In recent years, there's been a lot made of the gender imbalances on festival lineups (that is, there are usually about two woman musicians to every 100 men), and the unfortunate fact that they're symptomatic of the state of the music industry at large. I wrote recently, for example, about how women at various levels of the music industry are denigrated, and it's often difficult for women to even get a foot in the door when men are so consistently dominant.
So, that's where ReBalance, a new British campaign from Festival Republic and PRS Foundation comes in. As the company responsible for some of the UK's largest and best-known festivals, including Reading and Leeds and Wireless, Festival Republic are more familiar than most with the clear gender imbalances we see illustrated so clearly by festival lineups, so they're doing something about it.
Over the next three years (starting from 2018), a woman artist or woman-led band will be given a week's worth of studio time every month by Festival Republic, and will also be provided with travel and accommodation, meaning that financial constraints should hopefully not deter any musicians from applying. At the end of each year, the successful acts will also be offered a spot on a Live Nation or Festival Republic lineup, which, obviously, is extremely cool, considering that a recent evaluation carried out by the PRS Foundation (who are supporting the project) found that only 16 percent of the UK's composers and songwriters are people who identify as women.
"Being a woman in a band ain't easy," said Fickle Friends' Natti Shiner in a statement. "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." She continued, adding that Rebalance looks set to go beyond token gestures, and "will provide support for the things that actually matter to an emerging artist – studio time, travel, accommodation, practical advice etc".
In that vein, the campaign will also launch an apprenticeship scheme for studio engineers, encouraging woman applicants for a three-year programme based in Leeds. This is also hugely positive because it recognises that women are in the minority all the way across the industry, rather than simply tackling the surface issue of a lack of woman performers. That's a discrepancy noted by Melvin Benn, managing director at Festival Republic. "There is a significant lack of female acts with recording contracts, and indeed airplay – it's quite astonishing," he said. "Artists like Maggie Rogers, Halsey, Zara Larsson and Ray BLK are all playing festivals and succeeding in the music industry, so in that respect there has been a surge comparably to previous years – but all these artists have a very mainstream presence. Mainstream pop doesn't seem to have an issue, but the festival environment caters for all genres, hence this being a wider problem."
For me, this is probably the most generous and exciting initiative I've ever seen in terms of taking practical steps towards redressing the gender imbalance of the music industry: it's easy to call it out, but far less simple to put concrete plans in place to give women a real chance at making it. Hopefully other organisations follow suit.
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