"I KNOW WHAT BPM STANDS FOR:" Being A Female Music Journalist Can Kind of Suck Sometimes

Despite my vast knowledge about the genre, I still have well-meaning artists explain very basic electronica knowledge to me when I interview them for a piece I’m writing.
Publish date:
June 26, 2013
sexism, music, women journalists, electronica

I’ve rarely been more excited than I was to talk to this particular DJ. He’s one of my all-time favorites, a San Francisco house mogul who comes to my much smaller city on a regular basis, and I’d finally gotten my editor to sign off on a music feature about him.

After several questions about his background and his track selection, I asked him a question about how he constructs his sets, and he was explaining the philosophy behind his mixing, which essentially boils down to start fast, then slow it down.

“I usually start my sets off around 140 BPM,” he told me, “and then at the end of the night, I wind it down to about 110 BPM.”

“Uh-huh,” I responded, typing furiously to keep up with him.

He paused. “That stands for beats per minute,” he said.

My fingers stilled, and I tried my very hardest to not sound like a bitch when I replied, “I know that.”

I’m a music writer. I’ve been writing about electronic music (commonly called EDM, but the reasons I won’t use that acronym are a column all on their own) for most of my professional life, and I’ve been listening to it for much longer than that -- since the late ’90s, when underground (highly illegal) warehouse raves were the only place you could listen to such music, at least in the Midwestern city where I spent my college years.

I’m also a female. Which means that despite my vast knowledge about the genre, I still have well-meaning artists explain very basic electronica knowledge to me when I interview them for a piece I’m writing.

That doesn’t happen all the time, but the fact is that most of the people I’m interviewing are men. There just aren’t that many women producing or spinning music in this genre just yet, although that is changing. And, in turn, that means that most of the women that DJs and producers come into contact with are go-go dancers or groupies. (No disrespect meant to either group whatsoever.)

Most of the time, the artists are gracious -- just happy that I’m giving them free publicity. And this particular artist really wasn’t trying to be rude or patronizing.

But his assumption that I wouldn’t know basic terminology concerning the type of music I get paid to write about made me sad. And it hurt my feelings.

Would he have said the same thing to a dude interviewing him? I have no idea, but I suspect not. I don’t blame him -- he just wanted to make sure I didn’t make him sound like a moron when I wrote up the piece.

But my career as a music writer is filled with incidents like this one -- mostly with music consumers as the perpetrators. A short list:

•I have to admit as the first point that one of the main reasons I got this gig is because I’m a woman. An online commenter mentioned that the music writer list was a total sausage fest, and because I’d been begging him to let me try my hand, the editor let me start reviewing shows and albums.

•I had a colleague -- a (male) colleague I’ve known for decades and who I introduced to the music editor when he asked me for an “in” -- try to paint me as incompetent and stupid behind my back because he wanted to write about electronic music, too. (The worst part is, I like to share -- there are enough stories to go around -- but instead of asking me if he could take certain artists, he told my editor I didn’t know anything about the music, that no one takes me seriously and I should be fired.)

•I’ve had local artists ask to review my copy before I give it to my editor (UM, NO) because they want to “make sure I got it right.”

•Oftentimes when I meet a new guy and he wants to know about my work, he quickly tries to test my knowledge -- I guess to make sure I’m really qualified to be writing about this stuff. Because, you know, after seven years writing about music and well over a dozen immersing myself in the scene, I might not be! (He always walks away sorry he tried to quiz me.)

•If I’m out reviewing a show by myself, some random dude inevitably wants to know what I’m writing down. Which then quickly devolves into the previous bulletpoint -- and pisses me off because I’m trying to pay attention to, you know, the music. (This does not happen when I bring my significant other, who happens to be a man, as my +1.)

•I was once told by a reader -- who didn’t agree with my critique of a group he liked -- that I “don’t know how to listen to their songs correctly.” There’s apparently a correct and incorrect way to do it, you guys! And I never had a man explain to me how it’s done until he tried! (This same commenter was never that patronizing with our male electronica writer when their opinions diverged.)

•When a new indie radio station came on the air and a commenter complained that there were “too many female hosts” (two out of four), I had to listen to a serious conversation about whether that was a good or bad thing in the music meeting that week before I finally exploded and said, “It’s a fifty-fifty breakdown! Why are we even having this conversation?!” (It ended right there.)

I love music. I love writing about it. I love the artists, I love the scene, I love how it’s growing. I do have some loyal readers I’ve met who have thanked me for shining a spotlight on lesser-known DJs and producers, and I’ve even gained the trust of some of those same people who wanted access to my copy before publication.

I only hope that some of that growth translates into a wider acceptance of women at all levels of the scene -- from musicians to critics. As a fairly new genre, electronica has got some catching up to do with the pop world … and how sad is it that I wish it could be more like pop music in terms of gender acceptance?