Identity is the crisis you can’t see
When you look in the mirror
Do you see yourself?
Do you see yourself on the TV screen?
Do you see yourself in the magazine?
When you see yourself does it make you scream?
Identity. X-Ray Specs (1978)
Music expresses identity and image is about how things appear.
“Mooz was a collective musical identity of a group of young women who wanted to write songs without limitation of genre or rules. Writing music together was a raw collaborative and expressive improvisational process.” – Jess
As a group of very different individuals who were passionate about making music together and writing songs, a chance meeting opened up possibilities for a very special musical connection, encouraging each other to explore free expression through improvisation and song writing.
Image was not a commodity in our minds. This female band did not want to be packaged through that lens. We were women who wanted to write songs, perform and explore how songs could express and emote on our own terms.
One of our albums was called The Wheel That Squeaks the Loudest is the One That Gets the Grease; the title is an old proverb:
“We got an old book and picked one out,” says vocalist Jess Marlow. “I like the ambiguity of it and it makes you laugh, too.” Shaheen thinks it says a lot about the music industry. “You could interpret it as a bad or a good thing. For a wheel, grease is good. But in life it is true that people who shout the loudest get the most attention. Often when they don’t deserve it.” The irony is that on most of their songs (apart from the caterwauling cacophony that is PMT) Mooz don’t shout loud at all. They win you round with subtlety, preferring to weave a spell rather than bludgeoning you into submission. “I think there is a lot of sadness on the record,” says Jess. “It is very emotional but then we are emotional people.”
– The Big Issue, May 2002 ‘Schmoozing with Mooz’, interview by Will Simpson
As our sound and following began to develop, we made a conscious decision to take a DIY approach, in an attempt to avoid the pressures associated with the commodification of music. We were well aware of the limitations that would come with algorithm-programmed media platforms and the image-conscious music industry – and we simply wanted to go our own way. These kinds of pressures are perhaps particularly restrictive for young women in music, and with the increasing emphasis of social media, this has become even more worrying today. The wellbeing and safety of musicians and women is as relevant today, if not more so.
As a female band our identity was part of our ethos. Our image was authentic, not shaped and exploited by others for the market. This certainly compromised our band getting a deal. For example, we met many male A&R personnel and male managers, who wanted to brand our identity to give it market value. Music’s value is much more than this.
Today, it’s a very different musical landscape – particularly in relation to labels, digital markets and distribution, touring and social media. Bands aren’t as interested in getting signed, as there are more opportunities for the DIY approach, with self-publishing and sites like Bandcamp offering an easy route to getting self-made music heard. Of course, this doesn’t mean there is a level playing field. Big labels still have much of the power.
In the UK, nearly half (46%) of music performance graduates are female. So what happens next to this music talent? Something goes wrong, because females make up only …
14.8% of song writers and composers.
11.7% of Grammy winners.
19.9% of label rosters.
12.5% of songs in the Billboard chart are written by women.
7.6% of “album of the year” winners
3% of songs top 100 Airplay chart 2020 are produced by women.
Source: Moving the Needle.
Women in music need to be treated equally.