Gem & Jam Artists Share Experiences as Females in the Music Industry
By Ashlee Czapla
Musicians, instructors and performers head to Tucson this January for four days of good music and new perspectives at the 12th installation of Gem & Jam Festival.
Gem & Jam is a transformational festival with a vision, mission and values that it takes conscious strides to impress upon attendees. In addition to show casing the sounds and talents of various artists, the festival is also held every year with the intention to engage and educate humans on various environmental, economic and social topics.
For women living in the current age of social media and over-sexualization, it can be easy to lose one’s sense of authenticity. Maddy O’Neal, Jasmine Fuego and ill-esha are three female artists performing at Gem & Jam this year who have stayed true to genuine selves and creative visions. Wysidio had a chance to talk to these inspiring artists on their way to Gem & Jam about the festival and their unique experiences as females in the music industry.
Maddy O’Neal is no stranger to Gem & Jam, having played at the festival for the last 5 years. Before breaking out on her own in 2016, O’Neal performed in the duo Krooked Drivers. Since emerging as a solo artist, O’Neal’s career has soared and taken her on tours and to festivals across the U.S. but she continues to return to Gem & Jam year after year.
“Gem & Jam is one of my favorite festivals that I look forward to every year, “ O’Neal says. “It’s focuses on art on all kinds of levels, and they do a great job of curating it.”
In the face of growing success, O’Neal remains grateful for her supportive fan base which didn’t always include everyone in her family. When O’Neal began to seriously pursue a career in music, her mother voiced heavy concerns about her future wellbeing. It wasn’t until O’Neal’s mother saw the impact that her daughter had on fans and other independent female artists that it all clicked.
“As soon as I broke out on my own and my mom could really see how my music was empowering me,” O’Neal said, “she saw how my career was attached to a larger idea of female empowerment and it really helped her get on board and see the bigger picture of what I was doing.”
O’Neal believes it’s powerful for others to see another person accomplishing their goals just to know that it is possible. She is proud to be a female artist making a name for herself in the music industry today and hopes for other female artists to pursue their dreams, too.
“My whole goal in this in general is to be able to inspire others,” O’Neal says. “Some of my proudest moments of being a female in the industry has been getting feedback from my fans at shows telling me that I empower or inspire them.”
Despite working in a male-dominated, ego-obsessed and highly competitive industry, O’Neal works on paying less attention to the opinions of others and more to her authentic sound.
“We live in a crazy age where it is very easy to get sucked into the expectations of other people,” O’Neal says. “My advice from my own experience is to take the genuine route, listen to yourself and your own needs and follow that as much as you can.”
Maddy O’Neal is playing a late night set at the Onyx Stage Friday 1/26 and has new singles, an EP and a Colorado mountain tour with Russ Liquid up her sleeve for 2018.
Jasmine Fuego is another passionate advocate for staying true to one’s voice. In addition to her musical career, Jasmine is also a dancer, activist, Good Culture cultivator and teacher at the Mindful Life Project. This is Jasmine’s first year attending Gem & Jam where she will be performing solo as well as hosting educational workshops.
“I think it’s really great that Gem & Jam is making an effort to make education a big part of the festival,” Jasmine says. “For a festival to create transformation and go larger than oneself, it has to be connected to the larger cultural social, political and environmental context that its playing in.”
For the last four years, Jasmine has focused her life and career on the themes of bridge building, education and inspiring others. As a female, Jasmine’s experiences in the cutthroat music industry have been both positive and negative. One lesson she learned quickly is that being a strong female artist can isolate you from other strong female artists due to the fierce nature of competition.
“One thing I have felt from other incredibly strong and talented women is a sense of competition and comparing oneself that is toxic,” Jasmine says. “A network of support will ultimately make our work stronger.”
The music industry has the tendency to mimic a popularity contest that can pit artists against each other. Social media heightens this competition when artists lose sight of their true focus and obsess over getting the most Likes, Follows and Retweets. Although an artist’s social media presence reflects their popularity, it does not represent or guarantee one’s success.
“There are many ways to have success in this industry,” Jasmine says. “Remember that being an artist who stands for something with value is one of those forms of success and it is so desperately needed.”
Jasmine Fuego will be playing a special set during sundown at the Opal Stage Saturday 1/27 and is working on a new full album to be released this summer.
According to DJ and Producer ill-esha, a supportive community is a key component of progress and success in the music industry.
Although technology can trick people into feeling connected, ill-esha recognizes a general lack of support between artists nowadays and a need for community. It can be east for artists to get distracted by trying to beat Facebook’s algorithms and gain maximum exposure instead of developing genuine personal connections.
“The reason why old school raves had PLUR was because we would showed up to support each other,” ill-esha explained. “It wasn’t just about the DJ. It used to be about the DJ being the curator of an amazing night for the community.”
In addition to touring and performing, ill-esha also runs a music production community called EDM Production on Discord where artists of all levels of musical and technological experience connect and collaborate. The community is used as a resource and platform for feedback, advice and friendly competitions relating to music production.
“As music technology evolves, so do the opportunities and demands to deliver more as a performer,” ill-esha says. “As a live musician, I think it is really important to up the level of what we are doing.”
This sentiment demonstrates some of the pressures that artists face to constantly adopt new technologies and improve their sound. ill-esha started her career as a DJ in the vinyl era and has transformed her style as technology has evolved over time. Although ill-esha has is confident in her work and creative choices, it can be particularly challenging for female artists to take risks in an industry where criticism and critique is inescapable.
“Socially, women are conditioned to be self-doubting,” ill-esha says. “Most of the female artists I know are still doubting themselves, and that doubt needs to end.”
Though its easier said than done, Ill-esha encourages all artists to put their mental blinders on, steam roll ahead and ignore social conditioning. Her ultimate piece of advice to females wishing to make a music career for themselves:
“Stop wishing. Start doing.”
ill-esha takes over the Quartz Stage Thursday 1/25 and has new sounds and collaborations on the horizon for the new year.
There is a clear need for support among females in the music industry and Maddy O’Neal, Jasmine Fuego and ill-esha are three artists who have found success by remaining authentic and empowering others.