The Music Industry Has An Entrenched Culture Of Discrimination And Violence: It Needs To Change

8 November 2017 | 10:02 am | Kelly Dawn Hellmrich

As Hollywood continues to be rocked by historic cases of sexual abuse against women, similar stories are also emerging from elsewhere in the entertainment industries. Now, a vanguard of female artists are making the music scene a safer space.

Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich on-stage with Camp Cope. Photo by Jodie Downie.

Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich on-stage with Camp Cope. Photo by Jodie Downie.

My band, Camp Cope, and I were sitting in the studio last week and the engineer for our record asked if we were nervous about the release of our second album. I cannot remember which one of us said it, but we definitely all agreed that we felt less pressure about the record than ever before because no matter what we do, people will find a reason as to why we did it wrong anyway. We laughed and joked about it, but at its core it was a statement that really hit home to our overall experience being non-male in the music industry.

Before forming a band together, the three of us were always extremely active in music. We definitely fit that cliche you hear from musicians that 'music is and always has been our life'. We'd all grown up playing music, attending shows, working in music shops, venues, labels. On paper, we definitely did read as your typical group of musos. But our image doesn't really fit that mould.

I think when you ask a person to picture a rock musician they picture a sweaty, shirtless - or maybe flannel-clad - long haired dude with a Fender guitar. We are sweaty and flannel-clad, and we play Fenders. But we aren't those men, and that's the part that gets to people. Music being our passion isn't the only thing we have in common. Another thing we share is that in this music world we have all been made to feel less important, less listened to and deserving of space because of our gender. This continues together as a band where we are constantly facing discrimination and sexism and then criticism when we are outspoken about it. There have been people asking us if we knew how to use our equipment or if we write our own songs; we've had people checking our passes backstage but not our male counterparts beside us; we've been placed lower on line-ups and paid less than all-male bands.

I really believe if you asked any woman, person of colour or member of the LGBQTIA+ community who works in music, you'd get millions of stories in a similar vein. We are just not considered, respected or listened to in the same way as the white men who do the same thing as us. We have to work harder, speak louder, prove ourselves time and time again to be taken seriously. There are groups of male musicians and men in positions of power in this community who are so often labeled 'the hardest working in the industry', while women, people of colour and LGBQTIA+ people do the same job in the face of adversity. They do the same job and are ridiculed and harassed on the internet. They do the same job while not being listened to by stage crew, technicians and managers. They do the same job and get sexualised, harassed and catcalled. They do the same job and are told they are not hardworking or deserving, but lucky.

For us, this makes it very personal and important to be proactive in creating a safe and empowering space at our shows. We create and take part in diverse line-ups and we take a zero-tolerance approach to sexual assault and violence. For this, we are often labeled 'preachy' or 'difficult'. We have been labeled 'bullies' for pointing out gender disparity in line-ups and we've been faced with aggressive males in our own audiences simply for asking them to calm down and stop potentially harmful or dangerous behaviour. We are a band with no manager, booking agent, tour manager, album producer or major label. We have been called a hype-band, a buzz-band, a girl-band, a feminist band... but never a hardworking-band.

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The music industry is shifting slowly and more and more there are so many people speaking out against sexism, discrimination, assault and violence that has been ignored or considered 'just the way it is' for too long. In particular we are very fortunate to have such a unique festival culture here in Australia and there is no doubt that Australian festivals are in the spotlight for both positive and negative reasons, I feel like this gives us a huge opportunity to take action and make a global impact - setting a whole new precedent for festivals to tackle the issues and stand-up for the empowerment and safety of their artists, staff and attendees alike.

This would mean reviewing and reflecting on the diversity of line-ups, making safety a priority and making meaningful change, and taking action after raising awareness. As a community we need to do better and being self-critical is important in achieving a new era for music. Death to the stereotypical rock musician.