The DJ life is a tough haul for anyone. But as in most male-dominated professions, female DJs have to walk an extra mile that their male counterparts rarely — if ever — have to worry about.
Despite the different standards, the industry is filled with powerful female DJs like Nina Kraviz, Ellen Allien, Anja Schneider, Kelli Hand, Charlotte De Witte and Deborah de Luca. Most of these women are responsible for running some of the most exciting, forward-thinking and respected labels in dance music.
Regardless of these standout examples, female DJs are still outnumbered and are forced to overcome many obstacles — ranging from harassment to being judged by a different standard. We reached out to several female DJs for their experiences.
"I’ve never seen a man get asked why he wants to be a DJ, but it seems like people frequently question women’s motives. 'Are you just doing this to get guys? Attention? Money?' Yawn. I faced the same thing when I got into metal at a very young age. Just because I’m a girl doesn’t mean I’m not there just to throw down — often harder than the guys.
"Have you ever seen a party billed as an 'all-male' lineup? No, because it looks ridiculous. It should be the same for females. Don’t get me wrong; there are plenty of crews like Discwoman who do it right, but I'd never want to be part of something proudly called an 'all-girl' party put together by a male promoter. It just draws the line harder.
"Huge pet peeve: 'You’re my favorite female DJ!' 'You’re a great female DJ!' How about I’m just a great DJ? Why do I have to be in a different category because I have boobs? I don’t think people know that comes off as kind of hurtful.
"Overall, I’ve found that female DJs tend to support each other less than males support females or males support males. It should be the opposite — we’re fighting the same fight.
"Funny story: Once I was playing in an amphitheater on South Beach and a few guys walked by the outside and told my friend to 'tell the guy in there that he’s killing it.' She told them that I was in fact a girl, and they looked at her like they saw a ghost. Why is it still surprising? Would they have acted differently if they knew my gender to begin with?
"Another big issue when starting off was being judged more harshly over guys when it came to the technicalities in DJing, such as mixing or even setting up equipment. Thankfully, I was guided to know that I would be critiqued, and before learning how to spin, one of my teachers, Eli ,Flores would make me tear down my setup and hook it back up every day before I practiced.
"There was a time where I moved back to Houston for a job, and not many other DJs knew I spun, but I knew a lot of the promoters there, so I got gigs immediately. The first year, I basically battled guys monthly so they would stop saying that the only reason why I was getting booked was because I was a girl. At first when I would confront these guys, they would say, 'I would battle you, but I don’t play drum and bass,' or 'I don’t use Serato,' so I allowed them to pick the format and genre of music for the battle. It only took about four battles before they actually started to see why I was getting booked, but I don’t know of a guy that ever had to."
"I feel like as a female DJ, people always ask who you know. People usually assume that a female DJ knows someone and that's how they got the gig. I also feel as a female DJ, we're watched and critiqued more closely than male DJs. Female DJs are oftentimes expected to look or dress a certain way. This past weekend, I played a party out of town. And after I played, a guy came up to me and said, 'I have to apologize. I totally stereotyped you wrong. I didn't expect you to play that kind of music.' I said, 'Well, what kind if music did you expect me to play?' He said, 'Honestly, I didn't even think you were a DJ. You don't look like a DJ.'"
"There have been instances in my DJ career where not only myself but other females have been called divas for simply asking for basic proper equipment. Starting off, you know you will get a few gigs where you do not have the top-of-the-line equipment, and adjusting to the equipment that is given to you is a part of making you a better DJ overall. At a certain point in your career, there are technical standards that need to be met in order to showcase your true music ability.
"I did have an instance where I had a gig where the venue was basically a cave, and the bass echoed to the point of making it difficult to mix because there was no monitor, and the cue button on the mixer was special to the point you basically had to say a prayer before hitting, hoping it would actually work. I asked the promoter about the monitor, and I got the, 'You are acting like a diva and I should be lucky as a girl that I am playing' talk. Needless to say, I never worked with that promoter again but also did not allow that to discourage me and continued to pave my own music path."
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"I can’t say that male DJs don’t have to deal with this, but occasionally there is the person who wants to talk to me constantly during my set who seems oblivious that I am providing music for the venue. Sometimes guys think I am fair game to flirt with the whole time I am working on the decks. This can be awkward because I am not there for that."
Stephanie Tran — Stetra
"I think there’s a lot of annoyances that both male and female artists in this industry face, and a lot of it is the same for both parties. However, some annoyances do happen to female artists more so than our male counterparts, and of course that’s the harassment that does happen. It’s been an issue that’s been in the forefront in light of recent news, and I think it needs to be a collaborative effort on everyone’s part in order to change things. This and the whole concept that there aren’t a lot of female artists in this 'male-dominated' industry. That’s just not true, and there are so many talented artists out there that are female. Also, this is just a personal perspective, but I always just refer to myself as an artist because at the end of the day, I’m just a human being creating something to be shared with others.
"In our industry, it comes down to how you market yourself, and that’s what kind of standard you’ll be held to. If you’re serious about your craft, and you market yourself in that way, you’ll be surprised at the positive feedback and reactions you’ll receive. Not saying there’s never any negative feedback — that will always be there in some aspect and not knocking anyone that chooses to go another route. All I’m saying is if you’re in this for the right reasons, you’ll get much more out of it than if you’re just in this for the whole facade of it."