Now is a super exciting time to be a woman in music.
But there’s still a lot to be done in terms of female representation, as like so many other professional spheres, music is very male-dominated.
That’s why this June, London’s Mayor, Sadiq Khan launched Sounds Like London - a month-long celebration of live music, gigs and workshops, which aims to encourage visitors to support grassroots music venues and promote better gender diversity in the world of music.
Sounds Like London is championing women working in the industry and is hosting a range of gigs and initiatives to encourage more females to go for their dream roles in music, as well as shining a light on female role models. This is mega-important because as a press release from the event states, a crazy two-thirds of UK live music acts feature all-male line-ups, and only five per cent of DJs, producers and sound engineers are women (ER, WTF?).
We caught up with BBC Kent and Radio 1 radio presenter Abbie McCarthy as well as London DJ, Jay Dolce, to discuss how they’ve managed to shape successful careers in an industry that often stacks odds against them. Be sure to also check out the *incredible* work placements we’ve arranged with legendary music site, Boiler Room, who are also onboard with this year’s initiative too.
What’s it like working as a DJ or presenter?
Abbie McCarthy started off in student radio at the University of Warwick before landing work experience at BBC Radio 1, BBC 6 Music and others. She won gold for Best Newcomer at the Student Radio Awards in 2012 and now presents BBC Music Introducing in Kent as well as covering for lots of shows at Radio 1.
She said her favourite part of the job is “getting to hear all the new music” and “getting to know more about my favourite musicians.”
“If I hear a really good song, and I know I’m about to introduce that into someone else’s life, and I know they might have a real connection with it, it makes me feel like I have really affected the listener” she added. “When you meet the audience at events, that’s really nice as well”.
Janelle Mitchell, aka, DJ Jay Dolce, taught herself how to DJ in 2017. Just six months after buying her DJ equipment, she was booked for her first live gig.
“I love doing it” she told us. “I feel like I’ve found my calling in life. The best part about DJing is making people feel good during an event, and getting to witness that energy first-hand. I also love being able to play music that I love, and educate others about new tunes. It’s the best!”
The world of radio presenting and DJing is still male-dominated.
“Radio is a male dominated industry, but only just.” Abbie noted. “Back in the day a lot of the voices people heard on-air were male, but the industry is changing”
Abbie noted that “at Radio 1 there is a great split” and noted this is especially evident in production. “There are many incredibly talented females working behind the scenes which is great.”
But of course there’s still stereotypes to overcome. Janelle told us of her desire to be known as the best DJ full stop, not just the best female DJ around.
“I was always referred to as a female DJ when I first started out” she told us. “But one thing I’m trying to make people know, is that me being a DJ and a woman isn’t a novelty. Once I get behind the decks, I am playing to a crowd and should be treated just as a music selector. People say there’s a trend in female DJ’s, but it shouldn’t be a trend, it should just be normal!”
Abbie echoed a similar sentiment, noting that there are still old-school perceptions of women in music that she works hard to overcome.
“I once read an article that said women aren’t popular on radio with other women, as apparently they deem their tone to be too uninformative and lacking in authority” she explained. “I thought that was crazy – and so many of my broadcasting heroes are female. I love Annie Mac and Jo Wiley, for example. But I’m so glad that things are changing, and there’s so much brilliant talent coming through in radio and music.”
Janelle recalled that sometimes, dealing with a lot of male promoters and booking managers can sometimes be hard to navigate. “I’ve never had an issue when it comes to negotiating pay” she explains. “But I have heard of promoters paying women DJ’s less than their male counterparts. It’s hard to analyse the inequality unless you go and talk to other DJs and find out what they get too. She also noted that when she’s working, some men blur the lines between professional and personal; “there are little comments and remarks that are inappropriate”.
And Janelle also recalled times when she’s questioned her ability, or felt as if her pay wasn’t justified (hint: this is known as imposter syndrome and plenty of women suffer from it). “Being a woman and dealing with a lot of guys, sometimes I do over-analyse things and question my ability” she confessed. “I had one promoter who agreed a price for 45mins, but then the set ran over and I sent over an invoice for my hourly rate instead. His response was fine but when I felt weird asking; I thought ‘do I deserve this?’”
But women-only networks are more common than ever
Thankfully industry heavy-weights and music bosses have realised that a lack of diversity isn’t conducive to creating an engaged, dedicated audience.
And as Janelle notes, there are more opportunities than ever for women to flourish. “I’m seeing a lot of female-led music workshops now” she said. “Red Bull have a monthly workshop called #NormalNovelty and workshops, engineering and production ones too. There’s women only networking panels, DJ lessons with female experts with networking events. I also check events run by Fabric – at the moment they have an event where young female producers get the opportunity to play for a panel of top industry talent, as well as lots of female-only line-ups in clubs, which is great.
“I also go to Dream Reveur in Dalston as they have a monthly female only line-up, and they also pioneer LGBTQ talent. Women help other women, having good networks is always good.”
But reaching out to other women can be a great way to gain insight and experience. Abbie noted how an early meeting with an exec producer at Radio 1 (who also went to Warwick University) inspired her to pursue her own career aspirations.
“She was really relatable and down to earth and she offered me some work experience as a student at Radio 1 which was invaluable” Abbie said. “I saw Reggie Yates, a live performance from Maverick Sabre…being there and seeing it all made me think that I wanted a part of it.”
Abbie noted that being an ambassador for the Sounds Like London campaign was a dream as she is “hugely passionate about women in music”.
“This initiative is all about inspiring the next generation of DJs and presenters” she said.
There’s definitely a large network of women helping each other now so the message from Janelle and Abbie is not to be shy when it comes to asking other women for help . “I did that when starting out.” Janelle stated. But above all, she says, “be comfortable in yourself, and always strive to be the best at what you do, regardless of your gender.”
Wise words indeed.
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