'Where are all the women?' A new Canadian doc looks at sexism in the music biz

Play Your Gender features Melissa Auf der Maur, Sara Quin, Chantal Kreviazuk, Kinnie Starr.

Play Your Gender features Melissa Auf der Maur, Sara Quin, Chantal Kreviazuk, Kinnie Starr.

Sara Quin of Tegan and Sara says, "You have to be able to everything. If you can't do everything, you're an idiot." (Play Your Gender)

On the surface, it seems there are plenty of powerful women in the music biz: from Beyoncé to Adele, Taylor Swift to Celine Dion, and Lady Gaga to Rihanna, many female artists rule the stage.

Look just behind the scenes, however, and you'll find a different story altogether.

According to the new Canadian documentary Play Your Gender, fewer than five per cent of music producers and engineers are women, even though many of the business's biggest money-making stars are female. Only six women have ever been nominated for a producer of the year Grammy, and no woman has ever won.

In fact, even today, almost all music industry executives, producers, technicians and songwriters are male.

"We interviewed a lot of people for this film and across the board, male and female, most people are saying the same thing, which is: Where are all the women?" said the film's executive producer and host, Kinnie Starr, herself a successful music artist and producer, in a CBC interview.

"It's hard being the only female in the room all the time, anywhere you go," she said, adding that some music subcultures, like the DJ world, have more women — but they're still a small minority. "When you go into a studio or a label or if you want to be an engineer or if you're mixing, you have to have a certain fortitude of character just to be able to withstand the feeling of always being on the outside."

In the documentary, musicians including Melissa Auf der Maur (Smashing Pumpkins, Hole), Sara Quin (Tegan and Sara), Chantal Kreviazuk, Patty Schemel (Hole), Ndidi Onukwulu, Lily Frost, Megan James (Purity Ring), Lowell, Little Scream and more share their stories and insights about the music industry's deeply-entrenched sexism — and its effects, both on them and on aspiring musicians.

Directed by Stephanie Clattenburg, the documentary has its West Coast premiere at Vancouver's Reel 2 Real International Film Festival today and tomorrow, and arrives on the heels of the 2017 Juno Awards, which also came under fire for the lack of women artists and technicians in many categories.

Starr says change is needed, and it has to come from behind the scenes.

"It's not enough just to have women singing. Most songs are written by men. A lot of pop songs are written by teams, and most of those teams are made up of men. All of the production is done by men. So you have this mass of people being educated from the perspective of a bunch of dude bros," she said. "Music is a very informative form of media. Everybody listens to music. So that's why I really want to see more women in power in those positions."

— Jennifer Van Evra, q digital staff

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