What's Stopping Norwegian Women From Producing Music?

We asked KOSO, a Norwegian female music collective, to explain why so few women are producing music and tell us what they're doing to fight it.

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okt 15 2015, 11:15am

So here's a bit of a shocking statistic: less than 5% of music producers and sound engineers in the world are women. It isn't news that the music industry is male-dominated and riddled with sexist social structures and power dynamics—yet it's still surprising that those problems manifest themselves in Norway. Norway is a country praised for its advanced stance on gender equality—but according to all-female music collective KOSO, that bleakly low number still applies to the Norwegian music production scene.

Marit Soldal, Kristine Helliesen, Anniken Jess Iversen and Kine Sandbæk Jensen started KOSO in 2013 in response to the gender imbalance dominating the Norwegian music industry. Currently, KOSO is a collective, record label and nightclub in Oslo. All of the women behind KOSO produce music to some level and they've already impressed by working with some pretty stunning artists—like Sara Angelica, who has recently made waves with her trip-hop tsunami of a song, "Run"'. Seeing as KOSO's powering some seriously solid musicians and pushing girl power while they're at it, we thought we'd ask them about their collective, the music and what it's like for female producers in Norway.

The KOSO Women

NOISEY: Hello, ladies. One of you wrote to me that in Norway, women represent less than 5% of all music producers and sound engineers. Why do you think that is?
KOSO: It has a lot to do with awareness and confidence. In Norway we have the economy and resources to choose our professions quite freely, but a lot of women don’t see it as a possibility or maybe don’t believe they can be part of the industry in that way. There's also a lack of role models in older women, especially in the DJ scene. You see a lot of men in their 40s or older DJing in clubs, but it’s a rare sight to meet older women. Why is that? We would love for women to quit putting on a expiry date on themselves and start thinking they could age along with the music.
Ultimately, the imbalance in the music industry is deeply rooted in the social structure that follows and it is a profound symptom of how much work we have left as far as equality goes.

Can you elaborate on that social structure?
We'll use an example from Kine's childhood. She had just learned about sound cards and read how you could use the sounds in the computer on your keyboard if it had midi. She thought this was cool and exciting, so she went to the shop to get one of these midi cables for her keyboard. The guys at the shop laughed at her and said, “what do you need that for?" So, she stopped producing and just went on making songs on piano and guitar.
As young girls we were not taken seriously as music producers. Our potential was understated and undermined and this led us to choose more “traditional” means of expression.

So is KOSO a reaction to those kinds of experiences?
KOSO was based on the idea of using the talent within our group of friends to make something together and to push each other in our creative fields. We wanted to use our collective resources to create art in a safe environment. In 2015, we expanded to add a record label to our portfolio and the idea is to use women in all fields of an audiovisual product. This is partially to shed light on the great imbalance in the industry but mostly to bring women together to make great art and hopefully inspire and recruit.

Is there a growing movement for feminist or female-rooted collectives in Norway, or is this kind of a new thing you guys are starting?
It’s definitely a growing movement. We’ve seen a growth in the club and DJ community in Oslo for several years now and that’s also how KOSO started. Worth mentioning from the Oslo scene are KUUK, 3000 textures, Oh Mama Crew, Hoetell, Susiserken, Too Many Girls and Girls From Last Night. We see the same tendency with our Scandinavian neighbours with the Swedish founded “SISTER” group on Facebook and the Danish record label and production company Machinedrops productions. We are very inspired by LA based record label Unspeakable Records and the community Female:Pressure.

Why do you think there's a need for a female-focused label and music collective today?
To bring attention to women’s talent and to prevent excuses like "she’s probably manufactured by her (male) manager,” "she’s probably ghost-produced by her boyfriend,” or "she’s probably made by her (male founded) label." On social media, we'll often see women commenting on being downgraded as products of their male counterparts. This needs to be stopped. Female talent need the same praise as male talent, not excuses.
We've also noticed that almost every female artist, producer or DJ we speak with have faced sexual harassment in some way. We believe in equality and not in polarisation, but to make a change we need to take stand and make a clear statement. We need to get our voices and our causes heard. And we need men to back us.

Who are some of the producers and artists you work with?
Anana, Sara Angelica, Soldal and Pieces of Juno are our Oslo homegirls—same with SVANI from Trondheim and lilleStine from Bergen. Filmmakers Kristine Meling Enoksen and Liv Mari Mortensen and contemporary dancer Ida Frømyr Borgen with her dance collective “Kompani Kunstgress”. Victoria Ulrikke Iles is doing the artwork for our releases. Lillia Betz is mastering.

We’re also working with Dena and Karin Park and on future artist exchanges and events with Unspeakable Records from LA and Drömfakulteten from Stockholm. Of course, we’re always looking for new talent, cool projects and good people so if you're interested.

What is your ultimate goal for KOSO?
Our main goal is to release and promote great music, videos and art made by women and to build a safe community for them to grow. We also want to get closer to what we need in society. We need parents who endorse their children for their creative aspirations—not wether it’s a “girl thing” or a "boy thing". We need female role models who are praised for their great work and not for their bodies and looks. We need safe creative spaces with like-minded people.
Women, both young and old, need support and recognition. A safe space to create and flourish, be who they want to be as artists and musicians, with no fear of sexual harassment, of people undermining their work or their voice—a place to be heard and to be backed up. That's what we're going for.

Thanks a lot, KOSO.