by Marti Jane Dodson
Apr 17, 2020
Boyz II Men. (hang on, be right back)
Ok sorry. I had to stop typing for a minute so I could scream sing “ALTHOUGH WE’VE COME, TO THE END OF THE ROAD” but it’s mostly out of my system now STILL I CAN’T LET GO..okay..okay I think I’m good. Today, what’s on my mind is the very specific and interesting condition of being a lady in what’s still very much a man’s world of songwriting. (Yes, I understand that using the term ‘lady’ to describe myself is a bit of a loose interpretation. And yes, I understand that I’m missing even more pun opportunities throwing ‘loose’ and ‘lady’ into to same sentence, but honestly someone has to do some writing around here, and it probably needs to be me since I’m already halfway into this blog.)
The other day I got a text from a male friend/songwriter/producer that said “Music Row is like a fraternity party these days”.
Now, you may be SHOCKED to hear this (mom please look away for the next paragraph), but I’ve attended a handful of fraternity parties in my day. Here’s what I remember: sticky floors, guys with names like DEEJAY KEVVY KEV who was actually just Kevin from your Geology lecture in a stupid sideways hat, lots of sweaty dancing to OutKast songs, themes (always with the palm trees), and black lights. I’d question the brain trust that decided black lights in a fraternity house were a good idea, but honestly interior decorating was really the last thing those guys needed to be worried about, considering they were wearing togas on the reg.
I guess you can pick fashion or you can pick home design, but you can’t pick both (or either in this case). But I digress. When my friend texted me, I don’t think he was implying that Deejay Kevvy Kev has taken up residence on 16th Ave in Nashville. I think the idea was more to point out a boys club ‘bro’ type vibe that can be pretty prominent in modern country music. And unfortunately, there’s some truth to this.
While the Boyz club is not all that exists, and while the conversation is changing, it certainly plays a part in the current scene.
Being a woman in this culture-even if you’re a woman who knows how to do a kegstand (oops-sorry Mom, should have told you to look away again)-there’s only so far you can go toward being one of the boys. That’s why I don’t try to be.
I’ve heard more than a handful of times from my male counterparts “You’re my favorite female writer in town.”
I used to bust their chops every time they said it-why can’t I just be your favorite writer, instead of your favorite songwriter girl? But I know they don’t mean it as a slam-it’s less about the fact that I happen to wear lip gloss AND write songs, and more about the fact that there aren’t a ton of us in the game, comparatively speaking to the number of guys with publishing deals and hits and the number of male artists. It’s become a huge conversation in the past couple of years, in terms of the lack of female presence on country radio.
There are lots of media outlets and individuals who are working diligently to change this fact.
But, it’s had a trickle down effect that not many writers think about if they’re not immersed in the day to day culture of writing songs. It’s certainly changed things for me. I write lots of female songs, adore writing female songs, and left to my own feminine devices, would do it all day long while wrapped in a giant pink blanket with a bow in my hair-but this is not a smart way, right now, for me to try and achieve success.
The harsh reality is that presently, there’s only a tiny window of opportunity for all those female songs I write to be pitched. Fewer female artists with record deals and on the radio, means fewer pitches for those hundreds of female songs in my catalog.
I’ve really had to step up my game regarding writing songs that can be pitched to guys, or songs that could be as unisex as that stinky CK1 cologne from the 90’s that’s supposedly gender neutral.
That sucks sometimes. But that’s my world at the moment. I’m not saying it can’t be changed or that it won’t change-I hear incredible female voices breaking through all the time (bring it on, Carly Pearce and Brooke Eden and Maren Morris and all you ladies)-but my point here, overall, for new writers, is not to discourage you from writing female songs, but to encourage you to keep balance in your writing.
Songwriter Girls…Write what you know, but write both male and female songs.
ALWAYS write from your heart, but make sure if you’re writing a male song, you’re not putting overly feminine lines in your lyric.
Write the truth, but write a truth that’s universal. Listen to Lori McKenna and Tim McGraw both sing Lori’s song “Humble and Kind”-they both do it justice because it’s a human song, and we’re all humans.
One extremely valuable thing women writers bring to the cowrite is the feminine perspective.
When you turn on the radio and hear all those guy songs, a huge percentage of them are love songs. Who’s better than a woman at knowing what female fans want to hear those guys sing? While guys know how guys talk and what guys would say, girls know what girls want to HEAR those guys say. There’s room for everyone at the table and everyone’s input holds weight.
Back to the fraternity party-sure, there’s elements of this scenario that are out of reach for me, and that can be frustrating. Lots of business is done over guys drinking beers together, and I won’t always be invited to that party. (Otherwise they wouldn’t be able to talk about beard oil and darts or whatever). But the same rule that will help me get ahead in this business applies no matter what your gender is. I try very hard to keep my head down, do the work, and write as many great-not just good, but great-songs as I am capable of. If you write like this-if you work like this-you will be noticed, whoever and whatever you are.
It’s possible to both be wise to the ways of the world, and also be part of changing the conversation for the better and for equality. In either case, if you respect your cowriters, respect the song, and let your work speak for you-you will never fall short.
Lastly, YOU BELONG TO ME, I BELONG TO YOU, WHOOAAAA, IT’S THE END OF THE ROAD.
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