It’s January 2017 and Reading & Leeds Festival have announced their line up for this year. After a backlash from the previous years, the ratio of men to women represented currently stands at just one female on the line up compared to fifty seven men. Equality in music has never been such a topical debate especially when it comes to the conversation of women in music.
Festivals across the world have faced scrutiny in recent times with the likes of Coachella, BPM, Ultra, Holy Ship, Download, Kendal Calling and T in the Park all under the spotlight. In 2015 The Guardian analysed twelve UK festivals and found that 86% of advertised performers were men with female acts on the Creamfields line up making up just 3% of the bill. So why in 2017 is this still a conversation and what is being done to tackle it? Does the problem lie in the archaic structures of the decision makers that make up the Billboard Power List or does it cut deeper?
Glastonbury’s Emily Eavis has previously spoken out saying “We need those female artists to be pushed through — by record companies, radio and the media.” Whilst Paloma Faith pressed we have a “responsibility to show diversity”. Earlier this year Jackmaster took to Twitter to say “To hear the things that I heard said about females in the industry tonight were fucking not acceptable.” He added: “It’s what’s said and enforced by powerful males behind the scenes that is the problem,” while also apologising for “my prior ignorance and silence” on the subject.” His tweets were backed by Tiga. Mella Dee and Scuba who then spoke about releases on his label, “Sexism in our scene is endemic. We have released a lot of music by female producers on @HotflushUK recently and it’s immediately noticeable”
In a survey ran by UK Music recently they found that women make up 59% of entry-level business roles, but only 30% of senior executives. It also found that while both female and black, Asian, and minority ethnic representation was progressive at entry level, the higher up the executive ladder, the worse the representation got.
For voices to be heard and action to be formalised, new ideas and fresh formulas need to be not only generated but championed. The rise of collectives are helping people to unify with waves of all female projects not only supporting one another but cultivating brands. Los Angeles based collective NapGirls bring together over 250 girls with a mission to “connect and empower women and GNC individuals by nurturing creative and professional growth.” Starting out as a group on Facebook they are not only a support network for the dance music community but have become an epicentre for job hunting & advice, music promotion and hosting events and club nights. Then there is New York’s Discwoman, London’s SIREN and Born N Bread, Stockholm’s Mahoyo and Paris’s TGAF not to mention bass collective SISTER who help to bring through new female talent whilst promoting balance on their line ups with both guys and girls included.
The Black Madonna has recently launched a campaign with Smirnoff with an aim to double festival headliners in three years. Releasing a documentary to support their initiative she said, “This is about humanity — these things don’t happen unless we come out of our spaces and connect with people that are not like us. And then you find, of course, that they’re exactly like you. The essential message of connecting through dance music, through different but shared experiences, that’s the message that will carry us forward.»
With more and more women coming together to make a difference, online community SheSaidSo includes over 1700 people across the world. Communicating through email groups they host panels and discussions for their members as well as representing the brand at industry conferences and events. They just released an Alternative Power 100 Music List backing the women in music they believe deserved recognition. There is also female pressure that is built on the same concept but focused on musical performance and a creative way to promote music.
The key to change not only lies in speaking out but in education and it’s not just needed within music. Step forward Generation Z who are not only gender neutral but entrepreneurial in their outlook and driven by individuality. Represented by artists like Halsey, Lorde, Grimes and Kehlani they are outspoken and at the forefront of reform taking to social platforms to let their voice be known.
“Androgyny is fucking cool and if anyone tries telling you «how to be a girl» punch them in the face. There’s no wrong way to have a body.” Halsey tweeted recently and Kehlani was forthright saying, “Girl power but there’s so many dope women dropping/ have already dropped this year”. It’s not just the girls that are having their say.
In 2002 Lucy Green published a paper about ‘Gendered Discourse in Music Education’. Flora Ward wrote about it for Youth Music and highlighted some of its key findings:
“Within music education settings girls are seen to be the best at singing, seen to be most interested in ‘slow’ songs about love, and classical music. Girls generally showed a desire to express their emotions and to be delicate, typically through playing classical instruments; they were regarded as lacking confidence, and were seen to conform. Girls were seen to generally avoid ‘showing off’ and performing on highly technological or electronic instruments, e.g. electric guitars and drums.
Boys, on the other hand, were desperate to play these instruments, with teachers reporting that boys declared most other musical activities as ‘cissy’ or ‘un-macho’. Teachers described boys as being anti-conformist and over-confident, disinterested and uncooperative in music lessons. Interestingly, they also considered boys to be the best at composition, due to them being (in the teacher’s eyes) more imaginative, adventurous and creative than girls. They saw girls as being more traditional, conservative, sticking to set forms, and having less ‘natural ability’.”
So could the answer lie in our educational structures and social stereotypes? The music industry is creating solutions with new events, workshops and conferences being organised. Red Bull have started #NormalNotNovelty held every month it brings together female DJ’s, Producers and Sound Engineers in to their London Studios and runs structured workshops and networking evenings. There is also the AIM Women in Music Conference, DICE Girls Music Day, PRS Women Make Music Fund and outside of music, International Women’s Day.
Awareness is key as is backing new leaders and role models. Music is a universal language and its importance and impact is far reaching. Inequality doesn’t just lie within gender, it’s a much wider issue and if the music industry can find a balance then the ripple effects will be felt way beyond it.
Carly Wilford is a DJ and Presenter and creator of IAmMusic & bass collective SISTER. She manages artists and has helped to break some of the musicians that you hear in the charts today.