Contesting the Male Canon: Women write different songs
For International Women’s Day, The Hillside Festival is celebrating our Girls & Guitars songwriting students who this year for the first time got to record their songs in studio. All of our students wrote original songs over the winter course at Hillside, and then four of them recorded them at Arthur North Studios in Guelph, Ontario with Nick Zubeck. The experience has been transformative.
Since 2011, the Hillside Festival has been running the Girls & Guitars project in three streams: (1) in the schools with female singer-songwriters teaching kids to write songs; (2) public performances as part of Hillside Inside, the winter festival; and (3) songwriting courses. The purpose of the project is to gradually change the face of the music industry, which is currently skewed toward males who are the booking agents, artistic directors, technical production crew, reviewers and critics, artist managers, and presenters. (Recent estimates suggest the ratio is 70:30, male to female.)
Over the years, we have noticed in our songwriting courses that female-identified musicians write songs that are quite different from their male counterparts.
For instance, songs about loss are not typically about losing a lover. They are more likely to be about losing a parent or a friend—or even about discovering one cannot have children. Love songs are often directed to children rather than lovers, or to a more innocent, often younger, version of themselves. Conflict typically doesn’t involve a triangle of lovers where one male has to beat out another in order to gain the attention of the female. It’s about being surrounded by people who are overly dependent (on the songwriter or on drugs), about struggling with one’s own self-doubt, or about facing an expectation about oneself or one’s life that proves untenable. Another common motif in songs about conflict is sexual assault. While recent studies suggest that male songwriters feature sex and dating as their predominant topics, Hillside’s own crop of Girls & Guitars students suggests that our female students are underwhelmed by these topics.
Listen to a sampling of their songs listed here at the links below story
1. “Lullaby to My Heart” is about discovering you can’t have children.
2. “Thailand” is about not being changed by travel experiences that were supposed to change you.
3. “Nature of Destruction” is about being surrounded by people with mental health and addiction problems, wanting to help without getting beaten up.
4. “Happy I Let You In” is about finding love in the dullest of places and with the most unnoticeable people.
For most of these students, this was the first time they had written a song, let alone recorded it. As one
of the students commented, “You are doing great things and have impacted all of us in the best way by telling us that the stories we have to tell, are stories that deserve to be heard. I think that this course is one of those things that has altered me a bit for the better. It gave me ... the confidence in my own voice and a new openness.”
About Hillside Festival
The Hillside Festival is a 36-year charitable organization that celebrates creativity through music, art, and community and that champions altruism, equality, environmentalism and peacemaking.