above: still image from Nina Kraviz' Resident Advisor interview
I measure the quality of any DJ by their musical taste, skill level, and the crowds reaction to their performance, but a number of male DJs do not share my sentiment. They give their female counterparts a hard time due to gender-based advantages these DJs have been known to utilize in their pursuit of work. As I mentioned in my piece for Magnetic Magazine, “Gender Studies: Separating The Girls From The Boys in EDM Culture”, female DJs have a few things going for them; “They are rare, they seem to have been trained since birth to be more style conscious, and they are generally sexier than male DJs.” These amount to a box of positives in the marketing department.
Just ask rising star DJ Nina Kraviz of Russia, who raised eyebrows earlier this year when she conducted a portion of a video interview for the EDM site Resident Advisor on the beach wearing a bikini, and another portion wearing nothing but bubbles in a hotel bathtub. That being said, these advantages should be supplemental to, not in lieu of, the criteria by which any DJ should be measured as mentioned above. Truth be told there are a number of superb female DJs, Kraviz included, who put their male peers to shame behind the decks. This does not stop the media from regularly throwing a pity party for female DJs and their struggle within, what Candace Amos of the New York Post calls, a “male-driven industry”.
In her recent article, Female DJs Spin For Glory, Amos sites the surge of female DJs in the booth during the holidays as a symptom of a gender-based struggle for success in the DJ business. She writes that the holidays are “…a ripe time for female DJs –an anomaly in a male-driven industry – to get gigs and make a name for themselves.” The author is implying that throughout the rest of the year female DJs are at a disadvantage due to male DJs hogging the spotlight, and only during the holiday are they able to shine. This would explain why the person in the DJ booth is typically a man right?
above: Amanda Blaze from the NY Post article
The opportunities for female above and beyond male DJs at pretty much every fashion related event aside, it is just as plausible that female DJs are more interested in spinning private events than headlining clubs. I speak from experience when I say that the money is generally better.
In her article for Crossfadr.com, Who Cares If She’s Hot or Not: Is EDM Getting Better for Women?, Irene Test writes “...even when you’ve got DJs like Nicole Moudaber making regular appearances at Pacha NYC, CASSY doing sets over in Brooklyn, and others like JES, Ellen Alien, Maya Jane Coles, and Nina Kraviz getting exposure, at least 90 percent of a major club’s lineup ends up being male DJs.”
I agree that only 10% female DJs seems pretty low, but in the absence of a point of reference, any outrage is completely baseless. The census bureau doesn’t include DJs in their demographic data, and I have yet to come across any statistical evidence that would serve as an official measuring stick. I am personally friends with 20+ male DJs, and a mere 4 female DJs. If this is any reflection of the number of male to female DJs, then the gender ratio regarding EDM events is not absurd as the media might have you believe. In her piece for the New York Times, Women Edging Their Way Into the D.J. Booth, Tricia Romano spoke with the owner of the Brooklyn Record store Halcyon and discovered that at one time he promoted a night “...showcasing female talent there in 2010 but had to stop when, he said, the store ran out of new women to book.”
Another common complaint is the measure of success afforded male versus female DJs. Test writes, “Web series, interviews, and club nights aside, the past year showed just how far female DJs and producers have to go to experience just a fraction of success that someone like Calvin Harris, now the highest-paid DJ, receives.” Isn’t it just as true that other male DJs have to go the extra mile to obtain a fraction of Harris’ success as well? What proof is there to suggest that Harris’ success has anything to do with his genitalia? I always assumed it was due to his holding “...the record for the most top ten hits from one studio album on the UK Singles Chart with nine hits, surpassing Michael Jackson.” (Wikipedia.org)
Interviewed by Amos for her piece mentioned earlier, 40/40 club resident DJ Amanda Blaze says that “Sometimes they’ll hire you because you’re a pretty face – but you’ll only get paid half of what a man makes.” How could she possibly know this? If she did explain her comment, it was not included in the article. I am regularly low-balled for gigs, and I don’t blame it on my gender. Unless you are established and well connected, gigs are difficult to come by for any DJ. Not only has the competition pool swelled with the exponential increase in affordable DJ technology, the lack of a discerning ear on the part of the clients who are willing to book a more affordable amateur is all-too-common.
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One study that has not been conducted is just what percentage of DJs are successful by gender. The majority of the female DJs I know end up playing big gigs, while only a small portion of my male DJ friends end up playing at notable venues. If these female DJs wielded unparalleled music libraries or possessed technical skills that my male friends didn’t, then I wouldn’t mention it. The truth is, I have no idea why this is the case, and there are no doubt a large number of factors, but the gender-based advantages cannot be easily dismissed.
Would it be safe to say that female DJs gig more often than male DJs in order to get ahead? Candace Amos thinks so, and claims that in order to “…erase the assumption that men know more about music and technical equipment, female DJs have to hustle and take every gig they can get.” I don’t see how taking every gig you can get will erase this silly assumption, nor is it true that every female DJ is doing this. In the same article, Brooklyn’s DJ Olivia Dope complains that she can’t spend New Years Eve with her daughter because she has to DJ an event that evening to make ends meet. Every DJ, male and female, knows that the biggest and best gigs are during the holidays. DJs play parties, and there is a disproportionately large number of parties during the holidays than throughout the rest of the year. This is the nature of the DJ business. If you want to spend time with your loved ones during the holidays, then I would suggest an alternate career.
According to Amos, this is the ultimate goal. She says “...female DJs know it is ultimately about leveraging the platform to segue into other careers later on in life.” I do believe that DJing can lead to other opportunities, but to imply that women are tourists, merely biding their time for the next train to arrive, is insulting. If this was true, which I don’t believe it is, then no wonder men get upset. What lifer wants to share the stage with a freeloader?
All things considered, it is undeniable that female DJs have had to deal with a slew of haters. Some of their comments are so inflammatory that Kate Magoc compiled a list of 10 Things Douchebags Say to Female DJs for Vice Magazine’s Thump. This behavior is inexcusable. I can only hope that a few bad apples do not ruin it for the rest of us who actively support the growing competition from our sister DJs.
As for the media, there should be a renewed focus on those female DJs that should be recognized for their talents, and the good word be spread accordingly. If they need a guide, I recommend taking a look at Amanda Esquilin’s piece for OneBeat titled New York Based Female DJs Who Wreck It Well. Her straightforward illustration of local female DJ talent is the kind of positive coverage necessary, if we are to insure equality in the DJ booth.