Wine, Women, and Revolution Welcomes Shannon McGill
Welcome, listeners and readers, to Wine, Women, and Revolution, with your host Heather Warburton. We are coming at you from New Jersey Revolution Radio. For today’s episode, we are joined by a special guest who works within the music industry. Her name is Shannon McGill and she is a singer and songwriter who lives in South Jersey. Heather and Shannon met through mutual work in the South Jersey DSA Chapter.
The idea for this episode came about a few months ago when this year’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees were announced. Heather noticed that there are not a lot of women in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and got to thinking about what kind of gatekeeping there must be in the industry.
The Flying Vees
Shannon has been working in music since 2002. She’s currently in a band called the Flying Vees. The band consists of McGill and 3 other women, all from the East Coast. McGill describes the group as a “hot little song factory” and says that she can’t wait to get back on the stage because the band has momentum. The Flying Vees were recently featured on an NPR music blog. A clip from one of their songs, “Back Up (Mutherfucker)”, plays.
[A catchy, slow but soulful guitar tune accompanied by vocals]
…When a man’s all pushing on me with his pants too tight
And he’s bumping and grinding just as hard as he can
And I tried to be cool but it was getting out of hand
Don’t you believe that I could hurt you
Boy, I’d like to choke you out and watch you turn blue
Man, I really think that you’d better disappear
Unless you wanna find out just what these hands do
You better back up
I said You better back up and give me some space
I said you better back up…
Clearly, this song has lyrics that women who have occupied public space can relate to. However, sexism is found in many more aspects of a woman’s life. Shannon has seen the ins and outs of sexism during her time in the industry. She prefaces her comments by saying that she has worked with many wonderful men during her time in music. However, that doesn’t erase the fact that sexism is everywhere and music is no different.
Sexism or Singerism?
Music is full of double standards. Shannon shares that many of the musicians who she has worked with over the past twenty years have been particularly biased against her because she does not play an instrument professionally. Singers are treated as an accessory, particularly women, who are often misunderstood as showpieces with little actual talent.
Historically, art in all of its sectors has been full of gatekeepers that exclude women. The music industry commodifies women, placing value on their bodies before talent, message, or anything else. The ugly truth that comes with the money-making necessity of capitalism is this: To make it in the music industry as a woman, it seems that you need to be attractive. It is easy to internalize this pressure and hard to escape its ubiquity. For example, Shannon McGill has never performed in pants; she only sings only in skirts, dresses, and shorts.
Shannon Talks Music
To Shannon, singing is a skill. It isn’t a talent—she does not believe in talent. Skill comes with hard work and time spent practicing. Shannon started writing songs ten years ago. She says that working with an all-women band has been a uniquely positive experience. There is a unique sense of shared experience between them.
Shannon lists female musicians that she looks up to, including Aretha Franklin, Carole King, Fiona Apple, Joni Mitchell, and Nina Simone. Shannon does see a shift for the positive in today’s culture in how women express themselves. She is encouraged by women in the world today who will unapologetically be themselves rather than shaping themselves for the male gaze.
This is Shannon’s advice to young musicians looking to enter the industry: don’t wait. Don’t wait for someone’s permission, for someone to call you a songwriter. Call yourself that. Believe that’s what you are and work for it because you love music and you have it in your soul.
Thank you again to Shannon McGill and to our listeners! Unfortunately, being a woman can make it hard to earn money within the music industry. As a socialist podcast with no corporate sponsors, we can relate to that issue within our own industry. That’s where you can come in. We depend on donations from people like you. We truly appreciate anything you can give — no matter how small the amount. The future is yours to create! Go out there and create it!
-Leah Giannantonio, for New Jersey Revolution Radio