Why is there still a challenge for female artists securing places at music festivals?

“A North-East bar recently banned female rock bands from playing their venue, with their owner suggesting women “can’t sing rock”. They might have a point, I mean, I’m struggling to think of any…oh wait, Blondie, Evanescence, Marmozets, Fleetwood Mac, Gwen Stefani, Pvris the list goes on. Some of the greatest songs of all time come from female rock vocalists! Yet still we have a problem getting these incredible musicians on our festival stages. We will be running several features over the course of the next few months, as we attend festivals, speak with artists  and try and unpick, why is this the case.”

Our first feature is a really great one – we had the opportunity to speak with Jemima who runs the blog at Girls That Gig, a great organisation championing women’s participation in the creative industries. She offered some really valuable insight into why she thinks there’s a challenge and a huge gap to bridge before we make inroads into solving this problem in the music industry.

Hi Jemima, our Enough is Enough Campaign is an effort to build on some of the great work done to increase awareness of female artists’ challenges at festivals; can you tell us a bit about your cause and how it fits with our campaign?

So Girls That Gig is a not-for-profit that was started up about a year and a half ago by Megan, our head honcho. We aim to highlight the work of all women in all creative industries. Our name refers specifically to the music industry because the problem is more pronounced and in a more public domain, but I want to make it clear that we are dedicated to increasing the visibility of women’s work in all industries: art, theatre, dance, conservation, activism…

Find out more about Girls That Gig here http://girlsthatgig.com/ 

Why do you think it is such a challenge for female artists securing places at high profile festivals, and indeed those smaller ones?

Well, it’s harder from the off, from the very start of any female artist’s career, because historically a lot more funding and press attention has been pumped into her male equivalent, meaning they’re more likely to draw a bigger crowd than her at a festival. It’s a systematic problem that will take decades, generations even, to undo, but we can definitely start now. A lot of people go to festivals to discover new bands, so why not make a point of booking more women to elevate their profile? We won’t get anywhere if the whole industry doesn’t work together to even out the playing field.

Where do you feel the music industry needs to support female artists most to ensure there is gender equality at festivals in the future? It’s certainly not increase the number of artists as there are SO MANY incredible ones out there!

It should be a team effort, really. It can’t just be down to the artists or bookers or labels; this is an issue that everyone needs to work together in their own field of expertise to solve. Bookers and promoters should be actively looking to make their line-ups more equal. Labels should ensure that they’re signing as many women as men, and absolutely ensuring that the same amount of resources are going to their female artists. Representation is an issue in itself, but we also need to be doing more to ensure that female artists are also being given the same materials as their male counterparts in order to thrive and succeed.

What one thing do you believe would make the biggest difference in supporting female artists at gigs and festivals?

Not only ensuring that line-ups are balanced, but that we make sure that every artist and performer feels welcomed and looked after. I’ve heard of far too many gigs where performers have been mistreated, sidelined and made to feel unwelcome, and unfortunately this does disproportionately affect female and BAME artists. It’s the job of promoters to make sure that the artists, whoever they are, feel comfortable before playing a gig.

What have your experiences of hosting gigs for women being like so far since starting Girls That Gig?

One thing I have picked up on is how challenging it is to put on a wholly accessible gig. We’ve pledged to only put on gigs in accessible venues, as we don’t see the point in putting on an event where we’d be unintentionally excluding a whole portion of our supporters. Music should be for everyone, and we try to reflect that in the events we put on.

One of the most challenging areas within the industry is rock and punk music; whilst Dua Lipa for example is a huge role model and aspirational figure, there is perhaps a lack in rock music and there doesn’t seem to be a natural path to success for female rock artists. Would you agree with this at all?

Every genre and every industry has its own challenges. Women in pop have had to struggle against the term ‘pop princesses’, connoting airheads who have minimal agency with what they put out. You know, I do think that people like Dua Lipa have also had to fight, in a genre that sexualises women and reduces them to images rather than artists, against rampant sexism to be taken seriously as an individual.

I do agree, however, that rock music is historically more of a boy’s club, and this is largely as a result of the attention given to rock stars in the 70s and onwards. This genre in particular is an interesting one for women, because it’s not like there aren’t amazing female role models that play rock music: Chrissie Hynde, Stevie Nicks, Patti Smith, Joan Jett, Christine McVie, Kim Gordon, Viv Albertine, Ellie Rowsell. These women have all had to fight a whole lot harder to be where they are today because of the pigeonhole that women have been cornered into in rock. Women are largely trivialised as being the fangirl or groupie, or in the words of Almost Famous’ Penny Lane, the Band Aids. Women typically exist in the rock scene as an ego boost for the gyrating male lead guitarist, which may now be an outdated stereotype, but it has certainly left an impact in not allowing women to make more of a headway into the rock scene.

Is music, and rock in particular still seen as a male life choice and career path for you?

Not at all. There are women doing fantastic work in music right now, even if this year’s festival line-ups don’t necessarily reflect that. The music industry is still a bit of a boy’s club, but that isn’t going to change unless we get more women involved at all levels: from performers to producers, we need more young women getting involved and getting passionate about a career in music. To any girls reading this that want to get into music, you gotta just go for it. Believe in yourself and the rest will follow.

Thanks so much for your time – lastly, what have you guys got coming up we should be aware about?

We’ve got a couple of events in the pipeline that are very very exciting, so keep your eyes peeled for those. We’re also putting together our first printed zine and will be organising a launch gig/party for it, so stay tuned! Lots of exciting things to look forward to.

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