Gender parity in the Sad Bastard Music Club

You may or may not be aware of a thing I started doing a few years ago called the Sad Bastard Music Club. Many of my friends and people I follow on the internets periodically release mixtapes for people to download or listen to. Historically, I’ve done this as well and, being a DJ at heart, I enjoy sharing music with people. But, well, people don’t download things, and being able to share something regardless of where you are or what device you’re on is kind of cool, so the Sad Bastard Music Club is a series of Spotify playlists and if you sign up for the newsletter, you get notification of when they are going out.

The name comes from a sort of inside joke being that “I only listen to sad bastard music.” The logical conclusion if I only listen to “sad bastard music” is that any playlist I make would, by definition, be “sad bastard music”, presumably because I’m a sad bastard. And while typically I define “sad bastard music” as being anything sounding like Nick Cave or The Cure, I try to be a bit more diverse on the Sad Bastard Music Club playlists because, in reality, I listen to, and enjoy, a lot of different things.

I also enjoy listening to a diverse group of artists. It’s actually a bit of a point of pride that I try to make an effort to have diversity (be it gender, ethnic, or sexual identity) in the music I listen to and the music I share. And this was something I wanted to particularly include, from the beginning, when I started doing these Sad Bastard Music Club playlists on Spotify.

A few months ago, I actually went through all the various SBM playlists and ran some numbers. The result was that I still have work to do. It was a bit of a surprise as I was sort of patting myself on the back for how well I felt I was doing in making sure the playlists were pretty balanced.

Some notes on how I ranked the data:

Any group or artist where the primary (lead) member, or the lead vocalist, was female was ranked as female. Obviously this is a bad practice from the beginning — just because Blondie is led by Debbie Harry doesn’t change the fact that there are a bunch of dudes in her band. But, in the case of Blondie, Debbie Harry is very much the primary focus, as is the case much of the time with mixed groups. It’s a vanity metric, but you need to draw the line somewhere, so I drew it there.

Artists where a man and a woman got equal billing or representation (a good example is The B-52s) were classified as M/F. This also includes groups of mostly men with a female guest vocalist.

I added a “T” classification for artists or groups that identify as non-binary or gender fluid or include a member who identifies as such. Le Tigre and Against Me! would fall under this category, although in some cases I had to make assumptions because I was not sure how they identified publicly (as with the case of IAMX, which I listed as T because Chris Corner presents as gender fluid but I’m not sure what they would describe themselves as).

The result is, still, 51% of artists on Sad Bastard Music Club playlists are male, and that number is bumped to 58% if you include artists in which women get equal billing with their male counterparts.

I’m not going to diminish the win here — this is far better than the music industry’s representation as a whole — but I, personally, can and should do better. I hold myself to a higher standard than just what’s normalized.

My first reaction was “wow, I would need to do all-women SBM playlists just to right the ship” — and then I caught myself. So what? What’s wrong with that. With the music industry being male dominated for generations (and I’ve given presentations that mention precisely these numbers), what would be wrong with focusing on women for a few iterations? While there may be a lack of popular female artists in pop music, there’s no lack of actual female musicians and they can, generally speaking, benefit from any amount of publicity or exposure they can get.

Coincidentally, as I started thinking about these things, just a couple weeks ago Spotify tweaked one of my “Daily Mix” playlists to be predominantly women artists across a variety of genres which I have been really appreciating.

The next Sad Bastard Music Club playlist — which I plan on publishing this week — has a majority of amazing women artists and, moving forward, I want to continue to keep gender parity when I’m making these playlists.

RPM 2017 recap

Another RPM is in the books and I thought I’d share some feelings about it.

This year I feel like I got in on a technicality. The album that I started at the beginning of the month isn’t done, and 2 of the songs on the CD I mailed to New Hampshire were from the kids’ scouts meetings last month in which I led the group in a discussion and lab about electronic music. So, it counts in that they were recorded in the month of February, but not, because they aren’t exactly mine. The 3 songs I recorded amounted to roughly 25 minutes of material, so, I was close regardless.

On the other hand, I participated in blind chaos again this year, so there’s one album, and I did produce > 35 minutes of music, so I’m still calling it a win.

Moreover, and more importantly, I’m feeling good about the project. It’s not done, and that’s okay. e and I have committed to trying to take time each night to work on art, and, honestly, that’s more important than a completed album.

In years past, I would scramble to get my RPM album done, then talk about and think about doing more stuff during the year otherwise, but it would usually never happen. This time, I feel like it’s a thing I can actually continue and, partially, that’s because we’re doing it together, even if we’re in separate rooms at the time. And I’m really enjoying seeing the finished paintings that go along with the music I’ve created and how they work together despite being created separately.

The recordings I’ve made are very rough, they are probably too long and need some work. But I’m getting used to a new laptop that doesn’t have all my stuff on it, a new version of the software, and being exceedingly out of practice since it’s been several years since I last touched an instrument. At some point, I will need to revisit the songs I’ve recorded and clean them up, but for now, I just need to get back into the habit of making music and getting comfortable again with the tools.

All in all, I’m happy with the result more because it marks the beginning  of a new project rather than the end.

Last minute change of RPM plans

In true RPM fashion, I’ve changed my mind re: plans for RPM album. It’s not going to be all about Trump.

While the thought process going into it is more personal/intimate, what I can say is why I’ve decided to switch gears.

In talking with e about the project — because she’s started painting and I wanted to use her art for the album — we started talking about art that challenges the artist and why many male artists (of various forms), in particular, use pain and suffering and misery as inspirations for their art. In music, you can hear it in Trent Reznor (especially early NIN but pretty much everything he’s ever done, ever), Kurt Cobain, I mean the list goes on. Pretty much the entirety of “alternative” music is some dude bitching about how everything is horrible. Isn’t the world bad enough that we don’t need to add more misery and suffering into it through art?

I’m no different. For a long time, I believed that a) all art was created through suffering and b) the only things I had to say were things that came from my own personal angst. I used to channel and hone the worst possible feelings in order to produce music. I would actually make myself unhappy in order to channel that negative energy into art.

Since then, I’ve learned that art (even, gasp, good art) can be made from emotions that are not harmful/painful. For me this is much more of a challenge having believed the other thing for so long.

So, how does this relate back to RPM? Well, the original concept was basically more of the same. It’s easy to get angry about Trump and make art from a place of anger and resistance. But that’s not challenging anything and that’s not changing anything. That’s Trent Reznor’s entire career. Maybe the topic for him has gone to “she dumped me and I’m unhappy” to “the world is shit and I’m really angry about it”, but the basic point is the same “life is shit, I suck, I’m going to go drown my sorrows in some good old fashioned substance abuse”.

We also talked about doing a collaborative project where we’re basically taking the same source/topic/emotion and creating art based out of it. In talking, this felt like a much more exciting project than bitching (musically) about Trump, so I’m much more interested and excited about this idea.

RPM 2017

I’m in it. I’ve committed to doing RPM again this year. It’s been a couple years since I’ve done RPM which basically means it’s been a couple years since I’ve done any music at all and I can’t handle it, anymore. I need to do something.

I hadn’t decided what I was going to do for this year’s RPM, but it’s the 10th year I’ve been a member (though not my 10th RPM — I’ve skipped a couple years), so I wanted to do something special. Also, having a theme has always made my RPM albums better (I think) (see: The Signal and Wasp). I think I’ve decided.

February comes after January, as you know, and January 20th we will be inaugurating into the White House possibly the most terrifying man who has ever held the position of President. This is inescapable. This is fact. It is not some nightmare we are collectively living in. To say that the world will be a less safe place with him running America is an understatement — he’s not even in office and it’s already unsafe for many American citizens.

It seems fitting, then, that as a punk rocker, as a musician, and as we are making albums in the first month of Donald Trump’s presidency, that my RPM 2017 album be about this political cycle, somehow. So here’s my idea:

  1. Every day I sit down to work on a new song, I start by doing a Google search for Trump.
  2. The title of the song comes from the headline of the article (but removes the word Trump. Doing a search today gives me “CNN/ORC Poll: Confidence drops in Trump transition”, so that song title might be “Confidence Drops”).
  3. The song mood/theme is built around the topic/title.
  4. The article body becomes the basis for found poetry. Fragments of sentences/paragraphs become lines and verses for spoken word. (I’m not going to attempt to be so ambitious as to commit to singing, though it’s not entirely out of the realm of possibility.)

I have a feeling this will be a very dark album. Just the hypothetical first song title gives me shivers.