YoWo Music, the Melbourne based contemporary music program for young women and gender non-conforming youth, is still on a high after the release of their first album, ‘Work Like That‘ in late November. Completely comprised by current YoWo participants and alumni, the album is the first milestone of many for this entrepreneurial girl group, headed by artistic directors Claire Cross and Lena Douglas.
As freelance musicians themselves, Cross and Douglas know gender division in the industry, and are striving to fight back. YoWo is a 6 month course for high school aged students, which runs on a weekly basis and culminates in a gig at a local music venue. Throughout the course, students are taught skills to help them workshop their own original songs, develop their live performance skills and further build musical knowledge and professionalism. Having drawn the attention of Channel 7 and various radio stations with the drop of their recent album, the future is looking bright for YoWo Music. Here’s to these women, and the work they do for gender diversity in the music industry!
So, how do the weeks of two business heads, teachers, musicians and mentors go down? Find out below!
Claire: I’m a freelance musician, so I wear different hats on different days. Some days I’m a performer, composer or musical director, other days I am a teacher/mentor, and then in the background I’m constantly working on running YoWo Music, there’s not a day that goes by when YoWo doesn’t pop into my head!
Lena: I am a freelance musician, music educator, and one of the co-founders of YoWo music, a music program for girls and GNC teens in high school. I make money teaching piano privately, doing piano accompaniment work at Collarts, and playing session gigs. Aside from my regular teaching, every week looks different. It’s dependent on what gigs I have coming up, and what’s on with YoWo. This week is a busy YoWo week in the lead up to the album launch!
Claire: An “early morning” by musician’s standards, out of the house by 8am to go give music lessons at one of the schools I work at. Teaching goes by fairly smoothly and quickly (aided by cake in the office). Back home by about 2:30pm and feeling a bit overwhelmed with the work approaching me this week. I eat some lunch and my partner comes home and helps me come up with a plan to get all my work done – very supportive and helpful! Once we’ve done this, I psych myself up to do some practice and preparation for my gigs with Oh Pep! later this week. I respond to some YoWo Music emails and then I am out of the house again to a different school that I teach at, for one of their end of year concerts. The kids perform well and have a lovely time – which is what you want to see as a teacher. Finishing my night off, I head over to the School of Clay and Art in Brunswick where I take weekly pottery classes. Tonight is successful despite my tiredness, two new bowls thrown!
Lena: I ride down to Collarts in Fitzroy to play piano for Ainslie Wills’ 9am vocal class. Ainslie always starts the class with stretches and an improvisation; the best way to start the week especially when I’m feeling a bit stressy!
I ride home to my mum’s place, where I do a Skype interview with Paul Gough for his Playback podcast which streams via APRA AMCOS every week. He’s always been so incredibly enthusiastic about the music I make with Tetrahedra and Tulalah, and is keen to support YoWo too! We chat about YoWo’s new album and the importance of creating a space for young women in the music industry.
In the arvo, I teach 4 piano students in the music studio at Mum’s place. 10 year old Ravi has written a “fish rap” which we turn into a song with chords and a melody. Very cute!
Claire: An even earlier morning! Up before 7am to head into the PBS106.7 FM studios where I meet Lena Douglas (my YoWo partner in crime), and our two lovely participants, Lucinda and Francesca. We go on air with Milo and Claire from the Breakfast Spread around 7.40am, where we talk about the YoWo program and spin some of the tracks from the new album! A very exciting morning and the girls spoke so well in their interview. I head home again, and have a sneaky nap.
Lena calls to talk more YoWo, then I get up and start my practice plan, working on memorising Oh Pep! songs and a bunch of repertoire for a gig I’m playing Thursday night called ‘RnBabe’, featuring SPIRE which is run by the fabulous Xani Kolac. I also sneak in some report writing in this time, before a student comes over for a private bass lesson around 4pm. After I get a bit more practice done, my partner and I head out to the Moroccan Soup Bar to get dinner to take home. A delicious choice. Couch, Dinner, Netflix (Big Mouth, my gosh), more Practice. Day done.
Lena: I wake up earlier than usual to make it to PBS in time for a 7.30am interview on ‘The Breakfast Spread’. Two of the YoWo girls come along for the interview, which is super exciting. They’re excited and nervous because they’ve never been to a radio station before or spoken live to air! It feels awesome to be able to share that experience with them.
I head back to mum’s, where I check emails and make sure all the YoWo album launch logistics are going to plan. At 2pm I have another class at Collarts with Ainslie. More stretching and singing!
I teach 3 of my private piano students. Two of them are 8 year old identical twin girls. They always brighten my day, and make me feel really good about being a music teacher. I feel like I have the power to influence them so much; it’s an amazing feeling to know you’re shaping a little human through half an hour of music every week! Lola is working on her original song (with chords in both hands, singing, and lyrics and melody she wrote herself!)
After the early morning and whole day out I’m keen for a chill night at home. I hang with two of my housemates; we drink tea and watch a few episodes of a short documentary series ‘Follow This’ on Netflix.
Claire: Lena goes into SYN FM for another morning interview, then drops by my house around 9am. We grab coffee and some small breakfast treats from Lucy Lockett, then walk to The Push together on Sydney Road. The team at The Push have been so generous in allowing us to use some of their office space to get our YoWo admin work done, and it’s been such a productive way for Lena and I to work. This is our last focused admin session before the album launch on Sunday so we get right into it. We wrap up work around 12pm, I head home to have lunch, do a bit more practice and then out again to pick up our brand new merch from Too Far Gone. It looks so good! By the time I’ve done this, gotten back home and done a little bit more practice, it’s time to head out to a rehearsal at Three Phase Studios with Xani Kolac, Kathleen Halloran and Brooke Custerson. This is a little informal play before our RnBabe gig the next night. May have had more take away for dinner this evening, as my partner works late. Just Falafs. Can’t go wrong. More TV (Sabrina!) and then sleep.
Lena: I train into the city for an 8.30am interview at SYN. One of the YoWo girls Pearl comes along to do the interview with me. She nails it. I tram back out to Brunswick and meet Claire, my partner in crime at YoWo. We walk to The Push office and spend the day doing all things YoWo; sending out invites for Sunday’s album launch, pushing the socials, confirming the backline, checking in with mentors. I love going into the Push; it makes me feel like YoWo is a ‘real job’, being in an office with other people working alongside you is much more inspiring than slouching at home on the couch.
In the arvo I teach 4 private piano students, and then go out for dinner with my mum and sister in Richmond.
Claire: Thursday morning was a slow start. Got some admin sorted then went to teach again. We held a little end of year lunchtime party for one of the ensembles I assist, and again, the kids had a great time. Teaching went by smoothly again, and then it was time to head home. I wasn’t home for long before I had to drive to Xani’s so we could carpool to our gig together. We got down to St Kilda early and had dinner with the whole band at Big Mouth before loading into Veludos. I may have had a sneaky Piccolina icecream too (peanut butter, so good). Load in goes alright, except for me forgetting that I’m playing synth bass on some songs and don’t have a keyboard stand (this isn’t something I’m used to doing!). Luckily my partner saves the day (again) and comes by before we start playing with his keyboard stand. What a gem. The crowd builds up and by the end of the 2nd set the crowd is truly pumping. A very fun gig, playing a heap of RnB classics, jamming, and generally having a great time. Home by 2am. Very tired.
Lena: Another radio interview in the lead up to the YoWo album launch! I meet 3 of the YoWo girls at RRR, ready to speak on Chris Gill’s show The Get Down. 2 of the girls are in year 7 and absolutely froth the whole experience; there’s photos all over their Instagrams 2 hours later!
I drive to rehearsal with Killing Heidi. I’ve been playing keys and doing backing vocals for them over the past year or so, which is great fun. The rehearsal is super efficient and enjoyable as per usual. It’s bloody awesome to be paid and treated really well as a freelance musician!
I have dinner with some friends before heading to a gig at The Grace Darling. One of my best mates Max Dowling has his first gig with his solo project Yeldebert. Double bonus is Francesca Gonzales, one of the YoWo mentors, is also supporting! Lots of mates are there so I have a nice chatty evening.
Claire: A bit of a sleep in. Partner makes me coffee in bed (he’s a legend, are you getting that impression yet?). On the laptop getting last minute admin done before I have to shower, sort my gear and clothes, and drive to Queenscliff to meet Liv, Pepi and Kyrie for the three Oh Pep! shows we are playing at Queenscliff Music Festival. It’s going to be a big weekend – I’ll be driving back to Melbourne on Saturday after our slot to play a corporate function, then driving back to Queenscliff Sunday morning for our last set, and straight back to Melbourne again in time for the YoWo album launch at The Ev. That night I’ll be venturing into JOY FM to give an interview for the upcoming Melbourne Women’s International Jazz Festival as my project is performing as part of it. Sleep is for suckers right?
Lena: Morning off! I do the washing and potter around the house. Water the plants. My lily has completely drooped again! I pick up some YoWo postcards that have been printed.
I get a call from someone at Channel 7. Oh my! They want to interview me for a feature on YoWo on Sunday night’s news! I call Claire with the good news!! Gotta mentally prepare for a tv interview tomorrow! Eeeek. Lucky I’ve been getting the radio interview practise!
One of my mates comes round in the evening. It’s been a hectic week so we make dahl, drink tea and chat for hours. Good way to wind down and mentally chill out before a big weekend.
Lena: It’s my sister’s birthday so I have brunch with her and my dad. I rush back home to meet the camera man from Channel 7. Feeling a bit nervy but I psych myself up! Weird thing is, the interviewer can’t make it in person, so I have to do the interview talking to a wall!! Praying it looks ok!
Ella Hooper and I drive to the Killing Heidi gig in Cranbourne. It’s very chill corporate kind of gig, so I make the most of the snacks, and then we head home for a wine!
Lena: Big big YoWo gig day!!
I drive around picking up backline from my generous friends, pick up YoWo mentor Fran, and drive to The Evelyn for 11am set up and soundcheck. I put on my ‘big boss’ vibe to make sure the 18 high schoolers in the room know what is required of them!
At 2pm, there’s a line out the front and the vibe is high! By 2.30pm The Evelyn is packed and the YoWo participants are VERY excited. Some newbies are pretty nervous too, but it’s lovely to see the more experienced ones encourage them. “Don’t worry, it’s really really fun, you’ll love it!”
All the bands absolutely kill it. Channel 7 come along to grab some footage and interview two of the participants, Ruby and Pearl. I receive many heartfelt hugs from proud mums and I leave feeling exhausted and happy. Fran and I rush back to hers to catch the YoWo segment on the 6pm Channel 7 news. Thank goodness it’s ok – I’m super happy with the publicity and have a nice moment of appreciation and pride for all YoWo has achieved this year. We’ve worked bloody hard and it’s all gone to plan!
Challenges and Accomplishments?
Claire: As a freelancer it’s pretty easy to get overwhelmed with all of the tasks ahead of you, and I have a tendency to think way too far ahead and think of the billion things that need working on. It was a major accomplishment sticking (roughly) to a plan to get all my preparation done for my gigs. That may seem like an easy thing, but when you do lots of different kinds of work, it can be hard to focus and just allow yourself to deal with the most important and immediate work.
Highlights of the Week
Claire: So many! Getting to play with so many different incredible musicians is definitely up there. I’m unbelievably excited for the upcoming Oh Pep! tour. The YoWo album launch and the months of work we have put into it, has been an amazing experience. Amongst all of this, teaching features strongly and seeing young people thrive is a hugely rewarding experience.
Lowlights of the Week
Claire: Mental Health challenges. Self Doubt. Fear you’re not doing enough or good enough at what you’re doing. Having to put your foot down and stand up for yourself and valuing yourself, sounds positive in theory but can be painful in reality. And of course, there’s never enough time in the day.
Words of Wisdom:
Claire: Persevere and seek out help when you need it. Connect with your friends and community. Over prepare and over deliver (for a session musician!). Be forgiving of yourself, you don’t have to be superwoman. Remember to enjoy yourself, this is your job, but it’s also your passion. Try not to forget why you are doing what you are doing!
Lena: Take moments to consider what you actually want to be doing with your time, and what’s important to you. For me, this includes friends, tea, good chats, sunshine, riding my bike, and taking moments to appreciate how hard I’ve been working!
The industry can be rigorous, but oh so rewarding. To get another perspective of life on the job, delve into the day-to-day of other industry professionals in the archives here!