10 Questions with Tamara Schlesinger of Scottish all female/non-binary songwriting collective Hen Hoose

Hen Hoose is a new Scottish all female/non-binary songwriting collective and production house, launched in Glasgow during lockdown by founder Tamara Schlesinger, director of Tantrum Records who releases her own music as MALKA, and a stunning array of female and non-binary artists including Emma Pollock (formely of The Delgados and co-founder of legendary Scottish indie label Chemikal Underground Records), seven-time BBC Radio 2 Folk Award winner Karine Polwart, Carla J Easton (once of The Vaselines) and many more.

Taking aim at the music industry’s woeful record on gender equality, Hen Hoose recently released their debut album Equaliser, a compilation of collaborations written, performed, mixed and mastered by women and non-binary people.

We caught up with Hen Hoose founder Tamara Schlesinger to find out more.

1: What inspired this project?

The project was born out of the frustration of seeing first hand how much harder it is to succeed in the music industry as a woman than it is as a man and rather than shouting about it daily on social media, I wanted to try and actively make a difference. I was also inspired by the idea of collaboration and the potential for each member to work outwith their usual genres, pushing themselves to take on roles that they wouldn’t usually feel comfortable in. There are many talented and inspiring female and non binary writers and producers here in Scotland and I wanted to shine a light on them all. 

2: How did you select the artists featured on the new album? 

I had approached a few artists before applying for funding from Creative Scotland to see who might be keen. I had come up with the idea pre-pandemic and I remember meeting up with Emma Pollock for a coffee pre-lockdown to chat about the idea, and she thought it was great. Then as lockdown hit I realised how many touring artists would relish the opportunity. So I approached a hit list of amazing women and non binary people that I was a fan of and they jumped at the chance. And some artists that I had selected then also recommended others and it built from there. 

3: As well as the artists writing and performing them, the tracks are all recorded, produced, mixed and mastered by female and non-binary people – what barriers are faced in entering these areas of the music industry?

I think when you dream of a certain career as a child you are often drawn to a role that you see someone like you succeeding in. Girls have grown up seeing very few female role models in roles such as producers and mixing engineers. It is male dominated and without opportunities to show how incredible you actually are in that position you lack the job offers. So, this felt so important not just to show other girls that they can go into these roles and succeed too, but to also encourage other acts to hire some of the women to produce and mix their releases. Women are not played on radio, booked for festival slots or hired as producers as much as men are. Only 17% of songwriters registered at PRS are women and only 25% of artists signed to major labels are women. So things clearly need to change.

4: What do you hope the impact of this release and Hen Hoose’s work more generally will be?

First and foremost I hope to shine a great big spotlight on all the talented writers, producers and mixing and mastering engineers and I hope that people will start to recognise that women can succeed in any roles in the music industry, that more women are hired to score films, produce albums and for live performances. We have aimed to find alternative revenue streams for writers and we have already had success writing for TV adverts so we are already making strides in the right direction. 

5: What is the benefit of having an all-female production house? 

I think that there is a comfort for many of us, to feel relaxed and at ease in our working environment. There is no competition, we work as a team and try to get the best results. We have built an incredible support network and we have increased our skills as individuals. Often women are pitted against each other in the music industry, here we work together to aim to succeed and it is pretty inspiring.

6: What successes have you had so far?

We have written music for the ScotGov Vaccines Campaign, Caorunn Gin (national TV advert) and a lot of whisky online ads and content. We have also recently written the theme for a new podcast. Plus the album has had great success, every single that we have released has received national radio play (6music /radio 2) play and press. The album has pre-sold well on vinyl and will be out on 16th February. I would say that’s pretty good going for a collective that isn’t even a year old. 

7: If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be and why?

I think there are too many things that I want to change to list just one.. Streaming, diversity, accessibility, the list goes on. 

8: Who are some of the people and organisations working positively towards gender equality in the music industry?

The F-list which was launched by Vick Bain is a directory of female musicians and artists which is great, there is little excuse not to book women for slots when you have something like that available (unfortunately the line-ups tell a different story), Key Change (PRS) are aiming for festivals to sign up to 50/50 gender equality for their line ups and they have further initiatives and in Scotland there are a few new organisations such as SWIM and Popgirlz all aiming to highlight women in the industry. 

9: If you could have included any artist, past or present in this project, who would it be and why?

It would have to be Missy Elliot. I just think she is amazing, inspiring and has pushed so many boundaries. Just imagine how much you could learn by being in a room with her, plus I kinda want to hang out with her. 

10: If you could give any aspiring female musicians one piece of advice, what would it be?

Collaborate, explore styles, genres and don’t be too possessive. I think it’s great to want to have your own identity with your own music but it’s also great to discover new avenues. Most importantly, don’t give up. It can be a long journey but you eventually find your way and discover your strengths.

Equaliser is out now – order on vinyl / digital download

Find out more about Hen Hoose on their official website

Interview by Paul Maps

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