10 Invaluable Insights for Women Musicians, from Women Musicians


With Lilith Fair suffering while Lady Gaga and Beyoncé top the charts (and rake in the cash), it’s a strange time for women in music. Perhaps to help make sense of it all, NPR has dropped “Hey Ladies,” a massive survey of female musicians and their experiences onstage and off. The entire nine-part feature is worth reading, but for those who want a taste before sifting through it all, we’ve compiled some of our favorite words of wisdom from ladies including of Montreal’s Dottie Alexander, Hannah Lew of Grass Widow, Marissa Nadler, and even the inimitable Exene Cervenka.

Teeth MountainOn touring with men: I feel — lets face it — a little bit out of the loop is when we are in transit, or hanging out after the shows. It is during these periods of down-time that the conversation has its way of turning towards girls, and bodies. It is times like after we have broken down all our equipment and we are all sitting out side, drenched in sweat and sharing cigarettes, that I learn who was checking out which girl in the audience, and whether the ladies out that night were a generally attractive crowed or not. Of course, I can engage them in some of this conversation. I can say things like “which girl in the neon green shirt with the big glasses?” and “yea, she was looking right at you all throughout “Woof Woof”. — Kate Levitt, Teeth Mountain and Dan Deacon Ensemble

Grass WidowOn onstage gender roles: Being a female musician means that when people describe us-they often call us a girl band, or identify us as that before recognizing anything else about us. That can be very frustrating since we spend so much time conceptually and musically making challenging music. It’s a bit reductive and insulting when gender is the first thing people comment on. It’s unfortunate that a lot of women feel that they need to assume men’s roles to feel empowered about what they are doing. I would like to think that we as women can help foster new positive female identities that don’t rely on dusty gender stereotypes… Women shouldn’t have to hide their confidence and celebration of themselves because men can’t control themselves. That attitude seems to be in the service of men-excluding women from the audience. — Hannah Lew, Grass Widow

of MontrealOn ignoring the norms: It seems as though women in music are given 2 options for success: be a sex symbol, or a crazy hardass. I think that my best advice would be to scrap these extremes, and just be really really good at what you do. Work on your musical prowess and stage presence. It’s amazing how much respect you can gain just by being as good as the dude playing next to you. — Dottie Alexander, of Montreal

Yo! MajestyOn industry savvy: Da industry is a beast and I refuse to be a victim. Knowledge is power, so learn all you can every chance you get about da various aspects of da industry. Talent is only a percentage of what you need to be successful in da business. — Shunda K, Yo! Majesty

Woven BonesOn being part of the community: The best advice I would give any new musician is to go out and get involved in your local music scene. Check out your local independent newspaper/music blog/record store and meet people who are doing what you’d like to do. They can be your best source of information and inspiration. — Carolyn Cunningham, Woven Bones

You Say PartyOn knowing your shit: The best thing you can do is know your stuff. Know your gear, know your instrument, know what you want in business, know what’s important to you and what your values are. — Krista Loewen, You Say Party

Damon and NaomiOn making music for the right reasons: I really don’t think, at this point that I would give a woman any different advice than I would give a man. . .It’s a lot of work, a lot of fun, and a lot of disappointments too. You have to do it for yourself because the financial and emotional rewards are not things you can ever count on. — Naomi Yang, Damon & Naomi

Sunset RubdownOn the media: Be extremely wary of the media– know that they are happy to distort anything you might say in order to fit a pre-conceived notion they have about you. There’s not a lot you can do about it but choose your words carefully. — Camilla Ingr, Sunset Rubdown

Marissa NadlerOn doing it yourself: I think women today have a more DIY approach, with much of that due to the prevalence of technology. Women can book their own tours and build their own fanbases, as well as control their own images and imagery, from home. They don’t necessarily need a record label and they don’t need a label telling them how to dress or how to sound. — Marissa Nadler

Exene Cervenka. Image via.A legendary career’s worth of great advice: hundreds of people have given me valuable advice. i mostly learned by watching other women and figuring out what not to do. my advice: work, work, work. practice a lot. never stop writing. listen to your gut. don’t let anyone use you or abuse you. stand up for yourself and what you believe in. work with other women, when possible and set a good example of kindness, chacter and responsibility for the women who will come along after you. be professional. don’t “act like a man” to get ahead. “if you can’t beat em, join em” DOES NOT apply anymore. rock on, sisters! — Exene Cervenka, X, The Knitters