Is the Dance Music Industry a men’s club? A Round Table Discussion with our Female DJs

Lauren Krieger

TLDR: FRISKY’s resident female DJs talk about making an impact in a male dominated industry.

Underground electronic music has the ability to transcend boundaries and unite fans around the world, overcoming the petty judgments that are normally seen in popular music by focusing on the quality of the music instead of the image. On the dance floor or over the airwaves, the DJ’s music should always speak for itself, how it makes the audience feel being the most important factor. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Women in the DJ industry often find themselves at a distinct disadvantage, facing prejudgment based on their gender, more focus on their appearance and less credit given to their talent.

From the beginning, one of FRISKY’s missions was to help level the playing field by inviting lesser known DJs to play alongside industry heavy weights, and giving exposure to artists regardless of their race, gender, or current popularity. FRISKY encourages the music speak for itself by spreading quality underground sounds that represents a wide variety of talent from around the world. Integral in that mission is giving exposure to an underrepresented group of DJs: the women. With several shows hosted by female DJs, FRISKY has also aired X-Chrome since 2009, a show dedicated to featuring emerging and established women in the industry. It remains the only show of its kind, and one that continuously offers a wide variety of genres and high standards of quality.

xchromeTo give us insight into the unique challenges that face women in this industry, we asked some of FRISKY’s resident DJs about their experiences:

Miss Disk: Co-host of Paradigm
N-tchbl: Host of Subliminal
Riley Warren: Host of Junk Mail
Miss Nine: Host of Channel Nine
Bee: Host of Synchronicity
Laura Seh: Co-Host of High Heeled Geeks

The numbers don’t lie: the dance music industry is a boys club.  Do you agree?  If so, why do you think that is and how can we change that? 

Miss Disk: It’s a clear fact that there is a smaller number of female DJ’s. I can only assume reasons for this and it’s only my point of view:  First of all women consistently underestimate their own talents and abilities: female confidence in a male dominated profession is usually not going to be so high. Second issue for me is a lack of (male) mentoring, which is important and would be very helpful to start a career in a boys club.

Bee: Yes the electronic music industry is unfortunately a male-driven business today. It has a historical reason that I’ll try to sum up in few lines. Back in the 70s men had a better access to higher education studies into technical fields like engineering and could easily “play around” with oscillators and signal treatment instruments which are the basics of any electronic music from Disco to more complex beats like House, Jungle etc. Moreover women in music were mainly occupying a vocalist place in bands or in solo careers. Men were good at producing and creating creative things with computers and complex signal machines, women were good at singing and bringing a piece all together. Sadly things didn’t evolve with the evolution of music and access to higher education and we’re still stuck in an old model were males took over a “business” while women are “rare” in the business. Luckily this can change.

How we can change that is through simple steps: Working hard, working hard and working hard. Any renown artist today has to work hard to make it. There are millions of Djs out there, each one trying to be seen. It takes hard work, creativeness and thinking outside the box to become an artist and have his/her own signature. It’s not about male or female, everyone is playing the same game in the end. And what will make the difference is how you put out your final product, be it a track, a recording, a set or a live gig.

Riley: Yes. I absolutely think the dance music industry is a boys club. And, I also think… Why do we feel the obligation to change it? I think, so long as the artist has the talent, and the love for their craft, gender shouldn’t matter.

N-tchbl: I agree. It has always been that way and will probably always be. First big DJs were male DJs and many of them still do their job very well, my first idols were male DJs and producers and still nowadays some new names I love and support are again male artists. As long as we have good music to play, it doesn’t matter to me who made it. I doubt anything will ever change regarding this topic, there can only be more women in the industry then before, but never the majority. All the good music and the best music of all times was made by men, starting from classical music composers to modern electronic music producers. It’s a fact, and it’s just as it is.

Do you think there’s a media bias on how female DJs are covered in the press?  More often than not, they are the subject of ridicule. For example, this YouTube post about Columbian DJ doing nothing got almost 2 million views and comments are scathing and sexist.  Yet – a similar video of Swedish House Mafia caught fake mixing were either not covered as much or were defended by some artists and blogs.  Is this fair?

Riley: Yep. There is definitely a media bias. But, I think that is BECAUSE it’s male dominated field.
No, it’s not fair. It’s just easier to come down on a woman, especially one who is attractive, and say she is not something she claims to be.

In the end, Just do what you love, do it right, and give them no reason to show hate.

Miss Disk: In my opinion the “unspoken truth” is lying beyond DJaying – it’s about a generally unequal treatment of men and women. The unbalanced media bias is all over and in other so called “male” professions as well. The big picture is that we face a “down of quality” in general within the music/ DJ “industry”.  The fact that we have to have discussions like this is a sign of the times. Previously neither dubious DJ skills,  nor body image or appearance or anything like this hit up in regards to DJaying.  Nowadays it’s a business where your image is your brand and the simple: DJs should be there on merit and merit alone – is gone.

N-tchbl: Fair it is not for sure. But… this is the thing that ruined EDM and the industry in general, the fact that anyone can be a DJ now. Or a producer. Anyone who has a laptop and a basic knowledge in using a basic software. No matter if you’re male or female, you shouldn’t let yourself be a part of this kind of ridicule at all, but we see it happening a lot. It is sad that this video caught this amount of attention, and it’s a bad marketing, not only for female DJs but for EDM in general.

missnineWhat was the experience getting your first professional gig like?

Laura: Well, my first time was playing with vinyls, so, I remember that I was sooo nervous and I checked my stuff probably 100 times before the gig. After the second mix, when I saw that everything was going well I enjoyed it.

Miss Nine: My ever first gig was on a boat during Queensday in Amsterdam in 2003 which was only 30 minutes. Everything was new I touched a record for 2 months before that gig. Back then I played with vinyl. There was wind and chaos on the boat because people where jumping and celebrating the Queen of Holland. I enjoyed the set as much as I hated the wind who blow my needle off the record. I was fascinated by the crowd who enjoyed their self to my music.

To describe my feeling I was anguish, excited my body was full of adrenaline and I was nervous at the same time because all eyes are on you.

My real gig was in a club called Muziekfabriek in Amsterdam.

I was super nervous that day. I practiced all day in my bedroom studio. My body was full of adrenaline. As soon as I arrived in the club I felt anguish I was quiet in the car just thinking “ohh hopefully all goes well tonight…”. I saw some familiar faces on the dance floor who gave me confidence and a proof that they liked my music as they where dancing and going crazy to it. All in all it was a special feeling that aimed for more.

Miss Disk: My first professional gig was actually initialized through friends who recommended me to a promoter and he finally gave me a shot. It was a quite big & famous party row  and I was the first female DJ they’ve ever chosen! Fortunately, with the support of about 20 dancing & cheering friends around me, I totally rocked the place and I’ll always remember that feeling as pure ecstasy. Nothing makes you feel better!

Do you feel things are different for female DJs in the industry now, from when you first began?

Miss Disk: In my personal career everything needed extra effort. It was difficult to get to know and become part of the right circles. I was confronted with a lot of prejudices about women & technique. I was observed more while playing and the at-that-time-brand-new CDJs always brought out the “then you’re not a real DJ” phrase. I think that all changed for the better. Now male and female DJs are confronted with the drastic changes of the DJ/music biz in general.

Bee: Women are trying to make it out there but sadly things haven’t changed. We’re still in a very sexist industry. For a female DJ to be accepted she has to be standard sexy and cute, the music is sadly secondary. People want to see a show when a woman DJs because people’s mind are biased by the media and this cult of an object/woman. We’re not a thing, we’re just like you guys!

Laura: I don’t know, I think for me it was always the same. Maybe today you can see more often girls playing in big festivals, but as I don´t play commercial music. The people contacted me always because of my stuff, and not because I’m a girl.

Miss Nine: Yes, because the technology has made it easier to be a DJ which has made it possible for company’s to fabricate a superstar. Back in the day you had to fight to get the coolest tunes in the record store. Now with a touch of a button you have then music on your laptop.

N-tchbl: I don’t see much has changed, here and there someone shows up, but it changes nothing. Maybe it’s easier now in the internet era to promote yourself and get a media cover (positive and negative, it’s all marketing), but what’s the essence of it all is music. It has never changed for me…

 …if something’s good it will emerge no matter if the creator is male or female.

Do you think there are advantages to being a woman in the electronic music industry?

Miss Nine: Yes, because you can be a role model to other girls when it’s done correctly by showing them that talent and hard work pays off.

N-tchbl: Maybe. And maybe not. If you have something to offer to the industry, being a woman may help additionally, but if you have nothing, nothing can help you.

Bee: Yes, emotions. When man fear in showing his emotions, woman just do it naturally. Sadly not all the current music and DJ sets are about the “real thing”, the journey, the emotions and the feelings a set can convey. It’s just a succession of hits with 0 creativeness.

Laura: Some years ago maybe, as a female dj used to be something new, different. But now I think is the same.

Riley: I am part of a crew of incredible DJs, most of which are female DJs, and we are definitely sought after because we are different. We throw down with the guys, but are a nice change to the monotony of male djs.

For that reason, yes. So long as you can hold it down. The second you fail, you’re scrutinized harder, I think.

Miss Disk: I’ve had a priceless advantage and this wasn’t about gender: I was surrounded by true supporters and people who really believed in me. In my experience female DJs generally only getting an advantage when a promoter tries to put together a female night.

avalonriley2According to latest data, the largest booking agencies in the world all have less than 6% female artists in their roster. Why do you think that is? Is it because female DJs don’t market themselves well enough to be represented by the top agencies? Or something else?

Miss Nine: I believe it is because girls got into this game late. It has nothing to do with us not marketing ourselves correctly it has to do with a simple fact that we are outnumbered. I’m sure that in the next few years everything will be leveled out.

Miss Disk: Nowadays that drastic change has made it even harder to break through into top-billing territory, and I think there’s still a glass ceiling for female DJs (like in lots of other professions). I realized there’s a simple reason: in the DJing industry, where most promoters & club owners are men, they are likely to choose other men. It needs a special degree of attention and a strong impetus as a female DJ to get the respect of this male-dominated network.

N-tchbl: I don’t think it’s a marketing thing, if something is easy nowadays it’s marketing. Maybe ladies are just easier on giving up the fight, because we see and hear a lot of “artists” like the two in those Youtube videos mentioned earlier and music becoming irretrievably dull. Speaking from my personal point of view it’s very hard to preserve the music the way I want it to be and the way I love it. I personally will never conform to the commercial music and play stuff people globally consider popular, if it’s sh*t I won’t play it, I’d rather give up than do this. There’s no money to make me change my mind about this. Maybe guys are easier on this. I know a lot of them who changed their music style, following the trends, or money, but I don’t support that. I respect the fact they survived in the industry, but I don’t listen or support their music anymore. Maybe other female artists think this way too, women are wiser 😉 …and just don’t wanna go with the flow.

Finally, What advice would you give to female DJs looking to break into the industry?

Bee: Work hard, believe in yourself, in your music, the rest will follow.

Riley: Do it, but do it right. Love what you do, and always, with this and everything you do, do it for the right reasons, and have fun!

Nine: Be patient!
You are going to have to work harder than the boys.
Be driven by success. Good Luck! Nine

Laura: Well, I think it’s hard work. You have to learn about music, not just play; and a good way to improve your mixing is producing music. Sometimes you will start a track project and maybe you won’t finish it, but it will open your mind a lot. Then, things will come along, but the most important thing is play what you like and have personality in your mixes to be different than the others, because it shows your work. It’s really nice when someone is listening a mix and can say “hey! this is XXXXX! I love it!”; it means that you are doing well as you have your own style and your are not a copy of a famous DJ. You have to be you! I hope it helps you 🙂

Miss Disk: Considering the surely different situation in Europe and in the US etc. I can only give an advice to European rookies (male and female). It’s a lot about balance and patience. Too many are in a hurry to get into the booth and they cut corners and get gigs they’re not ready for. Mentoring is a very important benefit and of course the social media which showcase you and your music. Try to find your USP (unique selling point) and highlight the things you’re good in/with. Never look down on others: respect is the key to get respect. Some personal advice is: look out for a reliable relationship where DJing is not creating issues and make sure that there is nothing to worry about 😉

…but in the end:  Don’t ask me! I’m just a girl!!!

N-tchbl: You have to put a piece of yourself in everything you do, music especially, and hope it will find it’s way.

Be yourselves and don’t let the trends spoil you. Music is a spiritual thing, not a job.

FRISKY_mark_previewUnderground house music is about oneness, with a DJ leading a group of strangers into a united rhythm, taking them on a deep and memorable journey together. As one, each of us plays a role in creating the best atmosphere for those who share this passion, and in forming an open pathway for all who want to be a part of it. The dance music industry can only grow stronger by embracing all of the diverse backgrounds of its creators and storytellers, without unfairness and inequality. We know that while many people in this industry are thoughtful, open-minded, and accepting, there are still unique challenges that female DJs are facing. FRISKY has tried to give more exposure to women for this reason, but there is still a lot of work to be done. We look forward to working together in all aspects of the industry to improve the the situation for those passionate female DJs who have dedicated their lives to the music.

Thank you to all our participants! Be sure to tune into all of their excellent shows, and listen to X-Chrome, featuring a new DJ every episode!

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