We Identified the Gender Gap In Six Music Festival Line-Ups and Here Is What We Found Out
When Wireless Festival shared its initial line-up for the 2018 festival back in January, only three of the 37 acts announced were women. At the time, DJ Annie Mac called out the lack of women as “appalling” and “so embarrassing”, whilst singer Lily Allen added that “the struggle is real”.
Following the backlash, the music festival announced plans for an all-female stage which featured more than 25 acts. DJ Emerald, one of the added performers, told the BBC in June: "Shame it's a response to something negative, but it's 100 per cent positive and progressive."
Two initiatives that are actively trying to secure equality amongst festival line-ups are Smirnoff's Equalising Music campaign and the PRS Foundation’s Keychange initiative, with the latter aiming for a 50:50 gender balance by 2022.
Vanessa Reed, Chief Executive at PRS Foundation told Musicngear that “we're encouraging them to set that goal in a way that's achievable and makes sense to them e.g. for some the aim is for 50% of the acts on stage to include at least 1 woman. For some it might be more about their conference panels and the balance of speakers and others will go even further by looking at their workforce too.”
With women only making up 26% of the line-up of large music festivals in the UK in 2017, and less than 10% for female headliners in the U.S., there’s still plenty of work to be done. Not all is doom and gloom though, as Iceland Airwaves recently became the first festival in the world to successfully achieve its 50:50 balance as part of the Keychange initiative.
We decided to look at six festivals taking place in the UK during August 2018 to see just how much of a gender balance each had. The six festivals were chosen for their size, and for each playing to a variety of different genres and audiences. The festivals included in our research are: Boardmasters, Boomtown, Cambridge Folk Festival, Creamfields, and Reading/Leeds Festival (counting as one).
Disclaimer: Research was based on line-ups available on each of the festivals websites and acts including two or more people were classed as a group. Research does not include: tribute acts, orchestras, B2B’s, choirs, collective, party, or “presents” acts.
It’s Tough To Be a Woman
Out of all solo performers to be listed on the bill for all six festivals, only 25% were women compared to 75% male.
The worst festival for the solo gender divide was Creamfields festival. 67.1% of the line-up for the dance event were solo male performers, compared to only 9.2% female performers. The dance industry is known for being very male-dominated, which is something Smirnoff are actively aware of and are trying to tackle with their Equalising Music initiative.
Whilst Bestival performed slightly better with a 42.4% male and 21.5% female split, it was Cambridge Folk Festival who came out on top. In fact, the folk event was the only festival line-up in our research where solo female performers had a higher percentage than male acts (25% vs 20%).
London-based Country-Americana mixed gender duo O&O (comprising of vocalists Obadiah Jones and Orian Peled) recently performed at the Cambridge Folk Festival. The duo said that “of the festivals we performed at this year, some have been better than others about gender balance but, especially with headlining acts, there is a lot of work to be done to fix the gender representation.”
“It’s not that there is a lack of female artists, there is a glass ceiling when it comes to the headline slots. There is currently such a refreshing new generation of female artists in our genres of Country and Americana music who deserve to headline and get more radio airplay.”
Meanwhile, Lauren Ray, who has supported Anastacia on tour and recently released her 'Inside This Silence' EP, said: "I think the imbalance of gender at festivals is simply the same issue as it is elsewhere in the industry in that we need more women everywhere; in A&R, senior positions at labels, management, producers, mixers, musicians, artists and writers (remembering for a second how low PRS female songwriter membership numbers still are).
“The live music sector is just another piece of the gender inequality pie we're all still consuming and in all areas (not just festivals) I've heard the "we already have a female singer/songwriter on the list" line too many times as if there is a quota they feel they've satisfied.”
It’s Even Tougher To Be an All-Woman Group
Spice mania may be a thing of the past, but there’s still plenty of great all-women groups out that warrant a place on the bill. Unfortunately, the divide is even bigger when it comes to all-men and all-women bands. Out of all bands on the list, The man band took up 410 spots whilst all-women bands accounted for just 24 spaces.
At Reading and Leeds festivals, 38.8% of the line-up consisted of all-male bands, whilst just 2.4% were all-female. Boomtown festival had a 34/1.1% divide, whilst Boardmasters saw a 33.6/2.1% split.
Unfortunately for Creamfields, there were zero all-women groups on the bill whilst Bestival could only account for the one in the form of Eli & Fur. Cambridge Folk Festival came out top in this category, with all-women bands taking the highest percentage of 11.6% of the bill – still a far cry from the 25% of all-male bands on the folk line-up.
All-Male Bands Still Lead The Pack In Terms of Groups
Whilst faring better than all-women groups, mixed gender groups still didn’t have much of a presence on festival bills.
Mixed groups took up 166 slots across five festivals, as Creamfields had zero. Again, Cambridge Folk Festival came out best with the most even split – consisting of 25% all-male bands, 11.6% all-female and 18.3% mixed bands. Only 10% of the line-up for Reading & Leeds were mixed gender bands.
Country-Americana duo O&A added that “mixed gender acts, like us, are the least represented in the top-billed acts for the biggest festivals, but generally it seems that there is positive (if slow) change with initiatives such as PRS’ Keychange."
As each of the festivals represent different audiences and genres of music, it’s difficult to properly compare them against each other. However, there are enough prominent female acts in each genre of music to mean that that an equal representation of gender is more than possible.
The line-up for Cambridge Folk Festival, which is signed up to the PRS Keychange initiative, shows that a balance between genders can be achieved, whilst there’s plenty of progress needed to ensure that all-female bands are thoroughly represented.
The gender divide at Creamfields shows that there is much-needed change required in the dance industry to ensure that female solo acts, mixed gender groups, and female groups are given such spaces to perform and for crowds to enjoy.
PRS Foundation’s Reed added that the Keychange initiative “provides a way for festivals to be part of a positive, international movement which brings together people who all want to see change and are doing practical things about that.
“Keychange is about celebrating the efforts being made by festivals who sign up rather than naming and shaming those who don’t, so the best thing promoters can do to work towards this change is to get in touch!"
2022 isn’t far away and if we want to ensure that festivals under the Keychange initiative meet the 50:50 target by then, there’s still plenty of work to be done. Progress starts now.