Since Easter Fresh On The Net has been working with The F-List to encourage F-List ambassadors to join us as weekly guest moderators in the hope that it will encourage more female music makers to share their music with our inbox, and to help spread the word of both the individual ambassadors music-making, and the work of The F-List.
According to Spotify’s latest data, music by female or mixed-gender artists make up just 22.8% of music being listened to across the streaming giant’s platform globally. A study conducted by the BBC found that female solo artists and all-female bands make up only 13% of headliners at the UK’s Top 50 Festivals this Summer. MIDiA’s Be The Change – Woman Making Music surveyed 401 women creators, 68% had experienced sexual harassment and/or objectification.
Both through the directory and the community of female and gender expansive musicians, songwriters, and composers, The F-List provides support and development for female music makers of all experience levels. The F-List’s creator Vick Bain talks to Fresh On The Net about the challenges faced by female music makers and what The F-List can do to help.
The F-List grew out of a survey you conducted in 2019 into over 300 UK record labels and publishing companies, establishing that female music creators made-up just 19.69% of signed artists and 14.18% of represented writers. What compelled you to put the survey together? And how did the survey lead to The F-List?
It all came about through my experience as CEO of what was then called the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers & Authors, now rebranded as the Ivors Academy, because one of the things we did was to own and run the Ivor Novello Awards. As CEO I had access to data on the awards going back to its beginning in 1956 and analysing it all in 2016 I saw that only 6% of awards over that 60 year period had gone to women.
I had numerous discussions with people internal to BASCA who all pointed their fingers at the music publishers, as it was they who submitted works to be judged. So it is a pipeline problem. I then turned my attention to the rosters of the music publishing companies, but I didn’t have time to do a comprehensive roster analysis until I went freelance in 2019. As soon as I had completed the publishing analysis I knew I had to look at the other side of the industry, the labels.
I also did a music degree analysis too, to show that 46% of all music performance students over the period 2013 to 2018 were female, so it isn’t like young women are just not as interested in music as men. When that report, Counting The Music Industry, was published at the end of 2019, it caused quite an outcry, but so much other research, including the statistics you mention above such as from Spotify, concur with these dismal numbers.
Early the next year, 2020, before the pandemic closed everything down, I realised I had a massive list of thousands of women who were signed to labels and publishing companies, and if I were to publish it as a Google spreadsheet promoters could use it to find musicians in their particular genre and improve their festival lineups. So I did that at the end of February, and it caught everyone’s imagination. A fantastic BBC journalist called Mark Savage did a story about it on the BBC News Entertainment website, and it suddenly went viral and I had hundreds of female musicians contact me wanting to be added to the list.
Of course, everything then shut down a few weeks later and I was pondering what to do with my time. Transforming the list into a fully accessible WordPress directory, where musicians could sign up themselves became my lockdown project. And while I was at it I thought I would set up a not for profit organisation backing its work, because I knew it had to be more than a list, it had to be a movement. I put out one tweet asking if anyone would be interested in joining me and immediately had over 120 people say yes, so I knew I was onto something good. We officially launched at the end of November 2020, with the backing of the wonderful Anoushka Shankar, and off we set.
The F-List takes on a number of different roles in its work supporting female music-makers, the first of which is as a directory. One of stated goals of the directory is to make it easier for festival organisers and similar to find female artists. You clearly feel the will exists among festival organisers to feature female artists, that The F-List needs to provide the means. With female solo artists and all female bands making up just 13% of headliners at the top 50 UK festivals this summer, does this not suggest there might be a lack of will too?
Oh yes I totally agree. There are numerous festivals out there which still have terrible representation. So that can only be wilful. But, there are also many other events and festivals which really do want to make a difference, have signed up to something like Keychange, and are taking fantastic steps to ensure their stages are diverse. And for them The F-List is a brilliant tool. We have set up a program called Doing The Right Thing, with amazing festivals such as Under The Stars, and we celebrate and work with these festivals who are, or who want to, have balanced line-ups. Because as much as we call out the festivals which are deliberately not doing enough we also want to celebrate the ones who are enlightened and leading the charge.
But I also want to say something about that 13% figure too. The BBC Data Unit who conducted that research also published a similar analysis back in 2017, where they analysed over 40 years worth of top UK festivals and the female headline figure then was 6%. So even if 13% is still nowhere near good enough, it is changing, albeit too slowly, but it is going in the right direction. This is why it is so important to do this research, so we can understand exactly where we are and what actions we need to take to make a positive difference.
According to MIDiA’s Be The Change survey, 36% of female music creators felt there was a problem accessing resources due to their gender. One of the stated aims of The F-List is to improve access to training and resources for female artists. In tangible terms, what would that look like? Particularly as it relates to resources which covers a wide range of support mechanisms within the industry.
Over the past 18 months we have put on over 30 free online events for over 600 female and gender expansive musicians on a range of topics that will help them with their career; from business knowledge such as intellectual property, applying for funding and digital marketing campaigns to personal development coaching and musicianship skills such as recording techniques and music technology workshops. They’ve all been a safe space for women and have gone some way to helping better inform and educate them, which for many of them has been the first time they have experienced this.
We also launched a program this year, generously supported by Help Musicians, called a Culture of Belonging where in four weekends across the year a selected group of female and gender expansive musicians can be trained in one of the UK’s top recording studios, the Battery owned by Miloco Studios, and the entire audio team are female professionals. Again this is a revolutionary concept and experience for many female musicians, many of whom who have had negative experiences in studios, either from outright sexual assault to simply having creative control of their music taken away. So this program gives them confidence and knowledge so that the next time they are in a commercial studio they can take those lessons with them. We have just announced another round of applications so please let your network know about it!
The F-List also wants to play a central role in the promotion of gender equality across the industry. Is this something that can be achieved by encouraging greater awareness or will the changing of minds, habits, and prejudices require legislation, moreover, legislation with teeth?
Yes this is one of our core aims; calling out the perilous conditions for women in music, especially female creatives. And this ability really comes out of the Counting the Music Industry research, and now my PhD research too (I am exploring women’s careers in the music industry). We have just launched a Gender in Music Research Hub and have a network of PhD researchers, Doctors and Professors coming together from many disciplines and building up a detailed, and evidenced based, understanding of women in music. This evidence is crucial to our understanding, and of educating the industry as to the work that has yet to be done. I always say facts not opinions. And then these facts can be used to campaign for the changes that are required otherwise no-one will listen. So when we speak from a position of knowledge and authority, people have to listen. Changes are necessary in the industry, in our legislation, and ultimately in society.
Of the 401 female music makers who participated in MIDiA’s Be The Change survey, 38% reported they had experienced discrimination in the form of ageism and 64% had been subjected to sexual harassment and/or the subject of objectification. How do we go about tackling a set of issues that are as interlocked across society at large, as they are issues that blight the music industry?
Yes, as above this is a multi-level issue that straddles across who we are as a society. There is a growing body of research into harassment and discrimination in music, I am currently working with the Incorporated Society of Musicians (of which I am currently the President) on their latest Dignity At Work report and it will be interesting to see if we have made any progress at all in the past five years. We will be publishing that report later this year. Of course this is an issue that can affect men too, but women suffer more because it’s all about power, and at the moment white men are still in charge and taking advantage of that power.
So we need to look at our music education system to ensure it is safe and supporting equal access for girls and young women, and also what we are doing in our music organisations to better protect the women who are working in them, and what our laws are at a national level and ultimately what are own individual attitudes, biases and behaviours are. So there is a lot of work to be done but we have to, absolutely have to, keep on with it.
The fourth and final aim of The F-List relates to research. What little research there is into gender equality in music appears to be focused at an industry level. Fresh On The Net prides itself in championing grassroots music, will The F-List be undertaking research at a grassroots level?
I have covered some of this in the question above about using research to support our campaigning, as it’s all interlinked. So we have set up a Gender in Music Research Hub and a number of these academic researchers are already looking at women’s roles in grassroots music, if you define grassroots as amateur, unpaid or unsigned. Sophie Daniels is researching non-commercial applications for songwriting, for example.
It appears that there are many, many women who participate in amateur (unpaid) music making. And that might be by choice, but for a lot of women it’s just because they can’t get investment from labels, or opportunities, such as being booked for gigs and festivals, primarily because of discrimination. There are many hundreds of unsigned musicians on The F-List and it blows my mind that so many of them are brilliant, hugely talented but they can’t get support for their careers.
And I am also personally interested in the transition, and the ability, or not, for women to start earning money out of music. How do women build music careers and what tools, support and organisations are out there for them? I saw that in Counting the Music Industry, the gap between 46% of music performance students being female but only 20% of those signed to labels, and so it is forming an essential part of my PhD focus into women’s careers in music.
It’s rather like many women are brilliant cooks at home, in the private sphere, but men are predominantly chefs, in the commercial public sphere, where they have an opportunity to build a career out of it and sometimes also lots of fame and money. So these factors impact women in all other sectors of work, but in music it seems particularly difficult.
Support for women at the grassroots level is extremely important and all music organisations must be looking at what barriers they have, unwittingly most of the time, that may exist that means participation is off-putting for female musicians. Attracting female musicians may require a slightly different approach that many companies haven’t considered; an obvious, public and positive statement of welcome and inclusion, more women on teams and in leadership, images of women and gender expansive folk in marketing materials, all go some way towards demonstrating a genuine desire to reach out and make sure women will want to participate.
I whole-heartedly welcome Fresh On The Net’s work in this area, particularly this summer where nearly 20 of your Guest Moderators are women who have come from The F-List community. More diversity on your selection panels each week will go some way to reassuring female and gender expansive musicians that they may have a chance of being selected. That is not to say your selection panel will be gender biased, just you may get more women submitting tracks if they feel diversity and inclusion is important to you.
Female or mixed-gender artists make up just 22.8% of the music being listened to across the Spotify’s platform globally, based on your experience, is this imbalance reflected throughout music from the grassroots to the charts?
Yes and as I have discussed relates to the 20% signed to UK labels, and which is probably mirrored elsewhere too. We have what is called vertical segregation; where women are clustered into lower status positions, such as unsigned musicians, and they gradually disappear the higher the status, such as signed artists and especially those achieving chart success and music industry awards. Imagine a triangle with more women in the bottom levels and disappearing as you get to the top.
Realistically, is there anything that can be done to alter people’s listening habits?
Yes, it’s the publishing companies and labels who have the marketing spend and power to change people’s listening habits. They are the ones who are able to get on playlists and break artists. They are the tastemakers. They need to invest in female talent and ensure that their rosters are gender balanced so that the pipeline onto the streaming platforms is more equal. Then the fans will be exposed to more female talent and listening habits will change.
Same with radio airplay; there is some fantastic research done by Linda Coogan Byrne and her organisation Why Not Her which demonstrates the inequality in how little women get played on many radio stations too. She’s campaigning for women to have greater airtime, like the festival lineups. But it all starts with the labels; they are the ones who are the R&D of the music industry and they have to invest in and support more female talent so the radio stations are sent more music made by women.
Finally, where would you like to see The F-List in 5 years time?
I want the directory to keep growing and growing. Every single day since we launched in November 2020 women and gender expansive folks have created listings and published their profiles. Every, single, day. We now have nearly 5.5K listings! I love it, it’s such a thrill when my email notifications go off with another woman joining the community. So I want that to keep growing, and just as importantly for promoters, labels, managers and commissioners, those with opportunities for women to keep using it, and investing and supporting female musicians.
But to keep doing that we need some long-term funding so my, and my board’s, ambition is to secure proper grant funding that will enable us to keep doing this essential work, and to ensure that the dismal statistics we see start to dramatically improve because of the work of The F-List. So to all you music industry organisations out there who want to do something positive for diversity in music; come support us financially, no strings attached of course, and we will change the music industry for the better!