As CMW 2019 drew to a close, there were a handful of events promoting strong women. Female musicians have struggled for years to be heard and not necessarily seen. Progress is slow, but they are killing it along the way.
Radio-friendly royalty Linda Perry offered a Master Class and it was very telling of what she looks for in collaborators or when recruiting new talent. The singer-songwriter-producer-manager-superhero might be a low-key name to those not following the behind the scenes stuff of such popular artists as Pink and Christina Aguilera. But the rock ‘n’ roll mama has been doing this for years. Her name may otherwise ring a bell if we cite “What’s up?” – a more or less one-hit-wonder by Perry’s band the 4 Non Blondes, some decades back.
It is clear that Perry loves the music business. She is hopeful that it will be okay even if at times it feels dismal. Consumers demand the bar to be raised. She says that recently, what’s been passing as artists has been unacceptable. She likened them to popcorn, Eat them up and then move onto the next bag. The discussion began with some foreshadowing as Perry discarded her chewing gum on the Jonas Brothers (the boyband was gracing the cover of Billboard magazine nearby). With this in mind, the audience learned about how talent is sometimes second to motivation. Artists are making demos these days that are so polished because it’s what they’ve been taught is industry standard. Perry reminded that a lot of money is thrown away on this when the song isn’t even necessarily good. To show that an artist is of value, they should stick a voice and a piano on a demo and let that speak for itself. Perry wants the passion, never mind the bells and whistles. Reverb and beats and Auto-tune can be added in the studio once the artist attracts a producer’s attention with their raw merits.
And speaking of the studio, on May 11th, six women gathered for the Women in the Studio panel. Hostess Vivian Barclay is the General Manager at Warner Chappell Music Canada, and she led a discussion about the highs and lows of being female in this pocket of the music industry.
All of the guests have been or still are active as musicians, singers, and songwriters. But their appearance here was about their prowess as producers, engineers and technicians. It was interesting to note that 90% of the discussion’s audience was female. It’s support, yes, but it’s like preaching to the choir. The ladies already know the issues they face in the biz. It would be great that more men could sit in on such talks.
Producer-songwriter Karen Kosowski said that she tries to not think about gender. She doesn’t want people to want to work with her because she’s a woman. It would be more of a compliment if they were instead a fan of her work. She’s fed up of people implying she pumps records out of her vagina.
There seemed to be consensus that while men inflate their sense of self, women tend to underscore their merits. There is a trend with females in the studio to not brag or overqualify their skill sets. But hey ladies, if you’re good, you’re good! Sadly, as the assumed less qualified gender, there’s a real need to feel “better” than. Better than that other producer, better than that other male producer. It isn’t in the spirit of competition but rather the need to feel their merits are special, in order to stand out among so many other people whose skills are rarely questioned because of their gender. Producer-musician and educator Alysha Brilla only gets approached by female artists. Is it because of intimidation that men do not want to work with her? Is taking orders from a female a bit too much for their fragile masculinity?
Keep going, ladies – you’re doing fine and people (men) are starting to slowly take more notice of it!
Now someone (female) who doesn’t seem to have a conflict of interest with her (male) cohorts is Natalia Robert Michał of Cheap Tobacco. The rock group from Poland played to a warm reception at the Monarch Tavern on their final performance at CMW. Michal quipped about how sometimes the band felt more at home in Toronto than they do in their home land. In Poland people have belittled their choice of band names. Why don’t they call themselves Expensive Tobacco? Funny. In Canada, reactions were more like Yeah, Cheap Tobacco! Cool name!
The group is well known in Poland for Michal’s bluesy vocals. However, this is pure hard rock complete with meandering instrumental passages. These guys (and one girl) know how to rock and get the audience participating with call-answer chants and hand claps.This is only a hint of what’s to come. Each year, CMW chooses to put one country in the musical hot-seat. CMW 2020 is Poland’s year, and Cheap Tobacco was a good appetizer in 2019. It’s a fitting choice to showcase this particular band. They got their start in a little club in Krakow, and are now on Polish radio and winning all sorts of music awards.
Krakow is becoming a musical haven of all sorts. Cinetalk already sent Editor Sandro Forte to Krakow Film Music Festival last year, and guess what? Right after CMW, FMF is always around the corner! Stay tuned for Sandro’s coverage of the event starting in 3…2…1…now!