Artists like Madonna, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry are some of the biggest names in the music industry. But in the shadows of these successful women you will see lots of men. When you look behind-the-scenes at the music business it is one big old boys’ club but does it have to be this way? The documentary, Play Your Gender asks why there aren’t more female producers and sound engineers and answers this in a very interesting, well-constructed and engaging way.
The film is directed by Stephanie Clattenburg and she shares co-writing duties with Sahar Yousefi. This documentary stars the Juno award-winning musician, producer and artist, Kinnie Starr, who drives the bulk of the narrative. These women tell the story and offer up some upsetting statistics that are presented in some colourful titles.
Did you know that women represent less than 5% of producers and engineers worldwide? And that a woman has never won a Grammy award for producer of the year in the non-classical category? Play Your Gender describes how men are pushing the majority of the buttons from writing the songs (just 20% are written by women) to the producers choosing the sound and arrangements, to the engineers and mixers in the production suite, the session players performing on the tracks and the A & R people including managers and agents. Publicists are another job – like the artists – where women are an anomaly in that they are often represented.
Starr is a charismatic interviewer and she talks with a number of different people including a female producer/engineer, musicologist, booker and the publisher of Tom Tom magazine, which is dedicated to female drummers. There are also lots of interviews with musicians like: Patty Schemel (Hole), Melissa Auf der Maur (Smashing Pumpkins, Hole), Sara Quin (Tegan & Sara), Megan James (Purity Ring) and Jeramy “Beardo” Gritter (Julian Casablancas and the Voidz), among others. Their comments are enlightening, especially in Quin’s case because she recalls how isolating it was during her early days in the industry and being a lesbian. She also describes how difficult it is for her and her sister to try and hire women for their road crew (in many cases this has proved impossible).
Play Your Gender is an excellent documentary that opens up the conversation about the need for more women to play different roles in the music industry. It’s a story that needed to be told because music is a reflection of society’s culture and values; song lyrics get Googled more often than the news does; and the industry is worth over $470 billion dollars. This film ultimately covers some important issues and offers up a microphone to a range of diverse voices. This then forms a great look reflection and sad indictment on modern music that should inspire more women and girls to get out there and push some buttons.
Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Play Your Gender is screening at the Melbourne International Documentary Festival, which is happening between July 9th and 16th. For more details head to http://mdff.org.au/.