Women are at a disadvantage in the music industry. That is a cold, indisputable fact, often shrugged off by the business at large. The PRS Foundation’s recent ‘Women Make Music’ Evaluation found that, unbelievably, only 16% of the UK’s registered songwriters are women. Even worse, according to Women’s Audio Mission “less than 5% of the people creating the sounds, music and media in the daily soundtrack of our lives are women”. With the recent revelations of the eye-watering gender pay gap at the BBC, the reality is finally hitting home in the entertainment industry – we have developed a serious gender imbalance.
Fortunately, some in the industry are stepping up to the plate. Festival Republic and the PRS Foundation have announced the launch of ReBalance, a new initiative set to address the gender imbalance in the music industry.
The Leeds-based project will run for three years and will provide one week’s studio recording to a UK-based female musician, solo artist or female-featuring band each month from 2018 through 2020. Studio and engineering costs will be paid for by Festival Republic, along with accommodation and travel.
At the end of each year, the artists selected will be given slots at a Festival Republic or Live Nation festival. The organisation are defining female as anyone who identifies as a woman, while for bands to be eligible they must include a woman or women who are “fundamental to writing and producing duties.”
There will also be two apprentices chosen for the three year programme, during which they will work with engineers in-house at Old Chapel Music Studio before becoming the lead/co-engineers on the project.
Nearly 80% of the applicants to the Women Make Music programme have said the support they had significantly improved their confidence. This suggests targeted programmes like ‘ReBalance’ may well be the answer to correcting this imbalance.
Vanessa Reed, CEO of PRS Foundation stated: “The evaluation of our Women Make Music fund highlighted the ongoing challenges for female artists whilst also drawing attention to the lack of women working in other industry roles including the recording studio. Low representation of women in these aspects of the creative process is an obstacle for female artists as well young women who are considering a career in music production.”
“I’m delighted that Festival Republic are responding to this by offering new opportunities which will support female artists alongside younger women who want to develop skills in music production and sound engineering. I’m also pleased that this is happening in Leeds, acknowledging the importance of promoting infrastructure and opportunities for talent development outside of London.”
‘Fickle Friends’ singer Natti Shiner, who is part of the selection panel, added: “Let’s face it, guitar music is male-dominated and it seems like the wider music industry is hardwired towards men – even the fact that people often feel they have to refer to our band as being “female-fronted” feels wrong (who ever referred to ‘Arctic Monkeys’ as a “male-fronted band?!)”
“ReBalance is important because it looks to tackle this issue in a long-term way. Rather than just sticking a few female artists on some bills as a token gesture, it will provide support for the things that matter to an emerging artist – studio time, travel, accommodation, practical advice etc.”
MonoKrome Music Director, Rowan Davis, is one of many women working in the industry pleased to see such steps being taken:
“As a woman with a background in business, but being relatively new to the music industry itself, I very much welcome the ReBalance initiative. I’m delighted that an effort is being made to redress the huge imbalance in the industry and support and promote the talent of female artists. Sexism in the music industry feels very much like the dirty secret of the industry; everyone knows it exists and that it’s commonplace, yet it is seldom confronted, or even discussed. Hopefully ReBalance will be the catalyst the industry needs to pick up it’s game and catch up with the 21st century. Lets hope for more initiatives to stamp out sexism, not only for artists, but for employees and fellow industry professionals too.”
In June, Mandy Parnell, award-winning mastering engineer, owner of Black Saloon Mastering and one of the ReBalance selection panel, spoke on the BBC’s Victoria Derbyshire programme in a segment titled ‘Sexism In The Music Industry‘. When addressing the shortage of women in music-tech roles, Parnell intimated that the issue could stem from a lack of hands-on experience in school, when children are young and full of enthusiasm.
Often, girls are encouraged to play classical instruments (piano, flute, violin) while boys are taught electric instruments like guitar and bass which can often spark their interest in the sound production process. Parnell believes that classroom-based encouragement for girls to get more hands on with music would prevent them disregarding it as a career path in later years.
Earlier this year Laura Marling produced an excellent series of podcasts called ‘Reversal of the Muse’ in which she spoke to talented female producers like Catherine Marks (Wolf Alice), experienced engineers like Vanessa Parr (Coldplay) and performers from HAIM to Dolly Parton about how their gender has affected their careers. As well as providing first-hand accounts of sexism in the music business, these podcasts discuss what opportunities there are for addressing this historic problem. They are well worth a listen.
Happily then, the ReBalance programme will be welcomed by Marling, Shiner and our other female peers in the music industry. Whilst it won’t fix the problem overnight, providing talented female artists, writers, producers and engineers with springboard opportunities like this should help to put women on the equal footing they patently deserve.