Is My iTunes Library Too Masculine?

My Male-Dominated iTunes Library

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One of the remarks made about my choice of music — which is generally of the post-grunge alternative and folk rock persuasion gravitating towards the nineties, with the occasional a cappella, acoustic, jazz, electronica, bluegrass, bossa nova, and country track — is that my playlist mostly consists of male musical artists. I reacted rather defensively to the claim, not wanting to be compartmentalised into single sentences. In hindsight, it was a misplaced reaction, because there are more facets to one’s own identity than musical preferences. Besides, in terms of the remark alone, the evidence is pretty damning. In a playlist of just over three thousand songs and over 500 artists, almost 90 percent of the acts in my iTunes library are male.

When trying to qualify the gender disparity, I realise I have not settled with a reason that I personally believe in. Previously, I have justified it with reasons like my preference of the male voice over the female one, or feeling more emotionally connected to a song when depicted by a male, but neither of those reasons are completely true. While I do like the guttural, raspy quality of a handful of alternative rock musicians, I wouldn’t extend it to be a generalisation of all male talent in the alternative rock genre, nor would I discount it being unachievable by females. Until I find the reason behind the disparity, I will not attempt to explain it.

(Some of) My Top Favourite Female Musicians

Several days ago, I decided to sift through my iTunes library and dig up a few examples of the feminine ten percent. Though subject to change with the gradual discovery of more musicians, these ladies may be quantitatively overpowered in my playlist, but never in their overall talent.

Amanda Marshall

I happened upon this wild-haired Canadian singer shortly after high school. Amanda Marshall, born to a black Trinidadian mother and a Caucasian father, does not shy away from exploring her bi-racial identity in her music — among the generally optimistic themes she employs in her songs. Her raspy voice allows to excel beyond the bounds of the pop and rock genre, and she holds strong vocal command in more soulful melodies. Marshall’s talent is a kind reminder there is a reachable pocket of time wherein music wasn’t so manufactured.

Marshall has not released new material in the recent years and has largely kept out of the limelight, due to numerous legal issues. However, according to a somewhat recent article on The Toronto Star, Marshall will soon return to the music scene. Her most recent live appearance took place earlier this month.

Favourite Song(s):

  • “Fall From Grace” (Amanda Marshall, 1995)
  • “Shades of Grey” (Tuesday’s Child, 1999)
  • “The Gypsy” (Everybody’s Got A Story, 2001)

Imogen Heap

My admiration for this British singer and visual artist lies more towards her art. However, if I were particularise which of Imogen Heap‘s artistic works I enjoy, I would need to compose an entirely separate inspiration post. (There’s an idea…) This is not to say that I don’t enjoy her music. When the mood strikes, I do enjoy the occasional electronica.

Imogen Heap had been classically trained in several instruments in her youth. She taught herself the art of mixing and sequencing music after a creative clash with her boarding school music teacher. This exploration allowed her to explore even more instruments and find her niche, musically. From her earliest work, Heap has employed ambient sounds, including tapping a frying pan and creating resonance with a crystal glass. Her use of technology and deliberate exploration of new methods of creating sounds is something worth appreciating for the art alone. Heap doesn’t use these sounds to mask the “flaws” of her music, but instead makes them the music.

Favourite Song(s): I personally do not have a favourite song from Imogen Heap, but I really enjoy the music video for “Headlock”. From her 2005 release, “Speak For Yourself”, the video is a visual feast, an ornate arrangement of flowers, animals, and surreal moving pictures — all of which are inspired by an unassuming music box.

Kim Richey

Ohio-born singer Kim Richey is the most seasoned artist in this list, but the gentle and composed quality of her voice diversifies her fan demographic and the categorical potential of the American country music industry. In 1988, Richey kick-started her musical career in Nashville, where she honed her songwriting and built her reputation through gigs. Seven years later, her debut self-titled album was released, which peaked at the 72 position in the country music charts. Two years later, her sophomore effort, “Bitter Sweet” reached the 52nd spot.

However, Richey is probably more famously known for her musical contribution to the television “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, although Richey herself does not make an appearance. She also provided the backing vocals for Ryan Adams’ song, “Come Pick Me Up”, which is my favourite song of his. Her most recent work to date is her 2010 release, “Wreck Your Wheels”.

Favourite Song(s):

  • “Let The Sun Fall Down” (Kim Richey, 1995)
  • “Hard To Say Goodbye” (Rise, 2002)

KT Tunstall

What I adore about this Scottish singer is that she can pull off the tousled image without being trashy — well, most of the time, anyway.

KT Tunstall did not have a musical upbringing, however. Her biological parents were a Chinese-Scottish mother and an Irish father, and at three weeks old, she was adopted by an English couple living in St. Andrews, Scotland. Tunstall grew up in Scotland and in the United States. Her adoptive parents were sworn academics who did not prioritise the pursuit of music, so she had to learn various musical instruments outside of the home. Honing her songwriting and her performance skills would follow during the formal start of her musical career.

Tunstall broke into the public eye when she did a one-woman-band performance of the song “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree”. Success came pretty quickly, and Tunstall now has three studio albums to her name since 2004. Her most recent album, “Tiger Suit”, was released in 2009.

Favourite Song(s):

  • “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” (Eye to the Telescope, 2004)
  • “Other Side of the World” (Eye to the Telescope, 2004)
  • “(Still A) Weirdo” (Tiger Suit, 2010)

Michelle Branch

I was a fan of Michelle Branch since finding her on the Maverick Records website back in 2001 or 2002, and was instantly a fan after hearing “All You Wanted”. I also felt a small sense of excited pride in learning about her Indonesian (and French, Dutch, and Irish) heritage. In fact, during the early days wherein web design involved blending high resolution images of celebrities with an array of various colours, images of Branch made a few appearances in very early incarnations of my website.

Branch’s first two major-label albums, “The Spirit Room” in 2001 and “Hotel Paper” in 2003, were critically acclaimed records in the pop-rock genre. The attention gained from those released allowed her to work with various artists, including two collaborations with guitarist Carlos Santana. In the middle of 2005, Branch returned to her country roots by partnering up with long-time friend, Jessica Harp, to become the country-pop duo The Wreckers. Armed with significantly more mature music, Harp and Branch would enjoy two years of success before splitting indefinitely in 2007. Since then, Harp has become a full-time songwriter for other artists, and Branch has released an EP, “Everything Comes and Goes” this year, with a full-length album slated for release in 2011.

Favourite Song(s):

  • “Lay Me Down” (Hotel Paper, 2003)
  • “Summertime” (Everything Comes and Goes, 2010)

Tori Amos

Where to begin with Tori Amos. How she doesn’t have an inspiration post for herself yet is beyond me.

Amos — born Myra Ellen Amos — was raised in Maryland, where she learned how to play the piano at the age of two. Her skills landed her a full scholarship with the Peabody Conservatory of Music at the age of five, but it was revoked when it was revealed Amos disliked reading sheet music and did not take to classical music. She started playing at piano bars in her early teens, with the support and supervision of her father. After some minor exposure, Amos began her musical career at the age of twenty-one, when she moved to Los Angeles.

With her flaming red hair, her use of the piano as the primary instrument in her music, a large collection of albums that are mostly self-produced, and substantial vocal and aesthetic beauty, Amos embodies the art she creates. The American alternative rock singer and songwriter has been referred to as a siren or muse for many, including one of her good friends, British author Neil Gaiman. In fact, the character Delirium from “The Endless” is said to be inspired by Amos.

Amos’ most recent work is her eleventh studio album, “Midwinter Graces”, released in 2009. In spite of the possible religious implications of the album title, it is not a conventional Christmas album. Sure enough, the album contains medleys familiarly heard during the holidays, but “Midwinter Graces” is full of her own personal ghosts. This collection of songs appropriate for the winter solstice underlines the internal struggle fought to reconcile her current views with her conservative Christian upbringing.

Several years ago, I had a conversation with a fellow fan, and he pointed out the idiosyncratic manner in which Amos pronounces the lyrics in her songs. At times, without the knowledge of her lyrics, it is difficult to understand what she is singing. However, there is a deliberate artistry in which she alters their pronunciation, because she coaxes the listener to appreciate the sound of the song as opposed to understanding it lyrically. The trait itself is subject to personal taste, because while some find it beautiful, others may find it irritating.

Favourite Song(s): Several, but the following music video is too brilliant not to plug. “Sleeps With Butterflies” is a song off Amos’ 2005 album, “The Beekeeper”. The video for the song is three and a half minutes of beauty. Feminine through and through, the video was inspired by the whimsical and colourful works of Japanese artist and illustrator, Aya Kato.

What About You?

Is there a visible disparity in terms of the ratio of female to male musicians in your playlist? Do you have prefer female musicians over male musicians, or vice versa? If so, why or why not?

(All images are credited to their respective owners. Click on any image to go to its source.)

15 Comments

  1. Anna

    You know, I’ve never quite taken a look at my music library in that sense. However, I would probably say that it’s 50/50 – or as close as it could get anyway. I love rock/alt so most of the males come in there, but i love indie and folk music – which for me, ends up being mostly females. I do however prefer a female vocalist over male, I’m not sure why though to be honest. Could be because I relate to them more, or find their voices more attractive, or can match the notes better while singing along, I’m not sure.

  2. Maria Celina

    @Chris: I can guarantee, Chris, that sexual orientation of the musicians in my playlist is not an issue at all. In fact, it is readily evident in my iTunes play count for Adam Lambert alone… and the fact that I do not deny finding the man attractive. Seriously, the amount of sex appeal Lambert has defies the laws of physics.

    I watched one episode of “Glee” very recently, and I have to admit that it will take some time for me to warm up to the series. I do agree with you on the extraordinary quality of Lea Michele’s voice. In fact, she’s part of the original cast of the rock musical, “Spring Awakening”, and that’s where she caught my attention. (In fact, Lawrence — remember him? — was the one who recommended that musical to me.) I admit, however, that in “Glee”, I can only tolerate Lea Michele in short bursts.

    On Lady Gaga and Katy Perry? Why, of course not. I have only one song from Katy Perry in my iTunes playlist, and a few songs from Lady Gaga, — and I’ll admit having slightly more respect for Lady Gaga as a “concept artist” — but no, I feel they don’t belong on this list.

    @Gillian: You know, Gillian, you bring up a very interesting idea comparing your music collection to your books. In fact, I might start investigating the gender disparity in my own bookshelf. My gut feeling is that female authors trump male authors in my bookshelf, but I’ll definitely get back to you on that. Thank you very much, it makes for a great potential future jotter post!

    @eduardo: Thank you for visiting, and for your comment, Eduardo. Admittedly, many artists were left out of this list, Nelly Furtado included. “Folklore” is my favourite album from her, because the multicultural theme of the album personally resonated with me.

  3. eduardo

    weird… my itunes playlist is female dominated, but maybe its because i’m a homo??? idk i just never realized until i read this entry. i loved the list of female musicians and my favorite hands down is imogen heap.

    i cant believe you didn’t have nelly furtado on your list, smh. lol ;] ;] ;]

  4. Gillian

    My iTunes library is the opposite – excluding comedy and classical albums, I have 78 female artists compared to 48 male artists.

    I’ve noticed that my bookshelves seem to be a little more male author heavy,though. It’s a more even divide than my music collection, but still skews male. The funny thing is, that I have more individual books by female authors, but more male authors overall.

  5. Chris

    Who cares about gender or sexual orientation as long as the music’s good, right?

    To answer your thought my playlist is 99.6% male-dominated as you know what I listen to. No bias but women in metal tend to sound bad or trying too hard to be the woman in metal who goes YEEEARGHHH!.

    There’s only one woman that can make me stop any metal song I’m listening and she is Lea Michele. Amazing, amazing voice. Take that, Susan Boyle!

    Kudos to you for not mentioning dribble from Lady Gaga and Katy Perry. \m/

  6. Maria Celina

    @Ashley: You know, Ashley, I have both Tegan and Sara, as well as Eisley in my iTunes. However, there’s only a single play made for some of their songs. In fact, I’m listening to Eisley as I am typing this reply.

    @Gum: Thanks for those Tori Amos songs, Gum. I take it they’re from her older albums? I only got to know about Amos when she released “Scarlet’s Walk” back in 2002, and “A Sorta Fairytale” was a popular radio play.

    @Kristine: Oh, boybands. We’ve all there, Kristine. In fact, I… um… downloaded a Gary Barlow song the other day. I do like the musicians that you mentioned in your comment, by the way. Ingrid Michaelson is such an adorable artist, and I had considered putting Tracy Chapman in this list. In fact, I had considered putting many other artists in this list, but I was afraid of launching into verbosity.

    @Pam: I love Aimee Mann, Pam! I had considered putting her on this list, and I feel bad for not doing so. I remember her being hailed for her contributions to the original soundtrack of the film, “Magnolia”. What a wonderful artist!

    @jannie: If I am not wrong, Jannie, “Lay Me Down” was a “lost song” off “Hotel Paper”. Either the song is in a newer edition of said album, or it was in another album altogether. I noted it as part of “Hotel Paper”, because it was supposed to be in that album. In terms of the direction of her songs, it seems to be a popular opinion that her pop-oriented songs were more successful. I also agree, because that’s precisely how she broke into the music scene. I applaud her for returning to her country roots (after all, she grew up in one of the hotbeds of country music), but it took me a while to warm up to the new musical direction. However, “Summertime” off her EP is an absolute gem, and I hope that you do give it a listen!

    Regarding Tori Amos, “A Sorta Fairytale” is one of my favourite songs of hers. Amos actually caught my attention when she released “Scarlet’s Walk”, and that’s when I looked for her earlier work and found another favourite in the song “Crucify”.

    On KT Tunstall, did you see the YouTube video, when she did the one-woman performance of “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree” on a French television show? I’m still impressed.

  7. jannie

    Yay! I’m so happy to see Meech (Michelle Branch) on your favorite female artist list. :D I really like her older material a lot better. Her newer songs are nice, but they’re not as upbeat as her older pop songs. Well, it was pop after all. Haha… My all-time favorites are “Breathe,” “All You Wanted,” “Desperately,” and her collaboration with Santana, “Game of Love.” I had the Hotel Paper CD and I probably must’ve heard “Lay Me Down” like once or twice. I need to listen to again. :)

    Among the other female artists you featured here, I like Tori Amos and KT Tunstall as well. If you haven’t heard “A Sorta Fairytale” by Tori, I highly recommend it. Beautiful song. I like KT’s “Black Horse and a Cherry Tree” too. Really powerful vocals too.

    Hmm… On my playlist, I think I pretty much have an equal amount of male and female artists. :D

  8. Jessica

    I really like all of these female artists, especially Imogen Heap :’)

    Hmm.. I think I have mostly male musicians, as well.. which is weird, because it’s not like I prefer male over female! Ahaha. I think I’m more picky when it comes to female musicians, though, like as far as their voices sound. I’ve actually never really thought about it! This is weird XD

  9. Pam

    I think my playlist used to be predominately female but it’s turned into more masculine. From the females you mentioned you might like Aimee Mann. Let me know what you think!

  10. Krysten

    I should look through my iPod, I’m curious to see what my ratio is. I feel like I have more male than female but I’m not totally sure.

    And now I am off to listen to Michelle Branch =-)

  11. Kristine

    I think my playlist is pretty male-dominated because of my *ahem* love for boybands *ahem*. But I do have many female musicians, although there’s just not enough! I don’t recall having all the songs of a female musician’s album either. I have a few songs here and there by Michelle Branch, Ingrid Michaelson, Tracy Chapman, and Vanessa Carlton. I should check out those musicians you’ve mentioned, though!

  12. Nadine

    I need to check my playlist to see if there are more female than male artists. but, I think they’re mostly djs *lol* since my mood to listen to trance/dance have been pretty insistent as of late.

    I adore michelle branch ever since her first album. pretty sad that not much of her stuff has been out lately. I love the wreckers as well :D and tori is just totally the bomb :) *redhead ftw!*

  13. Gum

    I really wondered what happened to Michelle Branch after her second album. I loved Spirit Room and Hotel Paper and their pop-rock flavor. I also love Tori Amos albeit I’m not updated with her music. I simply listen to my mp3 collection and my favorite so far are Baker Baker and Snow Cherries from France.

    I never really gave a thought if my playlist is male or female dominated. For me, it’s all about the music. Up to know, I still don’t know the ratio.

  14. Ashley

    I don’t see a problem with liking mainly male lead vocalist, I mean it’s all a matter of preference and you really can’t help what you prefer. I think I tend to lean more towards female vocalists, but I definitely love male vocalists as well.

    I adore Imogen Heap, such an amazing talent, you know? My favorite band is Tegan and Sara which are twin women from Canada and I always recommend them to people to at least check out, they have amazing voices and amazing music; I’d definitely give them a chance if you have the time and haven’t already been introduced to them.

    Another group that I really like that has female singers is Eisley, they have this surreal dreamlike sound that is just amazing! You should check them out if you haven’t already.

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