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Celebrating Women’s Work – A Talk with Charlotte Dryden

 Women’s Work Festival is now in its fourth year of running and 2019’s programme is bigger and better than ever. Taking place in Belfast across 5 days and nights from 5-9 June 2019, there is something for everyone. Live gigs to workshops, clothes swaps and talks.

Ahead of, the festival Gigging NI caught up with Charlotte Dryden, festival founder, on everything Women’s Work and the music industry.

Can you tell me what led you to start the festival?

I work for Oh Yeah Music Centre and we have this brilliant music exhibition that celebrates the music of Northern Ireland. What bothered me was that there was a serious lack of women on the walls or included in the story. There were very few women to include and I thought we need to change the landscape now so that the future will be different.

Around the same time I noticed that on a global level the campaign for equality was gaining ground. I was inspired by artists like Bjork who spoke about feeling invisible as a producer and Jessica Hopper opening up a conversation about being a minority in music. So we set up Women’s Work to raise visibility and celebrate the great female and other underrepresented talent coming through. Very proud to say that since the festival began we have increased the numbers of females using the centre from under 15% to over 40%.

There have been many great initiatives such as Girls Rock School NI and GIRL DJ collective to name only two,that have been working hard over the last few years towards a more even playing field.

I feel as a result there has been a significant shift in female talent in NI and a more diverse music scene than ever. There is still a lot of work to do, but things are moving in the right direction. 

Do you feel there is enough work done to encourage women into an industry which is perceived as traditionally male?

“In terms of courses for all gender,s there are plenty out there. It’s how we get more women to apply and, if they do take up these courses and they lose confidence or face misogyny and other barriers when trying to get into studio or engineering work, then we need to address this.

I think on the first point re courses there has been a genuine move to do this in the last few years across the sector. There are more courses specifically for women and non-binary individuals now, and this is a positive step forward. Locally, places like Start Together Studio in Belfast recently ran a course with support from the Help Musician’s Women In Music grant, this is a brilliant example of what we can do.

On the other points I think the more visible females in this line of work are then this in turn inspires confidence. People like Julie McLarnon of Analogue Catalogue Studio, Una Monaghan and the Fair Ple campaign, Isobel Anderson and the Female DIY tribe. There is definitely a desire for this kind of approach because many of the workshops on this very topic that are happening at this year’s Women’s Work are already fully subscribed.

Julie McLarnon
Julie McLarnon
What advice would you give to anyone aspiring to a career in the music industry?

“It’s not the easiest industry to work in regardless of gender and certainly in Northern Ireland there are very few ‘industry’ jobs as such.

So many people are self -employed, session musicians, tutors, freelancers, producers and collaborators, while working on their own projects or searching for that job. It is hard for everyone, but it can be twice as hard for women, so my main advice would be, work out exactly what it is you want to do and focus on that, go to that workshop, sign up for that networking event, attend that panel and apply for that course, you will build a network of like minded people that way, people you can talk to, share ideas with, work with, collaborate with, gain experience from.

Be open to trying new ideas and pathways too and, while you are on that journey ,find a mentor, someone you can talk that can help you along the way. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice, don’t be put off and when you find yourself in an uncomfortable situation – don’t be intimidated or afraid to speak up. Finally if you are struggling with your confidence, remember you are not alone, you are not an imposter and you have absolutely got this. 

And on a final note, what are your ‘must sees’ in this years programme?

“Well I would say everything, but I guess we are very excited about the Guilty Feminist podcast.

That aside, I love to see fresh new music coming through and so the annual Women’s Work Showcase on Saturday 8th at Oh Yeah is all about that.

I’m also very excited for the ‘Getting To Know’ Hannah Peel event. She is one of the most innovative artists out there right now and if you want to talk about inspiring then I would absolutely say get along to this.

To be honest there is something in there for everyone. I love how collaborative it is, we are simply the host for so many of the initiatives and the credit should go directly to the organisers, campaigners, artists and facilitators running so many great shows and events – so it is probably best if you go directly to www.womensworkni.co.uk.

I'm a 30 something woman living in Belfast and I love music and live gigs. I have an eclectic taste from Joni Mitchell to Katy Perry, Prince to the Dead Kennedys, the Twilight Sad to The Chemical Brothers and everything in between. The music coming out of Scotland at the minute is really floating my proverbial boat as is our home grown music scene.