The Struggles of a Female DJ in the Music Industry
Imagine arriving at a nice dance hall with heavy equipment in tow. The first thing you do is take in the environment around you and think about the acoustics. How will the sound reach everyone in a comfortable frequency? In as little time as possible, you set up the folded table with a nice table cloth. The equipment comes to life as you put together all the necessary cables in their proper places. Think of it as surgery for your ears. The turntables need to connect to the two- channel mixer, which are wired to an audio interface that transcodes Mp3 signals to be played on vinyl records. Speakers also need to be plugged into the mixer, since all the signals will be mixed from there. Last, but not least, comes your laptop. You set it on a stand, power it up, make sure the DJ software is running, and that the audio interface is connected to it. Viola!
The power strip gets switched on and it’s all systems go. You choose a track from the huge music database in your laptop. The needle from deck one is placed on the start groove of the vinyl as you push “play” on the turntable. The same step is repeated for deck two. Sound check is going successfully as you test out the EQs and other effects on the mixer. The few party guests who have arrived early start dancing to the music coming from the speakers.
Everything feels perfect until one of the guest approaches and asks;
“Are you the DJ?”
This is the drama I go through at most of the events I have had the pleasure of DJing. Even if I am scratching vinyl or transitioning between tracks in plain sight, the same question gets asked. Is it annoying? Yes. It is also very degrading. Unfortunately, there are still people out there who find a female DJ shocking. The media plays a significant role in this, especially on how women are viewed in the music industry.
Many ads show a model wearing a pair of headphones and pretending to play music on turntables to market their products. The main issue is the models are wearing bikinis, mini skirts, or low cut blouses, thus sexualizing the image of female DJs in horrendous ways. Magnetic Magazine points out, “It’s long been debated that females are not properly represented within dance music, which is evident in the lack of females on festival lineups, how much women artists get paid for gigs, and also the general treatment of women in the music industry.” Last year, DJ Justin James posted “requirements” on Facebook when looking to hire a female DJ for his company. The last three requirements focused on the DJ’s appearance which included being attractive, to maintaining a certain weight, and being within a specific height range.
As both a DJ and audio engineer, gaining respect from men in the industry takes twice as much work. Other female audio professionals can vouch for me on this with the amount of times our intelligence has been questioned. Ask for an XLR cable, and a man automatically checks to see if the rest of the setup meets their standards. Some may argue that he is doing it to be polite, but misogyny is the real culprit here. Talent speaks louder than words in moments like this. The worst part is proving the ignorant individual wrong, and getting cursed out for it. For example, I corrected several male engineers on audio terms they misused in concert situations. They responded with dirty looks and called me a word that rhymed with “switch.” I have learned to grow a tough skin in this industry.
Equipment is not the only thing getting “checked out” by males. Despite my headphones being tight on my head, and I can still hear the sexist comments during my set. Some men have made these vulgar remarks to my face, and I would only be wearing a t-shirt, jeans, and sneakers. Female DJs are not the only ones who struggle with this problem. Engineers, producers, artists, managers, and even talent bookers often suffer some form of harassment from men. Stacie Huckeba, an audio professional, tells the Huffington Post, “I have worked in the music industry for almost 30 years. In that time, my boobs have gotten me in serious trouble.” She refers to the moments she has had to defend herself from sexual harassment and discrimination. Huckeba also states there are at least 100 cases of abuse every year in the industry that go unreported due to women being afraid of losing their jobs, or even questioning themselves about being oversensitive.
Working as a female DJ, I learned to defend myself in more ways than I thought would be necessary. Women still have a long way to go to gain respect in the field. More females are becoming involved in the music industry, especially DJing. A pair of sneakers, good music, and a tough skin is all I need to get the job done.