A group of 45 music festivals, organised by Keychange under the Creative Europe programme of the European Union and PRS, announced that they are committing to achieve 50/50 gender balance by 2022. They will place 50% women on their festival line-ups, on their conference panels and as speakers, and on their commissions. Sadly, very few of the festivals on their list are American.
However, I wouldn't be surprised to see this decision influence the booking practices we see at festivals in America, like Coachella, Lollapalooza, South by Southwest, and Governor's Ball. Not only will this initiative offer, in short order, proof that women can sell tickets just as well as men for festivals, but it will give women who may previously not have been invited a voice on panels and at conferences where the international music community can hear them speak.
And, it will push the rest of the industry forward. By not waiting for record labels to sign more women before they get booked for festivals, sending the message that more women are not just needed but required for spots can change the conversation between festival bookers, artist managers, and labels.
A big point in the discussion around the poor representation at the Grammys for women goes back to the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative study that found that women have poor representation all over music: as artists, as songwriters, and as producers. Keychange isn't sitting back and waiting for teams of A&R executives to bring them more female artists; instead they're helping develop the talent that already exists.
“I remain utterly outraged by the depressing statistics surrounding female representation in every aspect of the global music business," Shirley Manson, singer in Garbage and ambassador for PRS. "I am exceedingly grateful to the PRS Foundation for their initiative in trying to put this to rights for we absolutely and urgently MUST put it to rights. We are doing a great disservice, not only to women of all races and socio-economic backgrounds but to all genders, culture, and society in general by allowing the status quo to continue."
European music fans see a lot of festivals they might attend on the list, many of which bolster the careers of up and coming artists. The By:Larm music festival in Oslo, Norway, for example, is one I have been to and spoken about the American music industry. While I was there, so were representatives for many American labels and music festivals, looking for the next great thing to add to their line-ups. There is a trickle-down effect that can only help female artists.
A slew of male music execs, from Justin Bieber's manager Scooter Braun to Metallica and Muse's manager Cliff Burnstein to some of the most powerful tour bookers in the game, recently signed an open letter to the Recording Academy that was created by Tom Windish of Paradigm Talent Agency, who books tours (including festival appearances) for Lorde, Coldplay, and Diplo, among many others. "We are writing to stand alongside and in solidarity with the women who penned letters to you regarding gender disparity and ask that more significant and robust action be taken by The Recording Academy to answer their call," it read. Something those men are in a position to influence even more directly, as it is their livelihood, is festival culture. Imagine if they took their open letter to Coachella.
Looking back at Coachella line-ups from the past, it's obvious the festival has heard the years of complaints about gender equality and has stepped up its bookings for females. This year is its most female-friendly line-up yet, and the past two years, including Lady Gaga's turn as the fest's second female headliner in 2017, have shown steady progress in gender equity. Coachella sets the tone for every other festival. There are numerous bands who go from it to playing Governor's Ball to Bonnaroo to Lollapalooza and every small festival in between, and that's the backbone of their summer touring plan. It's no stretch to say they created and lead the festival industry as we know it in America. If they come on board with an initiative like Keychange, it would not only send a signal that they want to be leaders in the push for equality for women in music, but it would completely change the livelihoods of many women in bands.
I'd love to see each and every one of the operating companies for the biggest American festivals (who are all men) join this initiative. It will hold them accountable in the strides they're already taking and send the message loud and clear that women have worth in the music business.
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