International Festivals Pledge Gender-Equal Billing By 2022; Promoter: ‘We Need to Be Developing Female Acts’

Kendal Calling 2017
Courtesy Kendal Calling
– Kendal Calling 2017
during Frank Turner’s set at the festival in 2017.

Festivals around the world such as Norway’s By:Larm, Eurosonic Noorderslag in The Netherlands, the UK’s Kendal Calling, Waves Vienna in Austria, and NYC Winter Jazzfest have pledged to book an equal number of women and men on their bills by the year 2022. 

The news from PRS Foundation’s Keychange comes amid high-profile grumblings about festival lineups featuring too many men, as well as comments about Grammy nominations skewing heavily male.

“The Keychange network of female artists and industry professionals and the festival partners’ idea of establishing a collective pledge will significantly accelerate change,” said Vanessa Reed, CEO of the PRS Foundation. ”I hope that this will be the start of a more balanced industry which will result in benefits for everyone.”

Keychange, with ambassadors including Garbage star Shirley Manson and producer Tony Visconti, is described as an international initiative supported by the European Union empowering women to transform the future of the music industry.

Other participating events, 45 in total, include BreakOut West (Canada), Canadian Music Week (Canada), Cheltenham Jazz Festival (England), Cheltenham Music Festival (England), Granada Experience (Spain), A2IM Indie Week (USA), BBC Music Introducing Stages (UK), and  BBC Proms (England.

Pollstar Live! featured its own Women On The Road discussion at this year’s event in Los Angeles Feb. 6-8, where the Yousaf sisters of Krewella talked of breaking into the male-dominated world of EDM.

“The presence of females in the EDM world at that time, from 2010-12, were mainly as vocalists on tracks that weren’t credited,” Yasmine said. “They weren’t valued as much as songwriters and singers compared to the DJs and producers.”

See Pollstar Live: Women + The Road

While the Keychange initiative is mostly Europe-centric, there appears to be a similar push in the States, with events like Moogfest in North Carolina announcing an initial talent lineup led by female and non-binary and transgender artists, as well as Fortress Festival in Fort Worth, Texas, touting a strong emphasis on female-led groups such as tUnE-yArDs, Rapsody, Hurray for the Riff Raff, Waxahatchee, Jay Som and Bedouine, with Fortress saying “nearly no other music festival in the country has booked a female-heavy lineup in 2018.” 

Still in Europe but notable is Rock in Rio Lisboa in Portugal, which announced that Katy Perry will top the bill on a day featuring only female artists. That includes Jessie J, Hailee Steinfeld, and Ivete Sangalo.

Rhythm & Blooms festival, which is in its 10th year and taking place in Knoxville, Tenn., April 6-8, is another with a female focus and was co-founded by a woman.

Co-founder Chyna Brackeen, who also books the lineup, says it’s not as simple as just booking great female musicians, and that artist development is key to having more females on festival bills.

“Here’s the deal and I hate to say this,” Brackeen told Pollstar. “There are immensely talented women out there making incredible music, who have not achieved the same levels of success that a lot of male artists have.

“So at the end of the day – and it’s easier at my level than at a Bonnaroo or a Coachella level –  but finding female artists who have achieved a level of success that will sell the number of tickets you need, who are valuable on the exact date that you need them –  that’s the key – and aren’t playing another festival within your radius clause – it gets pretty complicated,” Brackeen added, saying she wishes she could book a lineup of only women but is glad to be able to fill her festival undercard with lots of talented up-and-coming women and to take more risk.

“So it’s kind of a chicken-or-egg situation,” she said. “We need to be developing female acts in order to have female acts to book at that level. Headliners are hard,” she said.

This year’s Rhythm & Blooms features Deer Tick, Dr. Dog Paul Thorn’s Mission Temple Fireworks Revival, and many others such as Sarah Shook And the Disclaimers, Okey Dokey, The Mowgli’s, and Caroline Spence.

“It’s not just about, ‘Oh my God, here’s an amazing female artist who should be on the festival.’ Is she available? Does she want to play festivals? And is she playing the festival two hours away from you so it doesn’t make sense for her to play this year? And at the end of the day if it’s her versus someone who can sell 300 more tickets, who do you go with?”

A large part of the solution starts with artist development and breaking old habits.

“Until as an industry we have recognized that, yes, women can sell tickets and can move the albums or whatever your metric is, then women are not going to be in positions to show that they can do the numbers that they need to,” Brackeeen said, which includes managers and agents also going out to bat for female artists as much as their male clients.

Brackeen, who is proud to have been raised by a woman who was one of few executives at IBM in the ’80s, hopes things like the Keychange initiative as well as the #metoo movement will lead to further discussion.

“I hope what happens is we end up having a really open conversation as a society and just learn how to communicate with each other a little bit.”