Why Female Musicians Still Face Incredulity in Live Venues

by | Jan 28, 2016 | Booking Gigs & Touring

“What’s Your Band Called?”

Why Female Musicians Still Face Incredulity in Live Venues

Growing up in a fairly low income, single parent family in Melbourne, Australia, you could say I was your typical rebellious teenager. Thankfully for me, somewhere during my awkward grunge-inspired ensembles and excruciatingly loud bedroom sing-alongs, I started to release my weirdness by playing live music. This was at around age fifteen. I played every single gig as a paid professional from the start. Braces on my teeth and all for that first lispy year. I started in bands, acoustic duos and once I really harnessed my strengths as a guitarist with some “chops” and timing, I played solo shows. I had three booking agents and I performed in clubs, pubs, restaurants and in a poker machine-filled gaming rooms in suburban Melbourne. Regular venues, five nights a week. And it was during these years where I found the same strange question being asked again and again: “What’s your band called?”

The reason why I found this to be so strange, funny and insulting all at once, was due to the fact that I walked into these venues alone, brought in all my gear (mics, guitars, speakers etc.) set up and prepared to start performing. OK, let me preface a smidgen by saying, yes, Australians are heavy drinkers. So yes, a lot of the people waiting to hear me perform were full of more than just lemonade. But it would have taken an ungodly amount of liquor to not see me lug in that huge mound of gear by myself and still ask such an inane question. This was one actual line of dialogue after I set up to perform. I may paraphrase a hair.

Katie Cole musicianCrowd Guy: “What’s your band called?”

Me: “It’s just me. I’m Katie”.

Crowd Guy: “What sort of music do you guys play?”

Me: “I will be playing some Top 40 music from the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and today. 

Crowd Guy: “What time does the band start?”

Me: {I look behind me. No one is there. I look back at him}. “I start in about 15.”

Would I have been asked this if I were a guy? No. Not a chance. I never really got over this assumption and honestly, I’m likely still working through my sexism issues to this day. Stereotyped continually as the “chick in the band” or just the “singer.” Even though I was the band.

Let’s flashback to my musical upbringing. On a scale of 1-10, how musical? It was the singing show tunes on the weekend level. My sister and I sang, both parents played piano and my father was a trained classical vocalist. It shouldn’t have been terribly surprising that I wound up being a musician, as well. My parents divorced when I was young, so I turned to music to find solace. After that, my mother became both a strong musical influence and dominant role model. We may have had store brand food in the cupboard, but we never went without anything. She was also the one who taught me how to truly listen to music. Actually sit down and listen to a whole dang album and then work out whether I liked it. She showed me the importance of musical diversity by introducing me to Janis, Jimi, Lennon/McCartney, Stevie Wonder, Aretha and Otis.

So why am I babbling on about my mum instead of discussing my musical songwriting know-how? Because before I can accurately do that, you have to understand that she was the one who really taught me how to be, not just an artist, but more importantly, how to lead.

This kind of leadership was what allowed me to learn how to produce my own demos and that lead me to move to Los Angeles then onto Nashville. A sort of ripple effect. The type that would never have come into play if I wasn’t raised the way I was, by a really strong, female role model. A witty cigarette-smoking, tree-lopping, swear-word-on-the-tee-shirt wearing lady. That sort of role model.

So when I opted for my very big sea change to America, I found out that chivalry is alive and well there. Men, for the most part, open doors for women. Men usually offer to pick up the check at a restaurant. That sort of thing. Nice, but pretty odd to me. There is a certain level of “I got it” that Australian women exude. By certain level, I mean most Aussie women are pretty tough cookies. There is no “pass” for being a woman, truly. So there was a culture clash when I first moved to the USA. An American man would go grab the check for coffee and laugh when I would reach for my wallet. For me, I was just offering to cover my share as expected (in my mind). Not a huge clash of worlds, but I have had to adjust all the same. I’ve since had some success, toured with Glen Campbell and Smashing Pumpkins. I’ve traveled a lot as an artist. But every so often I’ll lead my friends into a guitar store and the salesman still gestures to the male in the group and asks, “Do you play?” Look, I don’t have to like it, I just have to work with it. After all I am the band and we need to get along.


Katie Cole is an award winning Australian-born singer and songwriter living in Nashville. She has performed at festivals like Sundance, NAMM, SXSW and Americanafest and has toured with several big artists including America, Glen Campbell and Smashing Pumpkins. For more, visit www.katiecoleofficial.com.