“All the best critics right now are young women.”
Do you share our belief that who writes what, matters? In music media, women face sexism and underrepresentation – male voices still make up the majority of white noise. Blanket male coverage doesn’t promote a diversity of world views. You can’t be what you can’t see.
On 19th May, we are hosting a special edition of the Bido Lito! Social in association with Writing on the Wall, featuring a panel discussion on tackling sexism and the mis- and under-representation of women in music media. The event – You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: (Miss)representation In The Music Media – is part of WoW’s 2016 festival programme, featuring Pitchfork’s Contributing Editor editor and freelance journalist LAURA SNAPES, and a host of the best feminist brains from the regional music and independent press. Held at the Everyman Bistro, the discussion will be followed by a gig with psycho-tropical bubblegum art poppers PINK KINK and special guests. We’re also launching the hashtag campaign #MISSrep to encourage women in music to speak out about times they have been misrepresented.
Ahead of the panel discussion, Bethany Garrett put some questions to our panel guest, Laura Snapes, about sexism in music journalism, as well as how she approaches and considers her work as a writer.
Bido Lito!: Following on from what music and culture critic Jessica Hopper tackled on Twitter, when have you felt as though you or your ideas didn’t ‘count’ in the world of music?
Laura Snapes: Towards the end of when I worked at NME the second time, as features editor. And sometimes on panels with men who will shout as loud as they can to deny you the chance to speak, and tell audiences that you’re wrong when, in fact, they are. (Last time that happened I phoned the man afterwards and bollocked him.)
BL!: And what accomplishment are you most proud of?
LS: Quitting NME and making it as a freelancer.
BL!: What’s your general experience of sexism in music journalism?
LS: There is no general experience, other than that it’s pernicious and it’s everywhere. One thing I have been thinking about recently is that when we talk about sexism in music journalism, we hold the wrong people to account: it’s all about making the victims recount their experiences again and again and again – misogyny porn, as I think Meredith Graves termed it – rather than going to the perpetrators and demanding their response. I understand why people want to write them, but I never want to read another article collecting women’s experiences of sexism in the music industry. We have established the problem. We as women/non-binary people cannot effect the solution by ourselves. The industries – men – that perpetrate this bullshit have to be held to account.
BL!: Do you ever incorporate your experiences into your writing?
LS: This [interview with Sun Kil Moon’s Mark Kozelek] is the only time it’s happened to me in an interview (and over email!), and I went to town.
BL!: Were you surprised by Rachel Brodsky’s experience of sexual harassment with Miles Kane when interviewing The Last Shadow Puppets?
LS: No. That man is a retrograde little twerp who’s been enabled by an industry clinging to desperately old-fashioned models of “rock” “success”.
BL!: Do you have any positive strategies for dealing with sexism you come across in the world of music journalism – whether that’s an article that’s sexist or hearing of someone being harassed while they’re working?
LS: I think that Rachel Brodsky did exactly the right thing in her Shadow Puppets piece – she wrote it elegantly and pretty much said everything she probably intended to before they were dicks to her, and then she let them hang themselves with their own rope. That’s why I tried to do with the Sun Kil Moon piece too.
BL!: How do you think having a strong online community is changing music media, and sexism in it?
LS: All the best critics right now are young women. The effect is tangible and huge. And the online communities we have, whether on Twitter or hidden in secret Facebook groups, are powerful and supportive. If someone’s been treated badly by a particular man, we all know who it is.
BL!: Do you think independent music media has more of an obligation to diversity given it’s freer from the white-hetero-rich-male shackles of Murdoch n co.?
LS: I think all music media has an obligation to diversity – and if we look at it in a more self-serving way, they have a commercial interest in being more diverse in order to sustain a readership. As the tragic figure of Miles Kane shows, you can’t cling to a single model of success for ever.
BL!: How much do you think the positionality of a music journalist impacts the feature or review they are writing?
LS: Everyone has individual biases, of course. It’s funny, that’s a question you get asked on panels by audience members all the time. “Yeah, but aren’t music journalists biased?” Yes, everyone is biased. You are biased when you buy a Nestle chocolate bar over a Cadbury one. Tastes shape perception.
BL!: Are there any things you don’t like about current music journalism practices that you wish you could change?
LS: Hot takes, bad access, being sent pre-release albums through streaming software that resembles Windows Media Player 95.
BL!: What do you consider to be the incisive moments and pieces in your journalistic work? (Loved your recent feature on Tegan and Sara, for the record – so insightful and captivating).
LS: Ha, thank you. I was really proud of the Tegan and Sara piece. I’ve loved that band for half my life, and I really tried to do them justice. I think they’re so important, and if anyone read my feature and went away from it with a new understanding of everything they’ve battled and stood for, then that would make me happy.
BL!: What are currently your main challenges and ambitions as a writer?
LS: Being better! Always being better.
BL!: What do you usually start with when working on a new piece?
LS: Intense research.
BL!: How do you think writing and reading about music changes the way it is perceived by the public?
LS: I think music journalism has a very minimal effect on how the public at large receive music, to be honest. People tucking into their Spotify Discover Weekly playlist probably aren’t reading a ton of articles on each band before listening to it. But I think good music journalism should illuminate things about the artist or their work that the listener hadn’t thought about before.
BL!: Who do you usually feel your obligation is to when you’re writing an article: the artists, the readers, the publication you’re writing for, or yourself?
LS: All of them in different ways. You have to understand who your audience is, which goes hand in hand with what the publication is. You want to accurately convey what you’re thinking, and, whether you like the artist/their music or not, I think there’s an obligation to fairness and accuracy.