As I came above ground on the B train to Brooklyn, I flipped through episodes of NPR’s All Songs Considered to see if there was anything I could quickly download before we ducked back underground.
The fan-girl in me saw the name Sharon Van Etten and immediately clicked “download.” I watched as the remaining two megabytes of space on my phone was eaten up by what I prayed would last through the remainder of my commute. The title of the episode “All Songs + 1: Sharon Van Etten Interviews Low’s Mimi Parker.”
What I expected: a captivating conversation between two of my favorite musicians out there, Singer-Songwriter Sharon Van Etten and Indie-Rock veteran Mimi Parker (drummer and vocalist of the band Low). What I did not expect: the topic of conversation to be “how to balance being a musician and a mother.”
Typically, I roll my eyes at this kind of piece. You don’t see male rock-stars being hounded by the media with questions like “who takes care of your kids while you’re on the road?” or “what’s it like being away from your child for months at a time?” God forbid the father stay home and care for his child while the mother went out and earned a living.
But as I listened, I was slapped in the face with the privilege of my youth and child-less status. This wasn’t the media forcing two women in the workforce to confine their conversation to the subject of motherhood. No, here was Van Etten vulnerably and honestly confessing her deep fear of subjecting her child to the permanent stain of parental inadequacy. Here was a woman, anxiously anticipating her biological clock as it approaches the station. Any strong woman in her position would have asked for any words of wisdom that could potentially help make the most difficult decision of her life – pursue her dreams and give up on having a child or have a child and risk losing her entire career. Is it possible to do both?
Parker’s band Low came up in the 90s when album sales were huge. Hell, Parker could afford a nanny to accompany them on tour and watch the kids while she soundchecked, performed, did press shots, signings, meet and greets, etc. Plus, Parker’s husband was also in the band which made touring a happy family affair. Van Etten, admittedly, couldn’t afford that kind of help. In fact, she even mentioned needing to pick up a second form of income to provide for her family. A famous musician with a day job… is Yuppie the new rock and roll?
It’s a shame. Whether we like it or not, today’s music artist has to be more than her moniker. She must be a shrewd businesswoman, a marketing guru, a self-promoter, an entrepreneur. She needs to know not only how to make music but also how to have her music make her money.
The following female indie musicians have successfully been able to strike that balance between art and industry, integrating their creative eye with their business acumen. We are choosing to focus on indie musicians because they have been able to engage with the business side of things without the massive corporate backing and brand partnerships that a major label provides. We are focusing on women because as tough as it is for dudes to make it in this industry, imagine how hard it is to overcome the same obstacles as the dudes plus the added weight of both sexism and/or carrying a child to term.
Courtney Barnett – Breakout indie rocker of 2015, Courtney Barnett captured the hearts of millions with her neo-Dylan talk-singing, psychedelic melodies, and proto-punk electric guitar riffs. But did you know she also co-founded Milk! Records with her girlfriend, Jen Cloher and their friends. Their website outlines how they are an “independent label where you can buy direct from the artist.” They also “occasionally curate special events, compilations, split 7” vinyl releases and artist designed t-shirts and curios from friends and artists we love.” A group of friends self-releasing their own material and selling it to a DIY-hungry audience sounds like the dream to me.
Zooey Deschanel – You may think I’m going to talk about her highly lucrative career as an actress, but I’m not. Not only is Zooey a fabulous musician and infectious actress, but she also founded hellogiggles, a “positive online community for women (although men are always welcome!) covering DIY and crafting projects, beauty, friendship, sex & relationships, tips on savvy and stylish living meant to inspire a smile.” Sure that sounds like the quirk-heavy Zooey that polarizes many women across the country, but you can’t really argue with the numbers and with how much traffic her site gets, that’s one hell of a side-gig.
Amanda Palmer – You may know her as lead singer of The Dresden Dolls. You may know her from her infamous kickstarter campaign which raised nearly 1.2 million dollars. Or perhaps you know her from the countless controversies she has encountered like her publicized dispute with Roadrunner Records or her Poem for Dzhokkar. Palmer has captured our attention over the years for countless reasons, one of which she turned into a book. Following the success of her highly viewed Ted Talk special “The Art of Asking,” Palmer turned her speech into a book with the same title. The book garnered mixed reviews but sure enough it climbed its way onto the New York Times bestsellers list. Not bad for a first time author.
Brittany Howard – Lead singer and guitarist of the acclaimed Alabama Shakes recently announced her side-project, Thunderbitch. Thunderbitch is the old-school rock outlet for a collective of seasoned acts including Fly Golden Eagle and Clear Plastic Masks. Their website bio reads “Thunderbitch. Rock ‘n’ Roll. The end.” Thunderbitch is not tied to any known label (indie or otherwise) and seems to be running the whole operation on its own. While she’s left me with more questions than I’d like, I’m definitely stoked to see what this side-endeavor evolves into.