Women in Music: Gabrielle Wortman of Smoke Season

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We’ve featured Smoke Season late last year, but now we have a different perspective from the duo’s other half, Gabrielle Wortman. Read what she had to stay about her start in the music industry, the importance of community and networking, and the prejudices she’s faced.


They say trauma breeds the best artists and I guess I’m a part of that cliché.  I started making music as a child as a survival mechanism during a time in my life that was particularly traumatic.  Fortunately, I learned piano, guitar, and singing at a young age so I had those tools at my fingertips to process my emotions. I turned to songwriting as a form of therapy that lasted through my adolescence and into college and, after moving to Los Angeles from Connecticut and essentially uprooting myself from everything familiar to me, I tried to saturate my life in music because that was when I felt most like myself.

The greatest resource available to any artist is inspiration.  I am so lucky to have stumbled upon the east Los Angeles music scene (somewhat by accident) during a period of musical renaissance.  I have spent the past couple of years nestling myself into the scene and soaking up the inspiration that flows from any east LA venue on any given night of the week.  More recently, there has been a surge of new organizations + efforts – created by women and run by women – that are working tirelessly to elevate women in music. Their focuses span the gamut.  You have Play Like A Girl and Girlschool – female run collectives that present festivals and concerts devoted to female artists. And even larger corporations, like Ableton, are now running symposiums and retreats for female producers and artists to meet each other and collaborate.  My advice to female musicians is to get involved with the women in your scene.  Find these resources and collaborate.  

Female musical innovators have always faced greater scrutiny than their male peers.  Bjork and Tori Amos were often written off as crazy while David Bowie and Kurt Cobain were lauded as geniuses.  The fact is that they all are geniuses. The hardest thing I’ve faced in the music industry – apart from blatant sexual advances and harassment – is tireless scrutiny.  All artists, no matter the gender, will face this to some degree. However, many of the gatekeepers in music are afraid of female artists they cannot categorize. A lot of the A&Rs, bookers, agents,  and publicists are more comfortable with a female sound or look that has been done (successfully) before than taking a chance on something novel and new. And, while male artists face this as well, it is much less prevalent and people are more likely to buy into their artistic direction.  It’s as if the industry trusts male innovation more than female innovation. This is changing (thank god) but it’s super important that female artists do not give up when they face scrutiny.  We’re going to face it more than is fair and it’s going to suck, but it’s the women that push on that pave the way for a future where female artists encounter more open doors than closed ones.

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