The world of music is one that has been and is dominated by men. There are more men in every aspect of the music industry whether it be performers, bookers, managers, writers, recorder, DJ, mixers, or record label owners. Even Bellingham's supposed liberal bubble cannot absolve it from this statistical norm. What's Up! has more male bylines. Bellingham recording and producing company Murder Mountain is headed by Bug Jerome with manager Ian Imhof. The bands are generally all male—Karate Kitchen, Yes Oh Yes, and The Russians—or have male frontrunners—The Lovelights and Go Slowpoke. Even Western's ASP Pop Music is headed by guys.
Western Alum Christy Greenwald is the booker for Whatcom All Ages Music (WhAAM) and the owner of booking agency Plus Minus Productions. She pointed out that while the Bellingham music scene is male-dominated as there are more male musicians, she doesn't believe that it is hard for women to break into the area.
Western senior Meghan Kessinger, was the lead of Bellingham's former power-pop darling, Racetrack, which released three EPs as well as a full length album with Seattle based Skocki Records. Currently she is playing solo while on the road to more collaborative projects in Seattle. She expressed similar sentiments.
“I think Bellingham's music community is really welcoming for female musicians. I really don't ever feel like a woman on stage; I just feel like another musician, which is really the ideal for me,” Kessinger said.
While the Bellingham music community may be welcoming, it does equate with something of a boys' club, as men are seen as the norm and women as kitschy.
“[The] whole idea of masculine knowledge, that can be intimidating. I think that that technical knowledge plays a large part in keeping insiders in and outsiders out,” said Jenn Hartman, program director of KUGS and DJ for the Girls Get Busy rock show.
Female lead bands, such as Kessinger's Racetrack, which disbanded in 2006, The Trucks, which, for the most part have moved onto the greener pastures of Seattle, and currently Ladies of the Night, seems to show that Bellingham is only big enough for one women-driven band at a time.
The accusations most commonly hefted at all-women groups such as The Trucks and Ladies of the Night cite the band's all-women-ness as too contrived and gimmicky; their outfits translate into a marketing scheme. More commonly their image is said to be in place to detract from a lack of musical skill.
“A lot of times it's played up as a novelty, and I think that's unfortunate. It's common to promote groups as ‘all-girl groups,'” ASP Pop Music coordinator Hunter Motto said. “If you really want to make it you kind of have to sell yourself.” For the trucks to gain the amount of legitimacy that they have they had to promote themselves.”
Despite being the only woman in the band, Kessinger expressed frustrations with this category and being placed in the genre of “girl band.”
“We were still in the genre of a girl band on tour. We would almost always play with other female-fronted bands,” Kessinger said. “Posters would list us as all-girl bands; one poster even called us ‘femo'…This was really frustrating for all three of us because it was like, how are we taken as a girl band when two-thirds of us are guys?”
Jessica Tracey, Western junior and writer for What's Up!, described the Bellingham music scene, especially the rock music scene, as carrying with it a tradition of being male-oriented.
“Guys are really encouraged to pick up rock music in adolescence,” Tracey said. “While guys are forming their own first bands in middle school and progressing with their musical abilities, women often don't pick up these instruments until college.”
Kessinger, for example, started Racetrack in late high school when she knew only knew two chords on the guitar. It wasn't until college, after moving to Bellingham where fellow bandmate Jackson Long lived, she started pushing herself to get better.
“There are a lot of women making music in Bellingham, but not a lot making rock music,” Tracey said.
This makes sense. There is a long line of role models for men in rock, from The Beatles to Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison, and almost the entire punk era. It's tough to find a mainstream female rock artist who could be described as defining the genre without using the qualifier of “woman” to proceed it. In Bellingham there are women making music but seldom women heading up rock bands.
“I think it's really intimidating. I think if you don't have people to role-model that then it's really hard to do. Walking into a music store and not knowing what strings to ask for, you're feeling like your being had,” said Hartman. “Women aren't taken seriously when they make music. Women are always criticized for not having technical skill.”
Hartman said that without women in rock young women are lacking in role models that were more prevalent in the early 90s, such as Mia Hamm and the women's national soccer team.
Kessinger said she didn't initially see herself as a role model until after Racetrack started touring.
“Young women would come up to me and thank me for playing music,” Kessinger said. “Some of them said that they'd never seen a woman in a band before. That was really shocking. So yeah, I guess I saw an elevated level of responsibility after that.”
Hartman noted that it is a misnomer to label women making music as a genre. During her KUGS show she explained that she can play any music from a huge swath of genres, womanhood not truly defining any of them. But when men making music is the norm, women's music will always be seen as the anomaly, whether or not the disparities are recognized.
“Since we don't have male to female equality I think that this is a starting point, this is the place that we are at,” Hartman said.
Hartman describes the Riot Grrrl movement of the early nineties as being influential in her decision to start a band. Riot Grrrl emerged in the Olympia music scene surrounding K Records and had close ties to DIY culture. It was largely women's response to being enmeshed with a punk music culture in which they had no representation. At the heart of this movement is the call to women to create their own media.
“You don't have to know what you are doing, just pick up your guitar and make noise,” Hartman said. While she doesn't want to invalidate female artist not making rock, Hartman said, she believes that women making rock music is very important and needs more representation.
“The act of women making music is one of the most radical things you can do,” Hartman said. “I just want some more girls who will fucking shred.”