'Can You Hear Me Now' is designed to give female musicians support in a ‘hostile’ industry
JUDGED on their appearance, talked down to, disregarded entirely…these are just some of the issues frighteningly still faced by many women in the music industry.
Although women have composed since medieval times, The Concise Oxford History of Music features only one female composer - Clara Schumann, a Romantic era pianist - and women in music criticism and production are few and far between. Relevant engineering courses report a critically low uptake of female students, while those who do work in music technology often encounter gender discrimination.
And, of course, there’s that old chestnut of objectification. Lady Gaga said women faced pressure to ‘sell everything to be a star,’ while everyone from Taylor Swift to Bjork have echoed her sentiments and Birmingham-born Laura Mvula even went to far as to say we are living in the ‘Donald Trump time’ of music.
"If you say anything with assertiveness or authority, you are often... labelled a diva," she told the Radio Times.
From sexualisation in pop to the machismo often associated with extreme metal and rock - both male-dominated genres - stereotypes prevail, and critics have also pointed out a lack of women in authoritative positions such as conducting and management.
In all, a sad state of affairs. Enter Can You Hear Me Now?, a Manchester-based zine that aims to support women in music by gathering experiences, sharing artist inspiration and giving practical advice: from setting up a PA to making a mixtape. The idea? To create a supportive community that encourages women to ‘take ownership.’
“It’s not just for musicians, it’s also for gig-goers who are fed up of harassment and, really, just anyone who likes listening to music,” says Olivia Havercroft, who founded the zine last June with the support of the North West Zine Fest.
“I hosted a workshop and it was really well-attended so that was when the idea really started to take shape. Plus, I find the creative environment in Manchester really supportive - people want to make a change and actually do something about it.”
During a stint in Canada, Olivia formed a band called Blood Rexdale and the Walls are Blonde, with whom she toured the US. They split up when she returned to study history at Sussex University but Olivia, determined to pursue her career in music, joined an organisation called Young Women’s Music Project. Now studying for a history PhD at the University of Manchester, she continues to make experimental music as a solo artist alongside running workshops.
“The main focus for me is using my experience as a musician to help others. I’ve lived in several places now and see the same issues cropping up again and again: it’s a hostile industry for women in many ways.”
As she points out, it’s also one full of unconscious biases: after all, how often have you felt ashamed of liking a charts song simply because it’s deemed ‘uncool’? Can You Hear Me Now? levels the playing field; much of the content is user-led, with a mixture of words and illustration, and proceeds from the quarterly print zine (sold on a pay-as-you-feel basis) will always go to charity. The first is Mad Dogs, which provides sanitary products for homeless women.
Can You Hear Me Now? officially launches at Aatma (an event space on Northern Quarter's Faraday Street - behind Hula on Stevenson Square) on Saturday 11 February; with an afternoon of music and zine workshops, plus live music from Mother, Rachel Hilary and Canter Semper. There’ll be two Grrrl DJ sets, then it’s off to Girl Gang MCR’s Galentine's Day Disco. Entry is free and Olivia will be using the workshops to gather material for her next zine, as well as the online blog. Following that she’ll be opening up submissions again and plans to seek some funding, as well as approaching possible distribution outlets.
One final question - why is it called Can You Hear Me Now?
“If one person speaks out alone it won't make a difference but, if a group of people speak out together, that's when you make a change.”
Can You Hear Me Now? launches on Saturday 11 February at Aatma: more info here