All-female music festival amplifies Provo women’s voices

Songwriter and musician Jenn Blosil sings and plays the piano for the Les Femmes De Velour music festival at the Velour Live Music Gallery in Provo. This was the first time since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic that the music gallery was able to bring the festival back. (Andrea Zapata)

Local female musicians showcased their music for two weeks at the Les Femmes De Velour music festival in Provo.

The festival celebrated its 11th anniversary, took place from Feb. 17–27 and included 27 acts.

Velour owner Corey Fox talked about the evolution of the company’s goals over the years and said the festival has inspired countless of young female musicians to start writing their own original music.

“Les Femmes started as just a way to showcase some of the top female talent in the scene, but after 12 years we’ve seen how important this event has become in the growth of musicians and formation of female bands,” Fox said.

Esther Olson, the drummer of the all-female band The Rubies, is one of the young musicians who was inspired by The Aces, a female band who performed at Les Femmes in the past. The Rubies is now selling out venues worldwide.

“The festival is all about appreciating women, telling us that we’re heard, and giving us an opportunity to showcase our talent,” Olson said.

Self-funded musician Joy Downer, who performed on national TV on “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” sings at the Les Femmes De Velour festival on Feb. 26. (Andrea Zapata)

Singer-songwriter Joy Downer, who traveled from Los Angeles to perform at the festival, commented on how she looked forward to connecting with the Provo audience again.

“When I used to live in Provo over a decade ago, I attended so many shows at Velour that inspired me and helped shape me into the artist I am today,” Downer said.

Objectification, ageism and a lack of representation

Shows such as Les Femmes De Velour are dedicated to appreciating and showcasing female artists to help musicians reach a bigger and more mixed audience. But according to some female artists, there is still work to get done.

“I think the problem is more that in the past there weren’t enough female role models in the local music scene to inspire other female musicians to follow that path,” Fox said. “There are also clearly plenty of local bands now, but of my list of over 300, I’d say that less than 20% are female artists/musicians.”

A 2019 study from the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative showed that only 21.7% of artists in the music industry are women and the ratio of male to female producers is 47 to one.

“It’s hard to imagine myself as a successful female musician because when I was growing up, most people that I knew that were making music professionally were boys,” said musician and guitarist Jane Beeson, who also performed at Les Femmes De Velour.

A 2019 study from the Berklee College of Music found that 78% of women working in music felt like they had been treated differently because of their gender.

Female musicians said they have experienced gender inequality in the music industry in various ways, one of them being increased ageism.

Beeson said the music men write is mostly unaffected as they get older but that in her case, she feels like there is an expiration date to her career.

“Women also face a certain pressure to not be boring. They have to have a new look all the time, they cannot just look the same for a while,” Beeson said. “Their music has to be ever-changing because people get bored with women much more easily than they do with male artists.”

Along with ageism, objectification and sexualization are also words women in music are used to hearing. Olson explained the frustration of not being taken seriously as part of an all-female band. The Rubies constantly receive comments and feedback on their appearance instead of their music.

Olson said it feels like her band members are constantly sexualized. One of her band members cut her hair off to drive attention off of her after receiving creepy Instagram messages about her appearance.

“I have had many people, especially men in the industry, come up to me and tell me that if I just wore this, or flipped my hair, or whatever, our band would get a better audience,” Olson said. “I know they don’t say it in a mean way, but that’s mainly because they don’t think it’s a mean thing to say at all, which is the problem.”

Challenges of being an independent artist

When asked about the challenges of starting a music career from scratch, Provo musicians explained how it’s not only about writing and singing songs.

“One of the hardest parts of doing the indie artist thing is that I have to be good at a lot of different things: being a social media manager, a financial and licensing expert, booking shows, marketing, graphic design,” Beeson said.

Despite the challenges, Beeson also expressed encouragement to other female artists who are looking into starting their career in music. She emphasized the need of having musicians amplify women’s voices to tell their own story.

“Artists are the voice of the world and I think we need to hear more female voices in a mainstream way,” Beeson said. “Every genre needs more female representation because the female experience is so cool and I want to hear more of it.”

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