Genevieve Carver & The Unsung

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“One of the most common words people said to me was ‘confidence’”

by Genevieve Carver

In this guest post, Genevieve Carver remembers the conversations with dozens of women working in music that inspired her new show, A Beautiful Way To Be Crazy.

I’m a poet and spoken word artist, but music has always formed the backbone of what I do. Song lyrics are always creeping into my poems, and in the past I’ve written about people whose death was caused by music, and the relationship between music and mental health. I perform in a gig theatre ensemble along with three multi-instrumentalist musicians [see above: Genevieve on second left], and our latest show, A Beautiful Way to be Crazy, explores female experiences in the music industry.

The reasons for writing this show will probably be familiar to many readers here – women make up just 30% of the music industry as a whole, and as little as 2% in certain, usually more tech-heavy roles. The way I wanted to look at this was to talk to some of that 30%, and gather together some of their experiences.

I interviewed almost 50 people, including cisgendered, trans, non-binary and intersex individuals. I spoke to singers, instrumentalists, DJs, sound engineers, producers and events promoters, covering genres from classical to folk, electronica, rock, pop and jazz. I interviewed performers in a sex workers’ opera, internationally touring DJs and members of an all-female band of adults with learning difficulties. My aim wasn’t to get famous names but to talk to anybody who lived and breathed music in their everyday life, either professionally or at an amateur level.

I interviewed people across the UK, but there was a strong emphasis on Sheffield, where I am based. There’s such a rich music community here that I could have completed hundreds of interviews in this city alone. One of the best things that came out of the interviews was discovering pockets of people doing great things to provide opportunities for women in music, like YSWN.

The conversations I had were often funny, sometimes poignant and occasionally heart-breaking. There were mentions of sexism within the music industry, but what seemed to run through was a deeper level of prescriptive gendering in society as a whole, from a very young age onwards. One of the most common words people said to me was ‘confidence’ – often women and girls don’t feel they have a right to be heard, or feel scared to try things out.

A key thing people kept coming back to was the importance of role models: “You can’t be what you can’t see”, said Lucy Cheesman, co-founder of SONA and part of a really exciting live coding movement happening within electronic music.

The show I ended up making combines the themes I pulled out from these interviews with my own personal experiences. The show features music from my incredibly versatile band, with original spoken word. Things you can expect include me reading out my genuine teenage diary entries from 1999 (aged 13), audio clips from the interviews, a parody chart hit, and a lullaby about Joni Mitchell.

We’re touring the show across the UK from February onwards, and our next stops include Sheffield, London, Huddersfield, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Leeds. We’re also recording some music from the show – our latest single was a collaboration with Sheffield band Before Breakfast and all proceeds are being donated to domestic violence charity Refuge. It can be viewed here:

A Beautiful Way To Be Crazy is performed in Sheffield as part of SheFest on 13 March: tickets can be booked here.
See all tour dates here.
@theunsungpoetry