katstevens: (justine)
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.


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