A masterclass with Rews: surviving the music industry and silencing sexism
Incorporating the same heart-rattling riff-heavy, guitar/drum duo dynamic as Royal Blood and Deep Valley, the alt-rock pair Rews have made their way into The Academy of Contemporary Music’s glitter-glossed doors for an exclusive Masterclass, to not only inspire and educate students, but to mark the opening of the school’s new Marshall room. Hailed by Huw Stephens of BBC’s Radio 1, Mark Radcliffe of BBC6 Music and Alex Baker of Kerrang! Radio, to no surprise, Rews are met with a packed-out theatre, with students awaiting discussions in touring, the importance of using good quality gear, equality in the music industry and what life has been like for the band since signing to their major label (Marshall) in 2017.
For most females in the music industry (and beyond), battles with sexist individuals and ideologies is a rampant, and completely unnecessary hurdle that many find themselves still trying to tiresomely step over. Whether it’s the lack of representation of women in festivals, the assumption that a woman holding a guitar or pair of drumsticks is somehow a novel occurrence, the undeniably crucial safety of women at shows, or quite simply, that a female musician is more so judged on their appearance over their technical skill; sexism is continually appearing in many different forms. For Rews, they once read an article about their band with the rather reductive title “female two-piece – a phrase usually coined in the swim wear department in New Look”, proving that sexism is rife in all corners of the business.
Conclusively, talking about an issue is the first step to tackling it, and asking women about their perspective can be a great way to try to understand a concept that many performers might not be completely aware of. More importantly, it shines a light on what various individuals within the industry might be doing wrong, and also, what can be done to try stop it from happening in the future. Education is the first step into social and cultural betterment, so what better opportunity is there to tackle these issues than within an educational environment, and a week before International Women’s Day.
Here are some tips from Shauna Tohill and Collette Williams, who make up the powerhouse pair Rews, on all things to do with surviving the music industry and of course, gender equality.
The Reality of Touring
Collette: The one piece of advice I can give you is to learn to drive, get a car and get a job. Whether that is going on tour with other bands doing their merch or doing back-line stuff, get as much experience as you can. Get to know the sound crew, different venues and get yourself a bit of money, because that will definitely help buffer your funds if the offer of a new tour comes in.
From the moment you get in the car to the minute you arrive at the venue, whether it’s the security, stage hand or sound engineer, you need to be nice to them. No matter who you meet, the number one rule is don’t be a d*ck! You never know that the in-house person that is cleaning the toilets might actually be the promoter for another show, or that the sound crew at one venue will be the crew at the next, and they will remember if you’re difficult to work with. The easier you are to work with and the nicer you are as a person, the more gigs you’re going to get.
Learn More Than Just Your Music
You have to be an all rounder these days. Being a musician isn’t enough if you want to make it – you need to be a producer, a business person, a sound person, the list goes on. Business-wise it’s really good to have an understanding of the industry.
Create a flowchart in your head of how everything works, such as, what is a record label and what part will they play in your career? What is a publisher, what role does a manager play – do you need one? All of those things are really important and schools like ACM are fantastic when it comes to contemporary music education; they give you a snapshot of the industry and how it is today. This is what’s going to be most relevant to you within the current climate you’re working in.
Spinning Plates & Mental Health
If you get to the point where music is your soul income and you’re spending your time going out and gigging then you are very, very lucky. Talk to every musician that you know – whatever level they are at – and you will learn that they have always been spinning plates at some point; whether that’s having a job, two jobs, having a family, caring for a parent, and trying to gig and travel all at the same time. Whilst you’re doing all that, you need to look after your mental health because if you’re not feeling good, then none of the things that you’re trying to spin will be good either. So you definitely need to look after you.
Shauna: Whenever I would carry my guitar along people would say things like “thats not so cute, the girlfriend carrying her boyfriends equipment!”. And I’d be like ‘well actually I’m the musician!’ The best way to cope with that sort of thing is try not to be offended by it, try to talk to people and make them aware that what they are thinking is wrong. That will hopefully be enough to challenge their thought process. Just get out there, and do what you do and do it the best you possibly can regardless of your gender. Create credibility, and treat everyone else equal.
What Can Men Do To Help?
Collette: Whenever we’re talking about things like International Women’s Day, feminism, women in music or any of those subject areas, the key thing is to not get caught up in the feedback loop of only women talking about it. There will never be any changes if we banish men, and make them feel like they are the problem. We need to work together and hopefully one day we won’t have to have International Women’s Day panels – it’ll be a thing of the past. We just need to work together on that and make sure everyone is included and that there’s no exclusivity.
Shauna: It’s important to be able to communicate with one another. Everyone needs to be open minded and talk about it. Maybe some guys might not realise some of the things that females are maybe struggling with or going through, and to just be able to cross that boundary as a good friend or have someone to talk to is great.
How To React To Sexism
Collette: I think if you’re faced with sexism, and you react to it, it says more about you than it does about them. The best thing you can do is say nothing, go on stage and blow their faces off. Support your fellow musicians, whoever they are, because equality is key.
Shauna: Of course, it’s okay to pull people up on things if they’re being inappropriate. Obviously people will always comment and you can’t control what goes on the internet, but you can tell those people in the moment, if someone says something to you, or if someone tries to touch you in a way that is inappropriate, just to make sure that your boundaries are up and that you have respect for one another. Always ensure that the respect goes both ways.