There has been a lot of talk lately in industry and mainstream media around gender balance and diversity in festival line ups. The BBC published a report prior to Glastonbury this year, which said that eight out of ten of the top slots on the 14 UK festivals that they analysed were all filled by male acts.
One main reason pointed to for this, is that the wider music industry is heavily male; the record labels should be signing more female artists, so that promoters can then book them to sell tickets. The statistics back this up, and I think it’s true that this is a big contributing factor to the problem. It is why I applaud the Studio Support Scheme recently announced by Festival Republic and PRS Foundation, which is aimed at helping female acts to make records and market themselves.
However, it somehow feels like an academic solution to an academic problem. Whilst I look forward to seeing the female stars of tomorrow a few years down the line, I also want to see more women playing at festivals next year, too. What I haven’t heard yet in this conversation, is how promoters and bookers can address the issue right now.
It’s sensible to tackle the wider issue, but I can’t help but think that this approach also turns a blind eye to the fact that there is some amazing female talent around already. Surely it is possible to book a larger proportion of female artists than has been booked in previous years, even if this takes a little more research, consideration and careful curation.
Whilst the focus on headliners is common in the media, festivals have always served as a platform for artists to play to new audience, and at independent festivals in particular, festivalgoers tell us how much they love discovering bands that they wouldn’t otherwise see.
It’s for this reason that festivals have a duty to look at who they’re booking at the bottom of the bill, as well as the top, and make sure that the music isn’t being performed by people who all look the same, just because that’s the way it’s always been.