Soundtracking the Resistance - Gracie and Rachel on Music Industry Misogyny and Mansplaining

Conveniently Inconvenient - Women In Music

Sep 22, 2017 Bookmark and Share

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The backgrounds that form the soaring orchestral pop echoing out on Gracie Coates and Rachel Ruggles' self-titled debut as Gracie and Rachel can be reduced to a west coast/east coast duality. Hailing from California, and now based in New York, there's the majestic lightness of the golden state, and the urban isolation of NYC.

But that reduction barely tells the story. Gracie's wistful piano and Rachel's darker, maudlin violin combine to frequently devastating effect on their record released at the end of June. Across nine tracks, they range deep into doubt and the escape from it, capturing challenges faced and expectations tipped upside down.

The constantly reoccurring challenges cropping up for them, challenges shared by many women in the music industry and caused by outlooks that ultimately hold everyone back, are not for me to describe though. Not when Gracie and Rachel can do so themselves, as they have this week for us. - Stephen Mayne

Conveniently Inconvenient - Women in Music

By Gracie Coates and Rachel Ruggles

CONVENIENCE (noun): the state of being able to proceed with something with little effort or difficulty.

It seems a great majority of us could agree that the political climate is run by convenient news, news that centers around the kind of information that serves the mainstream political agenda. As women in the arts operating in a male-driven industry, the music climate feels no different. Convenient thinking and the ways in which it can determine the course of events in a variety of contexts is a powerful thing to witness, but what if the convenience factor is actually marginalizing truths and making us all lazier patrons and collaborators? Whether it's misinformation delivered by the media or the silencing of women at soundcheck, censorship is pushing its way forward in society, and it's time to speak up and push back, no matter how incredibly inconvenient it may be to do so.

We are currently on tour with our band, Gracie and Rachel, which consists of the two of us, Gracie and Rachel, and our drummer, Ricky. When our two-thirds-female band shows up to a venue on the day-of-show to load in for our soundcheck, we are 99% of the time greeted by all-male tech hands and venue managers, many who presume without asking that we are the support act, not the headliner. As we have a less traditional sound goal in our mix, the first thing we often deal with is condescension and a disbelief that we know what we are asking for.

A typical experience for Rachel when arriving to soundcheck runs like this:

Rachel: "Here's the tech rider, which explains in full detail the sound we're going for. Gracie's the singer/pianist and I'm the violinist."

Sound Engineer: "I love the violin!"

Rachel: "Me too!"

Sound Engineer: "You sing as well?"

Rachel: "Yes, I sing background harmonies, but really my voice is my violin and it should sit equal to the keyboard in the mix."

Soundcheck commences and our violin-loving sound engineer puts the violin offensively low in the mix. It doesn't happen just a few times, it happens almost every time. We try not to blame them. The idea of a string player being front and center with a minimal vocal role is a somewhat new format in the indie-pop scene. So we explain that. Repeatedly. But it is often a presumption that the sound person knows better than we do what we want and so it becomes a push and pull scenario with limited time to dial things in, making it harder to do our job the way we know it needs to be done.

On top of this frequent conflict, we have become accustomed to showing up to the gig and being presumed to be the opener when in fact we are not, and then have to ask repeatedly to have our name on the marquees next to our male counterpart's name. Beyond the fact that we are women and have had to work a little harder, okay, a lot harder, to be represented fairly and accurately out there in this already-challenging field, we struggle with the common assumption that we don't know what's best for us. Mansplaining, you might say? Too often we come across these subtle yet divisive presumptions which sustain these disadvantaged ideologies. Ultimately, what we come away with is that it is 100% convenient for someone to assume that what they've heard and seen before is what they're supposed to hear and see again.

As women artists going into this world of music, we are training the people we encounter when we go out to put our music forward. With no particular skills in training others but our determination to make our art heard and seen as we envision it, we enter this minefield. And oh, how we hate war terms, but it feels like small battles we have to fight, battles some people say we shouldn't sweat, but these are our experiences where we are consistently undermined, and we've had enough, and we won't stop now. And let us remember that we are also surrounded by many incredible, supportive men, and so we feel anger when we encounter those who have been programmed not to listen to women, as by doing so they are doing harm to their fellow menfolk, impeding the communication amongst us all. There's so much to say and so much we wish to not need to say. We have so far to go. And yes, our creative beings, as reflected in this world we live in, are still bracketed by certain definitions. But until we get over these hurdles we are all in training.

When we encounter these disappointing events mixed in with the transcendently rewarding moments we do have being heard as we want to be heard, as contributors, collaborators, and innovators, we wonder why it can't be the latter all the time. Then we remember that the history of our culture still influences us to fall into convenient, expected behaviors and patterns that have been passed down to us in convenient tradition. And then we vow to fight for the balance of achieving our goals, engaging those we encounter, learning from the savvy women and men around us and not backing down when met with contempt.

And then what we do is we play our hearts and our strings out and we find that our playing proves points that our voices can't always, and we see people being convinced to listen a little more deeply than they had before. And then we hope that the next female artist, or anyone facing prejudicial scrutiny, who walks through the door and stands up to the man, is listened to a little better, out of respect and civility, no matter how inconvenient it might feel for that person.

And with this, we grow.

INCONVENIENCE (noun): trouble or difficulty caused to one's personal requirements or comfort.

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