by Britt Meierhofer
Music has long been a healer. Many artists have taken to instruments and stages to process their story and the struggles that have affected them on a personal level. When an artist shares their experience with others, it is an inherent by-product, and the hope in most cases, that listeners and audience members will connect to and relate with the stories being told. In some cases, the audience members are other artists with cohesive causes and values, and powerful collaborations have been born of this situation. Amplify Her is one of them.
Created by Nicole Sorochan and Ian Mackenzie, Amplify Her is a cross-platform project following the rise of women in electronic music. Consisting of a documentary film, a graphic novel, and a motion comic series, Amplify Her examines the growth and possibilities available to us all, should women have the freedom and safety to openly express our femininity on a broader level. Bringing together a team of women musicians, illustrators and animators, Sorochan and Mackenzie were able to truly capture a feminine perspective on how women move through these industries. However, they were careful to deliver the message by lifting and magnifying the stories of women within these scenes, rather than pointing out a lack thereof.
“I think pointing out the lack of women in the industry is discouraging; it also discounts all the women who are making music, drawing comics and animation, the film industry or working in tech,” says Sorochan, who also co-directed the film with Mackenzie. “The best way to encourage more people to do a particular ‘thing’ is not to point out how impossible it seems; instead provide role models, and most importantly, make it ‘safe’ to try. This film is all about celebrating women, but not in a promotional way either. We dug deep. And showcased their deepest fears, wounds, and challenges. We all need to know we aren’t alone in how we feel, and that there is support.” This is a sentiment that resonated with the initial inspiration for Amplify Her: Mya Hardman (DJ Applecat).
“Most female artists don’t want to be showcased as FEMALE ARTISTS at FEMALE ARTIST nights, we just want to be allotted the same respect, opportunities and fellowship that the male artists get,” says Hardman. “We want artistic equality, but equality starts with supporting the historically oppressed in feeling safe and invited.”
With the goal for the project being to create space for more diversity in feminine expression within the arts, bridging the disciplines of music and comic art together was an obvious vision for Sorochan. “The point of this project was to show the value of feminine expression and how diverse that expression should be allowed to be. When we chose EDM artists, the first thing I noticed was how everyone was so unique in how they performed their sound, the personas and costumes they all used…. It was easy to imagine them in comic form. But just the graphic novel wasn’t good enough as the music producer could really only contribute their likeness and not their talent. That’s when we decided to make them into animated motion comics. This way the music producers could score their own comics and also be the voices for their story characters. The combination of a female illustrator, music producer and animator meant each person had their own domain to lead while still collaborating with each other. A harmony of talents.”
This expansion of character through multiple artistic platforms created an unexplored territory amongst many of the artists who were brought into the project. “I will never forget the moment when everyone was sitting in our first group session,” continues Sorochan. “I myself was terrified to even speak. I have never tried to work with that many women at once. I grew a little more comfortable when I could tell they all felt a similar level of discomfort. But after a few easy guidelines, reminding them of the safe space we held for each other, and reinforcing the importance of listening to each other, all of us allowed ourselves to be vulnerable. And that’s when the magic started to happen.”
Illustrator for the project, Krista Gibbard, recounts her excitement at the opportunity to work within such a realm, “When I first saw the posting looking for artists for Amplify Her, I jumped on the computer and gave my portfolio a makeover. I wasn’t going to miss a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity like this. It was a project that bridged different mediums, combined my love for art and music, and aligned with my values. When I found out I was chosen to be one of the illustrators involved, I was elated.” Gibbard sees more of a gender parallel within the arena of illustration and graphic arts, but sees room for improvement within the music industry. “To be honest, I’ve had a very privileged experience within the illustration/graphic arts fields so far. It’s a very competitive line of work, to be sure, but there are so many successful women in this arena — who are genuinely nice people to boot — that it feels like less of a boy’s club than some professions.”
“Working on Amplify Her was eye opening because as a singer I’ve encountered only a fraction of the roadblocks that these female music producers have. The music industry is such a wide field, but there are still corners of it that are harder to break into for women. There are unwritten rules about what we can and can’t do. You can sing, look pretty, front a band, maybe play an instrument, but God forbid you touch the equipment or know how to mix and produce your own music. When you see the kind of comments artists like CloZee receive, you start to realize what they’re really up against. Not long ago someone asked if her boyfriend had mixed her music for her. Can you imagine someone asking a top billing male artist if his girlfriend was secretly mixing his work?”
Mya Hardman (DJ Applecat) adds: “With a 2 to 10% female presence on most music festival lineups? Yeah I’d say there is tons of room for improvement. How is the space for women held in the industry? Very minimally… I look forward to the day where there isn’t a need to be conscious of how many female-identified artists (that’s sound, visual, performance artists, etc.), but as it stands we have a long way to go.”
While it is clear that there needs to be a shift in the way that women are held within the music industry, Hardman is hopeful that Amplify Her will create movement in the forward motion, “I think a lot of people will be left inspired, jacked and a little bit shocked. Despite what we have said it’s hard to express to people that Amplify Her is not solely a movie about women in the electronic music industry. While it IS, it could just as well be a movie about the medical industry, the hospitality industry, the tattoo community (etc., etc.), and it would still tell a very similar story. Amplify Her is not a movie about taking our power back and reigning over the men, it is about the archetypal journey of the feminine in a world where she is often seen as a second-class citizen. I think all genders of people will be shocked at how much they can relate to the characters in this film. We all have our gifts, and we all deserve support in catalyzing them.”
Krista Gibbard anticipates a similar empowerment in Amplify Her’s audience, with the hopes that it will create more creators. “I hope that Amplify Her inspires its viewers to go listen to these incredible artists. Or to go create music themselves. I hope they’re able to internalize some of the values that we delve into, because they are more universal than you might think. There were common themes that emerged as we wrote these stories. Never put your self-worth in the hands of others. Pursue your craft. Trust in your ability to grow and endure.”
For more information on how to access the documentary, graphic novel, motion comic series and music of Amplify Her, or to host a screening near you, visit www.amplifyher.com.