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Vinyl – Life as a female researcher in a male dominated subject

By rmablogadmin / / Feature / 2 Comments

In this blog post, Karlyn King discusses her own experiences as a female researcher in a male dominated subject. Karlyn is an MA/PhD Musicology student at The University of Birmingham and previously completed an MA Hons in Psychology and a Postgraduate Diploma in Music Innovation & Entrepreneurship. Her main research interest is the nature of artistic exchange between consumers and vinyl records (see karlynking.wordpress.com)

 

 

 

 

Who is the quintessential PhD Music researcher? To be more specific, describe the typical researcher of vinyl records in a digital world.  Does High Fidelity spring to mind? Be honest – who do you see?

 

I am in my first year at The University of Birmingham of an MA/PhD research project entitled “Vinyl Records Vs Digital Ephemera: Does the medium of music matter?”.  I am interviewing audiophiles, record store owners and label bosses on a regular basis. So far, they have all been male.

 

Straw [1] discusses traditional collector behaviour as a set of gendered cultural habits: man collects for status; woman collects for domestic adornment. Early male affiliations with hi-fi equipment could be partly explained by the electronics training predominantly received by men during both world wars. However, the post-war battle appeared to be between the sexes, with the 1950s gramophone in the listening room being marketed as a haven for the hardworking man to achieve respite from his wife and family.

 

Such sexist rhetoric is, of course, dated and of a bygone era. Yet in 2017, I am still an atypical vinyl researcher. At conferences, I am asked what my connection is to the subject in order to provide the asker with a rationalisation of why I would be interested in vinyl records. Not just because I am female, but because I am a female with an association to pole dancing and an ex-model. Shouldn’t I be at the hair salon rather than gathering data on human connections to recording technology? The truth is that I do both.

Source: https://uk.pinterest.com/source/girlsgonevinyl.tumblr.com/

 

So where are all the female gender identifying people (and non-binary for that matter) who collect records, run record stores or vinyl based labels? The good news is they do exist. The coordinator of Record Store UK is female and I am in the process of interviewing a female label owner who distributes mainly on vinyl. Mixmag recently posted an article [2] on various women who play key roles in this area.  These women discussed how customers would typically gravitate towards male staff and their own experiences of being ignored by store staff in various record stores. Such stereotypes are indeed heavily ingrained and the Mixmag article also raises the issue of non-diversity in race too.

 

Our foremothers did fight this, however, as seen in a response to a particularly misogynist article in Saturday Review of Literature in 1949, which suggested that women don’t even listen to music and definitely not at loud volumes [3]. One female respondent said. “’Rather than being a matter of sex, doesn’t it depend on how well the listener knows and enjoys music as such?’ [4]

 

Fast forward  68 years and The Black Madonna, or DJ Marea Stamper, is one female who uses vinyl as her main instrument and was named DJ of the Year by Mixmag in 2016. She talks about the silence of women, rendering them invisible in such areas of interest. An atypical DJ among the classic “steely, emotionless techno guy” population of dance music, she is more engaging, vocal and does not hide the fact that she is indeed a 40-year-old Catholic woman. And why should she?

To conclude, stereotypes are unfortunately a massive part of the topic that I research, and unless people break such barriers down and reclaim music as a safe space for all, women will continue to be overlooked in this field.

 

 

[1] Straw, Will (1997) ‘Sizing Up Record Collections: Gender and Connoisseurship in Rock Music Culture’, Sexing the Groove: S. Whiteley (ed.).

[2] http://mixmag.net/feature/forget-high-fidelity

[3] Buxbaum, Edwin C. 1949. ‘On playing music LOUD’, Saturday Review of Literature, 25 June, 5.

[4] Keightley, Keir. 1996. ‘Turn It Down! She Shrieked: Gender, Domestic Space, and High Fidelity, 1948–59’ Popular Music, 15(2): 149–77.

 


If you or someone you know would like to write a post for the RMA Student Blog then we’d be happy to hear from you! Please get in touch with one of your student representatives.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Karyl,
    Great reading your blog entry. I really appreciate the work you’re doing on women and vinyl. You may already know their performances, and perhaps they’re off to the edge of what you’re involved with, but I thought you might find Vinyl Terror & Horror interesting. Camilla Sorensen and Greta Christensen are Danish experimental vinyl djs living in Berlin. Here are links to an interview I recently did with them and to their own site—https://www.artforum.com/words/id=67589
    http://www.vinylterrorandhorror.com/
    all the best,
    Mark

  2. Karlyn

    Hi Mark, Thanks for your kind words. Enjoyed your article in Art Forum, would like to interview these ladies! Karlyn

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