Drummer, independent media mogul, and a lifelong rebel with a cause, Mindy Abovitz just might be the coolest girl in New York City. But she’s far more than that—she’s a woman on a mission. Throughout her career, Abovitz has beat the drum for women’s representation in the music industry, which led to her creating Tom Tom, the world’s only print magazine dedicated to female drummers.
Since then, Abovitz has found herself at the forefront of a movement bringing much needed attention to all female musicians who don’t happen to be pop stars. It’s a multi-media approach, including Tom Tom, live shows, installations, contests, and more. This month, Abovitz stars in the new web series ”Mavens,“ which debuts November 17 on RedBull.com.
THE RED BULLETIN: What were some of your earliest experiences with music?
MINDY ABOVITZ: I used to listen to oldies with my dad when I was a little kid. I grew up in South Florida, so we’d have the windows down in the car, listening to The Beatles or The Monkees. I have lovely memories of music back then. My brother gave me my first bass guitar in high school, and I discovered Riot Grrl. I was a very easily influenced teenager looking for my music scene and I found it in this Riot Grrl movement. It was really feminist and really angry. I’d say that my music experience has been most influenced by the Riot Grrrl scene, even now. I came to the drums when I was in college.
What made you want to play the drums?
I was already pretty rebellious my whole life, and the drum set wasn’t a conscious decision, it was a body decision. It was like my body gravitated toward the drum set.
Did you ever experience any resistance to you drumming?
All of the time. Starting to drum, I was in Gainesville, Florida which was and still is really music-centered. Great bands like Less Than Jake and Against Me! come from Gainesville. The majority of my friends playing music were guys and they’d all been playing music at that point for a good five to ten years of their lives. So when I started the drums at 21, I got a lot of heat from my guy friends. That was pretty intense for the first several years, and my solution was to play with women. Access, privilege, encouragement, and confidence are all lumped into drumming for me.
What was the lightbulb moment that sparked the creation of Tom Tom?
I was working at East Village Radio as the sound engineer, and I was surrounded by all of this hype that we give our DJs. It clicked that my expression of feminism from age 13 till that point was always in the non-profit worlds, while all of my day jobs were making money in the affluent music industry revolving around men. I had this epiphany where I realized that I could create a platform that made women look glossy, hyped, commercially viable, moneyed and that’s what I wanted to do. I didn’t want us—women in music—to be looked as a non-profit organization, like a charity. I wanted to be looked at as an incredibly diverse group of musicians who happen to be women. I wanted to make a really beautiful magazine that was carefully written and designed and just looked 10 times better than existing drum magazines and only covered women drummers, so the industry could no longer say we don’t exist.
Who are some of your personal and musical heroes?
My personal hero is Gloria Steinem for so many reasons. She very much did what I’m doing, which is trying to sell advertising to an industry which doesn’t believe that women buy anything. For her, it was automobiles and dishwashers, and the male marketing directors she spoke said women had no buying power. I talk to the drum industry and say women buy drums. Everything she does and writes about inspires me. Kathleen Hanna, her lyrics from Bikini Kill gave me permission to play however I wanted to on any instrument and be really direct and clear in my messaging of what I think is wrong and needs to be corrected. She taught me that there’s this unapologetic nature of women in music and it’s possibilities.
What are some of your upcoming projects that you’re working on?
We did an immersive sound installation called The Oral History of Female Drummers: Getting Louder at the Brooklyn Museum in March and at the MANA Contemporary in New Jersey, and we will potentially bring it to Art Basel in Miami in December. We’re going to fill the art fair with female drummers. We currently have a DJ residency in Brooklyn called “Drums and Bass,” which features a female drummer and bass player as DJs for the night. We are hoping to roll out a TV series about female drummers too. There’s so much brewing, we’re hoping to grow the magazine in print into Europe, printing and distributing in London and Berlin and Barcelona, which is really exciting.