Women are succeeding in many areas of the music industry, whether it’s songwriting like Lady Gaga, who just won a Grammy for “Shallow,” or managing like Kei Henderson, whose record label Sincethe80s includes talent such as 21 Savage. For International Women’s Day we brought this question home, and asked Canadian women across the nation to comment on the status of the music scene in their respective province and territory, and what can be done regionally to make it more equitable to women. A diverse roster of singers and music industry workers voiced concerns, experiences, and expectations of change for women’s work to truly thrive in the rush of the industry.
The responses are broad and range from how to achieve more gender-balanced work, to acknowledging the realities of class and race, and to imagining how music scenes can be made safer for younger artists. If there is more to be done for the growth of this prosperity (and yes, there certainly is), the first step requires us to listen.
Krista Keough, Music Marketing and Management (Halifax, Nova Scotia)
A Newfoundland native now residing in Halifax, Krista Keough has contributed to various creative industries, including music, advertising, and film. She is currently working in marketing and communications as the owner of Krista Keough Creative Communications.
I am lucky to have had many roles in music business over the last decade of my career, and am proud to be among many strong women who are taking on leadership roles in our community. I believe we have made great strides in recent years by having important conversations about gender disparity and women’s rights, diversity and inclusion, safer spaces, and accessibility. Now is the time for each of us to take action and make decisions in accordance with these new industry standards.
[We can all] volunteer our time to mentor young women who are artists and industry professionals, speak up for equality on our stages, and put thought into planning events so that everyone can have a positive experience and get home safely. We can’t only consider able-bodied, middle-class, white women, or those who are cisgender. Looking beyond our gender and recognizing that the changes we need to make will benefit every person is the first step toward making our music industry more suitable, safe, and supportive for all women.
Damhnait Doyle, Singer/Songwriter (Labrador City, Newfoundland and Labrador)
A bio written by Serena Ryder praises Damhnait Doyle’ dedication to an important craft. Her new single “That’ What You Get,” has been released off her upcoming record, Liquor Store Flowers.
I feel like change is underfoot. Mostly because we are even having this conversation at all. We need women making decisions in the boardroom, and on the executive level that will help foster women in careers that are notoriously male centric, like producing, composing and engineering. That said we need to look ahead ten years and give women the opportunities now- that will help them be prepared and ready when the opportunity comes. Preparedness and opportunity are paramount. I believe the industry is changing, and now is the time to keep that pressure on the wound. We may have stopped the bleed, but it’s just the beginning…
LACYRED, Rapper/Songwriter (Toronto, Ontario)
Toronto-based rapper LACYRED is making moves on her own terms. Her work, including her first solo single “REDRUM”, is currently streaming on Spotify and Soundcloud.
I started rapping last summer as kind of an experiment, something I kind of stumbled into when my friend Hashi sent me a beat and I wrote lyrics to it. I approached it first kind of like “anyone can write this” to “how do I make this sound hard, and make the words flow better?” Since then I’ve just been writing and recording bits and pieces, trying to calculate my next move.
It can still be intimidating as a female, especially since you have to take extra caution with meeting new people in any given situation. The music industry as a whole is known for taking advantage of women perceived as vulnerable or don’t have many connections, which is why we’re not able to take as many risks, and can come off as being flaky or hard to work with. Coming from such a strange middle ground put a lot of things into perspective for me.
I’d like to see a sense of community where we can build each other up, share stories and experiences, and network in safe spaces. It’s easy to be tokenized, labeled, thrown into a category and be compared to other females. It can be discouraging, and it’s taught me to take my abilities and my voice more seriously, paving ways for other women out there who don’t necessarily have the same resources I do. I’ve been actively finding more and more female rappers, poets, artists, and creatives in general, that I’d eventually like to work with. Women are so amazing at uplifting, empowering and overall bringing out the best versions of each other.
Begonia, Singer/Songwriter (Winnipeg, Manitoba)
Alexa Dirks takes on a new voice in pop as Begonia. Her album Fear is expected to drop soon.
Something I would like to see change in the industry is simply more listening to women. I work with a lot of amazing men but I’ve also had too many experiences to count with men who think they know better than me simply because they’ve been given a louder voice for so long. Just because you have an opinion doesn’t mean you’re right or that I need to hear about it. If I don’t already know you and if it’s not from a place of respect, I’d say buy a journal for all your thoughts and then take a minute to listen to the women around you in order to humble yourself and do your job better. We can all work together here!
Sarah Macdougall, Singer/Songwriter (Whitehorse, Yukon)
Swedish-born singer, songwriter and producer Sarah Macdougall presents us some lovely indie-pop tracks. She is currently touring Europe for her album: All The Hours I Have Left To Tell You Anything.
Being a woman in the music business can be challenging on many levels, from safety to not be taken seriously in an industry dominated by men. You are often assumed to not know technical things, or care. Where my male counterparts often share gear talk with each other, it’s often more challenging to get the same information easily as a girl or a woman. In music stores you are often assumed to not know the most basic stuff.
I think we should keep encouraging women to learn technical things, to stage workshops, to teach girls to produce and empower them. Being conscious of hiring female acts in venues and festival etc…it’s so important to see yourself represented on the stage, especially when you’re young. I think we are heading in the right direction but we’re still not there!
Elisapie, Singer/Activist (Montréal, Quebec)
Born in Salluit, Quebec, Elisapie Issac began performing at the age of twelve with the Salluit band Sugluk. The band won a Juno for Best Aboriginal Recording of the Year in 2005. Issac remains a pop singer, activist and documentary filmmaker.
I always thought life has to be sweet and polished, that’s the image I had and now I’m like, “No”! Life is hard, life is gritty, life is crazy and nasty and dirty and fun. I feel much more connected to that now and I realize that I’ve always had that. It’s just I had to put on this little side of me that was much more out there because I was afraid if I get too crazy it might blow people off. We’re (Inuit) from nature, the territory where we live is so much that, we’re very direct as Inuit. It’s fun finding that and being able to rely on that side of me again.
I sang with Sugluk (her uncle’s band) – I was their back vocalist when I was 14. I think for women, also, let’s say missing and murdered women and girls, or even the families, women who suffer, who have to leave their home or who have to live on another life that wasn’t what it was meant to be, it’s (the Sugluk song The Ballad of The Running Girl) a tribute for women, not just for me. It’s really about how sometimes you have to wonder why we are the way we are. And sometimes I feel misunderstood, like there’s a big whole layer of intergenerational shock or traumatizing experiences that were our grandmother’s experiences that we carry. Many women I know are super strong, and it’s still a struggle for us to be in peace and to feel relaxed. It’s very important to address that. The Ballad of the Runaway Girl might raise a question in each woman that will listen to that song or see the title. I like that.
I feel like it’s time to just sing those songs and deliver them. What I’m trying to do…is to be so connected with myself, be very honest with myself and hopefully feel like I can be in contact a bit more. It’s very thrilling. This is just the beginning. I feel like its a new cycle that’s started for me. The next one will hopefully go even further in this process.
Tao-Ming Lau, Agent/Founder of Blue Crane Agency (Toronto, Ontario)
Tao-Ming Lau founded Blue Crane Agency in Toronto in 2018. Its’ initiative is to represent more women, POC and LGBTQ artists.
Our agency seeks to prioritize women, artists of color, and LGTBQ artists on our roster. I fall into all three worlds, and these are the artists I feel most passionately about representing, not only because I feel they face the highest barriers to resources, networks, and development infrastructure in the Canadian music industry.
One thing that I’d love to change to make the industry more suitable towards women and trans folks is to have private dressing rooms for my touring artists! It sounds like such a marginal thing, but I think women and trans folks get a bad rep for requesting private rooms with proper locks to change, prepare wardrobe, and apply makeup (if they want/use it), without staff and dudes gawking in hallways. I think consumer capitalism and the beauty industry are pressures that have been placed on women to look a certain way when performing in public, and sometimes makeup and wardrobe are often essential to trans artists (especially transwomen) “passing” to fit narrow gender stereotypes in society which often determines how safe they can feel in bars and clubs before they go on stage. So when industry complains about the certain unreasonable “needs of female touring artists”, I roll my eyes, since it’s patriarchy that created these expectations and needs in the first place on women, and that filters down to the entertainment industry. My two cents!
Zaki Ibrahim, Singer/Songwriter (Cape Town, South Africa via Toronto, Ontario)
Having made her start in Toronto, Zaki Ibrahim combines spoken word into hip-hop and soul. She is currently based in Cape Town.
A safe space to create freely is kind of what I depend on as an artist. As a woman in a male dominated society (perhaps also being Muslim from the African continent with a mixed bag of cultural nuances perhaps having a little extra stuff to sort through), I’m not easily riled up by daily ignorant, sexist or male chauvinist behaviour or rhetoric.
I began my musical career through a hip hop cultural perspective and again, nothing really threw me off my aim or game… I refused to let anything that had to do with me being a woman be a reason to be denied or deprived of anything…or so I would always confidently choose to believe. I’ve been attacked backstage at my own show, I’ve been mistaken and treated like a groupie or call girl at studio sessions, I’ve met the predators, the gate-keepers and dodged some bad situations and I’ve come out the other end, still fiercely protective of my creative worth and energy.
As a woman in the music industry, I have most definitely had to navigate things that perhaps a white cis male would never even have to think about. Having said that, maybe if one’s experiences shape the things they create, I’ve been imagining, manifesting and shaping a different future-reality all along. The future is most definitely more dialled into feminine energy, but we’ve got a long way to go to see an actual balance. To get the industry to cater to women in a greater context, I feel that women should firstly know their power and effectively run way more of the business aspect of it all. The old narrative of the kept woman/vocalist/talent and producer/record exec male is becoming less and less. However, the industry itself is still very much a boys club and to crack through that, I believe the creation of safer, more inclusive spaces is imperative. There should be more work done toward encouraging young girls to properly own their futures and cultivate an environment to support their craft no matter what.