When you think about the multi-billion dollar industry that is music, some of the names that instantly come to mind – some of the big money earners – are the female stars: Katy Perry, Taylor Swift, Rhianna to name just a few.
But what about behind the scenes?
Two young Canadian film makers , Sarah Clattenburg and Sahar Yousefi , have decided to shine a light on the gender disparity in music production, and created the documentary Play Your Gender, which details how just five percent of those working behind the scenes in music are female.
The documentary, which made its international premiere at the Canberra International Film Festival, filmed across North America speaking to artists and music producers about the gender imbalance and the difficulties for women breaking into the industry.
Clattenburg, who served as the film’s director, says it was important to bring attention to an issue that had been overlooked for so long.
“I’m a drummer and I’ve been playing in bands for about ten years, and I’m so used to seeing it” she explained.
“So used to going into a sound check and it’s a sound guy, never a girl, or there’s no other female drummers playing that night. So I noticed it, but it’s also just so common that it’s easy to just accept it because it happens all the time.”
There are a number of reasons for the lower number of women in production roles Yousefi, the film’s producer, explained, but much of it came down to attitude.
“There aren’t that many examples of women in the music industry on the technical side already just because of a lot of stereotyping – women historically have been seen as less technical and of course women just joined with the workforce after World War II,” she said.
“In music specifically, yes there is that boy’s club element, there’s that stereotyping that women aren’t interested in doing things that involve buttons and wires as if you have to be a genius. It’s all about seeing yourself in that position and having access to the resources, and having people that support it.
“If you don’t feel like you’re among your peers – it’s just very natural for people to hang out with people they relate to and give opportunities to people they relate to, so naturally it’s all men that are used to having a certain rapport with someone – they’re not supporting the women around them as much, not for any sinister reason.”
Clattenburg agreed that girls need to have role models to look up to in the industry.
“When you’re a young girl and you want to get involved in the music industry it looks like you could be a singer and maybe a keyboardist, but there’s not really anywhere else for you to fit in,” she said.
“The more people you see breaking down those walls, the more young girls will be able to see “oh ok, maybe I could do that’.
Filming across LA, New York and Toronto, the filmmakers interviewed experts, musicians and producers about the current state of the industry and the changes that need to be made – but it wasn’t always easy getting people to talk.
“In terms of the people we interviewed, people were really keen to speak about it, they were very passionate – a lot of our interviewers had a lot to say because of their own personal experiences – they’ve had to struggle a lot to prove themselves and be taken seriously,” Yousefi said.
“I think a lot of people were worried that the people they were working with would interpret it the wrong way, that they were complaining about the men in their lives, which isn’t necessarily what’s happening – they’re just addressing a very obvious issue”.
Yousafi sees Canada as a leader in gender issues, particularly with developments in government at the forefront of world discussion.
“The recent change in Canada, everyone’s made note. I remember when all the ministers were announced, beyond the fact that it was gender, the fact that the ministers actually had experience in what they’re in charge of, there’s racial diversity,” she said,
“I think we are a leader because people are talking about it, and the fact they’re talking about it means it’s unique –when I try to find other examples of it, there’s very few, so I do think Canada is a leader and I’m very proud of that.”
Bringing to documentary to Canberra for its international premiere may seem an odd choice, but to the girls it was an easy decision.
“Canberra is such a wonderful festival, they’re very concerned with bringing topical documentaries and films that bring light to issues that aren’t quite as popular,” Yousefi said.
“They give opportunities for gender balance and minorities, so we were really keen because they were so keen to bring us out and have a conversation around it, not just screen it.”
The film will now tour film festivals around the world over the next year, with Yousefi hoping people join in what is an important conversation on gender balance and equality.
“We want people to see the documentary, but we also want people to be engaged,” she said.
“This is an issue we’re concerned with, not just a film we’re trying to promote.”
Interviews and stories that feature in the film, plus added extras, are available on the Play Your Gender website.