By Caylin Costello April 4, 2022
Being a successful musician is like running across the country on a treadmill track. It is very hard to get anywhere. Especially as a female.
The House of the Rising Sun was the first song I learned on the guitar at the age of 12. I played all the chords wrong, it took me over a month to remember the chords and the words. My fingers bled on the cheap Spectrum guitar.
My uncle was hanging out at an empty local bar one afternoon, and had given my parents a call to bring me down with my six strings. I hopped in the car and went down not knowing why or what was going on. I walked in to 4 strangers sitting at the bar, and a microphone.
“Hey Caylin, get up there and play The House of the Rising Sun!” Said my uncle. My mom and my dad and my two sisters cheered me on to do it. I was so scared even though there was just an empty restaurant with no one to sing to besides my family and two others. But I didn’t know the song well, I didn’t know all the words, I thought to myself “I can’t do this. I am not good enough.”
When I finally got the courage to get up there, I played the best that I could. I made it halfway through the song, doing great! Until I forgot the second to last verse, completely stopped the song and said “Wait!! What are the words again!!?” I was so embarrassed.
My family had me go to the open mic every single week. And every week for about 5 months, I played the same three songs over and over and over. Each time it didn’t get any easier. Every week more and more people came to perform, and my nerves were always very high. All of the musicians were way older than me with a lot more experience. I had so many role models to look up to. I had a lot of people teaching me new things, cheering me on, and helping me learn new chords and tricks and songs. One night, there were nearly fifteen musicians on the sign up sheet and there was a completely full house at the bar. My sister and I were the only girls performing! It was especially scary being the youngest ones and the only girls.
It is amazing how many people were so supportive regardless of our gender, music experience, or age.
Over the years, once I got really good at chords and rhythm, I was able to expand my knowledge, learning a ton of covers, writing my own original songs, and performing at many different places. I met a lot of really awesome people. I grew older, and grew into my sound and style of music.
My first paid gig was a month after I turned 17. I was asked to play at a campfire at a wedding with a friend Dylan Szabad after someone had found a video on facebook of us playing. Dylan was a bluegrass player that was a huge inspiration to me musically, showed me a lot, and always supported me and my growth. Unfortunately, Dylan passed away a month before the show.
My first paid gig was very nerve racking, I was so nervous that I was not going to live up to the expectations of this beautiful couple on one of the most important days of their lives. I started playing my first song, really concentrating on making sure everything is perfect, not looking up to see all the people staring at me. When the first song ended, a whole crowd of people clapped around the fire and cheered me on. The performance was two hours long, and I wasn’t sure I could do it all. But I was having so much fun I played even longer!
Many open mics, covers, and original songs and guitars later, I have finally been able to get a steady flow of paid performances. However, as I got more shows and paid performances and compliments and support, there was an increased amount of criticism, also.
Everywhere I performed, other performers were 99% males. I never really thought of it much when I was a kid. But as I got older and more into the music scene, I saw more and more of the gender diversity issue in the music scene. I live it.
A lot of being successful in the music scene is knowing the right people. The ones that can hook you up with shows and network with the right crowd. The other half is working. And working really hard. Sending millions of emails to restaurants, festivals, booking agents, anywhere just to get your name out there. For every fifty emails I send, I get maybe three responses. For every three responses, I might get a gig out of one of them.
I understand that people are busy. Restaurants have far more to worry about than musicians wanting to perform, and booking agents get flooded with emails every day with artists begging to get a shot.
But have you ever opened your eyes to how sexist the music industry really is?
Have you ever really looked at a festival line up? Males.
Do you see live music when you are eating at a restaurant? Males.
Have you looked at the back of a CD to see who the producer is? Males.
Booking agents? Males.
Opening bands? Males.
Males. Males. Males. Males. Males.
Why is this?
Are there even enough female musicians to be equal with males?
Are there even females who want to be producers and booking agents etc?
HELL YES. One time I made an entire line up of awesome female artists.
Although not entirely clear why this is, I can say some of my own experiences that have caused me to think the way I do about the gender inequality in the music industry.
Women are constantly torn down by men in the music scene.
I’ve had people who I thought were my friends say I couldn’t play music with him because “I have got a ways to go” once I started making money at shows.
I was asked by a female bar owner to perform a gig at the bar, and her husband met me and said I sounded nasally, rushed through my songs, and played in the minor key too much.
I’ve created entire line ups for beginning festivals, and didn’t even get offered a spot at the next one, but all the males I referred to did.
Ive been sexulized by drunk white men for wearing a crop top at a restaurant show saying to “keep it modest” while I was shaking in fear that people wouldn’t like my music.
Ive been offered to perform when a man books me and then expects sexual pleasures after.
But instead of people changing in the music industry, they continue to book the same white males playing the same Grateful Dead covers over, and over, and over, and over. The whole line up is the same. There needs to be a change. Where is the diversity? Is it bros helping bros?
Males being on top have caused more similar people to rise to the top too, leaving behind many females who would fit great in those roles if given the opportunity. One way to help make a change is to open pathways for women to fulfill these roles as well.
Another way is to support women. Many women struggle with confidence issues, especially being surrounded by men. Support is very important. Although criticism is also important to improve, it is not helpful to hear a drunk, conceited male tear down everything you have worked on for years, especially if we don’t even know them. Criticism comes with respect, so just because you have the confidence to say something to a stranger about their music, perhaps you should keep it to yourself until you have gained some sort of respect from the artist. This act from people has repeatedly made me rethink if I am even good enough to be performing and has made me want to stop performing countless times.
I am not saying all men have torn me down. There are plenty of men and women who have supported me so much and have opened a lot of different doors for me. Brett Wilson from Roots of Creation gave me the opportunity to open for his birthday show. Peter Peloquin has given me opportunities to record my original songs. My dad and my uncle are my biggest supporters. And some male friends have taught me the most on the guitar.
But the criticism, the countless times a male has been chosen over a female on line ups, and the lack of female support constantly tears us down. We lose hope in our careers.
Make the steps to change.
April 22 – Yarde Tavern South Hadley MA 6-9pm FB EVENT
April 29 – The Thirsty Robot Fitchburg MA 5-8 pm FB EVENT
April 30 – Station 101 Milford NH 5-8 pm FB EVENT
July 2 – Harrys Hill Starks ME 4-5 pm
July 17 – Yarde Tavern South Hadley MA 4-7 pm
August 12-14 – The Homie Collective Campout Lebanon ME
September 18 – Stonecutters Milford NH 4-7 pm
September 25 – Yarde Tavern South Hadley MA 4-7
Email: [email protected]
Facebook: Caylin Costello Music
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