Note: The names of musicians have been changed but the incidents referred to in this article are all true.
‘Who was that guy you were with last night? I saw him walking you to your car. Your car reg is *** ****’, wrote a mysterious figure on my Myspace back in the day. This person took every opportunity to let me know they knew who I was with and what I was doing pre and post gigs, but if I didn’t post gig dates online, how could I build a fanbase?
That was the first creepy experience. I’ve had many… the worst was when a fellow female songwriter and I were given a lift by a producer we had worked with and he suddenly announced when we got to our destination, ‘I can’t park anywhere near here, I am taking you back to my flat’ and locked the doors of the car. We got out; I honestly don’t remember how.
Then there was the tale of the talented Belfast songwriter who made a good connection in Nashville. He offered to produce her and after months of emailing she agreed to go to Nashville. ‘Looking forward to seeing you XXX’ he wrote. Wisely, she backed out.
Final horror story: I called round to a musician friend’s house and although he was clearly in, he didn’t answer the door. Bemused I went back to my car, when he came to the door and called me in. ‘I’ve had this crazy girl stalk me,’ he explained. She had found out where he lived by basically following him home and turned up frequently on his doorstep as well as cyber stalking him and behaving aggressively to his friends.
Some other musicians I know have been very seriously sexually assaulted. Many have been followed and verbally harassed by obsessed fans.
Sexual harassment in the film industry is big news at the moment. Sometimes music isn’t very safe either. There are several factors that make musicians vulnerable:
- By posting gig dates, you are announcing where you are going to be at what time.
- Packing up equipment etc. late at night can leave you vulnerable.
- Unscrupulous individuals will play on the desire of young musicians to progress in their careers.
- Image is a big part of music and so inappropriate or offensive personal remarks are seen as fair game by some people.
- Needing to maintain an online presence can unfortunately make you prey to trolls.
- There is, quite frankly, an attitude of disrespecting women in some sectors of the music industry. One lecturer of mine during my MMus referred to ‘women in their 30s who haven’t been culturally relevant in 20 years’.
- Women are underrepresented in the music industry with only 16% of PRS members being female.
I would like to make a few suggestions as to how to keep yourself safe, based on training I once had from the Suzy Lamplugh Trust but also some 20 years of involvement in the music industry.
- Never feel afraid to say no. If someone tries to pressurize you into something that makes you uncomfortable, say no and tell someone about it such as Help Musicians or the Musicians Union.
- Be sure someone knows where you are going and what time you expect to be back when you are gigging.
- When touring try not to travel alone and use reputable sites to book accommodation.
- Walk away from aggressive or intimidating behaviour. Do not engage in fights, in person or online.
- Block aggressive profiles online and report abusive posts/tweets.
- Do not give out personal information such as mobile numbers etc. at gigs or online.
- If you make contact with a company and you feel the emails are becoming suspicious, stop all contact.
- Never let anyone stop you from being yourself, for example by claiming you have to dress in a way you’re not comfortable with or be photographed in a way you don’t like. This has happened to several female musicians I know.
- Remember: ANY BEHAVIOUR THAT MAKES YOU FEEL UNCOMFORTABLE IS NOT NORMAL. DON’T LET ANYONE TELL YOU IT IS.
I must add that there are many great men in the music industry, lest I portray them all as sexists and perverts. My own career has been greatly helped by men who believed in me, supported me and gave me great opportunities. If you meet any person who doesn’t sound like they fit that picture, they aren’t going to take you anywhere, at least not anywhere good.
Please feel free to comment on your experiences below.