I started releasing music in 2006 11 years ago through MySpace. I suppose my first experiences w sexism in the music industry came via private messages on there. I don’t think I quite had a grasp on it though.
My first album went to number 1 and the world I was used to blew up pretty quickly. I was traveling the globe, overworked, exhausted, drunk and v young w no previous experience in the music industry and no mentor.
As I’ve gotten older, I turn 29 this year, I have faced a lot of what happened to me during those early years and the things that continue to happen now.
When I was 17 I had heart surgery, some of my heart was literally lasered off. I had to make a choice, decide for myself whether or not to have the surgery. It was a bit much considering I worked in a fast food restaurant and couldn’t decide what I wanted to do at the wknd or what I wanted for dinner most nights. Being asked to make a decision on whether you should have life threatening surgery to help w life threatening disease via a list of statistics & percentages is tough ; here are the chances you will have a stroke and a heart attack! here’s what happens if you ignore it and it worsens it you get pregnant in the future! you might end up needing a pacemaker which only lasts x number of years! etc.. All a bit much for a 17 year old me working the chip fryer at Nandos in Harrow.
I had the surgery, survived and felt inspired to play my first shows. I was completely terrified, but completely bored and figured if I had survived this then it meant something and I should do stuff I’m scared of. I booked my first gig and rode my bike too fast at night in dangerous places.
The first thing I noticed about the music industry was every room I walked into was full of men. On my first night in a tour bus I went to bed early because the masculine energy was so overwhelming that I felt like I didn’t fit in and couldn’t compete w the testosterone.
Next the paparazzi started chasing me. I was called too fat and ugly to be a pop star, my acne was highlighted in magazines in big red circles, I was compared to other women’s bodies, there were reviews on who wore it best and I was constantly asked about my love life, my make up bag, what I was wearing, what school I went to, who my nan was, what celebrities I was friends with. The rare occasion someone asked me about my music was actually exciting.
I noticed my male peers were cited as legends and heroes. I was called a silly teenage girl writing in her diary in a mockney accent by most journalists.
These are 2 questions I’ve had from journalists I’ll never forget:
- Does it annoy you that the majority of your fans are young girls?
- Why don’t you care about being sexy?
So many levels right?
- Why are young females so worthless, how much does the world hate young women that you would actually think it would annoy me that they are the majority of my fans?!?! Sexist AND ageist. Nah mate I’d rather a bunch of old men were front row. Also… would you ever ask a man this?
- Why do I have to care about being sexy? You’re basically saying that I’m not sexy, why do you think I don’t care about being sexy? What’s it to you anyway and why is there one accepted version of sexuality for women? If you don’t fit into that box then you’re not sexy? I don’t get it. Again would you ever ask a man this?
I’ve had a manager who was a massive coke head and used my name to get girls into clubs & to sleep w girls. He tried to manage other female musicians I knew, told them they weren’t good and that he could change them and put his hand up their top at the same time. Cheated on his girlfriend I was friends with on the road w me, partied in hotel rooms next door to me w girls when I had to be up at 5.00 am and he’d come on tour to ‘help’ and still tells people my life & career would be so much better if I had never fired him because he would never have let me release the music I have. He recently offered me a record deal, for £0.00. I declined and now he sends photos of himself naked in bed to girls in the industry.
I worked w a producer that lied to his publishing company, told them he was writing my record and got a shit ton of money from them. Then I had to fight him in court to get writing credits on songs i had written when I was 16 and had tape recordings of from writing them in my teenage bedroom. My 2 older male managers told me to stop fighting and that they were worried about what the press would do to me if this got out, especially considering I was a girl.
I recently met w an old publisher who had left the publishing company without telling me years ago, completely changed jobs, now working at a record label. He told me he didn’t like or ‘get’ my last couple of records but liked the pop songs he heard in my new stuff. He asked me ‘is this what Kate Nash looks like now’… honestly I’m speechless about that one and currently working on a whole art show around it. He needed a guarantee that I would be doing pop songs forever from now on. If he was going to spend any money on me I needed to promise him that. So basically he can change jobs and sit there himself looking as he pleases and I have to promise to look and sound a certain way forever? I’m 29, this was last summer.
In the early years I had all these men in all these corporate suits telling me what they thought I should do, how I should feel and how much money I should make them. I feel quite strongly that most artists are of fragile mental health and what the music circuit and industry does to a lot of artists is totally fucked. So as an adult looking back on my 19 year old self I feel quite sick about these old pricks cashing their checks and not asking me if I was ok, introducing me to female mentors, giving me days off, asking me if I wanted therapy or any kind of emotional support during such an unstable & hectic time. I had a lot of fun don’t get me wrong and I made decisions for myself. I had to fight to do so and that’s why I’m considered ‘difficult’ by many.
I have been called an angry lesbian, a diva, and a psycho bitch, I’ve been told to go stick a bomb up my cunt and explode, I’ve been assaulted at shows, I’ve been mocked for writing like a teenage girl writing in her diary, I’ve had rape and death threats online, I’ve been called “everything that’s wrong with music distilled into one slag” I’ve been told ‘we’ve come a long way”, I’ve been told to stop playing instruments, to stop doing that ‘screamy thing where you sound like a little girl’, I’ve been asked ‘have you been a naughty girl?’, I’ve been told not to be so angry.
The point in which my life became infinitely better, more enjoyable, more vivacious, fun, wild, supported and free at the same time was when I started surrounding myself w women. I hired a sound girl, she helped me cover my acne and saved us from giant spiders in Australia. Then my lighting girl, who has flown helicopters and fixed my tour bus on the side of the motorway in Germany. Finally an all female band in 2011 who are the most reliable, trustworthy, amazing, shredders and rockstars I have ever known. I feel like I can do anything when they are playing behind and alongside me.
Most recently I worked on a tv show with a cast of 14 women and we were taught to wrestle by the world renowned wrestler, from a legendary family of wrestlers, Mr. Chavo Guerrero. What he taught us to do with our bodies was such a life changing experience that it has given me a totally fresh perspective on life. It has helped me heal w so much of the sexist shit in my past and inspired me beyond what I could have imagined. If I can do this, what more is there to unlock in myself? He respected and loved us and I wish I had known him during the first years of my music career! I would have had so much more confidence, plus he could have beaten up all the sexist douche bags that constantly tried to take advantage of me. I’m so lucky to have had a mentor and a coach like him.
I feel more confident when I am surrounded by those that understand how political it is to be a woman. I have a huge network of amazing women, I’m very close to and hugged by the queer community. I have a white straight male manager who totally gets it, who loves my music, who puts my health first and who is respectful, supports my choices, gives good advice and treats me like an adult human that can form opinions and have intelligent thoughts. It is hard to get used to. I still react with my back up sometimes out of habit.
I love music and I’ll always have a music career no matter the challenges or what it does to my mental health. Music keeps me alive. Music is the most beautiful and supportive vice. It will comforts and unleashes.
This zine has inspired me to to offer my mentoring services to anyone out there who is just starting out in music and needs advice or someone to talk to!…