Dozens of Music Festivals Announce Gender Balance Initiative

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The stage before a performance by Alice Glass on October 29, 2017 in San Pedro, Calif. (Matt Cowan/Getty Images)

Several dozen music festivals and conferences held around the world have pledged to bring gender parity to their stages and panel discussions, the U.K.-based PRS Foundation announced yesterday as part of an ongoing project called Keychange. These events join eight other festivals who promised their participation when the project, described by PRS as "a pioneering European initiative which is empowering women to transform the future of the music industry," first launched.

"Half our audience is female, so it makes sense that that should be reflected on stage too," says Angela Dorgan, organizer of the Dublin emerging music festival Hard Working Class Heroes, in a statement accompanying the announcement.

The Proms, an annual classical music festival in the U.K., also put its name to the pledge. The move is particularly noteworthy given the festival's scale — daily performances over the course of eight weeks — and classical music's especially poor reputation for equal gender representation, both in the compositions chosen for performance and the conductors leading them. Marin Alsop, who in 2013 became the first woman to conduct The Proms' prestigious Last Night concert, said in a speech at the performance's close: "I have to say, I'm still quite shocked that it can be 2013 and there can still be firsts for women."

At Coachella, one of the world's best-known and most successful music festivals, 55 of 163 acts booked for this year include women in their lineup; of those, 35 are solo artists. Goldenvoice, the festival's parent company (itself owned by AEG), did not immediately respond to a request for comment on gender parity initiatives or whether it planned to institute its own.

The lack of equal representation extends across the whole of the music world. A recent study from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, published in January, analyzed the 600 songs included in the end-of-year Hot 100 singles chart between 2012 and 2017. It found 22.4 percent of those songs were performed by female artists, while only 12.3 percent of them were written by female songwriters and 2 percent were produced by women.


The pattern repeats within the industry's executive class, according to one of its few major metrics. Within the Power 100, Billboard's annual ranking of the music industry's most powerful executives, 17 percent are women. Live Nation — the world's largest concert promoter, which owns dozens of festivals, and whose CEO topped this year's Power 100 — declined to comment on equal representation initiatives, and referred NPR Music to its subsidiary companies for comment on gender parity at the festivals in which it owns controlling stakes.

Percentages don't tell the whole story. Composer Du Yun, winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for music for her opera Angel's Bone, advised caution on that front in a conversation with NPR Music's Tom Huizenga last year. "I think the debate of equality and diversity should happen within ourselves," she said. "We need to understand what diversity means to us, so that we don't just stop at an Excel sheet."

Even so, the difference revealed by the numbers alone is steep. As the creators of Keychange explain on its website, "Across the participating countries' collecting societies, women represent 20 percent or less of registered composers and songwriters. Earnings for women are even lower."

Cyrena Touros contributed additional reporting to this story.

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