Inclusivity In The Indian Music Industry: The GoodMostlyBad Take

Inclusivity In The Indian Music Industry: The GoodMostlyBad Take

Mehar Bedi aka GoodMostlyBad talks about her journey navigating through the Indian music industry as a female musician and the real question: just how inclusive is it really? Read on to know more.

My earliest memory of any kind of music is my mum bumping the Beatles, Dean Martin and oh-so-much of Eric Clapton, while she baked. She loved baking - the smell of freshly baked spinach bread wafting through the house and a crooning Clapton, ah! Such fond memories.

As I turned 13, I found my undeniable love for hip-hop, in fact, I found solace in it. I was being bullied in school, and I guess rap music helped me release a lot of angry and hurt emotions. Picture a pigtailed teen screaming "Not your buddy, not your pal, not your homie. There ain't a government around that can control me....." listening to 'Eye for Eye' by The Game on her Walkman. The good old days, remember those?

Fast forward to a decade later, I was an engineering school drop-out, veering through life with no consequence, when a friend who had always liked my music selection asked me to host a night at his bar. A night of mucking around on the CDJs, seeing people bouncing to tunes I was playing, and I knew this is what I was meant to do. That was my grand entrance into the music scene.

Mehar Bedi aka GoodMostlyBad

A couple of years into DJing, I broke my big toe running from a Rottweiler (who turned out to be tied to leash the whole time) and was bedridden - yes, that happened. Bored out of my mind and entering an extreme stage of self-loathing, I called a friend over to hang out, a producer as it turned out, to help me get out of the slump. He downloaded Ableton onto my laptop, walked me through some basics, and there was no looking back from there.

I didn't have much of an idea about the gender politics that was prevalent in the industry until I started professionally making music myself. Although I was well aware of the gender disparity, that was and still is quite evident in all industries, I didn't quite understand the extent or intricacies of how and why it existed in the music industry. 2017, the year I started producing was also the year that the Me Too Movement gained vitality. With the world finally paying attention to our voices and stories, it was a landmark year for the female movement. Was it a surprise that most men who were called out, were from the entertainment industry? I think not.

Even in the nascent stage of the Indian music industry, there is rampant sexism and abuse - I've experienced it first hand several times. In the beginning, I would almost always internalise it rather than speak up. It ranged from aggressive and unwanted flirtatious behaviour from promoters, to male artists patronising me by dishing out unsolicited advice or asking me to send them my project files so they could "better" a track I made.

I'd tell myself, as an independent artist, there are only so many bridges you can burn to stay afloat, but over the last two years, I've realised that Inclusivity can only exist if one feels welcome and safe. If that's not the case, we need to push towards creating that environment for ourselves by creating healthy support systems and opening up a dialogue about these very issues. I was once told by a leading music publication that I couldn't write this very piece because of conflict of interest - the conflict being that I am also a woman. So, I decided to have a chat with a few fiercely talented non-male individuals working within the different scopes of the industry to get a full purview on their thoughts about the inclusivity in the Indian music scene.

Producer, Gowri Jaykumar also known as Pulpy Shilpy disdainfully remarks,

"It's always been quite a boys club, as most things are. At best, it's either a separate stage or night for women or token inclusion. However, I find that this pattern is conditioned into our way of being, and to break and change might just require the birth of a new system altogether, rather than lukewarm reforms to the current one."

Gowri Jaykumar aka Pulpy Shilpy, Producer

Gowri Jaykumar aka Pulpy Shilpy

I can resonate with the absolute dismay in Gowri's sentiments. What is tokenism, you ask? It is actions that are the result of pretending to give advantage to those groups in society who are often treated unfairly - to give the appearance of fairness - by calling attention to an underrepresented group just to boost public impressions of an organisation.

"Everyone should have access and resources to the same opportunities, rather than tokenism. I sometimes struggle to see myself as a "woman" musician, or part of a larger network of a particular gender or breed though. Most of the work of making music, getting gigs, performing, chasing payments is just a solitary act anyhow, and I barely have an external perspective on my position in the scene when so much clerical work takes up my intellect."

Gowri Jaykumar aka Pulpy Shilpy, Producer

With more non-male artists entering (and flourishing) in the scene these last few years, I do see a slight shift in the paradigm, and that makes me feel hopeful, if not excited. However, I do feel that it is of the utmost importance to nurture this development as the music industry still mostly involves a daunting "Bro Culture" where women have to be likeable and friendly beyond their art to get a foot In the door. At the same time, a multitude of predatory male musicians and promoters are uplifted by the community for their mere presence.

Srishti Das, a music publisher at Jio Saavn, shares eerily similar thoughts on the movement towards inclusivity.

Srishti Das

"I think we are at step one in inclusivity. However, this has mostly been used as a tool for people to "show off" that they are inclusive. Inclusivity isn't about women performing at festivals. It's about the ratio of women to men in every aspect of this industry. For this, people have to actively look for talent, a Herculean task that needs to be taken up by leaders in this industry."

Srishti Das, Music Publisher

A fair point by Srishti since most promoters, managers, and label owners in the country are still predominantly men. An example of the prevalent tokenism is a certain type of moral licensing wherein promoters book an artist to play out as a certain token gesture which is only a hindrance towards creating a unified scene and inclusive spaces.

"There isn't enough representation in companies, societies, labels etc. in the country. It's no longer about 'are we seeing women upfront on stage?', it's about 'have we done everything in our power to level the playing field?'. I think we have a long way to go before inclusivity and equality emerges within our industry."

Srishti Das, Music Publisher

Over the last two years there has been a rise of all-female lineups or promoters throwing parties during pride month, booking artists from the LGBTQ+ community and that's great. However, if the general line-ups apart from events and specific days such as pride month organised by those very same promoters don't incorporate certain individuals, then really I don't see any progress happening. Akriti Niti Guha also know as Bast, a DJ and close friend talks about the positioning of queer and non-binary artists In the scene, revealing,

Akriti Niti Guha aka Bast

"I think I find myself having to grapple with the culture of the music scene in Delhi even though the past few years have seen a rise in women in music. While its amazing to see more womxn take the stage, as a nonbinary artist, the industry does alienate us and tends to remember queer artists only during pride month. That is something that I've come to accept, and that's also the reason why I make it a point to play music which is produced by mostly queer, enbee and trans people of colour."

Akriti Niti Guha aka Bast, DJ

In India, we still come from a heavily influenced, patriarchal society with an outdated idea of gender and sexuality - a notion that makes things even more challenging for non-male artists. Instead of the amount of time we could spend nurturing our talents, we have to spend fighting these norms that society sets on us.

Bass Mama, DJ and producer Indira Kanawade aka Smokey remarks,

Indira Kanawade aka Smokey

"We need more women who are breaking the so-called 'rules'. The society has a harsh opinion about the women who are in the music industry, nightlife and clubbing. I feel that the only way to change that is by actually being a part of it. We need to inspire and be inspired. We need to make it completely equal for the next generation. AND CHANGE IS COMING!"

Indira Kanawade aka Smokey, DJ/Producer

As much as I do see female artists actively support one another more furiously than before, the industry still loves to pit women against one another. From personal experience, it's usually done by comparing the way two different artists dress up or the way they look. This can be highly discouraging and damaging for any individual's self-esteem.

With social media already altering the standards of beauty every day, this just seems to be an added pressure which has nothing to do with the skills required to be a good artist or musician. That said, I do see more optimism when it comes to the younger generation of artists. Singer/songwriter Trichia Robello adds,

"In my opinion, women are finally getting the proper recognition they deserve for their art and talent. However, some really good artists are still underrated, and I think it would be great if women uplift other women, and we become a safe community to uphold each other in this male dominant industry. I'd love to see genuine actual love and talents/skills/genius shared among each other without the drama and beefing. That way we win against internalized patriarchy and also get equal recognition on our own as artists without our gender attached to the tag."

Trichia Robello, Singer/Songwriter

Trichia Robello

I do not deny that there are successful women musicians in India, but it's a small percentage. I think the existing tastemakers must ask non-male artists to share their experiences, whether it's playing at a certain festival or working with a particular promoter or even just their journey in music. This is one of the main reasons for me to write this piece. I felt the need to highlight these concerns and experiences. One needs to consciously understand non-male experiences to make the necessary changes and create diversity. Recognizing and encouraging different genders and understanding their ability to showcase music in their own unique styles is what the industry needs right now.

Bangalore based, electronica producer, Sandhya Visvanathan aka Pardafash like a lot of us wishes for a levelled playing field.

"I want to see many many more women producers making original music in India. I feel like we're going to see that in the future over the coming years. I want it to be that people are spoilt for choice when curating or making a mix and looking to make their mixes more diverse."

Sandhya Visvanathan aka Pardafash, Producer

Sandhya Visvanathan aka Pardafash

We need equal opportunities in various aspects of music, whether it is a DJ, a producer, or even the roles behind the scenes. No! I'm not saying that we should discredit merit while filling out these positions, an individual must have the required skill set in their field, but all merit in non-male professionals is nullified when you have an all-male lineup or team. Apart from the usual hurdles of instability faced by music professionals, non-male individuals have a lot more challenges they need to surpass to achieve the same goals, and that needs to be recognized.

Taking an unbiased overview of all the non-male artists in electronic music in India, and one can clearly see a fresh perspective and a more evolved sound, to say the least. This needs to be nurtured and brought to the forefront for the industry to evolve and grow into a unique and exciting experience for all who aspire to be a part of it while changing perspectives and building a wider audience.

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