What’s it like to be a male composer?

One would think this a weird question, but what if we changed it to ‘What’s it like to be a female composer?’ – sounds familiar? Why do women still get asked this question in the 21st century and not men? Why is it that we see so few women in the entertainment industry?

At Soundtrack_Cologne 13, co-founder of the Alliance of Women Film Composers Miriam Cutler, BAFTA Award winning games composer Jessica Curry, Head of Research and PR of the European Women’s Audiovisual Network Francine Raveney and composer Jasmin Reuter, gathered to share their experiences, stories and advices to other female composers.

It was a hot summer’s day in late August when we all fled into the kindly airconditioned cold inside the IHK building in central Cologne, to listen to and get inspired by the Women in Film Music panel. Around one and a half hours later in, we realized that goosebumbs do exist; even on a sticky and sweaty day like this. Not only from feeling really cold after the tremendous heat, but from bone-shaking and unbelievable stories from the individuals.

The big question: Why are there so few women in the entertainment industry?

A few years ago Miriam Cutler, who won the Hollywood Music in Media Award for Best Documentary Score to ‘The Hunting Ground’, composer Laura Karpman and Vice President of Film & TV at BMI Doreen Ringer-Ross sat down and set up a meeting for all female composers – because they had never seen or heard anything from them.

It was then, when they realized that there were female composers out there, and quite a few, too. They took a photo of the meeting, put it online and the response was unexpectedly huge. Jessica Curry added that a lot of women still come to her and ask for advice, because they feel unconfident in the role of a female composer amongst the majority that consists of men. Her advice: “Don’t be apologetic about what you do and how you appear!

When Jessica Curry was in her early 20s she had already been rejected for various jobs. Then she heard about a job offer for a composing gig, which she could not refuse to apply to; even though she had absolutely no experience. But her headstrong and determined will to work in the industry made her to not give up, be brave and to apply. She got the job and thus she urges other female composers to not feel steamrolled by a male-dominated industry and to be brave. Because there are very talented women composers out there – especially in the games industry.

Jessica Curry: “If you can see it, you can be it.”

Jessica Curry is convinced that, “if you can see it, you can be it.” That is why we need more female role models in the film industry. In her early days she presumed that composers were only “dead white men”. But of course there were also famous and successful female composers, like Nan Schwartz or Rachel Portman. Still what young girls see today is a male dominated industry. She would love to see more articles about role models in magazines and newspapers, so that these girls get inspired and go: I want to be like her!

Miriam Cutler replied that in addition it would help to not only read about it but show that it’s possible. Her answer to insecurity is a formation of female composers to encourage and help each other: She co-founded the Alliance for Women Film Composers (AWFC) which on August 19th teamed up with Grand Performances to celebrate the music of women composers in film, television, video games and interactive media live in LA (“Women composers are no longer invisible, they are no longer silent”). One goal of the AWFC is to get the music by women out there to the audience to be heard and made aware of the existence of female composers.

The youngest of the four women on the panel, Jasmin Reuter, who has composed music for award-winning films like ‘Sunny’ and ‘Two Mothers’ as well for the soon to be released ’24 Weeks’, shared her experience in a working landscape dominated by men. When she started composing film music, she never thought twice about the decision. It was only until she went to gatherings or meet ups with other composers that she realized that she was almost the only woman. Working with directors, she says, she never experienced a gender biased attitute towards her.

Conclusion: It’s getting better but it’s far from good.

That shows that things are changing. Nevertheless today’s steps have to be to make aware of bad cases, too: Of composer’s assistants who are sexually harassed at their workplace, who are made feel uncomfortable and who are afraid to step into public. The whole room went quiet with shock when Jessica Curry revealed that people change her wikipedia page every week, fill it with false and misleading information about her, and that she receives daily rape and death threats. Other examples being the outcry of denial against a female line up of Ghostbusters or during the UEFA Euro games when a shockingly misogynic reaction towards the first female soccer commentator took place.

So what can we do about it?

Unfortunately there is no fast lane in that matter. The situation has improved, though we need more openness, more courage to speak freely and more presence in the industry, so that one day it will be understood and natural for all of us to walk and tread the path of a composer’s life.

What has been your experience in the industry? Let us know in the comments!

Posted by Yoana v. Grimm

Composer for Films and Games.

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2 Comments on "“If you can see it, you can be it”: About the state of female composers in the entertainment industry"

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Nora Morrow

I have actually been composing music all my life but am just starting to feel comfortable about presenting myself as a composer. I will be 64 in October, but feel like I’m just getting started. This feels like a good time right now for women. These things are very subtle sometimes…sometimes not unfortunately, and it’s not just men. We have to change our perceptions too.

Yoana von Grimm

Good point, Nora. Our perception of the entire gender and/or race issue has to change. And I definitely see a change of perception these days! That’s a great start. People talk about missing women on composer lists, they start serious and solution-seeking discussions why there are so few women composers!