers about, in that YouTube hits actually contribute to charts.

I’m left wondering about how we even got here in the first place… Any fool can see that the music-industry has shifted dramatically from the days when simply – writing good songs was the end game – the back of the net. Now mainstream artists sign 360 deals – knowing their merchandise will bring in the big bucks while torrent sites will dish out the audio for free. In an effort to control the chaos the biggest players whop out the big guns in terms of their budget and resources – they know they can rule the school when it comes to music videos – so they embrace them. Its hard to say whether the airwaves are being forcibly jammed by a trend for sexually overt and explicit images in a battle of the industry giants to make the most notorious videos which become more and more lurid as we are gradually desensitised; or whether its simply a case of “SEX! …ok now we’ve got your attention.” Does sex simply sell as it always has done in the music industry as in any other? One thing is for sure, from whichever side of the valley the war cry comes, its the women who are getting the most kit off and the credibility of women, the attitudes to women and the role models for women deteriorate.

I suppose the question left out by the lecture was one over song content. I would have thought that in a lot of cases dare I suggest most cases, video is inspired by what’s actually written in the song. Would Christina Aguilara’s song ‘Dirrty’ have had such a controversial accompanying video had the song been about the best methods for removing limescale from taps?

We could have a go at the people writing the songs. As PRS suggest (though I would imagine we may need to look at American statistics too here,) the lions share of the writing is by men. We could ask men to write better songs about women – to represent women in a fairer way in future. Good luck. Is it much too simple to suggest that if more women were in songwriter roles then perhaps eventually less women would be in degrading video-girl roles?

Supposing the next decade sees an advance on our humble 13%, and more women were doing the writing, would we stand a better chance of eventually seeing our pop charts full of songs which document women beyond the myths that we see today? What kinds of videos would those songs have? And could these kinds of media packages compete with the kinds that we’re already used to?

Perhaps its naive, I don’t have all the facts. My being a songwriter primarily working within the folk bracket means its fair to say that I probably haven’t been exposed to the full power of the music video. I could even go as far as to say that I’m also well beyond the target demographic. My feeling from this year’s extremely enjoyable lecture was simply that maybe the songwriters got off a little bit lightly. Surely one of the first steps in resetting the balance might just be with the art of the song.

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