Behind the Scenes in the Music Industry

 
 

In contrast, lesbian musicians have had to tread a narrow path in determining whether to reveal their sexual orientation. Although Amy Ray and Emily Saliers of the folk/pop duo the Indigo Girls were generally known to their fans to be gay, they rarely spoke about their identities as lesbians before they became successful. Their breakout, multiplatinum album, Indigo Girls, was released by Epic Records in 1989 and included the iconic song “Closer to Fine.” The album won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album.

“For us, the path that we chose was just to try to be ourselves,” Ray explained. “There's no other way we could've done it; we just felt compelled. But if you aren't out, and you're closeted and lying about it all the time, you don't really get an audience that way either, because everybody questions your integrity and your honesty.”

Ray, who founded her own record company, Daemon Records, in 1990, was once approached by members of a band from her label who were worried about what to say in interviews if asked about being gay. She said other groups have suddenly had these concerns when they're about to face the press, even when they've never hidden their sexual orientation before.

She laughed and recalled telling them: “Well, you have sideburns, basically, and tattoos all over your neck, and you slick your hair back. I'm not sure if you're going to be able to get around this thing. I tell them to embrace it, because they'll be better off. They'll at least get a segment of the population that thinks it's a good idea to be true to yourself. And I don't think it's just queer people who want to see queer people being honest.”

Ray said that her record label has always represented a diversity of artists, although she did want to make sure it would be “an easy place to be if you're queer.” She added that even the straight artists who appear on her label are somehow queer, because they tend to be somewhat subversive to even want to be a part of an outfit given its progressive political orientation. Some of the artists on Daemon include the folk-pop trio Girlyman, folk music legend Utah Phillips and the Athens Boys Choir, a transgender spoken-word artist.

Daemon isn't the only independent label who has been especially queer-friendly. In the mid-1990s, Kaia Wilson of Team Dresch co-founded the now-defunct Mr. Lady Records, which signed bands such as The Butchies and Le Tigre, and was devoted to releasing records by queer artists. In 2000, Tommy Boy Silver Label began releasing LGBT-oriented dance singles, and in 2005 Silver Label became a standalone LGBT label, releasing soundtracks to Queer as Folk and The L Word.

This year, Sony BMG became the first — and so far only — major label to announce the creation of a division exclusively for LGBT artists, partnering with Wilderness Media's Matt Farber to launch Music With a Twist. Farber said that he wanted to create “a nurturing environment where LGBT artists can be comfortable with who they are and experience mainstream success without having to compromise their identity in any way.”

He added that he wants to be able to offer artists “the chance to be signed to a major label that has like-minded executives that celebrate who you are and where you come from.”

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