wears the trousers magazine

wii #4: ruth barnes

women in industry #4: ruth barnes

2010 is upon us, and if the growing number of female artists and entrepreneurs have anything to say, it’ll be a year packed with awesome sounds and heart-fluttering projects. Kickstarting this year’s continuing Women In Industry feature, in which we get to know the ladies who keep the big ol’ cogs of the music industry running with elegant finesse, is radio personality Ruth Barnes. She spends a large part of her time over at the BBC, and presents a Girl Music Guru spot on Tom Robinson’s BBC 6Music show ‘Fresh On The Net’ every Monday, but it’s her weekly show on London’s arts station Resonance FM that she’s really passionate about.

‘The Other Woman’ is the UK’s only all-female new music show, featuring the kind of unrestricted, lovingly crafted playlists that you’re unlikely to hear on the PR-primed, major label-heavy offerings of flagship shows. Like us, Ruth covers everything from scratchy punk and lo-fi indie to obscure rap, tingling folk and genre-defying treasures, and likes to keep things buzzing with live sessions and a regular supply of fabulous, female-centric interview guests, including Wears The Trousers. Having made our radio debut earlier this month, we thought we’d return the love and give the bright-eyed, dulcet-toned presenter a chance to tell us about how she’s breaking the snore-fest, spoonfed mould of the male-centric, mainstream radio world with her empowering, DIY aesthetics.

* * *

How long have you worked in the music industry and what inspired you towards the field?

Since university I’ve been a radio obsessive. I attended the University of Cape Town in South Africa where I used to do a weekly show on UCT Radio, featuring the best of the vinyl I had plucked from musty old second hand record shops and granny shops in the city. Anything from Hawaiian versions of the ‘Midnight Cowboy’ soundtrack to Pink Floyd B-sides. I caught the new music bug when Britpop finally hit us; it came to Africa slightly late, but I still remember hearing ‘Girls & Boys’ on the radio and it blowing my mind. I had to move to London! Family circumstances meant that we did move back to the UK and I hotfooted it to London to get my first radio job, which I was sure would be XFM, but after flailing around for a few years I ended up landing my first gig in BBC local radio…! Not exactly known for supporting new music, so I headed straight for BBC 6Music, where I have been a music journalist for the past few years.

What was your first music-related role, and what are your memories of it?

I was lucky enough to work on the music shows on the BBC World Service under the tutelage of a very cool executive producer called Louise Swan. I started out as an admin assistant but then did some reporting and ended up producing and presenting shows for the department. Unfortunately, like most specialist departments at the Beeb, budget cuts meant the shows were axed and Louise left. They were amazing days – producing Charlie Gillet’s brilliant world music programme (the only one to survive, thank goodness) one minute, or producing a half-hour special about the emerging Canadian folk scene the next. Bliss.

Tell us about ‘The Other Woman’.

‘The Other Woman’ was a result of realising that if I didn’t just do something myself, no one was going to hand me my dream job on a plate. I had just finished presenting BBC London’s overnight show for 6 months mid-2006. Four hours of live radio from 2am to 6am was a total nightmare, even though it was with my brilliant co-presenter and friend Cristo Foufas. We entertained the insomniacs, alcoholics and lonely people of London while going completely mental ourselves. I decided that phone-in topical radio was NOT my style, so I approached Resonance FM while moving on to work as an assistant producer at Radio 1.

Working at the BBC gave me an insiders’ take on how playlists were compiled and just how very narrow a lot of the avenues are for new artists to get themselves heard. Especially female artists who really do need to fit into a marketing box for any of the national networks to take note. Things are slightly better now with the BBC Introducing shows, but back then it was pretty dire. Resonance have only ever said ‘Yes’ to pretty much everything I’ve ever bugged them about, and have given me a stress-free platform to really get my teeth into a new music show. Since then I’ve featured interviews and live sessions by the likes of Nina Nastasia, Emily Barker, Peggy Sue, Gabby Young, The Rayographs, Speech Debelle, and many more.

How does/has your gender affected your career in the music industry? Do you feel it’s been beneficial or detrimental?

I think it’s been wholly beneficial in that I can compile and present this show with all the brilliant warmth and support I get from women in the music industry. Every one of us has our story of having to put up with idiot middle-aged men (and women) who think they have their finger on the pulse of the industry. But for every one of them there are hundreds of us – both men and women – who really aren’t afraid to take chances and stand out.

What makes your job difficult?

Not having an assistant! Anyone up for some work experience?!

What makes your job rewarding?

Meeting the fantastic people I do every week. There is a very powerful network of artists, writers and journalists who are keeping it real, keeping it specialist, proud feminists and supporters of the cause. I am lucky enough to cajole them into meeting me by inviting them onto the show.

What motivates you?

The one email I’ll get every now and then from a listener in some weird part of the world saying how much they enjoy the show; artists emailing to let us know how much it means to them to get radio play; watching my ‘listen again’ numbers in my Soundcloud account go up ;and all the amazing music that I trip over online everyday.

What are the perks?

I get sent loads of free music.

Do you have any personal ultimate career goals, or have you reached them already?

I used to dream about my cool radio show on a big radio network. What I know now is that I would NEVER be able to do ‘The Other Woman’ on a mainstream radio network; the bosses aren’t brave enough, it’s ‘too niche’, too ‘specialist’ and too ‘wimmin’. I have reached my career goal – and it feels good!

Do you have any essential survival skills/tactics?

Block out all the BS and all the BS-ers, they are everywhere. One thing I’ve learnt is that the one person who knocks you back one day is the one person who will fall by the wayside and get moved to a crummy regional radio job in who-cares-where. It happens!

Are there any individuals who inspire you with their own career achievements?

Everyone! All the time! I’m constantly inspired by everyone I meet in connection with ‘The Other Woman’ – struggling artists, opinionated journalists, indie record labels, brilliant blogs like Wears The Trousers…

What project, challenge or achievement are you most proud of completing?

Finally getting my blog off the ground. About four years after everyone else but it’s up and running all the same! Also getting my spot on Tom Robinson’s BBC 6Music show; he is one of the most generous, lovely people in the business and is a joy to work with.

What advice would you give to other young women hoping to follow in your footsteps?

Be yourself on air, don’t waffle (I am still trying to master that one) and when you make a mistake just laugh and go with it.

* * *

Charlotte Richardson Andrews

You can catch The Other Woman every Wednesday evening between 7 and 8pm on Resonance 104.4FM in London or listen online here. Catch up on previous shows and Ruth’s editorial here. Forthcoming guests on ‘The Other Woman’ include quirky folkies Smoke Fairies, DIY punks Trash Kit and some glorious singer-songwriter action from This Is The Kit.


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The Other Woman Wears The Trousers
love it!

Comment by m

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Me Like Good Music would like to introduce you to Erica Viegas, an unsigned Canadian singer/songwriter. A self-proclaimed “romantic soul,” her work is described as “music [that] paints the joy in life’s simple moments and brings beauty to life’s….

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