In one of the first initiatives of its kind in the UK and Ireland, the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast is championing ‘Mothers in Music’, a 12-week song writing, recording and performance programme designed for female musicians with caring responsibilities. 

Addressing the needs of one of the most underrepresented demographics in the music industry, ‘Mothers in Music’ saw 17 women from Northern Ireland, Donegal and Dublin come together remotely on a weekly basis for a series of workshops from music industry professionals between February and May this year.

As part of the ‘Mothers in Music’ programme, participants learned how to get back into making music, regain their confidence and build a community of musicians that can support, socialise, work and collaborate with each other.

Charlene Hegarty, Talent Development Manager at Oh Yeah, explains more about how the programme came to be developed:

 “Since 2016 Oh Yeah has run the ‘Women’s Work’ festival, which celebrates diversity and addresses issues faced by women in the music industry.  We were hearing from a lot of women who were asking for more opportunities to participate in music, but who were unable to attend festival events and programmes due to their caring responsibilities.

‘Mothers in Music’ is our response to this demand and we were thrilled when the Spirit of 2012 fund was able to help us create and deliver a high level industry project tailored to the needs of mothers.”

Speaking about the range of women taking part in ‘Mothers in Music’, Charlene says:

“Our ‘Mothers in Music’ participants come from really diverse musical backgrounds.  Some have written and performed with household names, some have taught and played music for themselves and others are somewhere in-between.  What they all have in common is that they have had to prioritise their caring responsibilities over their music.

We are really proud of how the programme has succeeded in helping participants to build their confidence, enhance their creative and technical skills and reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness by bringing like-minded people in similar circumstances together to learn and enjoy music.”

Congratulating Oh Yeah on the success of ‘Mothers in Music’, Eibhlish Fleming, Head of Impact and Learning, Spirit of 2012 said:

“Many women put parts of their lives on hold to care for family members and loved ones. The Carers’ Music Fund programme – of which Women’s Work is a part – is about enabling female carers to take time for themselves, to connect with others in a similar position, and reconnect with what makes them happy. Spirit of 2012 is delighted that the latest cohort of Women’s Work has enabled 17 women who put their music careers on hold to care for a family member to take their first steps back into the industry, grow their self-confidence and professional network, and spend time doing something they love.”

Song writing, music making and studio time were all included in the ‘Mothers in Music’ programme, with additional topics covered including addressing self-doubt, expanding your sonic palette and setting up a performance space.

Participants were also treated to Zoom songwriting sessions, supported by PRS For Music, with a number of high profile special guests, including singer-songwriter Katie Melua, Stina Tweeddale of Honeyblood and Ivor Novello Award winner and President of the PRS Members’ Council Michelle Escoffery.

The songwriting sessions were hosted by Stuart Fleming, Senior Membership Manager, Scotland and Northern Ireland, PRS for Music, who says:

“The only way we can truly tackle and improve gender disparity in our industry is by addressing and breaking down barriers that continue to prevent women music creators from progressing their careers. That PRS for Music could help to bring together established songwriters such as Katie Melua and Stina Tweeddale of Honeyblood to share their experiences and assist these women from Northern Ireland at a pivotal point in their careers, whilst acknowledging their caring duties and any associated prejudices gives me immense pride, but more importantly hope for the future.

The confidence, sense of community, and increased professionalism the programme has enabled is something we hope to build on with Oh Yeah and throughout our wider network of women songwriters and composers.”

Also sharing her knowledge and experience with programme participants was award-winning recording engineer and campaigner Olga FitzRoy, who has worked with bands including Coldplay, Foo Fighters and Muse. Olga says:

“It was a real pleasure to share my ongoing work campaigning for the rights of mothers in the music industry and beyond. The ‘Mothers in Music’ initiative is much-needed, as too many women face additional barriers to their careers when they have children.”

Summarising what she has learned from ‘Mothers in Music’, participant Fiona O’Kane says:

“I learned that you can have a career in music and be a Mother at the same time. Yes it can be tough, but with the right support, it can be done. Never feel guilty for putting the effort into your dream – it won’t only benefit you, but you will be an inspiration to your children, in that one day they might follow their dreams too.”

‘Mothers in Music’ is supported by the Spirit of 2012 Carers’ Music Fund, made possible by the Tampon Tax Fund, awarded through the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) . It is the only Northern Ireland project supported by the Carers’ Music Fund.

An online video of ‘Mothers in Music’ participants covering ‘Push that Knot Away’ by KT Tunstall, will be premiered as part of the Women’s Work festival, presented by Oh Yeah.  Search ‘Oh Yeah Centre’ on YouTube Friday 18 June at 6pm.

Nadia Duncan

Author: Nadia Duncan

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