Photo by Danny Fulgencio

Lakewood neighbor Elaina Kay had been corresponding with a sales rep from a local liquor company about sponsoring her Cornbread & Country music festival to raise money for her debut album. They had exchanged phone numbers to talk business. Their relationship had been strictly professional — until he asked her on a date via a text message.  

“I thought he wanted to be a sponsor because he believed in the event,” Kay says. “He probably did, but it hurt. It takes the credibility thing away. Discrimination is a huge challenge, and it’s something that shouldn’t be.”

With music stars like Beyoncé and Taylor Swift winning multiple honors at national award shows, it’s tempting to think gender diversity in the music industry is improving. But it may be worse than you think. 

In an analysis of Billboard’s top 600 songs from 2012 to 2017, only 22 percent of the 1,239 artists were women, according to a study from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California. The number of female producers and songwriters is even lower. In a subset of 300 songs across that period, women produced only 2 percent. And just 12 percent of the 2,767 songwriters were women, according to the study. 

The music industry clearly has a problem, which is one reason why Kay titled her first record, “Issues.” The eight-track country album is scheduled to release Aug. 2, about two years after she first started recording at Modern Electric in Dallas.   

“There were some days I thought, ‘If I was a dude, I’d have this done,’” she says. “It’s a good old boys’ club. They do bro favors for people. They hit on you, and it’s discouraging when you’re trying to be an artist.”

But Kay doesn’t play the victim. In writing or co-writing all the songs on the album, she hopes to empower others by sharing how she overcame her own struggles growing up with an outlaw. 

In her first single, “Daddy Issues,” the soprano tells the story of her biological father, a drug addict who is no longer in her life. The song — a tongue-in-cheek reference to the pejorative phrase used to describe women’s emotional behavior — is meant to show listeners that it’s possible to embrace and grow from the past. 

Photo by Danny Fulgencio

“It made me who I am,” she says.“The song embraces just owning having issues, whatever they are. I pissed a lot of people off by writing it, but I didn’t become a songwriter to walk through a field of flowers.”

The rest of the album tracks are similarly rooted in Kay’s personal life and infused with her signature style, “ranch rock ‘n’ roll.” It’s a genre the Wichita Falls native created while touring for years as a barrel racer with the rodeo.

It’s also where Kay got her first taste of a musician’s life on the road.

She started singing when she was 10 and started writing songs as a senior in high school. After college at Tarleton State University, her music was the only thing that stuck. She quit the rodeo and moved to Nashville to pursue her music career full time. It was in Music City where she was inspired to write songs about home, her family and the rodeo.

In 2018, Kay’s roots called her back to Texas. She found an apartment by the Lakewood Theater, near several gigs in Deep Ellum where she performs to raise money for her record. But the artist won’t be here long. When the album releases, her band will hit the road for tours across the United States and Europe.

“I’ve waited for this forever,” Kay says. “I’m not where I want to be yet, but at least I see forward motion. Everyone who’s heard (the record) has loved it. It’s a good feeling because it’s a huge part of me.”

Click to sign up for the Advocate's weekly news digest and be the first to know what’s happening in Lakewood/East Dallas.