The inaugural Australian Women in Music conference and awards kicked off yesterday to dive into pathways for music makers, new and emerging digital platforms, the role of music as a cultural, social and political songbook, a film screening, photographic exhibition and a keynote by none other than Kate Ceberano.

Check out our wrap-up of Day One below:

Forum One: Singing Our Stories, Our Place

Kicking off Day One of the Australian Women in Music festivities was a forum on how three Australian Indigenous artists Shellie Morris, Ancestress, and Emily Wurramara have explored their stories and heritage. 

The discussion kicked off with artist Shellie Morris talking about learning her native language and other tribe’s languages through the practice of song writing. Shellie talked about at one point earlier in her life not being able to pronounce some of the words in her language due to the complexity, but said she could sing the words and learned them through song.

It was also mentioned that Emily’s native language where she’s from (Groote Eylandt) is considered the second hardest language in the world. That should give some indication of how important it is to keep these native languages alive through song.

When asked about her experience in the industry as an indigenous woman, Shellie recalled being stared at for “rocking up with 100 kilograms of instruments to a pub because no one did that”.

Shellie then lamented, “there just didn’t seem to be a place in the industry for me” – a really sad state of affairs considering the success she’s had in her career in spite of this climate.

The floor was then given to Ancestress who was asked a question about why it was important to her to keep her song writing unfiltered. She responded with, “It’s about power and persisting in the face of challenging attitudes”.

“We want to be like the people we see on TV”, Ancestress lamented later in the forum. 

Forum Two: Music, Makers & Mentors

Round two for the day kept the same tone of female empowerment. Discussing the importance of mentoring young women using industry organisations like APRA AMCOS’ SongMakers Program, Director Tina Broad talked about the success she’s already had with the program and how it can empower female talent into industry positions.

Panellist Megan Christensen, a songwriter and keys player for Brisbane band Pink Matter went through the program at her high school and said that being mentored by the legendary Katie Noonan in her L2 classroom gave her a sense of what is required for a career in music and to be a versatile creative.

Dr Mary Ann Hunter chimed in with an academic standpoint, reiterating that having a strong female mentor come into schools and work directly with these high school kids demystifies the path to a career in music, which she noted is important if we are to see more female talent in the industry.

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Tina stated that the gender balance in the industry is not a mirror of the amount of music graduates in Universities around Australia with current statistics sitting at about 53% male and 47% female.

These statistics can be interpreted as the balance of males to females wanting to establish a career in music so when we look around we should see about the same number represented in our workplaces and line ups. But unfortunately, it’s just not working out that way, which is why APRA AMCOS introduced a 40/40/20 rule into all the events they run and sponsor.

QMusic CEO and AMIN Chair Joel Edmondson added that until we get booking agents and festival programmers to care more about people than they do about money, then we’re at a standstill.

If the issue is commerce vs. community, we’re probably in for a long battle when it comes to a gender balance. The panel ended on a note that we should all remember: we have to keep fighting for this, because this is who we are.