My Experience (So Far) as a Woman in the Music Industry
From a very early age, I understood the power of music. I knew that it had the ability to connect people on the deepest and most personal of levels. I found my voice at the age of five, both literally and figuratively, through my parents’ love of music. I vividly remember dancing around my house with my mom, dad, and brother to everything from Nirvana and Ella Fitzgerald to Aaliyah and Blue Oyster Cult. They had such a wide range of taste when it came to music and they shared it constantly with my brother and me.
By the time I was eight, I was professionally working in musical theater and had found my passion. At 18, I toured with the Broadway rock musical “Spring Awakening.” The sensation of connecting to an audience of people every night through song and leaving the theater feeling as if we just had an emotional experience together was my greatest joy. By the time I was 16 I was playing guitar and writing poetry and songs about my experiences. I only hoped that one day someone would hear my songs and feel the same way as me. And maybe, just maybe, it would make him or her feel less alone.
Growing up, I was told by my parents that as a woman I could do or be anything that I wanted. I never questioned it until, as a young woman in the entertainment industry, that idea was tested many times. I found myself having to repeat in my head what my mother told me since I was a child: “You are the strongest person I know.” There were moments when this felt anything but true, but I found a great sense of power from channeling her belief in me.
The strongest person I know is my mother. With a PhD, over 14 years of college education, and more empathy than any human I know, she is the fighting force behind my determination to be an intelligent and informed woman. She is the only person whose opinion matters to me at the end of the day, and I find so much strength in knowing that she will be proud of me—as long as I stand up for myself as a woman.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in the music industry is that you have to ask for what you want. You can’t try to please everyone, and you can’t wait too long to speak your mind about your ideas. By setting a precedent early on for how you want to be treated, you are paving the way for a smoother experience on the business side of the industry.
Without getting into specifics, I have seen that a woman in power can make both men and women uncomfortable. A man stating what he wants is seen as confident and taking charge. But when I've done it, in some cases I am interrupted or my thoughts are disregarded. So I just continue to push forward and demonstrate just how knowledgeable I am and how much I am in control of my career. My advice to girls who are experiencing this is to continue to speak your mind...regardless of how terrifying it is, or how many times you might get shut down.
I’ve learned that I may be looked at as “bitchy” or “difficult” if I do and say the same things that a male artist does, but I’ve also learned that it’s easy to spot the people who believe in you. Those are the people I surround myself with in my personal and professional life. They are the people who fulfill me.
They’re also the people who influence my writing the most. Since I wrote my first song at 16, I vowed to remain as honest and open as I was back then. The things I write most about are love, sex, and personal power. My process is different for every song as some songs begin with just a melody while others begin as poems, and more often than not my songs are collaborations with other writers.
My hope with “Atmosphere” and the rest of my new music is to connect and empower people. Music has changed my life, and without it I’m not sure life would be as enjoyable. As an artist and a woman, I’m trying to find strength in vulnerability and femininity and figuring out how to facilitate my influence within the music industry and the world.
Harlie is a singer/writer/actress living in Los Angeles, CA. You can buy her single “Atmosphere” here.
By Emily Nest aka Harlie, 24