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‘Every Ounce Of What I Do Revolves Around Gender Equality’: Girls Rock Charlotte’s Krystle Baller On Moving The Needle Forward

Girls Rock CLT music director Krystle Baller.
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Krystle Baller is music director for Girls Rock CLT and lead singer of the electro-punk band RICHARD.

In 2019, USC Annenberg published a report about gender equity in the music industry. The numbers were dismal, to say the least, emphasizing the lack of major representation by women in all music trades. Women made up only 21% of artists, 12% of songwriters and around 3% of producers.

As a touring and recording musician (most recently in the band RICHARD), Charlotte resident Krystle Baller has personally seen those numbers in action. Which is why she has dedicated her time to instructing women and gender diverse youth as music director for Girls Rock Charlotte and founder of Pachyderm Music Lab, ensuring the needle moves in a more positive direction for women in music.

"I needed those life experiences to do the work that I do. Even though the world is on fire, I am right where I’m supposed to be, and that feels good.”
– Krystle Baller, music director for Girls Rock Charlotte

Interview Highlights:

On her first music memories:

I remember being 5 or 6 and singing with passion for the first time to the point it was making me cry. I thought something was wrong with me [laughing]. I would just be really moved, even as a small child.

My mother is a piano player; she plays organ for her church. There’s music in my blood, for sure. I was obsessed with music as a teenager, and I had a pretty rough childhood. I used music as a way to work through it.

On finding inspiration as a music instructor in Charlotte:

When I moved to Charlotte [around 2010], I wanted to experience life in a city. Girls Rock Charlotte was just starting, and I had just given birth to my daughter. So I was all in my feels about having a girl and my experiences as a woman and a woman musician. I’ve experienced so much sexism and weird, off-handed comments that I wanted the world to be different for her.

I had no intention of teaching. I didn’t know I could teach until after the first Girls Rock Charlotte camp. I was just like, “Hey, I know a lot about gear and tech, and I can help you all set up camp.” And they were like, “Oh, but you can teach bass, obviously!” Every girl I taught that first year of camp, they all got a bass and asked their parents if they could have me as their teacher.

After the first camp, all of the volunteers were hanging out, and we were talking about just how powerful the experience was: it’s one week where girls and gender-diverse youth form a band and go to these awesome girl-power workshops to learn about Riot Grrrl and '90s feminism. It was everything that I wanted as a teenager, with all of these powerful women. There’s this energy in this space that girls can do anything, and they leave there knowing that.

On what drives her as music director for Girls Rock Charlotte and founder of Pachyderm Music Lab:

Every ounce of what I do revolves around gender equality. The thing that I’ve noticed is that kids are a blank slate. They pick up on the things that we give them. So, if I have a class where I am playing drums, playing guitar, singing and playing all of these instruments, then these tiny little humans are seeing me being the person doing that. So when they are in kindergarten when their art teacher tells them to draw a band, they draw women. If I was asked to draw a drummer when I was 15, I would have drawn a man. I never saw myself reflected in those roles. That’s how you dismantle the patriarchy. It’s visibility. It’s kids seeing women in roles where they’re not traditionally at and then it becomes a traditional thing for women, people of color and anyone.

On the importance of creating (virtual) music instruction and inclusive spaces during the coronavirus pandemic:

At the beginning of the pandemic, I didn’t know what I was going to do. Honestly. We’re grateful for the Girls Rock Charlotte Board because they paid for 60 virtual music lessons for kids from Girls Rock. That was amazing because parents needed their kids to do things.

We’ve been picking back up. This month alone, I’ve gotten five new students. I’m almost tapped out, but there’s other teachers here, too. I love that over half of our teaching staff is LGBTQ people, myself included. These LGBTQ kids have been struggling right now, and their parents recognize that, and they’ve been bringing them to us and we’ve been helping them get through it. Which has been awesome because now, people around the world can come to class. So we have kids signing up for lessons from Arizona, New York City and other parts of the country because our website is so gay [laughing]. So parents are like, “Oh! My kid can learn from you and feel OK.”

Music featured in this #WFAEAmplifier chat:

RICHARD - "She Belongs to Herself"
RICHARD - "Glass House”

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Joni Deutsch is happy to call Charlotte home as WFAE's manager for on-demand content and audience engagement, where she's led the first Charlotte Podcast Festival (named one of the “best podcast conferences” by Buzzsprout) and helped produce such podcasts as FAQ City, SouthBound, Inside Politics, Work It and the Apple Podcast chart-topping series She Says. In addition to being an NPR Music contributor, Joni is also the creator and host of WFAE’s Charlotte music podcast Amplifier, named “Best Podcast” by Charlotte Magazine and honored for excellence in arts and music podcasting by the local Edward R. Murrow Awards and The Webby Awards (called “The Internet’s Highest Honor” by The New York Times).