“A lot of people think that particularly techno electronic music is a very male music. And they have every right to think that."
That's what Frankie Hutchinson, one third of the booking agency Discwoman, said in a recent documentary about the lack of diversity in the electronic music industry.
Thankfully, Discwoman is doing something to change that.
Founded by Christine Tran, Emma Olson and Frankie Hutchinson, Discwoman was created in 2014 as a platform to showcase and promote female- identifying DJs in electronic music. The booking agency is meant to represent "cis women, trans women, and genderqueer talent in electronic music," according to Discwoman's website.
The gender imbalance in electronic dance music (EDM) is impossible to ignore with women making up only 11 percent of artists at electronic music festivals in 2015. In 2014, only 18 percent of electronic labels included women on their rosters.
"Right now the majority of big EDM executives are white males. By offering more perspectives within the business side of the industry this engrained sexism can change," Tran told The Huffington Post in a recent interview.
Discwoman is here to give female DJs more visibility by booking them at bigger venues, streamlining the growth process and ensuring each artist is paid what she's worth. (And the trio hopes to bring some of bell hooks' feminism to everybody, obviously.)
Each woman brings a unique and integral skill to the NYC-based booking agency. Olson (a.k.a. UMFANG) is the resident DJ of the trio, Tran is the event producer and business powerhouse, and Hutchinson does the outreach for the agency dealing with PR and social media.
Olson explained that the gender pay gap is just as real in EDM as it is in other workplaces. "People will tell women it's such a great opportunity, this is a lot of exposure, you'll make a lot of connections so it's OK to take that pay cut," she told The Huffington Post, adding that Discwoman is hoping to help end that pay inequality. "We're here to train women to remember that that's not worth it and that's not how it should work. Women should be able to do what they want to do without being taken advantage of."
Women should be able to do what they want to do without being taken advantage of. -Emma Olson
Since 2014, Discwoman has hosted events in cities around the world including Mexico City, Los Angeles and New York City. The trio was recently featured in an episode of "Tribes," a web series created by Smirnoff Vodka's Smirnoff Sound Collective that highlights diversity within dance music. (Scroll below to watch the full Tribes: Discwoman episode.)
The Huffington Post sat down with Hutchinson, Olson and Tran to discuss sexism in EDM, the importance of safe spaces for women in the industry and what they're doing to break into the boys' club of electronic music.
Tell me a little about what a female booking collective is and why you chose to create it.
HUTCHINSON: Bookers and booking agencies can hold a lot of power in terms of changing the scene and changing representation. We decided that it was a really strong place to effect change, so we launched one.
What made the three of you finally say, this is bullshit -- we're going to bring more women into the industry ourselves?
OLSON: It's not that we wanted to see more women, it's that we were already seeing more women, but they weren't getting booked in the venues and places we wanted to see.
TRAN: I feel like each of us were doing it in our own way.
OLSON: Now that we have credibility as an agency from being in the public eye, we get more opportunities to syphon that down into our community. When we engage with other agencies we know how much money to ask for and how to stay firm on that. We make sure that women are getting paid equally as their male peers.
Is there a big pay gap for women in electronic music?
OLSON: Yea definitely. There's a lot of fear about asking for the same amount as your male peer and just feeling credible. I think that too often women get self-conscious about presenting themselves as being worth a larger amount. Whereas men just do that and they're paid fairly and no one questions that authority. With Discwoman we're trying to encourage women to ask for what they deserve and not undersell themselves because it does happen so often. I think especially in New York it happens more because people will tell women it's such a great opportunity, this is a lot of exposure, you'll make a lot of connections so it's OK to take that pay cut. We're here to train women to remember that that's not worth it and that's not how it should work. Women should be able to do what they want to do without being taken advantage of.
Why do you think that women are not being booked at bigger venues or festivals?
TRAN: It's not a quantifying lack of women by any means, I think it's a visibility and a platform issue. Women often don't have the safety net of people behind them to help them succeed. I think a big part of it is getting over that fear of putting yourself out there -- and whether that's conditioned into us because of our gender or whatever -- we just need to get over that.
OLSON: Our culture needs to shift so that there's encouragement for women on each level of success. The three of us see that happen, in part, by giving women opportunities and also offering them exposure. If you see a billboard of a black woman DJing a festival -- young women are going to be like "Wow, that's possible for me."If women only see these white European men DJing then women assume they can't be that person. The more image we see of diverse women doing these big things, the more women are encouraged to believe that that could be them.
HUTCHINSON: Even when we're talking to people about potentially being on the Discwoman roster so many of the women have reservations and are scared because it's different. There's no language for us to describe women's experiences in electronic music because there's so little experience to base it on.
There's no language for us to describe women's experiences in electronic music because there's so little experience to base it on. -Frankie Hutchinson
OLSON: I think there's also the fear that I've experienced myself where we are culturally brought up to think that women will always play softer and prettier music and they're not necessarily as technically talented. The last five years or so I've had a woman mentor tell me that my brain isn't different from other male DJs and that I can learn some of the more technical stuff just as well. I had just been conditioned to think I simply couldn't do it.
I really thought that using synthesizers was harder for me, I thought that programming was harder for me because I'm a woman. Women thinking they can't do certain things is such a problematic cultural issue. If I -- as a feminist woman musician -- once thought that women can't be as good as men then just think of all the people in the world that think that women aren't as good.
Watch the full Smirnoff Sound Collective Tribes episode about Discwoman below.
Where do you think this engrained sexism stems from within the electronic music industry?
TRAN: Right now the majority of big EDM executives are white males. By offering more perspectives within the business side of the industry this engrained sexism can change. The paradigm will hopefully shift when more women are in those higher up positions and are able to offer a more diverse perspective when it comes to decision-making and giving opportunities to new artists. Also it would help if more men could take a step back and realize that there's so many more types of artists out there that are talented.
OLSON: Some people won't book a DJ simply because she's a woman.
Do you have any personal stories of sexism you experienced either while DJing or dealing with people in the industry?
OLSON: One of the worst experiences I ever had actually was a few weeks ago at an event. A guy reached over and tried to pull the mixer up while I was in the DJ booth because there was about 20 seconds of silence after the host introduced us. He apologized but, still, no one ever does that -- and that is so not OK. This is my job, I know how to do my job -- you should do yours. It's just little things like that that I've experienced where certain men think they're going to cover their asses by making me look bad and making me look like I don't know how to work this machine that I use all the time.
If you see a billboard of a black woman DJing a festival -- young women are going to be like "Wow, that's possible for me." - Emma Olson
HUTCHINSON: Yea definitely. For me, a lot of the experiences can be very subtle. I've had men say comments like, "Wow, I'm so impressed with what you're doing." And I can see right through that shit -- I'm not here to impress you. It's so insulting because they're surprised that we can do this and we can do it well. Why are you so shocked? I've known I've been smart for a really long time and now some men are suddenly just discovering it.
OLSON: It's usually people wanting to assert power over a situation where they need to be more respectful of a woman's space. It just sucks because you see how much this subtle sexism is overlooked and how a guy may not even realize he's doing it. It can make me feel devastated for months and he didn't even understand what happened was wrong. That's why communities are so important. Having a community to affirm that yes, you should be able to call someone out on their behavior and that doesn't mean that you're mean or a "bitch." Explaining subtle sexism is so hard and women are so often made to feel guilty when we point it out.
How do you think feminism interacts with your music?
TRAN: I think on a decision-making level I just want women to be paid equally in this industry. I want to make sure that women are valued and respected.
HUTCHINSON: I have bell hooks talking to me in my head all the time. I mean the foundation of all of my political beliefs is what bell hooks says.
I mean feminism really is for everybody.
HUTCHINSON: It really is! I completely believe that.
OLSON: Feminism definitely informs a part of me when it comes to my career. The more women I hear about and read about making music, the more I feel a strong connection to those women. And in that sense feminism does affect the way I feel about what I do and what I'm channeling when I'm performing. It influences the way I present myself to the world.
Do you guys ever get annoyed by the "woman in music" question? Or the "female DJ" question when, in fact, you can be a DJ first and a woman second.
TRAN: Oh yea. I think it's annoying when it becomes tokenized. A lot of times we'll get emails with the subject line: "Looking For Female DJ." Whereas I prefer when people email us and say "Hey I love Bearcut can I book her?" When someone takes that extra step to listen to their music that goes a long way.
HUTCHINSON: I don't know I don't really mind it to be honest.
TRAN: That's just me on a personal level. I just don't like the tokenism of being a woman.
HUTCHINSON: But sometimes people are just really explicit about the fact that they want to change what they're doing and they're doing that by bringing more women in. And that's great.
Context is definitely key.
OLSON: I mean even our name "Discwoman" -- that's outwardly political, but ideally none of us actually want to host exclusively women events. We feel that everyone's welcome, but when you're trying to change people's minds about something you have to be more explicit.
Head over to Discwoman to read more about the booking agency.
This interview has been edited and condensed.