In 1994, Carla DeSantis, a divorced single mom then living in San Mateo, Calif., was rekindling her interest in music by venturing into, in her words, that "brave new world" of...
In 1994, Carla DeSantis, a divorced single mom then living in San Mateo, Calif., was rekindling her interest in music by venturing into, in her words, that “brave new world” of the Internet.
And the former musician quickly learned attitudes hadn’t changed much from the days when a music-store clerk forbade her to touch a new bass she was interested in buying.
“I thought, ‘Am I the only person this happens to?’ ” she recalls. “There are probably other women out there who’ve experienced the same thing, but I don’t know where they are.”
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DeSantis not only found those women online, she also found the inspiration to start a magazine addressing their concerns. Now ROCKRGRL, whose first issue was published in January 1995, is preparing to celebrate its 10-year anniversary with a party at Capitol Hill club Neumo’s tonight.
And later this year will come the second ROCKRGRL Music Conference, following the highly successful conference put on in Seattle (where DeSantis moved in 1996) in November 2000.
“Woman’s right to ROCK!”
If the hardest thing about operating a magazine is keeping it going, DeSantis earns kudos for longevity alone. (The magazine started as a bimonthly, went quarterly in 2002-’03, and is now back to bimonthly issues.) But ROCKRGRL is also a magazine with an agenda, readily seen in its slogan: “Supporting a woman’s right to ROCK!” Instead of fashion spreads, you’re more likely to see articles on “rock moms,” critiques of new music gear and software, and helpful pointers like “50 Tips and Tricks to Make More Money with Your Music,” along with artist profiles and record reviews.
And ROCKRGRL not only covers established acts like Heart (lead singer Ann Wilson has frequently written for the magazine), it also covers up-and-coming talent; the magazine was the first national publication to put alternative rock favorites Sleater-Kinney on its cover.
Came a long way
ROCKRGRL’s first issue was 14 photocopied black-and-white pages; recent issues have topped 70 full-color, glossy pages. But the mission has always been clear. “The magazine was really a reaction to what I felt was continuing sexism in the industry that just wasn’t going away,” DeSantis explains.
“Being a musician, I found it really tiresome. And I realized there were more generations of girls coming up who wanted to play guitar that would read these trend stories about how girls don’t play instruments, and take that as the way things were.
“I think it’s just as vapid to say ‘Girls rock!’ and promote girls because they’re girls, as it is evil to not promote them because they’re girls,” DeSantis continues. “That’s not my point. The bigger question for me is; how do we create more opportunities for women and girls? How do we make the idea of a girl playing drums normal and not a novelty? How do we make sure that a 16-year-old who wants to be a guitar player doesn’t ever hear ‘Girls don’t play guitar’?
“For a business that considers itself so forward thinking, it’s truly depressing that the music industry has just relied on this idea that sex sells and they can’t sell anything if it’s not young, cute and sexy.”
First music conference
After moving to the Northwest, DeSantis ran the magazine out of her Mercer Island home. Five years ago, she finally acquired an office “in a basement of an old house. And it floods.” It was the same year she held ROCKRGRL’s first music conference, a three-day event with panels, showcases by 250 artists, Ronnie Spector, the Indigo Girls’ Amy Ray and Courtney Love as keynote speakers. Ann and Nancy Wilson were recipients of ROCKRGRL’s first Women of Valor award.
The conference was such a success, DeSantis jokes she’s been asked “every day!” when the next one would be. Conference No. 2 finally arrives Nov. 10-12, at the Madison Renaissance Hotel. And the 10-year festivities will kick off at the Neumo’s show, which features 10 bands, an exhibit from the magazine’s “Capture the Moment” photo contest, and is a benefit for the ROCKRGRL Music Conference scholarship fund. (contact www.rockrgrl.com for details)
DeSantis plans to keep ROCKRGRL a going concern “until it’s irrelevant, until there’s no need for it,” she says. “I would love for there to be no need for it. That’s the bigger goal. If there’s no sexism, then I have nothing to fight, and that’s great! I’d be very happy with that.”