By Jake Amy
Ageism refers to the stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination towards others based on their age. In the music industry of so-called Australia, ageism is alive and well and it has been highlighted in a recent tweet made by national “youth” broadcaster Triple J: “Did it hurt? When you aged out of the youth radio station.” In an already male dominated industry, this tweet strikes a nerve for mothers who have taken time away to raise their children.
Enter Anna Cordell, a Melbourne-based folk musician and mother of 5. At 21, Anna’s male vocal teacher criticised her choice to have her first child. "He told told me in rather harsh terms that by having this baby I had ruined my chances of a career in music. Sadly at that time, there were no other voices around me that said anything different. It just seemed to be understood. The head of music at my school got me up in front of everyone at the end of year performance and announced, 'Anna'a leaving us because she's pregnant.' That was the final word. I don't think a single person said 'just keep going, don't give up.'" Anna gave up music completely for 10 years.
"To this day, women are most likely to be the primary career of their kids. I know it's also difficult for male musicians who have kids, but I’ve seen many more who are still able to tour and continue their work. Within most workplaces now, women are supported for a period to have a baby. It's understood that having children is more than just a personal choice, it's part of the future of our society. The music industry is structured in a way that it’s so important to maintain momentum - it doesn’t feel like you’re allowed to take a break. If you stop, even for 6 months, there is so much rational anxiety that you will be replaced or forgotten."
Now in her late 30s, Anna embraces her "emerging" status, but often feels "hands tied". "There are a lot of stereotypes for mothers - apparently our music isn’t as good once we’ve had a baby. Much of this is tied up in how the Australian culture sees and values older artists and women in general. I remember going to an industry talk where the presenter from a large record company explained how there is no radio audience for artists over 30, painting a picture of this older audience being soccer mums who listen to The Fox or GOLD, saying they're not interested in seeking out new things."
"It's not impossible, but very hard in this country to have your music reach a broad audience by a certain age. Community radio does an incredible job now of presenting an eclectic mix of Australian music... perhaps more funding for those stations to expand their listenership would be part of the answer. I know people consume their music in a myriad of ways now, but things like local radio are very important to an older emerging artist trying to get a little local ground swell so they can share their music at local shows. Having children can make it harder to tour, so giving a little more voice to the local scene is tied up in this."
Anna thinks rebuilding our industry will take a long time, but it should stem from grassroots-style advocacy. "I’d love to see an option for budgeting babysitting when applying for music grants. Perhaps even a special grant for parents to be able to continue their work when they have a lot to juggle financially. Little things like that would make a huge difference."
"For now musicians who are parents have to just go ahead and back ourselves and one another. It's hard work, but if you’re an artist, I think creativity comes from adversity.
The more people aware of us in the industry, the better for everyone. It would remove a lot of anxiety for younger artists to know they can continue to create long into the future regardless of age or parental status."
Keep up to date with Anna here
We would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri people who are the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection in our community. We would like to pay respect to the Elders both past and present of the Kulin Nation and extend that respect to other First Nations people who have read this article.