FEATURE: The #WHPowerList: Bringing the Influence of Women to the Next Generation




The #WHPowerList



Bringing the Influence of Women to the Next Generation


I am never too far from the subject of women in music…


IN THIS PHOTO: Woman's Hour's Jane Garvey (who has interviewed various female artists/musical figures about their experiences)/PHOTO CREDIT: BBC

and ensuring I do all I can to promote their fine work. Not only do I publish regular all-female playlists and scathing looks at sexism in music – I am committed to being one of few male journalists tackling the subject regularly and asking what more can be done. It seems to me, a lot of the time, men are not talking with other men about the gulfs and issues that have plagued the music industry since time began! The exposure and availability of social media mean we are all aware of problems around gender rights but I wonder whether enough is being done (by men) to ask why attitudes pervade and, for no reason whatsoever, all the fantastic female talent across the music industry has to fight harder than the men. Maybe it is an ingrained attitude that suggests music and the arts is really a ‘man’s domain’. I have been compelled by Woman’s Hour’s Power List 2018 that seeks to define and highlight the most important and powerful women in music. Whether you feel artists like Florence Welch or D.J.s Jo Whiley are the most influential; producers like Catherine Marks or great female journalists in the mainstream – it is a chance to have your say and get involved. What, then, is the concrete and foundations of the Power List?

The Woman’s Hour 2018 Power List will recognise the Top 40 most successful women having an impact on the music we’re all listening to – whether that’s on radio, vinyl or streaming services.



This won’t be a list of who’s sold the most records, or who’s making the most money. We're seeking out women who are demonstrating power in the industry, innovators and ground-breakers supporting and championing the work of other women or changing the industry from within – making it more equal, diverse and creative and an even more exciting business to work in”.

It is impressive and overdue such a commemoration and time for activism has come about. I hope the results and build-up around the Power List will prick some ears and, as ever, highlight the sexism and divides in music. I am always writing about the topic but feel my (meagre) voice is not capable of projecting real gravitas and impetus. The women judging this year’s Power List include columnist Jasmine Dotiwala and producer Catherine Marks; singer-songwriter Kate Nash and radio presenter Tina Daheley. It is an exciting and expert panel who will be able to look through the nominations and pick the most influential and powerful women in music. Power, essentially, does not have to mean business acumen and financial stock: a political voice or constantly intrepid songwriter is just as striking; producers and journalists who champion women’s music or muscle alongside the men in the industry are worthy of nomination. It is amazing that, in 2018, we are still four years off music festivals pledging a fifty-fifty gender split in terms of performers.

I will come onto festivals later but there have been a couple of changes. This year’s events like the Cambridge Folk Festival have given larger spotlight for women; in America, the 2018 Philadelphia Folk Fest has become the first to provide that desired balance:

Keychange, led by the PRS Foundation and supported by the Creative Europe program of the European Union, is an international campaign which invests in emerging female talent by encouraging music festivals to sign up to a 50/50 gender balance pledge by 2022.

Nordell said the Philadelphia Folksong Society sort of bent the pledge’s rules for this year’s festival — by going over the 50/50 margin. The lineup is made up of 55 percent women acts, and all of the headliners (Patty GriffinValerie June and Wynonna Judd), are women.

“The Philadelphia Folk Festival is all about coming together and appreciating music and one another,” Nordell  (Justin Nordell, executive director of the Philadelphia Folksong Society) said. “It is open to anyone of any particular race, creed, beliefs or what have you”.

It is amazing to think we have to highlight festivals when they provide equal footing for men and women – given the sheer scope and ability of women in the industry. There are a number of reasons why I feel the Woman’s Hour Power List needs greater oxygen...


IN THIS IMAGE: The judges for the Power List 2018/IMAGE CREDIT: BBC

I still think there are those gender divides: women are fighting and promoting rights for women but how many men are getting involved and joining the fight?! I do not think there is deliberate segregation; a time for actual unity and productive discussion is paramount. When talking about the Power List; BBC Radio 3 presenter Suzy Klein had her say:

Music is pretty far behind lots of other businesses and industries. I think less than half of people in the music business work in a place where there’s any kind of equality drive, which is far lower than other sectors.” She added: “I think progress has been happening but at a slightly Jurassic pace. Some of the things, like Marin Alsop conducting The Last Night of the Proms obviously helps. It shouldn’t be a big deal…but for that to have only happened in the 21st century! Come on!”

For me, personally, the reason I am keen to undress the debate and reveal the women making a big impact in music is because of the past and current influence they have on me. I am a big radio fan and can see the imbalance that seems inexplicable. I am a listener of BBC Radio 6 Music and see, aside from a racial imbalance, there is a big majority of men on the station. The women on the station, including Lauren Laverne and Mary Anne Hobbs, are among the most passionate voices. They are keen to promote new musicians, have that deep love for what they do and, if anything, are more striking and resonant than their male peers – the fact there are no female drivetime presenters on the station is worrying.


IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 1 D.J. Annie Mac/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

The same goes for BBC Radio 2. I love the likes of Claudia Winkleman and Sara Cox and, the latter, especially, gives me such a buzz and sense of warmth. Cox is the only reason I really tune into the station. She presents a 1980s music show and always leaves a much greater impression than anyone on the station – her bonhomie, witty and connection with the listener leads me to believe she would be perfect for primetime BBC Radio 2. I am a massive fan of Annie Mac and have been listening to her for years. In terms of sheer passion and the knowledge she has…there is nobody like her. I cannot think of a more skilled and essential D.J. in music right now. I have voted for her in the Woman’s Hour poll and know Mac speaks out against sexism and the role of women in music. Jo Whiley, when talking about the Woman’s Power List had her views where we need to make improvements:

Education is where it should all start really, that message should be put out there straight away. If girls want to work in any different area of the music industry, they should be told which colleges to go to, to start really young and be tenacious.” She is hopeful the Power List will achieve some change in this direction. She says: “I want my daughter to think she could head up a record label sometime or she could be a music producer in the studio. That’s what I want young girls to aspire to, not just to be on Pop Idol”.

I think education, or lack thereof, is a big issue. A lot of musical education involves paying for tuition and something that happens a little later in life. We ingrain useless information into children and give them lessons they are not going to carry through life. I feel sex education needs to be modernised and a little bolder; a General Studies course that talks about racism, politics and everyday subjects – music definitely needs to be a mandatory core.

The fact we have just celebrated Madonna’s sixtieth birthday and mourned the loss of Aretha Franklin shows how much respect those women hold. Both are very different but they are icons who have shaped music. I feel children coming through school need to know about them and their peers; producers and D.J.s who have changed the game; businesswomen and spokespeople who have asked for change and are electioneering on a daily basis. I would not be as interested in music and its awe-inspiring power were it not for women. Kate Bush is an idol and someone I am endlessly fascinated by; Björk is one of those musicians who continues to change music and innovate over twenty years after her debut album. I can rattle off countless names (of female artists) who have inspired me and the current flock who warrant great respect. The same goes for women in every corner of the industry – not only recording artists and those we see on stage. We go through our days and listen to music but do we really think about what happens behind the scenes and the gap between male and female artists? Mabel, daughter of Neneh Cherry and Cameron McVey feels a safe space for female artists is the business is a good step:

I would love to start some kind of safe space where females can collaborate, like a studio, where you can do what you want and experiment.” She described it as a “liberating moment” when she realised another woman’s success did not mean her downfall”.


IN THIS PHOTO: Musician and songwriter Jorja Smith/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

We never really celebrate women in music the same way as we do with men. We all know about the rich, stadium-filling male artists who get admiration and are seen as the biggest in the game. They have all the money and they get the majority of the press attention. The access of online music sites means we are seeing more female-made songs and news articles getting out there. Internet radio stations are spreading the love and, as great as that is, is it translating into industry change and genuine pledges?! A lot of female-fronted bands, like Wolf Alice and Chvrches, find interviewers treat them differently (to their male support) and see them as a curiosity. Look a festival floors and line-ups and it is still male-heavy. I am happy there are small changes happening and greater discussion happening. I think a lot of the mandates and promises are far too weak and insincere. Festivals, here, have pledged to create a gender balance by 2022 – why does it take four years to do something so simple?! The talent is out there waiting to go and I am baffled why these changes cannot happen next year! Rising British talent like Stefflon Don and Jorja Smith have talked about finding confidence and what it is like being a woman in music. Look at the way a woman writes and how she articulates her emotions compared to that of a man. I get something very primal, pure and long-lasting regarding female songwriting. We know most of the chart hits out there today are written and produced by men – this is something that needs to change.


IMAGE CREDIT: Getty Images

There is a lot more to talk about but we all know the truth: there is a huge way to go before there was equality and parity. I have written extensively on the subject of gender rights and would like nothing more than celebrate women’s rights and music on Woman’s Hour or a similar format. I feel there are not enough men coming through and do struggle to figure out why. The Power List is a rare chance to put women in the spotlight and look at the vast array of inspiring and strong creatives who are relatively unsung and making an enormous contribution. Head over to https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p0695d4c and have a look and listen to all the great videos and article about the Power List 2018. I am eager to hear the results and what happens once they are out there in the ether. I hope there is a rolling of the ball that leads to genuine change and greater involvement from men – not hiding away and assuming they do not need to alter their attitudes. Radio 1Xtra’s Jasmin Evans is among the selection of women who are giving their experiences and calling for greater understanding. It seems strange for a bloke to wade in so heavily but music is not one of those industries that is about gender and we are unsure how to integrate women in.


IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 2 D.J.Jo Whiley/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

I often think of the army and how many women are held back from the frontline. The musical trenches and frontline are full of women striking and shooting hard and showing immense strength. If we deny their voices or assume it is the men who hold the most power and prestige then that will do irrevocable damage. Look at the Power List page and there are email addresses and Twitter handles where you can cast your voice and vote and talk about the women in music you want to see honoured. We have a long way to go but, if we have yearly polls and events like this, it will make a big difference and pass positive messages to the next generation. The lack of education regarding music and gender roles is something I hope is overturned and addressed. I have a (very) long list of the women, through time, that has led me to where I am now. We would all be so much poorer and emptier were it not for the women in music and all they have given – and all they continue to do. From behind mixing desks and inside studios; D.J.s and producers pushing great music to hungry ears to those artists campaigning and delighting the masses…we need to bring these stories and humans to the forefront. Maybe a fifty-fifty music society is a way off – if we can ever achieve that – but I am confident, with great vocalisation and intent, we can all help to create a fairer and more even business. Let’s get that ball rolling and let’s get it…


IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 1Xtra D.J. Yasmin Evans/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images