8 March 2023

On IWD, rising talents and established stars tell us about their experiences as women in the music industry

HUNGER sit down with artists including piri, Kamille and Fleur East, as they detail all the highs and lows of the industry.

Women make up for some of the music industry’s most talented and revered stars. Whether it’s as singers, rappers, producers, they’ve proved time and again they can easily outshine the men. However, they are often underrepresented and underpaid, and while some progress has been made over the years, it’s evident that there is still an arduous and long road ahead in the fight for equality. So, here at HUNGER – in celebration of International Women’s Day – we wanted to highlight the opinions of some of the UK’s most established female musicians and rising stars on the industry’s most pressing issues. We discuss their journey in the industry, what needs to change, their advice for young female artists, their biggest successes and more.

piri, 23

What to listen to: ‘up-down

23-year-old piri tells us that there’s still a “long way to go for equality” in the industry and, sadly, thanks to the rise of Andrew Tate, treatment towards female artists online has arguably gotten worse. “Online, I constantly see female success being attributed to their attractiveness and not their hard work and talent,” says piri. “Women have to work so much harder to prove themselves.” As a rising woman in the industry, the Manchester native stresses the importance of “standing my ground and being vocal,” calling out misogyny in any form and uplifting other female artists. “Always try to work with other women where you can so we can continue to empower each other!”

Birdy, 26

What to listen to: ‘Raincatchers

“How women look and dress is and has always been something others feel very comfortable discussing,” says Birdy, whose career has resulted in several gold and platinum records. “As a female artist, sometimes it becomes more about that than your artistry which can be really frustrating.” As her career has progressed since the success of her self-titled 2011 debut album, the artist has noticed improved opportunities for women. “I work with a lot more women now, which is really nice, especially writers and record producers,” she explains. And as a prominent woman in the industry, she stresses the importance of sticking to your guns. “In my experience, I think female artists definitely question their decision-making a lot more when challenged,” she tells us. “I think being strong in those decisions and staying true to your own instincts and creative vision is what will bring change.”

Abbie Ozard, 25

What to listen to: ‘ford (drive)

“The more I progress into the industry, the more I’ve been noticing how unequal it is, and it makes me feel so sad and disheartened,” says singer-songwriter Abbie Ozard. The rising star has been working her way up the ranks in the industry – but she admits it hasn’t been an easy ride. “We [women] have to make an extra effort to be taken seriously as artists,” she explains. “We tend to be compared to each other a lot of the time – especially in indie music,” Ozard tells us it can often be isolating in a genre and industry dominated by males and that discussions on the underrepresentation need to happen much more frequently. “It’s important we have conversations like this to break the silence about this problem we face.”

Arlissa, 30

What to listen to: ‘Hard To Be

As a successful queer artist of colour, Arlissa has undergone several trials and tribulations in the music industry. “I have always been told to fit in a box, a box the industry felt I best ticked, which usually had nothing to do with who I was as an artist,” she tells us. “It’s such a challenge to stay true to yourself and fight against what the industry believes is marketable.” Thankfully, Arlissa has managed to stay true to herself and believes that the power women hold forces the industry to negate their influence. “I think womxn are the most powerful humans to exist,” she says before adding, “power sparks fear in weaker forms, and what do you do to negate fear? You try to control it.” Regarding her keys for success, she says self-assurance and confidence are vital for any female looking to make a living through music. “One of the greatest lessons we can learn is to trust and listen to ourselves,” she reveals.

Kamille, 35

What to listen to: ‘weight loss

Grammy award-winning singer-songwriter and producer Kamille tells HUNGER that the difficulties women face in the industry have been a driving factor for the direction she’s taken with her career. “I wanted to become a producer so that other girls would look at my example and be inspired by that,” the 35-year-old says. And since she began her career, the musician is glad to see women’s talents getting more and more exposure. Yet, “so much still needs to be done,” says Kamille. As someone who has experienced all the industry’s ups and downs, Kamille’s message to young female artists is one of self-acceptance. “I would advise having that belief and motivation to keep going no matter what,” she says. “There will be so many pushbacks and voices telling you you’re not good enough, so the best thing to do is never give up on your dream – it sounds cliche, but I tell myself this every single day.”

mui zyu

What to listen to: ‘Rotten Bun

“Just go for it – you belong here, the stories in your life and your experiences are as valid as anyone’s and need to be told,” is Hong Kong British artist mui zyu’s reassuring call to young women in the industry. “With the imbalances on both the artist and industry side, we need you.” The experimental singer says that while some progress has been made towards women’s treatment in the industry, it’s mostly all a facade. “Big music companies wear their badges of ‘inclusion’ and ‘diversity’ like a crown, however, there is still so much work to be done behind it all,” says zyu. “I’m sure there will have been some progress, but there probably has to be massive changes ‘at the top,’ so it’s not all surface-level virtue signalling.”

Image Credit: Celia Tang

Terri Walker, 43

What to listen to: ‘Finally over you

R&B and soul singer Terri Walker says that “there has been a power shift” in the industry since she debuted in 2003. “Misogyny isn’t something seen as normal, accepted and ‘just get over it’ anymore.” As a woman with vast industry experience, Walker notes that having positive role models is a major key for success. “The reason I knew I could become a singer, and do well within my career, is because I was inspired by and saw my potential through the lens of other women,” she says. “Observe women in the industry who sound and look like nobody else around at the moment – use them as your inspiration; study why they’re unique and then use that to find your own niche.”

BEKA, 30

What to listen to: ‘Don’t Call Me A Friend‘ 

“Turning the tide is going to take continual intentionality from men at all levels – and intentionality comes when we really believe there’s the need for change,” explains BEKA. The pop singer tells us the biggest challenge for women is getting the male gatekeepers to feel the issue is as “pressingly important as it is for them.” And until more women are placed in more predominant roles, that will be incredibly difficult. “I think because our industries have been predominantly male and mono, it hasn’t encouraged that ‘I could do that job’ energy.”

Fleur East, 35

What to listen to: ‘Count The Ways

“Unfortunately, for years, there haven’t been many women in influential positions behind the scenes, and that is a major contributing factor,” explains Fleur East. For the artist, change needs to come from the top, and she’s glad to see “more women working at labels in positions of power.” But when it comes to life as an artist, men still have plenty of privileges compared to women, especially regarding their age. “The pressures that women face to either have a career or start a family, and one having to be sacrificed, is something that only really ever falls on women,” she tells HUNGER. And as an independent artist, East finds it crucial for her to support fellow women in the industry. “I make sure that I give as many opportunities to women on my team as possible,” says East. 

Giulia Tess

What to listen to: ‘200417

“As women, we are running a marathon; we start with a disadvantage because of the misogyny that runs deep in our society,” says Giulia Tess, who has been in the industry for over a decade now. “Instead of starting from 0, you are starting from -10, so we do have to graft more to get even close to the same rewards, still to this day!” One of the ways Tess combats this misogyny is by ensuring to call out discrimination wherever possible. “I am very vocal when I know I am being discriminated against.” And while these issues are all incredibly prevalent, Tess is grateful for the women who have helped push the envelope for women’s rights in the industry. “I look up to people like Annie Mac and Mary Ann Hobbs who have been the queens of radio and, in my opinion, have been uncompromising in their approach to music as female-identifying people.”

Icona Pop (Caroline Hjelt, 35 and Aino Jawo, 36)

What to listen to: ‘I Want You

Despite admitting “there’s so much left to do” for women’s progression in the industry, Swedish electro-pop duo Icona Pop are noticing positive changes. “We think men in the industry now know they can’t get away with everything they used to get away with,” the band tells us. Although, one prominent spot for contention regarding the mistreatment of women comes in interviews. “For us, the questions women are asked in interviews tend to be a lot harder than our male peers,” says the pair. “Women seem to get put on the spot a lot more, while men seem to be asked much lighter questions, like a fun story, or whatever, and there are still a lot of stereotypes around women in the business.” But one thing Icona Pop holds dear to them, which has helped them overcome challenges in the industry, is their friendship. “When someone behaves like an asshole, we can always lean on each other in different ways and never feel that we have to do something against our will.”

Lola Young, 22

What to listen to: ‘Don’t Hate Me

Lola Young tells HUNGER that the key to improving women’s roles in the industry is through championing their work and education. “We need to teach women that jobs such as music production or anything of that sort are NOT gender-based roles; they aren’t roles that require any set of skills that you can’t learn,” says Young. “I think that constantly reminding women in general that they are powerful and brilliant is also super important.” The singer-songwriter implores young women never to alter their identity or goals for anyone other than themselves. “Be exactly what YOU want to be, do not let anyone tell you otherwise,” she says. “You must always keep your head up, work hard but have days off, be aligned with your goals and stay true to your artistic vision.”

Image Credit: Charlotte Patmore

  • Writer Chris Saunders

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