Photo of Judith Ferstl (c) Ramona Rad/Hamakom Theater
Judith Ferstl (c) Ramona Rad/Hamakom Theater

In this series, mica – music austria and Austrian Music Export have collected the experiences and perspectives of women in the music business. No matter the categories, quotas or breakdowns, the goal is 100% of us working together in the struggle for feminism. JUDITH FERSTL is one of the most sought-after double bassists in the Vienna jazz scene, as well as being an active composer, bandleader, and collaborator in numerous projects. Her music combines complex rhythms and energetic passages with atmospheric sound painting, always leaving space for silence.

What people / institutions / funding programs helped you along the way in the music business?

Judith Ferstl: At the beginning, my violin and double bass teacher at the music school were very important; they both helped me build confidence in my music and repeatedly stimulated my curiosity to discover and try out new things. Since then, it’s mainly been the colleagues I play with in various bands.

mica – music austria has become more and more important as a place to go with my questions – I’m just sorry it took so long for me to find out about it! The information, workshops, and consultations would have been great to have during my university years.

People like Renald Deppe and Hannes Löschel recommended me to other people; they were very important to me as well. And of course, financial subsidies – the SKE stipend, the Start Stipend, the SKE Fonds and composition grants – important support to be able to work creatively!

“A lot still needs to change at the universities. I was missing a lot of practical knowledge back then.”

How and where did you get your experience in the music business? What were your biggest challenges, and how did you overcome them?

Judith Ferstl: I mostly learned by doing, and through the questions that cropped up. But I think far too much information is still hidden, so many things that you’re just supposed to “know”, or that only insiders know. And a lot still needs to change at the universities. I was missing a lot of practical knowledge back then. I think some things are changing now, but there’s still plenty of room for improvement.

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What kind of support have you received in your career? Where would you have liked (more) support?

Judith Ferstl: Music schools still do far too little in the area of improvised music and composition! I would have love to experience that much earlier; it would have really interested me and I would surely have started composing and improvising earlier.

Fortunately, lots of people encouraged me – for instance, summer jazz workshops like Schönbach were hugely important.

I also received support in the form of stipends and grants fairly early on – but the self-doubt that I only got them because I’m a woman lasted a number of years.

“The Vienna jazz/music scene is really inspiring at the moment.”

Did you have role models around you to look up to? What role models do women in the music business have right now? What can you pass on to others?

Judith Ferstl: Far too few, especially when I was younger! But a lot is happening and the Vienna jazz/music scene is really inspiring at the moment. Right now [my role models] are mainly the people around me who are making exciting music and starting interesting projects.

Primarily, I can probably pass on how self-evident it is to be an active female musician. I’m generally interested in working with young musicians on projects and recommending them to other people.

Photo of Judith Ferstl (c) Alex Gotter
Judith Ferstl (c) Alex Gotter

What role does age play for you?

Judith Ferstl: It’s surprising how few funding opportunities there are for people over 35. Why shouldn’t you be able to get support after you reach that age? Why is it that so many musicians can only finance their dream projects with a job teaching, or doing something else?

Age also plays a role in family planning. Why are there so few female musicians between 30 and 40 in the Austrian music scene? Why am I not able to offer the singer in my band additional money for a babysitter when we go on tour?

What would you like to see in terms of a more diverse music scene?

Judith Ferstl: More openness for new things! I feel like there’s far too much of old things getting rehashed; people put their trust too much in things that have been “tried and tested”. I’d like to see more courage to see beyond genres, to offer audiences fresh, enriching, exciting music.

As I mentioned already: financial assistance for child care on tour.

More money for clubs, festivals, and promoters, so that – things can improve here, that change is possible! A lot of venues have a lot of capacity but too little time and money to listen to and book all the interesting bands out there – and to pay them properly.

Fair pay! For larger ensembles as well. I don’t understand why you so often earn less in a band with five people than in a band with three or four. Fair pay would also make it easier to achieve a balance with child care.

“Fair pay would also make it easier to achieve a balance with child care.”

What questions do you get asked that a man would never be asked?

Judith Ferstl: Lots of them, unfortunately.

“Double bass? Isn’t that hard to carry, and to play? Can you even play that with such delicate fingers?”

A lot of times, if I don’t have my instrument with me (for instance at sessions), people assume I’m a singer. “So, what are you going to sing for us?” “You’re a musician – so, you sing?” “What’s it like to make music as a woman?”

But the men around me get asked things like that, too: “What’s it like to be on stage with four women?”

However, questions like that are getting rarer. Quite a bit has changed in the last ten years, and people are finally aware that it’s totally normal for a woman to be on stage, that it has been for a long time, that it’s not to be questioned anymore.

I don’t want to be a ‘pioneer’. I want to be part of a scene where everyone is equal, and I want to concentrate on the music.

Translated from the German original by Philip Yaeger