It's Time To Stop Asking if You're Too Old to Have A Career In Music

What's the use-by-date of a musician these days? No, wait! What's the use-by-date of a female musician these days?


I ask this question because It's something that's come up time and time again, not only with the students I tutor in London and the wonderful women I coach through The Female DIY Musician, but also as a source of anxiety throughout my own career as well.


But I believe that not only does this obsession with feminine youth undermine the amazing skills and experiences that age can contribute to our careers as women in music, it's also becoming less and less relevant in an industry that (whether it likes it or not) is dragging it's heals, kicking and screaming, into the 21st Century.


"It Really Would Be Better If You Were 17"... REALLY??


Since founding The Female DIY Musician I've been told some pretty interesting stories by women about their experiences in the industry and one of those was from a 24 year old female musician.


After being complimented on her songwriting, performance skills and talent, she was then delivered the crushing blow from a male music industry professional: "It really would be better if you were 17".


Wait, hold on a minute. Would it really be better if she were 17?


I mean, would her songs be as crafted, would her vocal delivery be as intentional and would her guitar playing be as proficient? Literally the only reasons I can think of that would mean it were, in reality, better if she were 17 is that it may make her less intimidating to male listeners and teenage fans and more mouldable for the industry.


"Perhaps You Should Look Away In Your Photos"


OK, so you didn't read that next heading wrong. This is actually something that was said to another female musician who got in touch with me, describing what had happened on a photo shoot.


A male photographer shooting some press shots for her new album suggested she look down or away so that people wouldn't guess her age (which was 27 BTW).


At the age of 35, this sounds so totally ridiculous on one level but also totally believable on the other. Again, I cannot think of any other reasons than those listed before that it would be bad for a female musician to be 27... 27 FOR GODS SAKE!


Time's Up


And here's the thing that really makes me sad and reminds me why The Female DIY Musician exists: I speak to female students every semester at the music college where I tutor in London who are worried they are too old to have a career in music and they aren't even 22.


They see teenage pop stars like Billie Eilish and think, "How the hell will I ever have a chance now? I'm not 17 anymore, and I still haven't 'made it".


But this is what I tell them, and what I hope you'll think on after reading this post.


F*ck an industry that tells women they are obsolete by the time they're 21, f*ck an industry that tells us it would be better if we were naive, inexperienced teenagers and f*ck an industry that doesn't know what to do with a grown-ass woman.


I sure as hell don't want my career to unfold in that type of culture, and neither should you.


But Isobel, I Don't Have That Luxury


Yes, OK, it's a fair point that if you do want to be the next Britney or Christina you may have to accept that this, and a list of other repugnant realities, is just the way the commercial industry works, and many female musicians do feel totally at a loss in moving forward from here.


And how I always respond to this is by reminding them of two things:


1. There are many music industries, not just the dominant, shouty, glaring commercial pop music industry. These other industries foster different genres, cult followings and a plethora of musicians working a DIY model.


2. The music industry is changing, whether it likes it or not, and more and more musicians are taking control of their careers and finding success, whatever surprising and unusual forms that takes, despite bucking the commercial industry's trends.


In reality, the most important person who you really have to convince of your relevance as a musician because of your age is yourself.


Where Next?


So, I ask you: what kind of music industry do you want to create? Because I have a feeling we can make something far more diverse and inclusive for the future.


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