Right now, people are addressing the injustices that are happening all around us. This includes calling out sexism and misogyny in the music industry. Here, I discuss why it’s important to challenge people who treat you badly in the music industry, even if it feels difficult or easier to ignore it.
A bit about me and Northern Exposure…
I came into this game for one reason and one reason only, my love of music. Over the past few years and only out of advice given to me, I’ve always kept my mouth shut about my personal experience of the music industry but with so many recent allegations coming to light I have decided to re-edit this piece I wrote 3 years ago and share my experience.
I have always been around music, I was practically brought up by my grandparents who managed and booked bands, my childhood was spent on club backrests watching artists perform at my grandparents’ gigs. My grandad and grandma rubbed shoulders with the likes Jerry & The Pacemakers, Tom Jones, Cilla Black, Brian Epstein and met The Beatles numerous times. They were my inspiration to start this and are my idols.
After becoming a young mum, I returned to college and university where I studied hard and gained qualifications in business. I then worked as a office sales manager before going on to set up my own successful cleaning company. When my marriage ended after nine years in 2015 I hit the first of many rock bottoms. I suffered with bad anxiety and depression, I felt lost and needed a focus. The only thing that had got me through years of ill health was music, I’d wrote for a few magazines before so I bit the bullet and set up Northern Exposure and never looked back. It made me happy for the first time in a long time.
Sucked into what can only be described as a whirlwind, things got big fast. From day one, I soon realised this wasn’t going to be easy. I worked my arse off for 3 years solid, I was back and forth to London, attending gigs up and down the country and was working 14 hour days, sometimes more, seven days a week. I met a whole range of people from the unsigned scene and the signed scene who warned me very early on about the nastiness and competitiveness of the music industry. I thought, ‘Why do people seem so intent to put me off?’ I persevered and just thought, ‘Hey, we all have bad experiences, I’ll be okay I just want to help bands out where I can.’
Over the years it became apparent what people were getting at, I’ve experienced so many highs and lows. If you’re female, you definitely get underestimated and abused. I’ve been publicly belittled, ignored, accused of financially ripping off bands had a whole article wrote about me slagging me off. I’ve been spoken down to by male sound engineers, promoters, PR, managers, photographers, venue owners and even bands. Ive been shouted at in my face in front of a stage whilst taking photographs in front of the whole crowd, when I’d done absolutely nothing wrong other than pass a singer a drink he asked for!. I’ve never felt more shown up or embarrassed in my life. I was 37 and it actually shook me up that bad I cried.
As for my local area, I have always said this and I stand by it, the Sheffield scene is rife with misogyny and from day one I felt unwelcome and ostracised by promoters and venues. I persevered but it was London of all places that welcomed me, supported me and encouraged to me to continue to flourish. I now have better relationships in Sheffield with a small number of venues but it is still cliquey and I’d hate to be a new comer again into that area.
The hardest thing of all is though when you speak up about these issues you aren’t always believed, you can see it in their eyes because it’s their friends and they aren’t interested. This is why I feel a high proportion of issues go unreported. People are also so good at manipulating things, if you are doing well or are respected men and women gang up in packs and attempt to make you the one made who looks bad and it’s disgusting. Luckily anyone with an ounce of common sense can see straight through it, but it’s still very unfair and very upsetting.
I’ve also been physically threatened with violence over gig dates with a member of a very big and established band telling me ‘he knows where I live’ because I refused to pay their hotel as well as pay them a ridiculously high fee, I’ve been told I need to lose weight (at the time I was a lot bigger) if I expect to get any respect in the public eye. I dare not even touch upon the sexual objectification of women in this industry or how I’ve been called ‘a slut’ for celebrating my recent weight loss with people publicly stating I should get an only fans and only get hits for my looks. I’ve done interviews with big names to get text messages asking me to send photographs in my underwear.
Yet despite all this terrible behaviour, I’ve always been told sadly by women that it is to be excepted, accepted and that people who speak up about it are ostracised so I’m best off keeping my mouth shut.
Well, I don’t think so. I’d rather speak out and be ostracised than engage in and be a member of these mean girl/men gangs and clubs on the DIY scene. I feel that women artists that are open about these subjects are also not giving the opportunities that they should be getting based on talent because they are challenging the status quo and people cant get their heads around it.
Another issue is that successful women don’t help either, those high up who have made successful careers will stand by the men they work with because not only is it easier, but it doesn’t risk their positions or the businesses reputation. A lot of these men are their friends and they will side with them, again making a victim feel unbelieved and further distressed. Just because a man hasn’t treated you in that way, does not mean they haven’t done it to someone else.
I am for one am glad to own my own business and I am not afraid to say that misogyny and outright bullying are rampant, the bullying also includes women and it can really wear you down. A few years ago, I remember a guy telling me that I don’t work in the ‘industry’ and laughing in my face, despite having done so for almost 6 years. I’ve worked my arse off, I’ve released an album which I put together from scratch the cover had artwork by Microdot the same company that designed the Oasis and Verve albums amongst many other things, I’ve sent bands to support The Cure and Queens of the Stoneage at festivals abroad, I’ve put on 100’s of gigs including ones at Pretty Green on Carnaby Street and many other iconic venues. I’ve covered and photographed every major festival and band in the UK, been part of putting together another three compilation albums, got six bands signed to labels, worked at 3 record labels, put on numerous gigs, helped bands on a daily basis, raised thousands for charities and been invited to the Houses Of Parliament, had festival stages, working relentlessly 24/7 and that’s not even half of it. Yet, I’m told ‘she tries’ that’s another thing I’ve been had said about me. It’s infuriating.
I feel that I am taken less seriously because I am not employed by some massive company and I’m building this on my own which has never meant I am any less dedicated, passionate or focused than anyone else. To be honest, I would rather build something that is my own and is built on solid, sincere foundations where my integrity is able to remain intact. It also gives me the freedom to be true to who I am, promote what only I believe in and wear my heart on my sleeve which I believe makes Northern Exposure what it is. Anyone who works with me knows they can trust me, I’m loyal and genuine and in this industry thats worth its weight in gold above anything else. If I’ve ever parted ways with anyone, despite what you might hear, there will be a very, very good reason for it.
The other week I was tagged on Twitter by someone who had targeted me a few years ago and he was still at it, targeting and bullying young women in the industry. It made my blood boil. What makes me even more angry is that people like this are so fake and false and people fall for it. They behave in these ways yet big names and brands continue to work with them. Boys clubs. I don’t know how they get away with it. In my experience when challenged they usually then play the victim, offering fake apologies and crocodile tears when they initiated the whole thing. How many times do they need to act this way before people stand up and cut them off?
Anyone who is brave enough to come into this industry (and sadly you need to be brave) whether that is someone who has a degree in journalism or works shifts at Poundland, should be allowed to and supported to flourish, to grow and to learn especially by the older generation. The whole industry is on its knees right now and needs all the support it can get. These people continue to put the entire unsigned music industry at risk with their behaviour if this continues. If a younger girl or guy with less life experience and resilience came up against the behaviour and treatment I have, what does that do for the scene?
When it comes down to sexism I’ve never really thought to myself that I’m getting this treatment because I’m a woman, although it’s hard not to consider it. I have always believed in balance and I am equal to any man in the DIY, grassroots industry. My stance on that will never change. I will never support these notion of all female this or that, how can we change the world by using an eye for an eye attitude. This attitude gets us nowhere and only makes the world blind. Education, support for people affected and awareness is the way forward.
I am lucky in that we get a lot of support from people, support which we appreciate more than they’ll probably ever know. But I didn’t get that help to build Northern Exposure in the beginning, the first three years I built it all by myself and went through a load of this crap to get it where it is today, my biggest achievements are ones I worked for myself, I didn’t piggyback off no-one but it was very hard. I’ve also been told I’ve only got where I am because I know or work with A, B and C which is bullshit. It is honestly relentless the things you have to deal with.
The past two years have been very difficult due to personal issues that caused a massive decline in my mental health (something else I feel people don’t want to understand, but thats another article entirely). However, I’m back, I’ve hung on by the skin of my teeth and I’m still here and I will be a voice on the unsigned scene not only for music but for women. I’m working on some very exciting day festivals that will be raising money for women’s charities that support women who are affected by abuse not just in music but all across the board.
It’s very sad that I’ve taken all this as part and parcel of what I do, but I don’t wish it upon others. So take on board what I’m saying, support women, don’t be part of a clique or engage in one and always remember: no one likes a bully. Choose to challenge the behaviour if someone is slating someone you don’t know. Change the conversation back to them instead of participating in a character assassination of someone you don’t even know personally.
As for sexual harassment NEVER EVER let it lie, report it and get help.
Misogyny in the music industry is continuing to survive because there are just not enough people challenging it. We need to listen to affected victims and sufficiently address and combat sexism. No woman working in the industry should either be underpaid, oppressed or discredited.
Despite all this negativity out there right now there is still a feeling of genuine hope, optimism that women will one day get the respect they deserve for working hard not just in music but everywhere.