Have you ever thought to yourself “Why are most DJs male?” Is it true that women within the industry have it harder than men?
Unfortunately it is true. When it comes to being a DJ and becoming a household name, it seems like it’s an impossible feat unless you’re male. In fact, DJ Mag’s list of top 100 popular DJs for 2011 did not even have a female name on it. Not one. And if we say Daft Punk or Avicii, you probably know who we’re talking about – even heard their songs on repeat on radio. But DJ Helena or Alison Wonderland? Chances are you’d have to think hard, and might not even know who we’re talking about.
But the truth is, there are literally hundreds of young female DJs trying to make it. The website www.shejay.net exemplifies this – currently on the site there are 842 amateur female DJs being promoted. Whereas searching for an amateur male DJ site returned nothing.
This dominance of employed male DJs is reflected in nightclubs, where when it comes to rostering entertainment, they are overwhelmingly in favour of men.
Home Nightclub music manager Rees Hellmers says the ratio of females to males playing each month is 1:10.
Yasoda Gonzalez, manager at the club Chinese Laundry, and also a female DJ, had a similar ratio with five to 25 different guys playing each week, compared with only a few females in total.
However, according to Hellmers, it is “equal” when it comes to which gender gets a better response out of the audience. Music manager Siobhan Poynton from Sydney’s World Bar agrees, which is why she rosters female DJs regularly, and also has a specific night dedicated to them. “Using this week coming up at The World Bar, there are 4 female and 5 male DJs playing. The other night I promote is Wednesdays at Newtown Hotel, which has an all-female roster,” she explained.
With the ratio this dramatically in favour of males is makes you wonder “why?” Could it possibly have something to do with the music they play?
After interviewing three emerging female DJs it seems unlikely, with all agreeing that they play what feels right based on the crowd. 22 year old Cristina Orozco, or “Lavida” as her DJ name, said “I like to consider myself a multigenre DJ – Sydney is so musically varied, I’m so lucky to still play what I love, however there is a very big percentage of top 40 lovers in the CBD and so what I play reflects that.”
23 year old, Laura Kirkwood, or “Elly K”, had much the same to say. “I play everything! I grew up with a huge passion for original disco, and then moved into hip-hop and RnB, and then house, techno and soultronica, so I can play a whole range of stuff.”
Rather, they point to the double standards presented in the DJ world, where – according to them – more importance is placed on how they look than how they play. “Looking good is one of the biggest stigmas,” says Elly K. “More than often women are compared to each other, and unfortunately looks are judged before their talent.”
Gonzalez adds, “It feels like men prefer women to be cheerleaders/fans/groupies. It’s not harder to get booked but it’s harder to get a start – and it’s harder to be taken seriously … the weird pressure to be attractive, that doesn’t really apply to male DJs. Female DJs are expected to dress up, do photo-shoots, post selfies, wear something fabulous to every gig. Getting hair and nails and eyelashes done cuts into time you could be working on tunes”
Poynton (World Bar) added, “There are some people who don’t take females seriously, or assume they aren’t as good DJs, and are more about cool hair and clothes.”
So why then, do women still want to be DJs when it’s so hard for them to get a gig, and when they do, the focus seems to be on how they look?
Kirkwood “Elly K” explains, “I never really thought about becoming a DJ, I was just obsessed with music from a really young age. Becoming a DJ was just a transition of that passion.”
Gonzalez added, “A few years ago I was promoting for a lot of DJs that had massive egos and I thought, I’ll show them. It’s not rocket science, or anything to get a big head about. It was harder than I thought. My first set was multi genre – and the crowd loved it, so I kept going. Really it’s just the sharing of great music that I’ve found that drives me to DJ.”
“Lavida” explained “You know that happy feeling, when you get goose-bumps from something that excites you so and your body has that natural rush of dopamine? That’s what DJ-ing has become for me. I love when an entire room chant “Lavida, Lavida!” to the music and set I had created on the spot and knowing that all these people were experiencing joy in unison because of me. It was like magic and I became addicted and I am so grateful to continue doing so and be paid for what I love best. This is definitely not a job under my watch, it’s a dream come true.” — Isabel Williams
Top photo from She can Dj official Facebook page