Though the genders are becoming more equal, in the music industry Samantha Savage Smith has noticed that feminism is needed “now more than ever.”
As a female singer-songwriter, Samantha Savage Smith has faced some disadvantages in the music industry. Despite those challenges, she’s continuing to find her way as a feminist in her music, and establish herself in a male-dominated industry.
Smith has had a passion for music since she was a kid. At the age of 11, her father would come over every week to teach her guitar. Not only was this a chance for them to spend time together, but it was the moment she knew music is what she wanted to pursue.
“I remember I just sort of launched into songwriting because at that point, too, I really got into jazz. I wanted to be a jazz singer when I was 12, so that was kind of what spawned me to start singing,” said Smith.
“I got my hands on my mom’s Verve CDs and Anita O’Day, Billie Holiday, Elephant Steril, all those, and I would just sit at the CD player and write down all the lyrics.”
Now, at 31, Smith has released two albums, Tough Cookie (2011) and Fine Lines (2015). She has done tours across Canada and Europe, and she is also in another Calgary-based band, Lab Coast.
Despite her accomplishments, she’s had to face some situations that have made her uncomfortable and upset with the music industry.
“There's been little silly things, like a show with Lab Coast, and I'll be carrying a guitar and all the guys walk to the door to get in and they’re [fine], and then they'll stop me and be like, ‘Oh girlfriends have to pay cover still’ — I’m like, ‘I'm in the band!’”
Smith isn’t alone. Emily Ripley, coined as Calgary’s “Blue Fairy,” is another local singer-songwriter who says her opportunities in the music scene have been limited due to her gender, musical style and appearance.
Ripley said one of her favourite artists told her she needs to learn to tune her guitar. Despite it being such a small note, she was simply excited he came to see her show.
“That's such a basic thing for him to tell me. It didn't even really feel like a note about my performance, it really just felt like he was trying to find a way to belittle me.”
Ripley has found it hard to enter competitions and even get into bars or clubs due to her more alternative features like her short, blue hair. Nevertheless, she’s still expressing herself through her music and attempts to use her unique style to her advantage.
“I think we need to stop fearing [feminism] and I think we need to start embracing it. It's definitely hard and I know that I'm not the only woman that struggles, especially as a solo artist to get gigs. We need it now more than ever.”
Even after being told by men in the music industry to give up and sell her guitar, Smith continues to pursue her passion and advocate for a bigger place in the music industry for women.
“In the last few years, you’re really seeing change in how festivals create their bills. I think there’s just more social awareness around it, and making sure there’s more women involved and different minorities, too.”
Now, Smith is currently in the works for her third studio album. Helping her out on the record is Nyssa Brown, Smith’s bass player that performed with her at Femme Wave in November.
Brown has been friends with Smith for a few years now, and said she's constantly impressed and inspired by how Smith knows what she wants and maintains her artistic vision, despite her critics.
“She has usually already tracked all the songs and all we have to do is come in and play it,” Brown said.
Although she has only been playing with Smith for a few months, Brown can’t imagine getting the brunt of everything as a front woman. Regardless, she has hope for equality in the music scene.
Nyssa explained that feminism isn’t just for women, it’s for everybody. Smith said people are starting to get it, slowly but surely.
“The idea for me is not to leave anyone out. It doesn’t matter what gender you are, what your sexuality [is], what your race is. To me it's irrelevant. It's just making sure that everyone's voices are heard.”
- By Mackenzie Mason