Since male dominance plays a central role in pop culture, female artists are excessively excluded from the music industry. By using the stereotypical image of teenage girls, women are characterized as consumers and products of sexual desire in particular musical genres; for instance, women are historically defined by their appearances and sexual behaviour in rock culture. In other words, women are portrayed as mere objects to fulfill men’s pleasure in the context of music. Here, it is obvious that musical genres are gendered, causing a lot of anxiety for women. To add, when women choose to pursue their music careers and break through the norm, unpleasant terms are utilized to criticize their behaviour based on the male narratives. At this point, many female artists shift to “self-production,” as it allows for room to express themselves without any judgement from male colleagues. Through the process of music-making, women can express their hidden emotions through music and create their own identities. Therefore, the girl-power concept is indeed emphasized within popular music, which later inspired many newbie female artists to pursue their path in the music industry. In this paper, the negative impact of masculine dominance will be analyzed along with female artists' experience in popular music.
To begin, women are massively compelled by the industrial expectation, where their freedom of expression is limited in comparison to men. Here, women are marketed by their appearances, as they are expected to be “cute” or “sexy” in order to attract the male audience. As seen in the article, The Gendered Carnival of Pop (2001), Diane Railton points out that the music industry does not treat female artists seriously when it comes to music production. They assume that artists do not have enough potential to create authentic music. Instead of giving women the opportunity to explore their musical style, the industry puts women in the position of consumerism. In relation to the idea of capitalism, women have been depicted as prey of conspicuous consumption, as they are targeted to increase the sale of goods from boy groups that appeal to them. In addition, mass media chooses to constantly portray this idea that women cannot control their emotions towards male musicians. This notion of a female audience creates tension between the music industry and the female artists who want to pursue their careers passionately. In other words, women are considered as the commercial products rather than talented artists: “To be sexual and produce music that is purely commercial easily transforms into prostitution and commercial sex,” (Railton 2001, 327). Here, female artists are overtly depicted in a sexual context, and they have to maintain this identity in order to survive in the music business. With the use of sexualized images, women’s skills are overlooked, which creates increased stress and pressure among female artists. As established in the story of Karen Carpenters, the idealized image of female figures destructs the way the artists view themselves, as they excessively adhere to the audience’s judgement on their appearances. Even though Karen has perfect drum skills and unique vocals, she cannot perform on stage due to reasons concerning her appearance. As a result of anxiety, Karen eventually struggles with an eating disorder because the industry expects her to be skinny and as close to the idealized female image as possible. Similarly, George McKay (2018) also depicts the dark side of the music industry where women are physically exploited for the advantage of the music business; to be specific, “the combination of ambition to achieve and dark drive to self-destruct that is characteristic of eating disorders,” (5). McKay pinpoints that the industrial expectation does not only put the artists’ life at risk, but the artists start losing their creativity in music. Despite the fact that Karen became a big star with various hit songs and amazing arrangements, her musical expression is gradually limited (McKay 2018, 11). Therefore, this explicitly shows how the male-dominant power suppresses female roles in the music industry, as well as overlooking their skills.
In addition to female exploitation, this gender issue persists in popular music, in which women’s sexualized images are always resonated with pop culture. Even in live performances, women’s bodies are overtly displayed, regardless of their comfort, as Railton ( 2001) notes that “If women pop singers are not directly sexualized by the serious music press, they are discussed in unflattering terms in relation to their physical appearance,” (327). This can be seen from Sasha Sloan, a singer song-writer who works with many well-known artists in connection with writing and producing music for both male and female artists. After beginning her career by working with other artists, she started writing her own songs and got the opportunity to perform on stage. It is important to note that she confronts a lot of industrial pressures that depend upon the commercial use of idealized female figures. In one of her interviews, she discussed her personal experience of being put in an uncomfortable situation, as she was compelled to wear a particular outfit or act in a particular way: “I’ve been put in a few situations where I didn't want to wear a certain outfit or do something in a video,” (Create and Cultivate 2020). Here, it is obvious that the music industry puts a lot of pressure on female artists, which can distort their real identities. From the past to the present day, we can definitely see that these pre-set gender notions have still not diminished in the music industry. This clearly displays the destruction from and inequality within the popular music industry, as it consistently disvalues female artists and their capabilities. Moreover, only men are recognized and given credit in the music production. To put it simply, men are instantly recognized when people think of musical credibility.
With this notion of masculinity, most female artists start exploring their own sound, which contributes to the rise of “self-production.” As Sasha Sloan explains her process of making music, she has the ability to make decisions on her own piece; she reiterates the song so many times until finding the right sound (Herrera 2020). At this point, the idea of self-production allows her to find her own voice without others’ judgement in the music field. In addition to gender asymmetries, technology and music production are related to masculine dominance, as male producers run most of the studio. As Maalsen et al. (2018) note, “Access to a disposable income is a key factor, as discussed earlier, as are relationships with technology and the predominance of masculinity,” (49). Besides that, the new media and the use of electricity had been excessively used, along with the experimental process of recording (Middleton et al., Grove Music Online). Here, women are constantly excluded from the process of music-making due to the fact that gender bias strongly affects the ability to work with other male colleagues. Nevertheless, Sasha Sloan promotes the concept of girl power, as she is able to overcome the music hegemony and create her own identity through music. Sloan chooses to break the norm of typical popular music by mainly focusing on lyrical content. Instead of making uplifting music that appeals to the standard of pop songs, she embraces a sense of vulnerability (Damoui 2018, Ones to watch). By looking at the insight view of her music production, she explains that popular music prevents women from expressing their emotional fidelity; thus, she tries to be honest with her music as much as possible (Herrera 2020). In the interview, she discusses how making music is therapeutic, as she uses music as a tool to express her hidden emotions. This can be seen from the song “House With No Mirrors,” as she entails the idea of insecurities and body-shaming through the lyrics. Sloan expresses her emotional pain as a way of accepting who she truly is. This song is beautifully blended between Sloan’s mellow voice and the clean sound of the acoustic guitar. Sloan wrote this song in minor keys, in which the meter occurs in groups of four. The tempo is slightly fast at approximately 125 beats per minute. For the instruments used, Sloan’s voice was accompanied by an acoustic guitar (chordophone), an electric guitar (electrophones), drum (membranophone), keyboard (electrophones) and a digital mixer in order to create a reverb effect for background vocals. The song starts with the sound of acoustic guitar in fingerpicking styles, along with Sloan's soft voice; the musical texture is homophonic, as the main melody was carried by the singer before the drum entered in the chorus to build up the emotions and hold the tempo. The guitarist also taps on the top part of the guitar’s body to create a percussive pattern. Throughout the songs, the instruments remain changed as the instrumental sound will disappear between verses. Even though Sloan’s singing style is stable, the dynamic was built upon the changing volume of instruments. Moreover, the airy texture will be heard when Sloan sings in falsetto before her voice gets thicker in the verses and chorus to emphasize the hidden emotions. The use of a digital mixer helps to expand the vocal range to create a resonant and spatial feeling for the listeners. The background vocals sound far away, while the main vocals seem intimate, as if Sloan sang this song beside us. In addition to the background vocals, Sloan repeatedly sings in syllabics aligned with the instrumental sound and layers the harmonic part with the digital mixer to create an echoey effect. With her self-production, the techniques used to construct the distinctive sonic texture, as well as contribute to her identity in the music industry.
Before shifting to self-production, Sasha Sloan also experienced verbal abuse in her creative working space. As stated by Sloan, “I remember saying ‘Oh, I think I’m going to put my own music out,’ and one producer was like, ‘You’re a little old, aren’t you?’ I think I was 21 at the time,” (Johnston 2018). This explicitly conveys how the music industry underestimates female artists, in which they believe that female appearances are essential in the music business. When women take charge in music production, Maalsen et al. (2018) recognize that men will feel challenged because women completely shift from the role of a consumer to the producer: “that ‘fear of woman as a collector rather than consumer may well be because she symbolizes a threat to male control and power in society',” (44). In the same way, the dominant power marginalizes gender diversity in terms of overlooking women’s musical tastes and opinions. Thus, men feel prevailed when it comes to music production and other related skills. Here, it is evident that male dominance is the greatest contributing factor to gendered music preferences in music culture as a whole. Therefore, the rise of female producers indeed challenges the patriarchy and also inspires young teenage girls to pursue their music careers in the future.
All things considered, the notion of male dominance has persisted in the music industry for a long time. The power imbalance excessively disrupts the opportunity for women to make their own music or enjoy their true musical preferences. As people continuously adhere to the typical image of the female figure, women’s identities are distorted. In other words, women are excluded from music heritage despite having authentic skills that could create a massive change in popular music. Thus, the music industry should diminish gender inequalities to move the development of music culture further.
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