A year ago we met Muse L’Artiste, a French singer and producer based in Los Angeles, California. Since Muse has been busy, to say the least. Determined to help women in music thrive, Muse a.k.a Jade Porter-Blake has founded the all-female label – Powher Sound – with a slew of female artists from eclectic backgrounds. Together, these superwomen want to change the face of music with their upcoming album POW.HER
It’s already late at night in Kuwait when the familiar ping of my Zoom window chimes. Will Bug is the first to join the room. We start chatting as we anxiously wait for Jade, Tanesha and Kasia to connect.
The four women could not be more different from one another. Yet passion is what seems to bring them together. I let them introduce themselves.
Kasia is a producer from Vancouver, Canada who has worked as a vocal artist before turning to producing. Tanesha is an Atlanta-based producer and a Berkeley College of Music graduate. Subin who also goes by Will Bug is a multi-talented artist – actor, director, musician and model, based in New York with a proud South Korean heritage. And finally, Jade, a French singer, rapper and producer based in Los Angeles, California is the impulse behind project Powher Sound.
All four women found their own way into the music industry, often quite early on. If their personal experiences vary, there is one red thread they all seem to have tripped on: music is disproportionately male.
“I started music when I was a kid. By age 11, I was singing, writing and producing. In 20 years, I’ve not met one woman behind the board. I wasn’t necessarily looking for it but at some point, you can’t help but notice. Producers, engineers… all men!” Jade comments.
And this lack of representation has an impact deeper than we care to realise.
“I’ve always loved music and it wasn’t until I was in middle school that I realised it could be a career because we’re simply not exposed to it,” says Tanesha.
Clear and visible representation nurtures our imaginations, broadens our perspectives and creates worlds of possibilities for people who might think something is for them or that they’re lacking the skills by default. Kids seeking role models who look like them are particularly affected. Their ability to build self-confidence and self-esteem is utterly stifled when they’re not able to identify themselves in environments that constantly make them feel like they’re out of place. Nonetheless, stepping into male-dominated spaces comes at a cost. Power plays and abuse are rampant.
Recently, rapper Latto confessed that she was sexually harassed by an artist featured on one of her tracks but stopped short of revealing his name; probably out of fear that they would retaliate.
Maybe less gruesome but as disturbing, being a female producer sometimes means being ignored in the very space you’re supposed to lead. Tanesha retells: “Working at studios, I’ve always noticed that you get second word. They would ignore me, ignore my advice when I was the one controlling the session. But I’m the likes of those who put their foot down, especially when there are a lot of men around.”
Kasia who started producing more seriously at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic confirms: “I’ve met this one producer who wanted me to sign my name to him, others who treated me as property too. They all deterred me from producing, saying it was a man’s job! But if I had listened to those who told me I couldn’t do it, I wouldn’t even be working in music right now. And you know what? I’m pretty good at this!”
In contrast, Will Bug’s experience feels almost like a welcomed exception.
“I grew up taking voice lessons since I was 10. I did a couple of songs and a children’s TV show. Got into theatre and acting. So yes, there is a lot of male anything in the industry, both music and TV; and it’s even worse in the TV industry. But I didn’t personally have to go through all of that. I assisted this woman composer, an amazing artist – Nam Hye-seung (남혜승). She always protected us. I heard stories and caught her dealing with male producers and directors. And it was awful. But thanks to her, my own experience has not been horrible so far.”
But Jade wants to make something clear: “I’m not here to bash men. There are some incredible guys around but as a woman, it can be difficult. This is why it’s important to create safe spaces where women can be themselves and advance their careers.”
Powher Sound: a burning desire to make a difference
This is exactly why Jade has been fighting so hard to create Powher Sound. After years of observing and questioning the world around her, this “gradual combination of things” has turned into a “burning desire to make a difference for women.”
Jade continues: “It’s about creating equal opportunities but also changing the way we perceive women in the music industry.”
A quick look at the musical landscape is already quite revealing and if things have changed, progress is slow. Women are still primarily seen as products – they’re marketed to segmented audiences, sold, objectified and must fit into specific stereotypes. But looking at actual numbers makes a dark reality even bleaker. Kasia comments:
“I was looking at statistics. Women account for 2% of all producers and that is down from 2.3% in 2018. So we’re actually going backwards if those stats are right. A quarter of all artists are female and 12% are songwriters.”
Making a difference is also helping women build confidence. Women are raised to be (and act) demure and humble regardless of talent, proficiency or skill level. This has been linked to women’s greater inability to recognise or claim competencies as their own or to dare pursue career paths they truly want. Will Bug explains:
“I’ve just started hanging out with a group of musicians from New York City and New Jersey and I was really inspired by them. It helped me realise how much I would invalidate myself. I wanted to be like them and call myself a musician and I just wouldn’t. I would call myself a vocalist but then it dawned on me. I do write songs and I think they’re good too so what’s stopping me?!”
Jade agrees: “I would never call myself a producer. I always thought I was only helping out. It took me a long time to understand I was a producer in my own right. It happens a lot with women. We don’t recognise the talents we may have or we don’t dare claim them proudly for fear of being seen as too cocky or out of place. Society completely underestimates women. I cannot count the number of times I have been asked if someone helped me produce my own beats!”
Powher Sound acts as a corrective. Launched in September of 2021, the label seeks to rebalance and amplify women’s voices in the music industry. Female artists from all walks of life can join through their membership programme and benefit from education, mentorship and a chance to work on impactful projects. As we speak, the collective is working on launching their first, multi-genre album entirely produced and performed by women. It should be out in the summer, so stay tuned!
A multitude of perspectives, one project, one goal: reshape the music industry
“We’re working with women from the US, Canada, the UK, France, South Africa, etc. so it is an international collaboration. We want it to be as diverse as possible. We want to touch as many people as possible and that everyone is able to find something they can relate to because there is something universal to every individual experience,” Jade clarifies.
And so, joining in was simply a no brainer for Tanesha: “I want to change the music industry. I always had this idea of women collaborating more, and supporting each other more because we don’t get that much from the main industry. When Jade contacted me, I checked the project and I said ‘yes’. So far, everybody has been really cool and supportive.”
Kasia opines: “I was really excited when I got the message from Jade. Excited and surprised because it’s not the kind of message I usually get on Instagram! And I thought to myself, this is amazing, I’d love to be part of this!”
Will Bug was eager too: “I’m always down for opportunities to get my music out but the fact that it was between us, between women… and I use the term loosely. I am non-binary and I have a lot of songs about queer experiences. I wanted a safe space where I could be understood… so, thank you, girls!”
When asked where they see Powher Sound in the next five to ten years, it’s not any less than an established, international organisation that has concretely helped reshape the music industry for the women of today and tomorrow.
“I don’t want to wake up tomorrow and see that we’re still at 2% of female producers and 12% of female songwriters. I want to work hard and contribute towards improving these numbers. I want us to be able to move the dial with this organisation,” Jade explains.
Kasia concurs: “I’m excited to see how far this can go. It has massive potential!”
Trailblazing their way into the music industry
Trailblazers. It’s the word that springs to mind when talking to Jade, Kasia, Tanesha and Will Bug. In their own way, they have defied the odds and chosen less conventional paths (read: secure) that society might have set for them.
Kasia recounts: “I run a clothing line. I just finished my political science degree. I was planning on going to law school but was pulled in a different direction. I was recently accepted into the Blockchain Development Grad program at UBC beginning this summer. My plan is to integrate that with my current music projects by developing music NFTs (to start) and work towards creating new Web3 music platforms for artists. I was going to go to law school. I find that I kind of like proving a point and showing that women can do this too. People’s objections add fuel to the fire for me personally.”
“When it comes to me and my family, I’ve always been the one who wanted to make the revolution, the one always going against what they said or wanted me to do, always trying to prove a point as well. My family is also used to that, so they are not surprised I’ve chosen this path,” Jade points out.
“I don’t think my family is too surprised either. It’s still kind of an abstract idea to them. But I think that the more you continue to show them and the more you succeed, it helps change people’s minds. I’m still going to do this either way and it’s going to work out. I’ll be fine!” Tanesha explains in this calm, laid back attitude she exudes at all times.
But breaking the mould means facing up to unavoidable biases and harmful stereotypes as long as existing structures do not address these issues. Women can and have to fight back with bark and bite. If it’s difficult to carry on when everyone is making you feel less than, being humbled down is not an option for the four women.
Kasia starts: “You have to stay true to yourself, unapologetically. Pursue what you want even if it’s hard, even when people don’t agree with you. Go for it!”
“I have to agree 100% with Kasia,” Will Bug says. “Be bold and completely unapologetic!”
And to men, Jade would like to say: “We’re not asking for permission or recognition because we don’t owe you anything. I’m here, so you better get used to it!”
The deeper impact of strong role models
The ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate is endless. Does growing up with strong female role models make a difference? The question is worth asking and the answer is almost definite.
Tanesha tells us how she grew up in a family where women were at the centre of everything: “There are a lot of women in my family. I have two older sisters and three female cousins on my dad’s side, I have nothing but aunts on my mom’s side. So I grew up in a strong community of women and it made my outlook on life a little different because I’m used to seeing women dealing with everything and taking care of themselves. Although I have my dad in my life, having women to support me has definitely shaped me.”
Kasia comments: “I can relate to that too. I was raised by a single mother. I have sisters. My mum is the biggest role model for me. She pushed me through a lot of hard times and she always tells me ‘Kasia, you gotta be hungry enough. You gotta hustle. You gotta really want it.’ She’d always really pushed me. I get my work ethic from her, definitely.”
Jade adds: “I have a few female role models but my mum definitely because she is probably one of the strongest people I know. In terms of music, I have always been a huge fan of Whitney Houston. I’m happy to be working with former Arrested Development member, Laurneá Laurae for our current Powher Sound project. There is also Sade who has played a big part in my musical upbringing and I could go on and on.”
Will Bug notes: “My mother as well. She’s always been supportive of whatever I do. Although obviously, she wasn’t the happiest when I told her that I wanted to do music and arts but for her, whatever I do, people are going to be hard on me, so she wants to support me as much as she can. There is also my boss, Nam Hye-seung (남혜승). I simply worship that woman for all the reasons that I have already mentioned. But she is also the best composer I’ve ever met. She has great work ethic and the end results are just amazing. So she’s a role model in a lot of different ways.”
Breaking into the music industry is a feat in itself. It’s as much a matter of hard work as it is of luck. But one thing is certain, women who want to build a career in the field must come prepared because the pitfalls are legion. Jade, Kasia, Tanesha and Will Bug all have their own pieces of advice to young female artists who want to test the waters.
Jade warns: “Don’t rush into things. Do your homework, do a lot of research and don’t sign anything without having a second opinion or seeing a lawyer first. Most importantly believe in yourself, be confident because no one else can do it for you! Surround yourself with the right people. Don’t trust just anyone or count on one person only. You need a support system if you want to make it.”
Kasia advises further: “Educate yourself as much as possible. You need at least a basic understanding of how things work and not rush into doing anything. At the end of the day, everyone is trying to get by, pay their rent but don’t let that make you fall prey to people’s schemes. The more you know, the more self-sufficient you can be.”
Tanesha adds: “Stay ready. Always have something you can show at hand. Be yourself, show yourself! That is what is going to make a difference between you and countless others! Also allow yourself to take a break from time to time. Don’t just keep chasing the shiny things people dangle in front of you…”
Where to find them on social media
Discover Powher Sound here.
Behind the scenes at Powher Sound
The Powher Sound girls describe each other:
Jade: “Talented of course. Ambitious and passionate. I can sense strength in everybody and, creative of course.”
Kasia: “Intelligent, talented and driven.”
Will Bug: “Driven, creative and committed.”
Tanesha: “I’d say visionaries! Ambitious, driven, creative, strong-willed and confident!”
Female artists they loved working with
Kasia: “For the Powhersound album I’m producing, Will and Eretrea; both of them have been amazing. I love what we’ve been doing. It’s really easy communication. Both are very different. Honestly, it’s some next-level stuff that I’m really excited about.”
Tanesha: “For the project, I’m working with other artists and also Jade Scharnikow and she provided a very solid foundation for the track that she had. I just went in and added a couple of finishing touches and amped up the energy. Also two of my best friends who have been doing music for some time. ّIt’s good to work with people that you know and already have a relationship with. It’s easy to bounce ideas off and lighten the pressure as well. The more time you spend with any artist, that happens, and I love that you can create a community with them.”
Will Bug: “Working on this project has been a blast. I mean, again, you know, easy to communicate on my end too. And you have no idea how excited I was when I heard the demos that you sent me. I was literally gushing about them to all my friends, like I’m working with this person and they’re the right person to bring some of the songs that I wrote to life! And again, my boss Nam Hye-seung (남혜승) because of how she always respects the younger generations, composers who work for her, and she’s a great teacher too.”
Their music recommendations
Tanesha: “I love music from the 70s. I always find a Diana Ross song I’ve never heard of and it’s awesome. Newer artists, there is Amber Mark who has a kind of alternative R&B sound. Willow Smith has been a great influence so far. Her presence especially for women her age and coming up. She’s just being really creative musically and producing as well as writing.
Jade: “Summer Walker. And I have to add on the hip hop side, Little Simz as well, her last album is amazing.”
Kasia: “Forever Lauryn Hill. I will love her forever. I remember memorising the rap part of ‘Everything is everything’ when I was 10. And I would rap it to my sisters and I told them I wrote it! To this day I remember every lyric. I’m just so inspired by her. More recent artists, Rachel K. Collier. She is a Welsh electronic music producer. She has a similar story to me where she couldn’t find the sound that she wanted so she created it. Some of her live performances are just amazing. She literally builds the entire beat as she’s performing and recording vocals and mixing it. The first time I saw it I had goosebumps all over. I was like, I want to do that! Her music is awesome, that’s someone I look up to a lot.”
Will Bug: “Again, my boss, Nam Hye-seung (남혜승) is fire. She does scores for K-dramas, fully orchestrated. It’s like a 70-piece orchestra and they sound amazing. She’s done shows like Guardian: The Lonely and Great God (or Goblin) or Mr. Sunshine where you can also hear my voice on ‘Rise again’. I’m heavily, heavily influenced by people like Fiona Apple and Regina Spektor. Honestly, my friends as well – Sof, Taylor Tote and Skarlit.