Female Voices Gaining Volume In Male-Heavy Local Music Scene
For many, being heard at Penn State is no easy task, especially in the oft male-heavy world of independent music shows. But four talented female songwriters are working to make sure their voices aren’t stifled.
The ladies, Kelly Barber, Rebecca Kling, Nicole Schaefer, and Ava Sigman, hail from the Penn State Songwriters Club, and will perform original music and group covers at Webster’s at 7 p.m. on April 6. The showcase, dubbed “Voices of the Valley,” will serve as the next of many steps in their path to gain prominence and earn female songwriters respect in Penn State’s music scene.
“I did recently feel a need for the girls in our club to get some more recognition, so I got [Shaefer] to help me set up a special showcase of just females,” Kling said. “We just wanted to make an event that highlighted our female songwriters and hopefully reach out to others.”
That’s not to say the Songwriters Club isn’t supportive of its female members. In fact, all five of the ladies I talked to agreed that the club has always aided all songwriters, no matter the gender. Some did say, however, when they first joined the club a few years ago, there were very few females at the meetings. Now, attendance is more even between the guys and gals.
“It’s definitely been a dramatic change since my freshman year,” Barber, now a junior, said. “I think the club is getting its name out there, and more people are taking advantage of the opportunities offered.”
The creative process of writing songs varies for the writers. Most need an inspiration — a life event, a vocal melody, a lyric — in order to write a song that they are happy with. Kling said she writes her best songs within an hour of getting in the zone and perfecting the sound she was going for. But even if she doesn’t feel like writing, or lacks an inspiration, she finds it’s important to still write to “practice the fundamentals.”
“You might have a lot of great toppings for that ice cream sundae, but if you don’t have the ice cream, then it’s really just a waste of those toppings,” she said. “I’ve got a million notes on my phone because I’ll get a little line or idea during the day, and I make sure to write it down real quick. Then, I’ll go home and try to turn it into something, usually pretty late at night.”
Schaefer said her inspirations are very inconsistent. Within two weeks’ time, she may write three songs, and there may be a month where she doesn’t complete a song, she said.
“I find there is no pattern to my creative process. Sometimes I hear a vocal melody first and then write the music to accompany it, and sometimes vice versa.”
Julie Bouchard, meanwhile, claims that if a song doesn’t flow within the first five minutes of working on it, she will completely throw away the idea. She said if it has to be forced, it won’t be genuine. She also doesn’t write about her own experiences — out of the 30 songs she’s written, only three relate to personal events.
“There’s always that one friend that everyone pours their heart out to, and I’m that friend,” she said. “I’ll write the song and play it for them. If they think it’s too obvious, I won’t play it for anyone but them. But if I get the go ahead from them, I’ll play it for others.”
In listening to Keegan Tawa’s “Sunrise in Blue,” one would think Price would have had a hard time matching melodically with Tawa’s unique EDM sound. But she said it’s always been easy for her to come up with a melody in the moment, as the most natural sounds will come out that way. She goes through a number of phases with her songwriting, and she’s had quite the musical journey since coming to Penn State. Her sophomore year focused on her folk sound, then she became more accustomed to penning indie-rock tracks the following semester.
Her dive into the local EDM scene started with a collaboration with friend Doug Fraley, known locally as Kaz. Mutual friend Tawa heard the song and contacted Price, requesting to work with her. It gave her yet another outlet to test her songwriting chops. Though Myles Billard is the lyricist for Tawa’s songs, Price was in control of deciding what direction the track would go melodically.
“I’m really all over the board,” Price said. “There’s so much going on in my head that I need different outlets to express it.”
Unlike Kling, Schaefer said she is better at writing music with her guitar or keyboard rather than lyrical penmanship.
“Sometimes, I’m not trying to communicate anything at all, but as a songwriter, I understand that vocal melodies are a crucial part of a song,” Schaefer said. “However, I think lyrics are very secondary to a song and the music itself is what will convey emotion and the purpose of a song.”
Bouchard has a similar tale to Price in dabbling with different genres of songwriting, but her path found her writing songs for her friends in the theatre department. After directing major David Kisan heard Bouchard practicing piano during her freshman year, she remembers him opening the door and exclaiming his praise.
Soon after Kisan left the room, he came back in to request her contact info because he wanted to work with her. A partnership formed a week later for the show “Little Town Blues.” Bouchard wrote an original song for the end of show, a giant eight song mashup for the opening and 10 second snippets of popular songs to set the vibes for the scenes.
Barber said though bands in the downtown music scene are heavily male-dominated, the women are more prevalent in the singer-songwriter and acoustic scene.
“Maybe if some solo females are encouraged to join bands or create band with each other, it might help cure the issue [of the male-dominated band scene],” he suggested.
A lead singer for the band Queue, Price shared a similar sentiment, passionately stating that she wished people would realize how hard women “work their asses off, especially in the rock community.” She said some severely underestimate the female voice and its potential, leading to some ladies to feel intimidated at the thought of joining a band as the lead.
“Some girls may enter a band, but they end up becoming more of a backup vocalist,” Price said. “I realized that the female voice can be trained to do whatever we want it to do. You don’t have to censor yourself – you can grow.”
Schaefer said most female songwriters in State College are solo artists. Despite this, she feels they are well represented at the university.
Bouchard meanwhile plans to work with Café 210 once she turns 21 to have acoustic performances at the popular bar, an initiative that could raise awareness to their movement. She pointed out that open mic nights have increasingly received more female turnout; events like the Student Programming Association’s Noontime Concert Series also increase interest.
“People will definitely stop and listen, even if it’s for two seconds to listen to you,” Bouchard, who competed in Saturday’s Happy Valley’s Got Talent, said. “For them to take time out of their busy day to listen to my music, it’s the biggest compliment ever.”