Samantha Barr: Women & Non-Binary Folk in Live Music
This series is an extension from our Instagram, with full Q&A's instead of the shorter Instagram bios. Here you can read the full in-depth interview with Gig photographer & former Security Member, Samantha Barr, and go direct to their provided donation link to show your support:
My name is Samantha, my pronouns are she/her. Pre-COVID, I did photography freelance on a part-time basis as well as working as security at the SSE Hydro Arena. I was also a performing musician up until June. I'm now a music industry masters student at Uni of Glasgow.
BBC Introducing was always my main way of finding bands early on... the likes of The 1975, Catfish & the Bottlemen, Dog is Dead, Two Door Cinema Club etc. It was through following them on social media and going to their gigs early on that I realised the music industry was something I wanted to be a part of. From that, I did a few bits of music journalism here and there & realised I enjoyed writing about music. I attended a few conferences (e.g. XpoNorth & Resonate in Glasgow) & realised the more I got involved with music that this is what I wanted to do full-time. And then I got the opportunity to do gig photography. It was just from a random e-mail I sent to Two Door Cinema Club when they played at The Barrowlands; they got back to me with a photo pass, and I just sort of carried on from there with it!
I'm not sure if being a woman has affected my experience working in the music industry, but I think it does make you far more aware of your gender identity. Particularly when working in venues, when you're in with large gig crowds which are predominantly male, you feel like a bit of an odd one out. When you're doing gig photography in the pits, and you're the only woman out of 5 or 6 people, you do feel like you need to prove your place there. A lot of bands will use male gig photographers as opposed to women, so you might struggle to find other women to look up to and to influence you. It makes you feel like you're a bit if a niche doing what you're doing, when you're not represented as well.
COVID ended my gig photography and security work, as all the venues have shut down, so I haven't worked since March 2020. I'm currently working on a few different projects as well as my degree, but having to use previously-made content and work I've already completed.
I think personally, the social media content & kind of accounts I'm seeing has changed a lot since last March. I'm seeing more content from women artists, the likes of Celeste, Arlo Parks, Nina Nesbitt are posting more content and cropping up more. I don't know if women artists are finding ways to engage more, as the posts from male artists seem to be dwindling. I don't know if this is because a lot of the male indie bands used to rely on live music and touring more.
From personal experience of working in a larger venue with the likes of theatre shows, you will find that there are often more women security at these sort of events. But when you get more heavy gigs, like Bring Me the Horizon or Royal Blood, security will be predominantly male; some women (myself included) will choose to work these gigs when they love the bands performing. The venues will make an effort to put the male security in the pit and place the women security somewhere safer. At gigs where there are likely to be a lot of young girls (e.g. Little Mix, Justin Bieber, Shaun Mendes), the venue will make an effort to put more women staff on in order to make the crowd feel more comfortable and safe. I think open live spaces are a bit more male-dominated. At some of the bigger outdoor events in Glasgow, you tend to get predominantly male security staff putting themselves forward for it; a lot of the women who I speak to say they wouldn't feel safe doing it. I've found, in smaller venues a lot of the behind the scenes industry staff, including security, lighting technicians, sound technicians, tend to be male. You come across women more in positions such as on the door or bar, but are not necessarily the ones dealing with large crowds or in the pit. It really just depends. There have been incidents before in women-dominated crowds where women have been antagonistic whilst drunk and the victims, who were non-binary, have been apprehensive to report & brushed it off. I also have male friends who, when incidents have happened they won't disclose it either. Maybe because, as men, they were less likely to be dealing with it in the first place, so they're happier to just laugh it off. Whereas if a woman is receiving harassment constantly, they may be a bit more sensitive to it. It also depends on your relationship with the staff. For example, I have a male supervisor at work who is absolutely lovely, and I would tell him anything that's happened at work. But if that person, who you're disclosing to, is someone you didn't know, that relationship might change.
I've had friends in security before who, especially when working in the pit, have been grabbed whilst trying to help pull people out. And after that they might not feel safe in the pit anymore. I don't think there's enough in the industry in the way of safety of actually looking after security staff. Who is going to protect you if something happens? You're relying on your colleagues, which can be quite intimidating for people. But I'm not sure how this would be addressed, whether it would be better training or something else... I'm not too sure! There are a few venues in Glasgow with no photo pit at all, so if you're a photographer, you need to just ask people in the crowd to move aside for a second to get a shot; I've done that a couple of times, but I really don't like it, so I tend to avoid gigs with that kind of set up, and stick to venues where I know there is that dedicated gap between the stage and the crowd. I've seen it before at gigs where a guy photographer gets in straight away when they ask someone to move aside, but if you're a women it's a bit like "oh you're just a lassie with a camera, not an official photographer!" When I was doing freelance work for publications, I actually specified that I didn't want to shoot in venues that haven't got photo pits. Because you're not only risking yourself confrontationally, put you're also risking your equipment. And as a freelancer, you're not necessarily insured by your employer, so you don't want to put yourself at that sort of risk.
You can support Samantha directly by donating to her PayPal:
Interview conducted by Georgia Donnelly