To be seen is to be heard: why you need to pay attention to YoWo Music
Back in March of this year, triple j’s Hack program conducted their third annual survey into gender equality in the Australian music industry.
Among other things, they discovered that women make up half, or more than half of all students in year 12 and undergraduate university music programs. Yet, in the last Australian census, only 29% of people who categorised themselves ‘music professionals’ were women.
There’s a gaping hole in the equity of our music industry and programs like Melbourne’s YoWo Music are doing everything in their power to close it.
“YoWo music came about on the back of a lot of discussions we’ve seen taking place actually in the Melbourne jazz community about women’s experiences and how it can be a bit of a boys club,” artistic director and co-founder Claire Cross tells TMN.
“We found it puzzling; I’m a bass player and Lena Douglas [co-founder], she’s a keys player. We both did contemporary jazz programs at uni and a lot of the time we were among the only female instrumentalists in those courses.”
Taking place over a semester, YoWo Music allows high school-aged women and non-gender conforming participants to learn from professional musician mentors (previous mentors include Kimbra, Ella Thompson (GL, Dorsal Fins), Jude Perl, Shannon Barnett and more) write their own original songs and perform at an end-of-program gig.
“The reason we decided to create a program for high schoolers is because all of us said when we were in school doing music there were a lot more girls or non-binary people playing music and after that, they seem to just disappear,” Cross says.
“So we thought we can provide the supportive environment and role models so these young people can actually see a career they can pursue, that there are pathways for them perhaps we can indirectly encourage more women and non-binary youth to pursue it at a higher level.”
Now in its third year, YoWo decided to branch out a little. With the help provided by grants from Creative Victoria and Australia Council, students past and present are releasing their debut album Work Like That.
Ushered in by a disarmingly brilliant lead single ‘Built For Boys’, written by former student Lily Harnath, the album is as much about being seen as it is being heard.
“The program is the essence of us but for us to keep running we need participants, we need to reach people,” says Cross.
“We need parents and schools to know about us, so the album is providing a great opportunity for young people but it also allows us to educate more people about the program.”
Cross expresses that actions like releasing the album are essential to keep programs like YoWo Music thriving.
“We’re always trying to not be stagnant, it things that that can make programs like this die. If we don’t keep thinking ahead and thinking about what we’re providing for people there’s a chance you can grind to a halt,” she says.
“We’re building a community so this program can keep running. We need to keep finding ways to make the program sustainable financially.”
Opportunities like YoWo are growing, see the national expansions of Girls Rock! camps, and every instance must be preserved in order to construct an inclusive music industry that welcomes uniqueness.
“Personally, I feel most environments and communities are strengthened by diversity and by different perspectives. By providing these pathways for young women and young gender non defining people I hope they join the industry as adults and have an impact on the music scene,” says Cross.
“I think a lot of good things are happening at the moment. A lot of issues surrounding harassment and inequality are coming to light and I would hope that people stepping forward from these marginalised groups would mean that these things happen less and there is a safe space for everyone in music.”