Over the last few weeks in this column, I've asked local musicians about gender inequality in the Indianapolis music scene. One of the main areas of concern I've heard expressed is the lack of women occupying behind the scenes roles in the community.
Audio engineer and event promoter Reese Maryam co-founded the women317 event series with occasional NUVO editorial writer and musician Elle Roberts. I recently sat down with Reese to discuss the women317 and her own work in music.
Maryam was initially a bit reluctant to speak with me. But I'm very pleased she agreed to the interview. If we are truly committed to rectifying the gender inequities in our music scene, we need to celebrate and support the work of amazing women like Reese Maryam.
NUVO: Tell me about women317's beginnings.
Reese Maryam: women317 is something I put together with Elle Roberts to celebrate women. We want to celebrate the things women are doing in this city because they do shine, they do stand out. We started it in March of this year, as March is Women's History Month. Everything spawned from that event. The energy from that show was so powerful that we decided to continue it as a series. The events are definitely growing and it's becoming something special. The vibe is powerful.
NUVO: What's a typical night like at a women317 event? What type of performances are you featuring?
Maryam: We have everything from poets to singers to dancers. We have people performing with instrumental accompaniment. We have people freestyling over instrumental tracks. It's a little bit of everything, but you're always going to catch a lot of originality from a lot of special ladies. We encourage spontaneity. You never know what you're going to see, but it's been amazing every time.
NUVO: Why did you feel it was important to create this space for women performers?
Maryam: I think it's important to have a stage for women. That's not to say other performers are not worthy of our stage. But we want to put a light on women and help give them a voice. It's a special space for women to share their talents with other women.
NUVO: And maybe to share things they wouldn't feel comfortable expressing in other environments?
Maryam: Exactly. Sometimes when it's woman to woman, different things come out. It changes the dialogue when it's women speaking heart to heart. The night is about bringing that type of energy to the stage.
NUVO: A couple weeks ago in this column I interviewed a musician named Sphie who performed at your first women317 event. During our interview Sphie expressed that as a young woman it was intimidating for her trying to go out and book shows because virtually every club owner and promoter in this city was a man. Were those types of concerns an influence on the development of women317?
Maryam: That's important and it's definitely been a factor. It wasn't our sole motivation, nor was it something I really thought about as we were getting started. But after starting this night I've seen how this is something women have to go through and it has become a consideration.
It's nice to be able to provide a space where women can come and lay everything out on the table. You don't have to hide anything, you don't have to worry that we're going to try to take advantage of you. The crowd is amazing, and get's the point to not be judgmental. It's always standing room only. At the first event we had four generations of women represented. You had grandmas, moms and grandchildren. A lot of people like to see girl power.
NUVO: Tell us about your background in music.
Maryam: I'm an audio engineer by trade. I also do a little bit of producing. I studied at the Conservatory for Recording Arts and Sciences about four years ago. I worked at the Salt Mine Studio in Mesa, Ariz. I acquired a lot of experience out there and then came back to Indianapolis and started working at Stepp Recording Studios.
NUVO: Are there any challenges you've faced as a woman working in the field of audio engineering?
Maryam: Audio engineering is definitely a male-dominated world. I've had to curtail my clientele and be very picky about who I work with. The content of some of the music was a problem for me. I respect people as they do their art, but I'm not comfortable exposing myself to content that is derogatory in its portrayal of women. I don't want to expose myself to it. As an engineer, you have to listen to a song a hundred times to get the sound right. Think about listening to a derogatory statement a hundred times. It infiltrates your thoughts to a certain extent. That's something I don't want to expose myself to. It's funny, because sometimes during the mixing the artists would apologize and say, "Those lyrics aren't really me." But I'm like, you wrote it! It's like they knew it wasn't acceptable, but that's what they came to the studio with.
I think music is very powerful. The vibrations of music penetrate our bodies in a unique way. You may only hear a song once, but it gets stuck in your head. Our subconscious mind is a powerful force. Understanding all of that I'm careful about what I expose myself to.
NUVO: And I understand you've recently started another career as well.
Maryam: Yes, I just joined the ranks of the Indianapolis Fire Department. I don't know how I keep ending up in these male-dominated industries. [laughs] It's definitely another world, but those guys are really polite. They respect you as a woman. I don't want to get this wrong, but I think there are currently about fifty women firefighters in Indianapolis and there are seven African-American women, including myself.
Find more info at Shehive.org