Will the return of festival season bring gender balanced line ups?

With COVID restrictions lifting and plans for summer festivals appearing, we can’t wait for the return of live music! As festival lineups are starting to be released, we wonder if the long awaited return to live music is going to be the start of a change to more gender balanced festival lineups. 

As the world was given an unplanned break away from live music and festival season last year, there was an opportunity for festival organisers to reevaluate how they approach booking their lineups. Before the pandemic, we began to see some festival lineups slowly changing to represent more female and gender minority acts with organisations and individuals making a stand to create change. 

Matt Healy from The 1975 made a promise that he would no longer play festivals that had too few female acts on the lineup after Reading and Leeds 2019 festivals were criticized for their male dominated bookings. Incredible initiatives such as Keychange make it their mission for music organisations to include 50% women and underrepresented genders when programming festivals and events. During the pandemic, resources such as ‘The F-List’ were created. The F-List is a free online directory for females working in the music industry, listing everyone from producers to headline acts, making it easy to search for thousands of women in the industry. 

Some festivals have acknowledged they need to take responsibility, like Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis, who has agreed that they need to achieve a balanced lineup. Glastonbury has decided not to go ahead in its usual format this year, but has booked Haim as a headliner in their live streamed online event. The question still remains as to whether the festivals that are taking place this year will be making a conscious effort to ensure they showcase equality and diversity in their lineups. 

Some festivals such as Kendal Calling are already being criticised for a lack of female acts with 79% of the lineup being male and Isle of Wight Festival having a 73% male lineup; some have questioned whether the festivals have forgotten about gender balance over the pandemic. Vic Bains, creator of The F-List, has said that research has shown that 60% of festival goers are female and are wanting to see more female acts on stage, and with 50% of music degree students being female, she questions whether they are being represented at festivals.

Maxie Gedge, UK Project Manager of Keychange suggests that there are higher levels of grassroots female musicians but there are barriers in place that stop them from being able to progress and headline festivals. She suggests that music organisations need to take responsibility in supporting women in the industry. 

‘We need more music organisations to take responsibility and scratch below the surface to find that talent and raise it and put it on our stages and that will have a positive impact on everyone’.

Both Gedge And Bains agree that festivals who don’t start balancing out their lineups and showing diversity will get left behind, Gedge is calling on festival organisers to ensure that they source artists sustainably.

‘‘This is not about excluding anybody, this is about making sure your talent pools are diverse and ultimately making sure that your artists are responsibly sourced. We care about that in all other sectors and that’s because it’s sustainable and because it’s the future. We have a responsibility to adapt and I honestly believe that the festivals that don’t adapt and take that action towards equality will get left behind’.

Although there is still a lot of work to do to create a diverse and equal industry, there are festivals leading the way by demonstrating more positive and well represented line-ups such as Wild Paths, Focus Wales, Blue Dot Festival and Manchester Jazz Festival. Keychange are encouraging music festivals to make a pledge to commit to having 50% of their line up representing female and gender minorities by 2022.

If you’re interested in learning more about Keychange and their mission for gender balanced lineups, you can visit their website to find out more. If you are an underrepresented talent, can also apply to be a part of the Keychange programme here

To listen to Maxie Gedge and Vic Bain discuss female representation at festivals further, listen back to their interview on Women’s Hour here.