Skip to content

Gender Equality in the Performance Sector

Tipping Point intern, Evie Lake, shares her thoughts on gender equality in the performance sector.

Year in, year out the announcement of music festival lineups is followed by a sizable fury of music fans and activists everywhere, angry at the lack of female representation amongst the names. However, it is nothing to be surprised about; the news of the existence of a gender imbalance within the music industry is nothing new. So why is it still happening? The Guardian released a study in 2015 that concluded that, across 12 major UK music festivals, 86% of the thousands of artists were male. Three years later, after countless campaigns and outcry, Pitchfork conducted a study that determined, across 20 major festivals, 70% of the acts were male, an improvement so minimal it is evident that the live sector is still unequally supporting women. Annual annoyance is wearing thin; ‘time’s up’ and people are demanding change.

The problem is that major festivals are run like businesses; maximising profit is the thing that drives them. Consequently, issues like gender equality are always going to be secondary, maybe not even that. Bookers will always put on artists that will pull the biggest crowds, and rightly so, but female artists have the same capacity as their male counterparts, especially under the current climate. So, this is no longer an excuse. Take Primavera Sound, for example, of which put on a festival this year with more than 50% of its artists female identifying in an attempt to normalise equality. Notably, Dream Wife tweeted:

“…last night saw; FKA twigs, Erykah Badu, Sigrid & Chris didn’t realize till later we’d only seen woman artists…& was ‘normal’ & not an over-sensationalized statement of gender equality.”

Overall, Primavera has successfully proven that women are valuable assets and can pull large crowds. Due to the festival being on a global scale it has made an example of itself, creating hope amongst supporters of the cause. They have recognised that women need a step up and festival goers have recognised and supported the conscious effort they have been making. I think everyone is excited to see what they accomplish next, especially as their partnership with the UN’s Agenda for Sustainable Development continues.

As a generalisation, women are less likely to get their foot in the door, making them less likely to develop to a standard that will see them fill prestigious festival slots. In order to combat the entrenched disparity, we need to look at things from the bottom-up. As Ele Beattie, a Bestival booker stated: “support women now so that further down the line they will be the headliner.” If this is a race, women are being held back by the archaic ideas and misogyny that is no longer relevant. Albeit there has been an improvement, on the whole women are not taken as serious musicians in comparison to their male counterparts. Instead, they are often used as commercial commodities in which their talent and image are exploited, distracting from their positions and influence as songwriters and artists.

Thankfully, there is no denying that more is being done to create a gender inclusive industry, in fact, the response has been overwhelmingly positive organisations, as well as individuals, are willing to hold themselves accountable in order to achieve equality across the board. For example, at the local level, Darlington-based music collective Tracks launched Noisy Daughters which, since conception, has hosted numerous events showcasing female North-east based talent with the hope of inspiring more women to get involved within the field. Noisy Daughters is attempting to break the cyclical nature of the issue: having fewer women in the spotlight results in fewer women believing they can be part of the scene- they don’t think it possible. Events like these are so valuable, for young women especially to experience.

On a much larger scale, ReBalance is a programme ran by Festival Republic and The PRSF that funds female-identifying acts to develop through funded studio time and performance opportunities. Ultimately, this, in turn, will see their music festival lineups become more balanced as their ‘finalists’ will also secure a festival slot at either a Festival Republic or Live Nation event. In observing all of the developments within the project everything seems to be good, with frequent artist showcases being held.

However, two years into ReBalance and almost 77% of their Reading & Leeds lineup are male artists/male-fronted bands. They are making a conscious effort to change the game but to little

avail- it isn’t working. In order to become a successful campaign, they will have to follow the guidelines and ideas they have to set for themselves across the entire company. It is very on-trend to be seen as socially aware, something which, from a publicity point of view, could be driving Festival Republic, instead of a genuine hankering for equality. Although, we may still need to harness initiatives like this as they still provide women with opportunities, regardless of motive. I think that in order to break the ingrained routine of casual misogyny at the front of the music industry, there needs to be an active effort to bring more women up behind the scenes. More often than not, the men in charge of choosing who will feature on what festival lineups; who will be given a certain development opportunity; who will be given the spotlight are looking at it through an isolated lens- they might not relate to a female artist as much as they would a male. In short, companies like Festival Republic need to make more of an effort to hire more women and seek out female artists in order to create a more diverse industry and thus festival lineup.

DF Concerts have recently announced that Glasgow’s TRNSMT festival will play host to a stage dedicated to emerging female-identifying artists within the Scottish scene. Named after the iconic venue ‘King Tut’s Wah Wah Hut’, ‘Queen Tut’s’ was constructed in response to backlash claiming that the festival’s lineup was incredibly male-dominated. Aligned with SWIM (Scottish Women Inventing Music), a charity partly inspired by the PRSF’s Keychange initiative, the new addition has been formed with the hope of creating an opportunity and buzz around female artists that will be the next generation of headliners. DF Concerts have realised their ignorance and have immediately stepped up to be better and more inclusive; this can only be commended!

Ultimately, Primavera has proved that is possible to create a balanced lineup whilst still maintaining the commercial success desired from the business standpoint. Hopefully, others will see this and be motivated to mirror their actions, namely in a way that doesn’t indulge tokenism. Altogether, it is not just up to those within the music industry to bear the responsibility of this imbalance. It is the general public that these festivals are marketing themselves towards therefore we have the ability to influence lineups by supporting those that champion equality and ignoring those who don’t. Your money is your power, so use it!

Delivered with