Holly Watts

Inspired by the half-hearted excuses of male festival organizers when they were asked about their significantly different line-ups, the equality campaigner Vick Bain gatheredVer 4,500 musicians of all genres and branches in the coveted ‘F-list’. Holly Watts reports.

While music festivals may feel like a distant memory right now, a new database of women artists means their line-ups could look very different when they finally resume in 2021. This means festival directors have no excuses when it comes to eliminating the gender imbalance on their stages. When a festival bill is posted, the first thing that comes to mind is probably not the number of female artists performing. But maybe there is something to consider before buying your ticket. A lack of female promoters, exclusivity clauses, and a male-dominated festival culture has resulted in a lack of female representation on a global scale.

The gender imbalance problem in music festivals has been around as long as the festivals themselves. It wasn’t until 2015, when the music blog ‘Crack in the Road’ tweeted the Reading and Leeds poster with the male acts highlighted, that it became a major topic of conversation the branch. If only artists and bands with women identification members were left unprocessed, fewer than ten acts would be left. This stark exposure of inequality meant that the festival’s curators were suddenly being scrutinized much more closely. If the situation were to improve, festivals had to be held accountable.

The F-List is a directory of over 4,500 musicians from all genres and branches

A study conducted by Pitchfork found that the festivals themselves, on average, were 74% men as of 2017. The following year, 45 festivals pledged to achieve gender equality by 2022, including Kendal Calling and Liverpool Sound City. So how close are we to this 50/50 split in 2021? Well, we are certainly not quite there yet. The BBC’s analysis found that before the pandemic, only 8% of 2020 headliners were female. Haim, Little Mix and Taylor Swift have been billed as the only female headliners at sixteen of the UK’s top festivals. When Reading and Leeds revealed a huge 2020 cast of ninety-one acts, only twenty-one of those acts had women members. Even the most gender-balanced UK festival in 2019, Latitude, was only 40% female. Worldwide, it was only the Spanish festival Primavera Sound that achieved a 50/50 split last year.

Why is this goal so difficult to achieve? Traditionally, when festival directors are challenged because of their gender imbalances, they blame a lack of female musicians. “There aren’t enough women […] They’re strong ticket sellers, ”said Festival Republic’s CEO in 2018 when asked about the wireless festival’s severe billing imbalances. However, you don’t have to look any further than the charts to see that it is certainly not that there are fewer female talent to choose from. The problem lies in representation: curators don’t know where to find female talent because of inequalities in the professional music industry. For example, of all musicians signed by record labels, only 20% are female.

In addition, less than one in five songs on the Top 100 airplay charts of 2020 was by British women. The problem isn’t that there aren’t any women in music, it’s that they don’t get enough visibility – enter the F-list. The F-list was created by the equal opportunity campaigner Vick Bain and is a directory of over 4,500 musicians from all genres and branches. Bain first put the artists together in a table that she published online. However, because of its immense popularity, it turned it into a fully searchable non-profit website funded by Arts Council England. Launched last year, the website allows you to filter by category, genre and location to find the right artist for you.

Also on the list are record labels, music publishers and agencies owned by women. Bain wants the directory to be a “primary authority on the advancement of women in music.” She hopes the list will encourage festival bookers and promoters to “broaden their horizons” instead of using the same acts to sell tickets every year. The website is constantly updated with solo artists or groups with at least one female member, so festival organizers can easily access the plethora of female talent they claimed didn’t exist. Bain told the BBC, “Now there is no need for people to say,” It’s really difficult to find all of these women. “I did the job for you so there is no excuse.”

When we finally get back to sunny festival fields, the stages could be more balanced than ever

It is clear that this simple resource will have a huge impact on the way festival lineups are built in the future, especially further down the bill. The F-list enables festival bookers to easily find and contact middle-class female artists who are not represented by their male colleagues. OneFest CEO Sandra Bhatia said the F-List is “an excellent tool and resource” to be used “for upcoming events.” Similarly, Sybil Bell, executive director of Independent Venue Week, said the list “includes everything we need to make a lack of female representation a thing of the past”.

It must be emphasized, however, that this is not about filling out quotas or tokenist bookings. Just because ensuring the representation of women currently requires a conscious effort does not mean that it should be viewed as a box exercise. DJ and producer Nabihah Iqbal told the Guardian that she believes the way the industry thinks needs to change: “Real change only comes when people in those positions of power change their mindsets and don’t feel like they’re filling a Quota for it “. This means that there must be diversity among the decision-making people in order to promote organic gender balance on stage. And while the selection should ultimately be based only on merit and not gender, it can only be done once the merits of non-male artists are recognized.

The F-List is just a sign that things are changing for the better, as Glastonbury organizer Emily Eavis told Radio 1 Newsbeat that the future of the UK’s biggest festival “has to be 50/50”. Male acts are also backing the effort, with indie giants finding in 1975 that they will only be playing festivals with equal bills and tweets. “This is how male artists can be true allies”. As a result, the topic quickly attracts industry’s attention and takes up space in public discourse. So when we finally get back to the sunny festival fields, the stages could be more balanced than ever. Just one more reason to let the music play.

You can find the F-List of British female musicians here.

Holly Watts

Featured image courtesy of Brandon Bynum via Unsplash. No changes were made to this image. Image license found here.

Article image courtesy of The F List for Music via Facebook. Article image courtesy of Dua Lipa via Facebook. No changes were made to these images.

For more content like news, reviews, entertainment, lifestyle, features, and more, follow us on Twitter and Instagram, and check out our Facebook page for more articles and information on how to get involved.