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Music, gender representation and the ‘pipeline problem’


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The lack of women nominated in some of the key mixed-gender categories at last night’s Brit Awards was a talking point even within the awards itself. Now Vick Bain, the former CEO of songwriters body BASCA (now the Ivors Academy) has published some thoughts on the issue of diversity in music awards ceremonies and festival lineups that are relevant well beyond the UK.

Bain’s argument is that the core problem driving male-heavy nominations and lineups is what she terms the music pipeline, citing her experience researching the historical winners of the Ivor Novello Awards, and finding that only 6% had been women – rising to only 10% since 2010.

“This was despite working on ensuring the judging panels were as diverse as possible, but the judges can only choose from the works that are being entered in the first place,” wrote Bain. Hence the pipeline problem, with her research showing that “only 14% of songwriters/composers are female and that only 20% of artists on the label rosters are female. So there are a heck of a lot fewer women at the start of the award/festival pipeline than men”.

Bain added that the knock-on effects mount up. “For labels and publishers to enter their acts into the awards or promote them to festivals, they need chart placements and economic success to be eligible. If women are relegated to being the novelty act on a label in a serious minority, they wont be getting the attention, the best professional, and financial support they deserve and need to push them to chart success and placements. Coupled with an unconscious bias towards male artists from the general public based on what they are accustomed to hearing, it’s a relentless circle.  These are systemic barriers which result in fewer female artists being submitted to award competitions and ending up on the major festival stages.”

Can this cycle be broken? The positive thing is that people are trying. We’ve written about PRS Foundation’s Keychange initiative, which continues to build momentum in signing up festivals to work towards 50/50 gender splits. Bain is making her own contribution by compiling and sharing a Google spreadsheet based on her analysis of 150 label rosters. It’s a list of 700 solo artists plus more than 600 bands with at least one woman member, for use by festival bookers.

“The more these women are booked onto festival stages the more likely they will sell product and become better known. The festival stages have a symbiotic relationship to the award ceremonies,” she wrote.

Eamonn Forde

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