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posted by [personal profile] katstevens at 02:33pm on 07/02/2005 under ,
The radio alarm switched on today, like it does every day, to the Today Programme. Yes, I like to wake up with cheery bright happy news about in which particular way we're going to die this week (bad hospitals, iraq, asylum seekers etc).

They generally have some light 'filler' around about 8.35 to bridge the crucial gap between cricket results and John Prescott. Today it was a piece about Girls Wot Play Guitars.

It is clear to see that the proportion of girls playing guitars to that of boys playing guitars is vastly unbalanced. There are plenty of girls that *do* play guitar, but hardly any of them make a living from it and definitely not as many do as the blokes.

The Today Programme had therefore stumbled upon an alarming statistic: More girls are buying guitars than boys! What possible reason could this be for? An interview by Sarah Nelson with a band full of young hopefuls The Faders (signed to a little up-and-coming label called Polydor) searched for an explanation:


SN: Do you think the music industry is still a male-dominated environment?
Faders: Yes, definitely, but it's a lot easier to get ahead than it was five years ago thanks to Courtney Love/Brodie Dale etc etc

I sat on the edge of the bed in dismay.

Ms Nelson also interviewed Carol Kaye, session bassist for the Beach Boys, who was a lot more world-weary and sensible.

SN: Did you have a hard time getting appreciation for your playing back then in the Male-Dominated Environment That Is The Music Industry?
CK: Not really. If some guy came up to me and said 'Hey, you play pretty good for a girl' then I'd just say right back to them, 'Hey, you're pretty good for a guy.'

And now onto my point.

Problem: Girls don't play guitar as much as boys.
Possible reasons for this:

1. Girls aren't as good as boys at guitar.

I'm not going to go into the physical side of gender-equality here - almost certainly men have better hand-eye co-ordination than women IN GENERAL, for your hunter-gatherer-type-shooting-antelope malarkey. HOWEVER in the entire field of musicians I'm sure there is certainly equal proportions of each sex, all with fairly good hand-eye co-ordination so that can be discounted. To even up any discrepancy, girls probably have a better attention span for learning/commitment purposes. I'm sure there is no disagreement that creative talent (songwriting etc) is non-gender-specific.

So, possible reason #1 - Ieh-uhr*.

2. Big Old Evil Patriarchal Conspiracy.

Or, men are scared the girls will be better than them at guitar and would prefer to keep them at arm's/knob's length where music is concerned. "Hey love! Can yer sing? Why don't you put that plectrum down and grind yer hips a bit at the camera? Yeah, smashing darlin'."

Many, MANY more guitar bands with boys in get signed than guitar bands with girls in. When a girl band gets signed the very fact that they are girls is still a novelty (like our friends the Faders, above). Most of you out there in Indie-land have plenty of records featuring a girl guitarist or two (Kenickie, Ash, Bikini Kill, Hole, Helen Love, PJ Harvey, Ikara Colt and of course, Elastica), but think how many other records you have that *don't*. Right now it's not a good market for girl guitar bands. Punk was a good time (nasty girls like Poly Styrene and Debbie Harry). Britpop too (nice girls like Louise Werner and Sonia from Echobelly). Not now (irritating girls like Avril Lavigne).

I'm sure a lot of you also go to gigs. Think about it. How many bands on your local scene have a girl bassist or guitarist? How many of those have a male singer? You must have been to a lot of gigs. Count them. Now count the bands you remember having girls in. Interesting, isn't it? How are young girls going to be inspired to get out there and do it themselves if they have no examples to look up to?

There are plenty of young female solo artists around who can play the guitar. Joss Stone, Amy Winehouse and Norah Jones don't exactly rock out but they clearly have some talent, even if it's to sell millions of copies of bland tripe to middle-aged Guardian readers who sold their guitars aged 23 to pay the rent, back when they Lived The Dream in a smelly basement flat in Tooting. But I digress. These acts have been polished up and aimed at their perfect market by the record companies. That's fine. Why isn't there a female Busted or Keane (yesIknowtheydontplayguitars) to polish up and launch at the bloodthirsty masses? What's that you say? The Faders? Well, exactly.

I know it can be very intimidating, joining a band full of blokes, especially if you've never been in a band before. What's a harmonic? Why do I have to loop the jack lead round the strap before plugging it in? What on earth are you meant to do in a soundcheck? The only way to find out these things is to do them yourself.

If you don't want to join a band full of sweaty, rippling young men, form your own! What's stopping you? If you got up on stage and bashed out three out-of-tune Ramones covers it would still be better than moping around in your bedroom listening to Morrissey. Girls, you have NO EXCUSE.

Possible reason #2 - Patriarchy clearly isn't helping, but you can't make Hovis without yeast. Ahem. Which leads onto #3, #4 and #5:

3. Girls have much better things to do with their time/money than play guitar.

You are a teenage girl. You can either go hang round the back of Budgens with your scally mates, go round Patrick Winston's house and get your boobs groped or sit at home strumming a guitar. Hang on, what's that on telly? Extreme Celebrity Mirth Idol? The twice-strummed half-size acoustic gets shoved above the wardrobe to gather dust while you saunter off to Oddbins to stand outside and try and give money to tramps to buy Bacardi Breezers for you.

4. Girls like having long fingernails.

I myself didn't play guitar much for a whole year because I was trying to grow my fingernails to half an inch. In the end I cut the nails on my left (fretting) hand but kept the thumb and the right (strumming) hand ones intact. I had 32 different colours of nail polish on the go at one point. The guitar won eventually. I was one of the lucky ones.

5. The guitar isn't 'respectable' enough an instrument.

My school ran guitar lessons as well as the usual ones. The majority of kids who took them up had their instruments and lessons paid for by Mummy and Daddy, and gave it up within a month. Fair enough. Most of us had a lot going on - sport/homework/petty crime etc.

But five years later when our little Prunella is actually interested in music and being in a band, are Mummy and Daddy then likely to cough up for a nice sparkly pink Fender Squire AND an amp, with a 90% likelihood it will also end up covered in dust ontop of the wardrobe? Probably, yes. Some people have more money than sense. But this is the case for boys and girls. What's going on then?

Here is our answer: if you are musically inclined, determined and committed young girl you are MUCH more likely to be still playing the piano or the violin you took up in primary school. Your gran likes it, your teacher likes it, and your dad likes it as you might have a career in it: "There's plenty of money in teaching that violin to little kiddles, I spent enough on you innat right Brenda?"

All the lasses with the talent and the drive are gone. Who is left? The girls who aren't very good, or will eventually fall in to category 3 above.

A glimmer of hope here: As the punk generation grows up to be parents of teenagers, they will hopefully remember what it was like through their speed-addled hazy memories and encourage their kids to play whatever they like. This could have its downside though. "I'm not having you take up the bass, young Derek. I'll not stand to see you murder your girlfriend in a New York Hotel room then overdose on smack. What would the neighbours think?"


So we've explored a few conflicting hypotheses here. The most succinct way of putting across my own personal opinion is really that girls are just rubbish guitar players and need to practice more.

This subject never fails to incense me, because I have to deal with being a girl musician drowning in the music industry on a regular basis. My current band played over thirty gigs last year, and to my recollection only four bands we played with (out of approx 120) featured girl guitarists or bassists. These were the Babyshambles (yes, well), the Lams (not brilliant), the Dakinis (all girls, at a DIY hardcore gig) and a band whose name I forget at the Night & Day who asked me if I wanted to be their bassist.

I started playing because I wanted to be as cool as Justine from Elastica. These days I can probably play just as well as she can (although I still can't sing at the same time) and I want to influence someone else just as much. I kept playing because I adored indie and rock music and wanted to play along and make a loud noise. I got *good* at it because I put all my efforts into avoiding revising for my A-levels, and found a great displacement activity (learning all the guitar parts off OK Computer). In fact, I practiced like a bastard. Being good allows you to concentrate on other things, like writing songs, making sure your hair looks cool, making badges to sell at the merch stall, flashing your knickers when you bend over to adjust the tone knob on your amp, and all the other things that will get you signed, famous, rich and influential. In that order.

Girls, I implore you. Practice a lot and join a band. There are so many sh1t bands out there full of boys who need taking down a peg or two.

That is all.

*This is the 'wrong answer' noise from Family Fortunes.
There are 67 comments on this entry. (Reply.)
posted by [identity profile] beingjdc.livejournal.com at 02:41pm on 07/02/2005
Two points, numbered for your convenience, 1 and 2 (because I'm a traditionalist like that).

1) Jo in The Retro Spankees plays bass. Sometimes. This is Another Good Reason you should gig with them.

2) You could save yourself all this hassle by listening to Terry Wogan instead. You would find yourself not caring about the fate of women in the music industry, but idly wondering where your slippers are, and what it was you wanted in the kitchen in the first place.
posted by [identity profile] katstevens.livejournal.com at 03:17pm on 07/02/2005
I know plenty of girl bassists - the lead guitarist's spot always seems to be already filled by some spotty lad with more effects pedals than brain cells etc. But that's because girls can't play guitar as well as the good blokes. Because they need to practice more. Etc.

Perhaps I've been statistically unlucky with the bands I've shared a stage with. I guess in bands in the garagey-punky-shouty vein are less likely to have girl guitarists than indie-poppy-floaty type stuff. Either that or they're sh1t (see Pipettes, We Rock Like Girls Don't, Yumi Yumi, Kaito). Feel free to prove me wrong.
posted by [identity profile] huskyteer.livejournal.com at 02:42pm on 07/02/2005
I used to live with half a band (the drummer and lead guitar/vocalist). It was an all-male band, and they occasionally debated acquiring a girl, but were worried that the band would fall out over 'who got to go out with her'.

I just like mentioning that to rile people. Heck, it still riles me.
posted by [identity profile] beingjdc.livejournal.com at 02:53pm on 07/02/2005
Screws up a lot of mixed bands though, in fairness. I mean, admittedly the falling out is a bit silly because it's, like, up to her isn't it? But if you really want to go out with her and she decides to go out with your mate, you're not going to want to spend your spare time seeing them together, are you?
posted by [identity profile] smileandfall.livejournal.com at 02:47pm on 07/02/2005
Yes, agreed, but there are substantially more bands around now that do have girls playing one or more instruments - fair enough most of them aren't famous / signed yet, but there do seem to be way more girls in the music scene than a few years ago.

Also, guitar playing requires a certain amount of sitting in your room practising bar chords. Boys are more likely to be antisocial during their teenage years and do this than girls, who actually talk on the phone, and do homework, and possibly even socialise outside school. The guitar takes way more effort to learn than say... (ahem) drums, which any fool with a vague amount of coordination and sense of rhythm can pick up well enough to play with a band within, ooh, about a month.

My point being that although I can play grade 5 standard bassoon, piano, oboe and clarinet, I just can't master the damn guitar. So well done to you. And everyone else should start earlier.
posted by [identity profile] katstevens.livejournal.com at 03:09pm on 07/02/2005
There are more girls around now than before. Before there were *none*. None who are any good, at any rate.

The lass from the Lams might as well not be there. She plays one string, maximum, and spends most of time prancing about in her oversized belt and cowboy boots looking pretty.

Do you know how many times I've gone to the bar after soundcheck and the barman has gone "you the singer, then?" HELLO I WAS JUST UP THERE PLAYING A BASS
posted by [identity profile] boyofbadgers.livejournal.com at 03:38pm on 07/02/2005
guitar takes way more effort to learn than say... (ahem) drums, which any fool with a vague amount of coordination and sense of rhythm can pick up well enough to play with a band within, ooh, about a month.

That you can say this just goes to show how utterly crap most indie drummers are nowadays. Learning to drum even half way effectively is MUCH harder than becoming a competent rhythm guitarist or bassist.

posted by [identity profile] violentbec.livejournal.com at 02:49pm on 07/02/2005
i wish i hadn't been so useless/filled with self-doubt in school and signed up for guitar lessons.

man, i still do want to be a rockstar. but i'm too old and its too late. so i just say yay gurls what play guitar.
posted by [identity profile] sbp.livejournal.com at 05:13pm on 10/02/2005
Never too late to learn, anyway. You don't have to play in public if you don't want to.
posted by [identity profile] mellowdoubt.livejournal.com at 02:50pm on 07/02/2005
That's a brilliant piece of writing Kat, you should send that to the NME.
posted by [identity profile] katstevens.livejournal.com at 03:06pm on 07/02/2005
Hah, they wouldn't print it cos I'm a girl innit the PATRIARCHAL BARSTARDS :-)

It's a bit long. I was having a ramble. And a lot of it is quite badly-informed! Never mind.
posted by [identity profile] the-golden-b.livejournal.com at 03:06pm on 07/02/2005
I was just thinking that myself. And then realised that if anyone in the whole world perpetuates the situation, it's them. Maybe someone with a little more quality instead...
posted by [identity profile] genie22.livejournal.com at 03:08pm on 07/02/2005
Or popjustice :)

posted by [identity profile] azureskies.livejournal.com at 02:55pm on 07/02/2005
The Family Fortunes noise clearly doesn't start with an "l", you know...

and yes, the icon is deliberate
posted by [identity profile] katstevens.livejournal.com at 03:06pm on 07/02/2005
It's a dipthong, innit. "IEH".

How would you spell it, then?
posted by [identity profile] missfrost.livejournal.com at 03:02pm on 07/02/2005
I got into a massive row last year with an industry bod who said he was "sick of hearing demos with girl singers." What sort of crazy blinkered attitude is that? Does he actually think all female voices sound the same?
And then he liked our girl-singer-fronted demo anyway, the eejit.

Ruth gets lot a of Elastica/Echobelly comparisons made, which I think is fairly lazy. "Oh it's a girl and she's from London, therefore she must be the same as..." But regarding role models, she took up the bass because she wanted to be Steve Mackey.
posted by [identity profile] katstevens.livejournal.com at 03:24pm on 07/02/2005
Bah to industry bods. The guy from the label that decided not do a single with us due to lack of financial backing (called Will) saw me at the Beggars Banquet party, and came over to say hi, all nice and charming. He later told TM that I was 'really pretty, that'll be useful'.

What a cvnt.
posted by [identity profile] bengraham.livejournal.com at 03:07pm on 07/02/2005
Kat, [livejournal.com profile] mellowdoubt is right that you should send that to the NME, and if they won't publish it, I'm sure Gurdeep or myself can get Glasswerk to print it.

But I do disagree with one aspect of your article. I think that the current climate is a great one for female musicians.

I'm thinking Meg White, Charlotte Hatherley (as a respected solo artist, rather than the hot chick who got recruited by an all-male band), Abi Whatsername from the Zutons, Auf Der Maur, The Concretes, Fiery Furnaces, Regina Spektor, the girl from Dresden Dolls. There are some extremely cool women in music right now, just like there have been in every era. And female pop groups are way cooler than the boybands. Girls Aloud rock. Say no more.
posted by [identity profile] katstevens.livejournal.com at 03:22pm on 07/02/2005
I'm not denying the above are cool, or good musicians. But I'd hardly say they are influential. Girls need their own Jimi Hendrix or Slash - someone who is so gobsmackingly good at playing that it inspires you to pick up a guitar yourself and bang a chord out.

Charlotte Hatherley is the only one out of that list who I'd say had the opportunity to reach a mass audience of young girls. But her solo material really is weak and lifeless. In fact, Ash got proper sh1t when she joined, Burn Baby Burn aside.
posted by [identity profile] dogrando.livejournal.com at 05:06pm on 07/02/2005
The number of girls playing geeeetar is bad, but it things are much worse in techno, d'n'b, hip hop, and a whole bunch of other types of modern muzik. I guess that, in the case of hip hop, we can blame a lot of it on the macho posturing of a lot of the big playas (if you're a girl, you must sing r'n'b, right?). But techno, especially, is a pretty faceless genre: with photo ops rare and pseudonyms the norm, artists' genders are almost invisible. But how many female techno producers (or even DJs) can you think of? (Don't answer that.)

I suspect — and this applies to both electronica and rock'n'roll — a lack of role models is a factor. You started playing because of Justine, but she was one of a tiny minority. And the scarcity of girls in your generation will affect the next, sadly.

With techno, I guess another factor is that it involves being a bit of a geek, and geek girls are in a pretty small minority, too. [Farm in figures from the IT and engineering industries here.] A lot of the better guitarists tend to be fairly geeky, too, so it might well apply there, too. Of course, this is a correlation rather than an actual explanation: I guess my point is that the whole “women in music” thing is one aspect of a much wider problem.
posted by [identity profile] boyofbadgers.livejournal.com at 05:24pm on 07/02/2005
I nearly posted something very similar to this but got distracted by the Shit Indie Drummer Problem.
posted by [identity profile] carsmilesteve.livejournal.com at 05:16pm on 07/02/2005
speaking of ms wener, she said pretty much the same thing in the obs. yesterday, i wonder if that's why today were running the story...

i wonder if perhaps it's just cos guitar music (and it's associated trappings) is often rubbish (and/or smelly) that girls get put off. i also wonder if, in fact, an entire new paradigm would make more sense that copying the silly boys, what's so good about being in the nme anyway (that's directed more to ms wener than you kat)?
posted by [identity profile] catsgomiaow.livejournal.com at 05:23pm on 07/02/2005
They're about to do a "piece" on this on Radio 1 newsbeat and my co-workers are excitedly looking forward to me foaming at the mouth and turning purple...
posted by [identity profile] boyofbadgers.livejournal.com at 05:31pm on 07/02/2005
I can see the glow of yr purple face from here.
posted by [identity profile] wonderwelsh.livejournal.com at 07:55pm on 07/02/2005
Right - that's going in the fanzine as well!!
posted by [identity profile] katstevens.livejournal.com at 10:10am on 08/02/2005
Let me edit it first, please. I've already spotted several spelling mistakes.
posted by [identity profile] sbp.livejournal.com at 04:25pm on 10/02/2005
I saw a band soundchecking at 93ft East a week ago - only the drummer was a bloke, the two guitarists and bassist were all girls. And they could play fine, from the couple of songs I heard them do. The singer of Drinkme (Rhoda's band) is a girl who plays bass if I remember correctly. And the last act I saw at 93ft East was KT Tunstall, playing solo guitar, loops and singing. So it's not all bad.

I don't think there are that many female electronica artists, or many female DJs, but I don't know that scene particularly.


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