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Women of NAS: Maaya Mattoo

“It’s 2021!” they would say. But for many that doesn’t mean very much.

It’s 2021 and yet we just swore in our first female Vice President in the United States, women still make about 80% of what men make to do the same job - for women of color even less - and in the music industry, female representation across the board is in stark contrast to that of men.

Studies show that women are still missing in the music industry. A 2020 study across 800 songs showed women represented less than one third of all performers, about 13% of songwriters, and only about 3% of producers.

But here at New Artists Spotlight, we care about representation. We believe in shining a light on our female-identifying artists, producers, and songwriters doing amazing things in music.

Each post will highlight a different Woman of NAS, and for our inaugural post, we’re starting with none other than one of our fearless leaders, Maaya Mattoo.

KM: Thank you so much for being our very first Women of NAS interviewee. Before we get into the nitty gritty, can you tell us a bit about how you got started in music?

MM: How wonderful it is to be doing this, thank you for the opportunity! Music came early to me; I was about 3-4 years old when I started training in Indian classical vocals. I finished my years of learning there when I was in 7th grade and a massive thanks to my family, I continued to develop a liking for western music. In my formative years, I grew up listening to classic Rock, smooth Pop, and old school R&B. After my training in Indian classical, I picked up the keyboards, then the guitar and ukulele. Soon enough I started making a transition to Western music — this was at about 15 years of age. I’ve been writing my songs ever since I was about 17-18 years old but never got around to releasing them until 2020. Now, at 21 I’m pretty happy with my journey — how it’s turned out to be, for the things I’ve learnt, and I can’t wait for what’s to come!

KM: As you started to navigate your way through the music industry, did you ever notice that your gender played a role in keeping you from getting certain opportunities? Did you ever feel that you were entering into a boys club?

Oh, absolutely. At least where I live, i.e. New Delhi, India, there is a serious lack of women who record their own music, all by themselves, with their own equipment — basically, by not depending on anybody else. That’s how I record, and when I speak to some of my other artist friends who happen to be women, some of them feel a little intimidated in entering a space where there’s comparatively a lesser number of women. Even when it comes to production, the industry is flooded with male producers, audio engineers, live sound engineers and what not.

Since I also play a couple of instruments and don’t fit into the conventional female only-vocalist category, it has been a slight task to get my way sometimes. But I’ve learnt to put my foot down.

KM: Yeah, it can be really hard as a female artist to tell others exactly what we want. We're so used to apologizing for even existing (laughs). When you see how little representation there is for female artists and producers in the industry how does that make you feel?

Extremely infuriated. I wish women were encouraged more to indulge in this art. I have no other way of putting this but there is SO much talent in some of the women I know — much more than some of the males who dominate the Indian music industry at least, but the whole idea of them not being good enough sticks to them. The ones who dominate continue to do so without a second thought. Why wouldn’t they? They’ve got it much easier than most women out there, and it makes my blood boil. There, I said it.

KM: Haha — couldn't agree more. Though I will say, sometimes because we are such a minority there are special programs and awards for female-identifying artists. Were there ever any opportunities that arose that you were able to take advantage of because you are a female-identifying artist?

Ever since the boom in the independent music scene in India, especially in 2020, there have been a lot of magazines and renowned organizations paying more attention to female musicians — thankfully! So, when it comes to things like this, yes, it’s something that’s helped me and I’ve made sure to shoot my shot. Other than that, since I happen to belong to the small percentage of independent female musicians/composers/recording artists, I make sure to do all the right things using my social media platforms in order to be known and heard. So far, social media has been extremely crucial in my journey and I plan to keep indulging in the same because it’s worked so wonderfully for me.

KM: Yes, social media has definitely been huge for independent artists. You’ve also been featured three times in Rolling Stone India, which is amazing. How did that come about and has it helped to increase your fan base?

MM: Thank you! Being featured once took me by surprise, but being featured thrice was a dream come true. Sometimes, I still don’t believe it! Rolling Stone India has been focusing a lot on independent music ever since the lockdown, which is definitely a bonus for musicians like me. When my second single ‘Blue Over You’ released in September 2020, only then did I fully understand the tactics behind getting featured and carrying out my promotions the right way. I emailed the chief RSI editor as well as another senior editor at RSI with my song about two weeks prior to the release date. Lo and behold, they responded the very next day saying how much they loved listening to the track and told me how they will be writing about me very soon. I know people who had reached out and gone without a response for days on end, which is why I kept zero expectations out of this. To answer your question, yes, it has proved to be a great push for me. Ever since the RSI feature, I’ve been featured by a series of other magazines, firms and even an online news agency. I’ve also seen a massive increase in my social media following and audience. It’s been a surreal experience.

KM: That's so wonderful! Congratulations!! So you sort of answered this above, but I'm always interested in the differences and similarities in cultures across the globe. In the United States, we can very much see and feel the lack of female representation in the music industry. Do you feel that female representation is better or worse in India?

As I said earlier, yes, there is a significant difference between the female and male representation in the music industry, but 2020 was still a better year — representation wise. I hope more women find or make a safe space for themselves in the industry. I hope it continues to only move upward from here, since there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

KM: Thank you so much again, Maaya, for taking the time to chat. Final question: What bit of advice would you give to our fellow female identifying artists and producers pursuing a career in music?

Take. Up. Space.

Being intimidated will never be an option if you’re dedicated to your art, are true to yourself and the art you indulge in. Most importantly, practice, practice and more practice — so much so that 24 hours in a day are less! Nobody can and will have the audacity to point a finger at you if you’re fantastic at what you love doing. Hone and own your skill and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t do so.

KM: I love that and can definitely use that advice myself. Please follow Maaya on Instagram & Facebook and check out her music on Spotify & Apple Music.

Please help to amplify female identifying voices in your community. They are needed.

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