How Easy Is It For Women To Be Equally Represented On Festival Line Ups?

Blog post written by Becca Vafeas, Oxjam Festival Manager for Manchester.

So exactly how easy is it for women to be equally represented at music festivals?

You’d think it would be pretty easy.

There’s been a lot in the media recently about how under represented women are at music festivals. If you follow music, it’s pretty hard to miss it. Slam Dunk Festival, Wireless, Leeds and Reading, Download and so many others have been called out over the last few years for booking an incredibly low number of women on to their line ups, and it doesn’t seem to be getting any better.

It’s not a new problem. The music industry has traditionally been somewhere that women have struggled to get the attention and treatment they deserve. It’s not just musicians, its technicians, producers, promoters, writers, managers, labels and even fans. Music creates community; and yet there are still barriers to cross to be a part of it. Back in January, Recording Academy President, Neil Portnow, told women that they needed to “step up” in the music industry, after the Grammy’s were slammed for being too male. This, of course, caused outrage from the music community. Women have been stepping up for a hell of a long time (you should check out P!nk’s incredible response to the comment) and they definitely don’t need a man to tell them to do it.

There are so many reasons why gender representation is struggling to be where it should be (it’s also hugely important to realise that we can’t just talk about cis-women. When I say women at festivals, I mean anyone that chooses to define themselves in that way). Festival organisers get the majority of the blame, and to some extent, they should be challenging themselves to do better. But it’s a domino effect. Organisers book artists based on numerous factors, from media attention, album releases, promoter relationships, right down to contract clauses and touring schedules. I could easily go in to fine detail about how problematic all of this is, but instead, I’m going to focus on the positive steps instead of writing about doom and gloom. Which quite frankly, as a women, is just exhausting.

The main reason for this blog, obviously, is to talk about Oxjam. I’m a firm believer that change happens at a grassroots level, and this is so true of music. Back in February, the PRS Foundation launched Keychange, a new initiative set up to achieve a 50/50 gender split at music festivals by 2022. Currently the number of international festivals and conferences that have signed up stands at 85, including Oxjam’s very own Camden festival. Whilst the pledge looks to make positive steps and encourages festivals to change their way of thinking, there needs to be a push to change the industry as a whole. This is why grassroots activities, like Oxjam, are key to making this happen. Think about it. Every band or artist starts somewhere; playing in the back room of a local bar and sending out CDs to any label and promoter that might take notice in the hope someone will take them on. Oxjam is all about supporting local, grassroots artists and bands, so it’s the perfect place to start making that change. Nationally, Oxjam is already way ahead of the game in terms of their teams, with 50% of the festival managers across the UK being women (it feels pretty awesome to be part of that). Whilst some festivals are split on the Keychange pledge and whether it goes far enough to address the issue (and whether it takes into account all aspect of gender, not just cis) it’s definitely important to think about it from the bottom up, and not top down. As a festival manager, it’s easy to say “Yeh, I’m going book more women this year” but in reality, if the rest of the industry isn’t on board and working towards the same goal, then it’s an uphill battle. We all need to be united.

So this is my call to Oxjam festivals far and wide, as well as local promoters, local venues, local labels, local audiences and everyone that supports their local scene. You’re where it happens. You’re the ones that give musicians the platform to go anywhere. If we can make enough noise (and in October, we definitely will be) then the industry has to take notice.

Written by Becca Vafeas, Oxjam Festival Manager for Manchester. Follow Oxjam Manchester on:

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