While waiting on my son to finish his weekly drum lesson at School of Rock, I usually do one of two things: play on my phone or wander around the adjacent music store, Guitar Center. Sadly, this is what my life is reduced to as a parent: simultaneously waiting to transport him to the next destination and living vicariously through his activities, which are far more interesting than my own.
Welcome to Adulthood.
A few weeks back, I found myself with a dead phone battery and yet another hour to kill in Guitar Center while he practiced grooves and other timekeeping rudiments. I wandered aimlessly between the enclosed acoustic room, synthesizer and smoke-machine area, and a teetering pyramid of bongos labeled “Slashed to the Lowest Price!” Bored out of my mind, I was looking at everything and nothing at all when I made a disturbing discovery on the infamous Music-Store Corkboard.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. Did these still exist? Indeed, they do! Incredibly, the Corkboard used to be the sole means for band auditions outside of an expensive want ad in the local paper. It was an integral communication hub for musicians — no music store, recording studio or practice space failed to have one.
Intrigued, I knew I had stumbled upon either a music-scene artifact or an odd collective of Internet-challenged musicians. Unbelievably, there were people out there who still posted handwritten flyers and want ads for their bands. My attention arrested, I had to read every scrap of paper attached by pushpin in this 3’x5’ frame.
But what initially seemed like a convenient and nostalgic time-waster quickly turned into something else. I found myself altogether pissed off. I was bothered by so many offerings that had an uncanny similarity: “Female Musician Wanted." Yet it wasn’t the ads themselves but the expectations that accompanied them, said or unsaid.
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These notices for female musicians all came with a strict list of orders. They weren't requests for specialized skill sets like some other ads contained — those presumably targeted toward male musicians — but orders you might give a subordinate employee or a wayward teenager. They were, well, downright insulting. The dichotomy was clear and understood: Male musicians were intrinsically talented; females were not and subsequently should be managed as such.
The ads I read literally called for female musicians to be “drama-free,” no “druggies,” or to “have transportation!” They did not ask for experience, influences or any other credible audition information. Only one (just one!) asked for a demo before the audition. Another band added at the bottom of their ad, as an obvious afterthought, “We are open to a female. Possibly.”
As if females were the lowest-ranking musical choice available, a repugnant and undesirable position, and they had no other option than to choose a female musician. What desperate times!
Almost all of these ads had a compulsory age requirement; “Must be 18-29” was a typical bracket. An unusual fear permeated the ads of any female past the age of 30, as if women older than that had somehow developed musical physiological impotency.
Like men going soft at 40. Bummer.
And oddly, most female-seeking ads were looking for a female bass player. Think about that for a minute.
Not for a female vocalist, whose range could understandably be an asset to a band whose music favors a soprano. Asking for a female bass player means — let’s face it — if she’s hot, people will come see us. If the only thing your music draws is flies, then maybe what’s needed is more practice, not a hot chick on bass. (Just a thought.)
A few even asked for a “head or body shot” — I’m not kidding. Many stated they had already written their own material, meaning they weren’t looking for any creative suggestions from their prospective female band member. The message was clear: Be young, be hot and don’t have opinions because we don’t want to hear them. Images of female cardboard cutouts filled my mind.
Sure, people can choose who they want for their bands. I get it; that’s not my point. I’m asking why these bands make demands for females and not males? Why do females have an age limit? Why aren’t they allowed to add to these bands' creative power? Why must they look a certain way?
The women responding shouldn’t expect to have a voice, a vested interest, or to make any deeper contributions. Why not just make them play unplugged? Leave them as the ornaments these bands are expecting? Hand ‘em a tambourine, put ‘em in a Hooters shirt and check their ID to make sure they’re 21. We’re all set to make music now!
Why not just make her play unplugged? Leave her as the ornament she is? Hand her a tambourine, put her in a Hooters shirt and check her ID to make sure she's 21. We’re all set to make music now!
I left Guitar Center and drove my kid home. Bothered, I asked the only expert on youth culture I know, my 14-year-old. His response to why a band would want a female bass player: “Because sex sells?” Impressed by his intuition, I quieted. The kid was right. I wondered if other ads for female musicians were as overtly sexist as the ones I saw at Guitar Center.
After arriving home, I logged onto Craigslist. Perhaps handwritten flyers attracted a particular cross-section of misogynist musician, and maybe here would be a beacon of open-minded professionalism. Surely I could find a group of musicians looking for female members based on the same qualities asked for in their male counterparts. Right?
Of course not. It was far worse. So were the Facebook groups that touted rules like “Serious Musician Ads Only!” as were all the local ads I perused outside of professional talent searches. So, I did what any good journalist would do…I answered some of these goddamned ads posing as a credible female musician. That’s right, I went deep (not really) undercover.
The ads were numerous and easy to find. After typing “female musician” in the search engine, I found several Craigslist ads that were searching for (yet another…sigh) female bass player. One demanded “no crackheads!” and “must submit photo FRIST!” (sic)
Think I'm joking? Go ahead, click. I dare you.
I responded with an entire paragraph describing my years of experience and influence. Surprisingly, I received a quick response and request for “photograph, can be selfie plz” (sic). When I asked why the band needed to know what I looked like if we were a match musically, the response was, “WE want a certain look. We been looking for a female for 6 months but none could really work out."
I sent them a pic of an attractive but slightly overweight female. Why? Because I knew they’d take the bait and either never write me back or completely dismiss me. I was right. Suddenly, the half-year female drought was over. They were awash in female bass players.
“We are in the proces of tryin out other females if they don’t work out we will call you (sic)."
Here's another response to my photo inquiry: "Photo wise it dont matter what angle. Body shot. Head shot. I have one person send me reply thru the add...I can tell either shes been or still on some kind of drug..but I hate to judge people..but im not the only one who thinks the same way.."
Another gem: "This person should have a good look to them and be in shape."
Not surprisingly, these bands aren’t looking for musicians at all; they’re looking for female eye candy in hopes someone will give a shit about their talentless, uninspiring, lackluster music.
So what? Who cares if there’s a bunch of dudes who think that women can’t play music and are only good for drawing a crowd if they’re young and hot? Well, women do.
We deserve the same opportunities to prove our expertise and ability. We’re talented, creative and intelligent. Moreover, you’re only impeding the progress of your band if you believe that women aren’t musically gifted, too. That’s right. Your band could be better with us than without us.
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Sure, rock and roll is sex, theater and glamour. I don’t doubt that. There’s a whole publicity-gimmickry machine attracted to every famous act. But at its core, music is still about talent. It’s about art and communicating something inexpressible through only words. And that comes from people who are adroitly gifted artists. Some of those people — who deserve to be treated like people — are women.
Like it or not, women sell music, too. Not just the gorgeous ones. Mama Cass and Janis Joplin made incredible music. While I think they were beautiful women, many didn’t and it didn’t matter. They sold records and created music that is still celebrated today.
My advice to bands writing ads: Open your minds and your doors to anybody with enough drive and passion for music who actually wants an audition. Don’t have age limits, demands on appearance or rules for personal behavior.
These ads make you look like pretentious and sexist ass-clowns. Start and end with talent; make that your sole purpose for auditions. Your fans will thank you, and so will I.