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EMP Pop Music Conference Day 2

Day two! Here are my reactions to the panel discussions I went to.

Engendering Technology Panel

  • Elizabeth Keenan, “Hipster Values: High Art Discourses and White Masculine Mastery in the Music of the Dirty Projectors”
  • Sarah Dougher, “How Girls” Rock Camps use Music as a Tool for Empowerment, and why it Sometimes Doesn’t Work.”
  • Emily Zemler, “Producing the Gender Gap: Male-Dominance in the Recording Studio”

Oh hell yeah. This panel was totally up my alley on the gendered dynamics of specific spaces within the music industry. The hipster discussion looked into cultural appropriation, and the nerd culture that goes along with knowing all of these obscure bands and musical styles, which of course, gets coded as male.

The Girls Rock camp one was also pertinent. I know even at rock camp, it felt like instrumentalists where still valued more over vocalists, and that the vocalists in the band I mentored did feel a little off-set from the rest of the band.

The recording studio discussion most closely mimicked the kinds of things I am interest in, in my own research on the music store culture. Recording studios are gendered, a man’s space, where he is the master of his techy tools and bodily fluids. I asked during the Q&A about what the panelist knew/experienced in the music store as women, and there was a sort of collective “Ha! I have stories…” of which one panelist talked about being ignored in the music store to the point of absurdity.


  • Douglas Wolk, “Beyond the Celestial Jukebox: The Future of Listening to Music”
  • Nick Minichino, “The New Scarcity”
  • Ned Raggett, “The Listener as Electronic Librarian”
  • Tim Quirk, “The Quiet Revolution: From the Walkman to the iPod, How Portability and Infinite Storage Have Changed the Way We Listen, and What We Listen To”

I learned a lot on this one. Especially what “The Cloud” is, and the idea that we need to all put music up into it for everyone to enjoy. Kinda like a communal, property free musical park if you will. I’m not quite sure how much of that I agree with, but it was interesting.

The idea of a scarce musical recording the digital age is interesting. What we think of as scarce is usually in the physical sense, an actual copy. But, everything is on youtube, so really, you can get to almost anything, so how is anything scarce anymore? Hum…..

I really loved Ned Raggett’s talk. I totally agree that in some ways, with our digital music libraries, we are our own DJs as well as, librarians of information. I am also anal when it comes to correctly labeling my mp3s as well. =)

Finally, the infinite storage thing with portable music media. I miss my walk(wo)man. I got it at a garage sale in the 90s. It was black with pink paint splatters. Gosh, I want it back. I don’t think I’ll have as much of an attachment to that as I do with my iPod now. But then again, I used that cassette player so much more. We’ll see in like 15 years.



  • Gustavus Stadler, “Warhol as Recording Artist”
  • Tina Majkowski, “Queer Gear: Percussive Technology and the Queer Sonic Body”
  • Alexandra Apolloni, “There”s No Other Superstar: On Lady Gaga, Disability, and the Technology of Stardom”

Sorry, didn’t really care about the Warhol piece. Mostly just cause I don’t really care about Warhol.

Queer Gear was too awesome. I love the idea that gendered personas are indeed coded into our performances as musicians, and to queer the gear, so to speak, involves and active participation in negotiating how and why you play instruments in a certain way, and the sounds they make. For example, you can play the guitar as a symbolic heterosexual phallus, low, in between your legs, or, you can do this:

Freakin’ Awesome!

Finally, my favorite piece, the Lady Gaga talk! It was a discussion on how Lady Gaga uses ideas of disability in her music and videos and I totally agree. As the speaker said, her usage of fame, celebrity and fashion, as a symbolic and physical disability for female artists was spot on. Women’s bodies are disabled due to restrictive fashion, much as their talent and creativity are stifled by music industry standards as to what good female artists should be. Word.

Retro Uses

  • Lauren Onkey, “Performing Vinyl”
  • Andy Zax, “”Don’t Ever Buy Nothin’ You Don’t Dig”: The Warner/Reprise Radio Spots, 1968-1972″
  • Charles R. Cross, “The Ghost in the Machine”
  • Michael Mannheimer, “Big Wave Rider: Cassette Tapes, Inverted Nostalgia, and the Creation of glo-fi”

Finally, the retro media talk! The performing vinyl piece was cool. What do you do, as an artist if you want to perform live your album that was pressed on vinyl in that order? There is a bit of nostalgia in the idea of hearing a record in that order, but that also assumes that when vinyl was the only option, people listened to it straight through as well, or didn’t hear out of order songs on the radio.

Andy Zax’s talk of old school radio spots on vinyl was classic. The spots were so hilarious and dated, it makes me want to reproduce them for myself. Ya know, make some funny ads promoting Jukebox Heroines with some psychedelic music in the background. Groovy!

The next discussion was on Jukeboxes, and I dug it. They really do have a place in our popular imagination and how they shaped popular songs at the time.

And last, but not least, cassette tape culture. In case you don’t know, cassette tapes are making a small, but trendy comeback for artists. Some release small runs of their music on cassette, sometimes only on cassette out of nostalgia, budget issues, or just pure aesthetic and artistic reasons. I am thinking myself of releasing my music on a limited run cassette. Could be fun!

Stay tuned for more of my thoughts on EMP Pop Music COnference 2010!

Photos from here, here, here and here.

Pop Music Conference – Seattle – 2010 – Day 1

EMP Pop Music Conference 2010 – April 15-18, Seattle, WA.

Best. Conference. Ever. Well at least for me anyways! I had such a wonderful time networking, hearing some great presentations by amazing academics, and getting to meet some rockin musicians, like Janelle Monae!

So, I’ll just give you a general recap, day by day, of the events I went to.

Day 1 – Thursday Keynote speakers: Janelle Monae, Nile Rodgers, and Joe Henry

It was such a treat to see these three amazing musicians onstage at the same time. They each gave their own take on using technology as an artist, everything from the studio, to social media. There were some pros and cons to the immediacy of the internet, as well as, the increased pace at which one can record music, but they all seemed very hopeful and enjoyed their craft.

Mr. Henry gave some fabulous tidbits about how he approaches recording and writing music. He said that the studio is like an invitation to those who are there to work out a song. There isn’ any set way that the song is supposed to be like, but when people are generous with their creativity, that’s when the best kind of music happens.

Mr. Rodgers told the most hilarious stories about all the famous musicians he has worked with, namely David Bowie and Billy Idol. He mused once that Billy Idol and himself went out to a club to go drinking, where they ran into David Bowie. Bowie was sober at the time, and Billy and Nile where already quite drunk. Billy notices David in the corner and starts to walk over to say hello. “It’s David Fu….blaaahg” and promptly throws up. He then wipes his mouth on his sleeve attempts to shake Bowie’s hand.

I couldn’t stop laughing! What a story!

Finally, Ms. Monae discussed her work with artist collectives and finding the things that are important to you as an artist. I asked her for some advice she could give to a starving female artist trying to make it and she said these three things:

1. Find Your Core Values

Basically here, she said to me to know what things are the most important to you, and set them inside yourself. Therefore, when things come your way, good or bad, you’ll know you really want and what you don’t.

2. Make time to be spiritual

Here, no matter your religion, faith, or spiritual life, she said that you need some time to find that inner peace with yourself. It keeps you grounded.

3. Don’t be afraid of failure

Finally, the big one. Don’t be afraid to mess up. Sometimes failure is a good thing, you need it when you get it, and you can benefit and learn from it. Take risks, and fear not.

I’ll take these words to heart! Thank you!

Stay tuned for Day 2 of the conference!

Is this Love? That I’m Feeling? Or is it a Killer? The Power Ballad…

As some of you may know, I am finishing my master’s thesis on women in music. Specifically, I am looking at women in the music store culture. I’ve been doing a ton of researching, reading, citing, stressing,  and have come across many a topic, none of which surprise me about the sexism, misogyny, and general slammin’ of women in the music biz.

I have also thought of some topic ideas for future research and thought the following idea would be interesting: a research project about “Power Ballads.” You know, “Monster Ballads,” those lighter-waving, big, emotional, heartbreak songs of the hair band era. I’m listening to them right now on my favorite hair band internet radio station. Apparently, heaven isn’t too far away…

Ballads are not new by any means, but that rocking, big guitar solo, falling-to-the-floor-in-agony, power ballad is its own special creature. Which makes one wonder what purpose it serves, from a cultural/rhetorical/gender script standpoint.

Perhaps they were just a revision of the traveling troubadour singing songs about his lady-love. Perhaps they were a clever marketing ploy to get more women into hair/glam/metal music. Or, maybe from what I know about gender, power, and music, “power ballads” represent an attempt to woo and keep female listeners in the symbolically abusive relationship that is the masculine fantasy of “cock rock.”

Think about it. Every hair band worth their spandex had at least one power ballad on their albums, if not more. And these hair bands were aqua-net deep in performing white-heterosexual-macho-masculinity to the max. The thrusting on stage, the stroking of the microphone, and the masturbating guitar solos (just look at the faces of the lead guitar solo players and you’ll know what I’m talking about.) And the lyrics….oh the lyrics! Nothing but sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, but mostly about sex. Women in these lyrics are typically objectified, simplified, and talked about as “nothing but a good time.”  The band goes from girl to girl, just like from town to town, notching their conquests on their black studded belts. Some songs that display this hypersexual masculinity include:

  • Seventeen – Winger 
  • Cherry Pie – Warrant
  • Lick It Up – KISS
  • Sticky Sweet – Motley Crue
  • Let Me Put My Love Into You – AC/DC
  • Hot For Teacher – Van Halen
  • Slide It In – Whitesnake
  • Talk Dirty to Me – Poison
  • Rag Doll – Aerosmith
  • Cat Scratch Fever – Ted Nugent
  • Rock You Like A Hurricane- Scorpions
  • Lay Your Hands On Me – Bon Jovi
  • Pour Some Sugar on Me – Def Leppard
  • Once Bitten, Twice Shy – Great White
  • Smooth Up In Ya – Bullet Boys
  • and I could keep going…

Ha, I’ve seen over half of these bands live. Now, nothing wrong with sexuality. Part of what makes rock & roll fun is sexuality, that connection and that force is musical poetry. But the sexuality depicted here is all about the man getting his jollys off at the expense of the disposable vagina (or mouth in some cases.) It is about only one person’s sexuality (the man’s.)  If not directly, or explicitly, the songs follow a standard narrative: man needs sex, women = fix. The woman wants it bad, the guys want it bad, and the dudes are all willing and able. Even if women are talked about as “wanting it” look at how it is referenced. It ends up not satisfying their needs, but the man’s ego that he’s a sex god.  Typical male fantasy, all women want you all the time and can never get enough.

This is what various scholars in music have described as “cock rock.”

The music is just straight sex. The rhythm drives, insisting you go along, the verse-chorus make up is the foreplay arousing you to the solo (climax), then release and prompt after-sex cigarette. The vocals are demanding and haughty. The lyrics are arrogant, assertive, and aggressive. Virtuosity here is key, by commanding your “instrument” be it the guitar or vocals. This display shows your virility, that you’re in control, that you’re “master of your domain,” hence a real man.  These things are all understood in our culture as masculine (Leonard, 2007; Bock, 2008; Tringali, 2005; Walser, 1993; Firth & McRobbie, 1990). This masculinity is at the expense of female participation in this scene as anything but groupies, fans, or wives (How convenient! Those who are sexually available.)

Being assertive, arrogant, sexually initiative, and sexually entitled to sexual gratification at any time, are all things that our culture associates with heterosexual masculinity. In a way, you could say that the women in these songs (symbolically, though I am sure in some cases literally) are in an abusive relationships with cock rockers. They don’t have their own needs and desires (outside of pleasing men 24/7 that is), let along, creativity, autonomy, and individuality to do what they want. So, my hypothesis, enter the “power ballad” the symbolic “box of chocolates and dozen roses” apology for being a rock & roll douchebag.

Think about it. You have all of these songs about womanizing, partying, and being a general player. At some point, a woman is going to get tired of that (even those imaginary ones.) So, insert power ballad, and boom! “I’m sorry baby for all the wrong I’ve done, I really love you not those other girls, please come back, I’m really not a bad guy…..” ect. Or “Baby, I’m hurting soo bad, I know things are tough, but I need you to fix it, you’re the only one who can save me…” ect. It’s the classic honeymoon phase of an abusive relationship cycle! As soon as the woman aqueissnes to your faux remorse, back to the strip joint!

As in real life abusive relationships, the abuse happens, they apologize, the honeymoon phase, then right back to abuse. It is this vicious cycle that many often do not realize they are in, because of those instances of the abusive partner being nice and “sorry.”

So, normally, cock rock’s status quo is: man has sex drive = woman fix it. In the power ballad: man done wrong/man hurt = woman fix it. Basically, in no matter what instance, women exist to fix man’s problems. A women’s place in this masculine rock culture remains a subordinate, second-class, and sexually degraded one.

That is why so many female rockers purposefully challenged this status quo. Women either turned the tables and made their sexual needs important, reversed the masculine gaze (ironic mimicry) on their bodies to show that they weren’t pieces of meat but in control, satirically sang about typical sex roles, and had a riot grrrl music movement demanding that they be taken seriously as musicians and not be seen as “nothing but a good time.”

But in Hair Band Land, the power ballad symbolically is a tool to control any female deviation from the norm. Thus, keeping women in their place to their soul’s demise.

Vixen was right…Love is a Killer.

Pat Benatar – Sex as a Weapon

 Tina Turner – Typical Male


Madonna – Express Yourself

Girlschool – Don’t Call It Love



Lighter photo by lordferguson via flickr.

For more info on “cock rock” and masculine rock culture:

Bock, J. (2008). Riot Grrrl: A Feminist Re-Interpretation of the Punk Narrative. Saaebrucken: VDM Verlag Dr. Muller Aktiengesekkschaft & Co. KG.

Firth, S., & McRobbie, A. (1990). Rock and Sexuality. In S. Firth, & A. Goodwin, On Record: Rock, Pop, and the Written Word (pp. 371-389). New York: Pantheon Books.

Leonard, M. (2007). Gender in the Music Industry: Rock, Discourse, and Girl Power. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Tringali, J. (2005). Love Guns, Tight Pants, and Big Sticks – Who Put The Cock in Rock? Retrieved February 24, 2010, from Bitch Magazine:

Walser, R. (1993) Running With The Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music. Hanover: Wesleyan University Press.

Kathleen Hanna & Riot Grrrl Archives at NYU

Thanks to Grrrl Sounds for first posting about this news. Please visit her site as well and keep up with all your riot grrrl rock needs! Women in music need to stick together!

Kathleen Hanna, the famed Riot Grrrl (of Bikini Kill & later Le Tigre) who kicked off the movement in the early 90s (though she’s so modest and doesn’t want that title) donated a whole ton of her ‘zines, writings, and other material to the New York University Special Collections Library. They will be housed in the Fales Library Special Collections called The  Riot Grrrl Collection to preserve this amazing movement combining feminism, music, and young women.

The library notes on their website why it is important: “Because Riot Grrrl was (and is) both a political and a cultural movement, its output was diverse, including writing, music, performance, film, activism, photography, video, and original art, as well as documentation of activism and performance. This research collection will provide primary resources for scholars who are interested in feminism, punk activism, queer theory, gender theory, DIY culture, and music history.”

I think that this is just great! I have been trying to get copies of Kathleen’ Hanna’s, as well as, other Riot Grrrls zines from eBay and such, with some success. I mean, since they were photocopyed, you can make more, but after a while, the copies of copies of copies get rather hard to read. I am so happy that Riot Grrrl and the movement is getting some credit from the academic side. I mean they have for a bit, some texts have been written about it, but preserving these documents ensures it will never be forgotten!

You can listen to Kathleen on Zinecore Radio taking about it. Also check out a new riot grrrl article in The Guardian.

Another place that is trying to keep Riot Grrrl alive is the EMP (Experience Music Project) here in Seattle, WA. 

I visited the EMP, and have looked at their collection online and it is not bad. Sad though, because in comparison to all the men featured in that museum, the Riot Grrrl collection was more like a whisper than a growl.  When I was there, their Jimi Hendrix exhibit basically took up the entire museum. Ugh.

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