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Today’s Challenges of Being a Female DJ

Music and events

By Annija Barbale

As of 2020 just ending it has set us off in a new decade in a very colourful way. There have been so many life-changing things happening for everyone, and I think I don’t exaggerate saying that. Everyone is looking towards 2021 with hope that it will bring more joy than sadness. Gender inequality and discrimination is nothing new, but it is something very relevant still to this day. Because this is such a relevant topic, it has been brought up more than a few times. There are some developments in the topic, but we also, wanted to see what women of the DJ industry had to say about it. We made a 6 question survey consisting of one in-depth interview with DJ Amanda Darling and 39 other female DJs who answered the same questions anonymously. Let’s see what they had to say about working in an industry which is noticeably dominated by men.

Is it more difficult to be a successful female DJ and earn your place in the industry?

To the first question only 5 participants out of 39, answered with ‘no’ arguing that it is not so difficult as it used to be or that it is difficult for everyone to earn their place in this industry. However, most are saying that it, definitely, is harder in a male-dominated industry, women have to fight to get any gigs, it’s a lot about their looks or how they are able to sell themselves. One answer implies that “in any industry where men are the gatekeepers (like music), as a woman, it is much harder to open up doors when appearances are valued more than musical skills by those gatekeepers.”

Amanda Darlings answers: “I think it’s harder to be successful in the DJ world as a female. In spite of all the challenges, I still like to think of being a female DJ as an asset, because ultimately it sets me apart and makes me unique, but it also makes it harder overall if your goal is reaching the top.”

“Let me start off by saying, I wish it wasn’t the case. I wish it wasn’t necessary to be having this conversation. It simply shouldn’t matter when a DJ is female. We all know by now that women are equally as talented and intelligent as men (different, and opposite in many ways, yet absolutely equal). Therefore, I would like to commence this interview by saying I wish we lived in a more advanced time when gender wouldn’t be an issue. Being a female DJ has its pros and cons. Sometimes as a girl, you receive early opportunities and an unfair advantage that perhaps men don’t get when you are first starting out. As a woman, you are a rarity of course, in an industry that is dominated 99% by men, and so you are given gigs.”

As well as most of the other answers, Amanda talks about how the looks are playing a major role or how female artists never get the headliners saying: “also, of course, a lot of playboy bunnies have risen in the scene, which I think can be seen as both good and bad. Entertainment is a complex art form that does of course take visual appeal into consideration, so I understand why this tends to happen. Then you have the problem of “celebrity” DJs like Paris Hilton adding fuel to the fire. The bottom line is, the hard-working, talented women who actually write songs and produce, may get some gigs early on, but are almost always pigeon-holed into the token place of being an opener, are put in the side room or are given the worst time slots. Women are very, very rarely regarded as headliners (especially as solo acts). As an alternative, women are put on “girl’s night”, with all-female lineups. This vexes me because I don’t believe in segregating DJs, and I like to play with the big boys and the big girls, too. So what I’m trying to say is, women, get some extra attention early on, but in the end, they are unfairly held back from getting positions of power.”

Do you feel like the industry is treating female DJs differently?

Again Amanda answers in agreement: “Indeed, I do feel the industry is treating women differently. Now, I want to mention I’ve met some great men in the club paradigm who have treated me with respect. I really appreciate the honest people who work in EDM and there are some amazing gentlemen of integrity out there. I just wish I could say it was the norm.” 

However, there are 3 negative answers to this question, pointing to the fact that if the artist is surrounded by a good team and is serious at what they’re doing then everyone is treated the same way. But most talk about how female artists are being objectified, even if it is still better than it used to be, they get booked because they are female or because of their looks, and rarely it is because of their actual talent, for example, one answer goes like this: “we are being objectified, sexualized and not taken as seriously as creatives and artists. We are being fed that we are too old to follow our dreams even if we are as young as 25 years old and it’s harder to follow through because of insecurity.”

Amanda believes in the rising through the ranks with hard work, but she also highlights unacceptable behaviour from some of the artists in the industry: “I also want to clarify that I don’t think women deserve a free pass in DJing, by any means, and I believe in women earning their credibility 100% fair and square. What I don’t like is the constant sexual harassment and judgment that prevents us from receiving the fair chance we deserve. Promoters and booking agents on power trips, as well as DJs with enormous egos sometimes ask for attention from their female cohorts in return for gigs or opportunities. I have regrettably found it is the norm and not the exception. I’ve watched it happen again and again, and it’s disheartening to see.”

“Dance music, at its core, is about peace, love, unity, and respect. I want to help revive the PLUR movement because I feel like in some ways we’ve drifted away from that. Even though it looks shiny and sparkly from the outside, a lot of morally questionable things go on backstage. I’ve found that toxic masculinity is considered normal and if you are a female and you talk about it, that’s considered a no-no, but I am frankly tired of justifying the environment; it needs to change. I will say that some of the darkest sides of what goes on have recently been exposed in regard to DJs like Bassnectar, Space Jesus and others, who have been accused of regularly hooking up with their underaged female fans, often with drugs involved. I want to take a stand right now and say hurting children is never justified and this needs to be addressed and stopped immediately. Though I cannot personally attest to the character of those aforementioned artists, I can say I have seen rampant abuse of power going on in general, and I don’t think enough women are speaking up about this. I don’t want to paint an overly negative picture. In spite of some of the unfortunate things I’ve seen, I still adore the DJ scene and find it overwhelmingly positive. Dance music heals and in many ways, it can be considered a spiritual experience. It’s all worth it when I step on stage. I love the bliss of writing and recording, and I’m addicted to it. I’m a warrior and I have a tough mindset; honestly, you have to, to survive in this highly competitive field.”

What are the biggest challenges you have come across?

To this question most of the answers come regarding the being taken seriously, lack of respect, lower pay compared to their male coworkers, difficulties as being away from home and their families for a long time, underrepresentation of great female artists, and many mention ‘boys club’ network overall.

Amanda’s answer also regards difficulties of making it as a female producer: “My biggest challenge has been receiving opportunities as a producer. I have found that male producers are readily willing to work with women as singers – another “safe” place for us females in the dance world to be – but the second a woman wants to co-produce, it becomes an issue. That is, except with exceptional men, who are more forward-minded, and luckily as I move ahead, I’m finding more and more opportunities in this regard. Remarkably, though I’ve released 2 full-length albums and 3 singles, I find it challenging to receive any kind of acknowledgement for having written and composed my tracks. This doesn’t surprise me. If you look at history, women who achieved feats in traditionally male fields were often shamed or discredited. This goes on today. That being said, I don’t think most people are actively trying to discriminate against female DJ/producers. The problem is, they are pre-programmed to do so.”

“Programming is a subconscious thought pattern that causes many of us to automatically think of a white male when the word “DJ” is mentioned because that’s what we’ve known in the past. That is precisely what needs to change now that we are in a new decade. I want to help shine a bright light on the unlimited potential that us females have as DJ/Producers. You see, even women are programmed. We are so programmed, that we don’t realize we sometimes hold ourselves back. Perhaps we don’t think it’s possible to be a true DJ megastar. In our subconscious, we think only a man can do that. I’m working hard on my art so I can follow the lead of the exceptional female producers like Allison Wonderland and Rezz, the trailblazers. The DJ world has yet to see a female producer achieve that kind of success in the Trance kingdom. I hope to help change that.”

Although, noticeably most of the answers regard challenges caused by male colleagues or representatives in the industry one answer states that: “The biggest challenge and disappointment I have encountered is unfortunately from the attitudes of other female DJs.  We should not be in competition with each other.”

Are the audiences different for ‘minor’ (gender, race, sexuality) DJs?

“Yes, because often the people are surprised, that a girl is the DJ and even more surprised, that she can also make some good music”, states one of the answers but on contrary, we can also see answers like: “ no, audiences are more open-minded and care less about the gender of the DJ than promoters or bookers”. The answers to this question differ. Some say yes, some say no and more than one respondent stated that it depends on location, genre and artist.

Amanda takes this question to encourage all female artists: “I don’t know the specific demographics, but of course, around half of all EDM fans are women – so ladies, why are we accepting the extremely unequal way things have been? We have more power than we think. We should be supporting the talented and hard-working females of this industry, and vehemently requesting that they headline. The #womensupportingwomen movement is of utmost importance. We have a new decade here, and it’s time for a change. That big change, in my opinion, will be women supporting women- in general, and not just in the DJ world. However, the DJ world happens to be one of the most unequal workplaces out there, in terms of who gets hired at clubs and festivals. The disparity in pay is outrageous. We still haven’t ever seen a female DJ solo act that reached #1 on DJ mag (or had anyone even come close, for that matter). I encourage everyone to think outside the box and go vote for female artists. I’m saying it’s time for more diversity, and that includes different races, as well. I can’t think of many black DJs who have risen to the top, and certainly even fewer black women. Why is this? The same goes for all races really, there are few Asians and Hispanic people at the top and it astounds me because I see tons of racial diversity in the audience at music festivals. I would love to see more variety on stage and I want to help with that by giving more opportunities to women and people of colour.”

Is there more support or hate from specific people?

“I personally have encountered both sides. A lot of love. So much love. It’s been a wild ride for me, but the greatest part has been the fans. Trance fans are the most wonderful people on the planet. I do a weekly radio show and a live stream called “Axion”. My Axion family has really been there for me and I have been blown away with the kindness and support I have received, from people believing in me. Even people I’ve never met in person, but who give me a ton of fan support online. I love you guys.” This is Amanda’s note on the positive side and other respondents also have some positive replies like: “I think there is more support. I am in a female DJ collective and I feel that there is a big audience behind it,” or “I spread good energy wherever I go so I rarely experience that.”

Even so, there will always be someone who is dissatisfied with something, and we can read about the negative side of the support (or lack of support) in this response from Amanda: “now let me address the hatred because I’m sure that’s the juicy part you really want to hear about, am I right? (lol). The truth is, a lot of drama takes place between DJs. Whenever I’ve really done a great show, to the point where people said I blew away the headliner, or when I had a hit song climbing the charts – that’s when I’ve gotten the most hatred. My male colleagues have occasionally created lies about me to undermine my talents, trying to rob me of my victories which were gained by many years of hard work. In the end, the truth comes out, however.”

“All of my songs have been supported by real, massive fan support and people who buy my songs on Beatport. The fans have been incredible. It seems like women are allowed to have success in the DJ world, but just some, and not too much. For example, when my song Mystery with Aressa reached #26 on the Global Beatport Trance Top 100 chart, that was considered just fine (I also had a male co-writer), but when my song Captured (which I produced myself) reached the #2 position on the Beatport Trance Top 100 chart, that was considered an outrage by some, and a few of my male colleagues started rumours about me online. They just couldn’t handle the truth – that I did it, and I really wrote it, and I did it the honest way. I have to say, I found their response shocking. I thought they would be happy to see me doing well, as most people were – but in the words of one of my idols, “The worst part of success is to try finding someone who is happy for you.” -Bette Midler. This kind of adversity just inspires me to work even harder, to stay humble, but also to fight back, because I will not be held down or kept in fear. I won’t stop myself from striving for success, and neither should any of my sisters out there,” and other answers relate to this saying that there can be a lot of hate from other female or male DJs who are their competitors, but that there can be a lot of support from fellow female DJs as well.

What would you say or wish to other aspiring female DJ artists?

Now to this last question we received some empowering words for other female DJs reading this. Amanda’s wish goes like this: “Never, ever give up or let anyone treat you as less in this industry. Focus on your production skills above all else. Keep people you can trust around you and be careful. Work like hell. Put in the hours. Only after 10 years, now I am able to create a new song every few weeks. It used to take me months or years to finish some songs. Songwriting is a gift, but it’s also a muscle. Flex that muscle. You might not be good at first. Keep going. Don’t listen to people who tell you to give up. Be relentless. All genders and races are a part of this world are equal; one reality, one loving spirit. Let’s raise our consciousness out of this time of divisiveness, and stand together in solidarity. Strong men support women. Strong women support their fellow women. Female DJs, it’s time to join in and support female DJs. It’s time for us to rise and we have the power to make it happen right now. I truly believe Trance music can, and will, change the world.”

Following this, I will add some of the other wishes we have: “We need to support each other. We aren’t in competition. Male DJs are already taking the majority of the scene. If we aren’t united we’ll never be able to have our deserved space.”

“Keep working hard and be consistent. Create music or mixtapes and brand yourself. Create good strong content and just keep going.”

“Be good to each other. Don’t let jealousy or pettiness get in the way of supporting and uplifting other women. If you love it and are passionate about it don’t give up!”

“Be unique and stand out with your music and performance. Don’t copy anyone and don’t look at others. Just focus on yourself and be yourself.”

“Do it for the love of what you do, the challenge of doing it well, the joy you add to a celebration of life and the satisfaction you get intrinsically. Money, recognition, and the rest are all really just the icing.” I could keep on with these but I think that the idea is clear – be supportive to others, work hard and don’t give up!

Summary

I think no one will deny the fact that women are still treated differently than men and there are industries where it is especially visible. We can see from this survey how many female representatives of the industry can feel it from different aspects. The industry is still way overrepresented by male artists and there are only a handful of female DJs. However, the positive thing is that a lot of them feel that the situation is getting better or at least that it is better than it was a few years ago, and that there are more open-minded and supportive people out there.

We want to thank Amanda Darling who answered thoroughly to every question and everyone else who took a part in this survey.

Image credit: Wallpaper Cave; Musicpage; EDM Tunes; Hardstyle Mag; The Los Angeles Film School; Life Without Andy; Dancing Astronaut; VoyageLA

By Annija Barbale

Annija is currently a student of International Arts and Culture studies. She has a passion for travelling, and she has been writing about her trips previously. Writing about music and events for UNIQCUBE helps to gain new and valuable experience for Annija.

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