Women in EDM: An Interview with Eartha Harris
Part of the “Women in EDM” feature series.
Eartha Harris has been a musician all her life. Her experience spans genres and nearly two decades, including touring as the live keyboardist for popular electronica group Psylab. But since 2012, Eartha’s solo project Living Light has been bringing dance tracks to shows and festivals across the country. With a focus on the peaceful, soothing, and melodic side of EDM, Living Light is a refreshing change from the clamor of other acts trying to gain attention simply by having the most aggressive beats.
With such a range of experience in the field, Eartha’s seen all the struggles and triumphs of being a woman making a name for herself in the electronic music world. That experience culminated in Living Light, named for the importance of living less materialistically and having a positive outlook, among other things. Eartha’s reflections on her work and experiences as a musician are much like the solo project itself: positive, inspiring, and quietly yet intensely compelling.
Sensible Reason: What has your experience as a woman in the EDM industry been? Have you faced any unique struggles or triumphs in what is sometimes described as a “man’s world,” or do you see that description as incorrect?
Eartha Harris: That’s a tough question to answer as gender discrimination is really a grey area in this field. In my nearly 20 years of gigging, it’s been rare that I have experienced outright prejudice firsthand. If anything, I find people to be extra courteous because I am a girl. This was especially apparent when I played in the electronic jam band Psylab. In six years of playing jam band festivals and events with Psylab, I never once saw another female on stage, so I was a bit of a novelty and most people responded with a lot of support. I’d say the main gender stigmas I have noticed, however, are:
1. People very often don’t think I am playing my own music and assume I must “just be a DJ”—to the point of actually coming up and requesting songs. Though I’m sure this happens to men too, this happens to me very very regularly. Actually, nearly every show.
2. There seems to be a subconscious expectation that women who produce music are supposed to sing, or at least play an acoustic instrument, in addition to their music production. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been asked if I ever sing, or will ever sing, or why I don’t sing, followed by a look of disappointment. I’m not sure, but I have a hunch my male cohorts don’t get asked if they sing nearly as much as I do [laughs].
All this said, I do believe that women still face some silent challenges behind the scenes. For example, a friend of mine recently told me an acquaintance of his that runs an EDM booking agency admitted to not even considering bringing on female producers until about two years ago because there “would be no draw” and I’ve sensed that. From my first electronic solo project in the late 90s to mid-2000s, and through my involvement with Psylab, I spent 14 years actively reaching out to labels and booking agencies with not one single reply….until last year. When I launched Living Light, I intentionally kept my gender on the DL for the first year until I built a following, using only my logo to represent me, and I intentionally aligned myself with conscious communities and transformational festivals that have much more accepting and flexible perspectives on gender equality within the music business.
SR: What or who inspired you to get into this industry?
Eartha: Wow — good question! And this goes way back. I gotta say Cyndi Lauper and Madonna were big ones for me. I pretty much wanted to grow up to be them starting in third grade, and would actually program songs into my tiny Yamaha PortaSound keyboard and sing along with them into a mirror. Then after that, it was Perry Ferrell from Jane’s Addiction in my high school years, and the psychedelic-rock-electrocia band The Legendary Pink Dots during my college years. All of these artists represent really unique personalities that they let shine unabashedly, and that was incredibly inspiring to me. But the first purely electronic group I got really really into was the Saafi Brothers back in 2001, and I’d say they are still my favorite electronic act today and have been a huge inspiration for my music. Enigma and Delerium have also been great influences.
SR: You have a lot of experience in the music industry. How did your background inform your current project, Living Light, and what have you learned since striking out as a solo artist?
Eartha: Haha — it’s true: I’ve gone from goth industrial to synthpop to jam band to world beat “dubtronica” over the course of 19 years, and each project definitely inspired the one before. My first solo project, Project Sphere, was riddled with difficulty because I was really young and had no idea how to do business, much less tour. It was my involvement with Psylab—a four-piece live touring group—that really taught me the ropes of how to handle booking gigs, promoting oneself, late nights, long car rides, playing shows on little to no sleep, etc. In that band, I played four to five keyboards 100% live, with a massive amount of effects, boxes and cables and peddles. So after doing that for six years, having my whole production rig fit in my backpack and just wizzing around the country on planes feels like a breeze! (well…sorta 😉 )
SR: What can fans do to support women in the industry?
Eartha: This will sound funny at first, but bear with me. Honestly, ignore it. Ignore our gender. Let it be about the music. I say this all the time. I don’t want someone listening to my music or booking me for a show because I’m a woman, or not listening to my music or booking me for a show because I’m a woman. I want people to listen and book me if they like my sound and enjoy my art — period. Don’t get me wrong, I have mad respect for the big push to include women within the scene — but I do feel it can sometimes go too far with “All Female Lineup” promotional themes or “Goddess Night” events. I know the intention is coming from a supportive place and I’m thankful for that, but I think the more we can bring down the novelty factor of female producers, the more even the playing ground will become for us.
SR: What do you see the future holding for you, and for women in EDM as a whole?
Eartha: The future looks bright! I think women in the electronic music scene have turned a corner from discrimination to novelty, which is a positive, and I think when the novelty wears off, we’ll all be in an even playing field together…and maybe then green rooms will get a little cleaner and nicer. Haha!