FEATURE: Left of the Centre: Pushing Great Women to the Forefront and Redressing Imbalance




Left of the Centre


IN THIS PHOTO: Lizzo (her album, Cuz I Love You, is out on 19th April)/PHOTO CREDIT: Cameron Wittig

Pushing Great Women to the Forefront and Redressing Imbalance


MAYBE I am sounding like a broken record...


but, with every passing week, there seems to be some report or article that highlights gender inequality and discrimination. This Guardian article talked about black women in the industry and how there is a big problem with genres, especially Grime. How many women are being promoted in the Grime sector and, aside from that, how many black women does one see highlighted and successful in the mainstream?

I recently asked the same question in a documentary with BBC Radio 4 and though there were several answers, the one that felt most pertinent is that this is hardly a “grime problem”. The music industry as a whole has a dearth of black women. Whether it is pop music or more so-called “urban” sounds such as UK rap and Afro-bashment, black female artists are very rarely heard above the underground. Even in styles such as afrobeats (where gender is the issue as opposed to race) you’ll likely name heavyweights such as Wizkid, Davido, Burna Boy before one female artist.

In more soulful British pop and R&B, the likes of Jess Glynne, Adele and Jessie J are the major faces. Whatever the genre, it is hard to think of a black woman who has had the same commercial success as them – at least, without jumping ship to the US as Sade did”.

It is clear that there is an issue with race and the fact that, in most genres, black women struggle the most. I have written countless articles regarding gender and the fact there is so much work to be done – and how little movement has been made the past few years.


 IN THIS PHOTO: Little Simz (whose album, GREY Area, is among the best of 2019 so far)/PHOTO CREDIT: Jack Bridgland for CRACK

I have written about the lack of women in headline spots and how this is a major issue. I feel the best work of this year has been produced by women. Think of everyone from Little Simz to Julia Jacklin and I think women are making the most interesting and arresting music around. I know festivals are trying hard to balance their line-ups but headline slots are still going to men – and, let’s face it, some rather boring artists! I do hope 2020 is a year when we not only see more women further down the bill but more headlining. 2019 is being dominated by women so I feel it is criminal that so many are being overlooked. I could go on for ages regarding the best female artists around and, look at the underground, and there are countless great female-led bands/artists; solo acts and duos who are pushing music in new directions. I do feel like there are improvements happening but how often do we see women pushed and idolised the same way as men? Look at music magazines and what stares back at you: largely, there are familiar men and I wonder why women are, for the most part, being shunned. I do think that the last couple of years has been ruled by women and, when I want to find innovation, style and passion, then it is female artists I gravitate towards.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Lana Del Rey (she will be releasing her hotly-anticipated album, Norman Fucking Rockwell, soon)/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images/Press 

I can name at least ten world-class albums of 2019 from women that top anything by a male act and we still have albums to come from Lizzo (Cuz I Love You) and Lana Del Rey (Norman Fucking Rockwell). I do not think it will be a whitewash from women this year but I would be shocked if anything but male artists tops the best from the women right now. We know the strength of music being made by women – this has been the case for so long. Whether this translates to festival bookings and success I am not sure. What does need to happen is how women are (under)represented in the media and still have to struggle. Entire genres are being dominated by men and it is undeniable there is such a wave of immense female talent waiting to come through. Not only do the finest female artists around deserve better than they get but we need to ensure that the industry changes its values and we do not continue to see such an imbalance. It is not just festivals and the mainstream that has a problem recognising the finest female artists around. I found this report from a Canadian website that highlighted the proportion of female songwriters and producers (compared to men):

A report published in February 2019, by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, stated that of  the top 100 songs of every year, only 21.7% were by women artists. The report also found that 12.3% of songwriters and 2.1% of producers of those songs were women and that women producers are outnumbered 47 to 1 by male producers.

In response to this report the Canadian Music Publishers Association recently launched a mentorship program, Women in the Studio. This initiative is designed to “provide the cohort with opportunities for skills development and networking opportunities that they would otherwise be unable to access”.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Producer and engineer Catherine Marks (she is one of the most successful and talented in the business and has worked with the likes of The Amazons and St. Vincent)/PHOTO CREDIT: Catherine Marks

I keep mentioning the great female producers around and why they warrant acclaim. Award-winning producers like Catherine Marks, Lauren Deakin Davies and Sylvia Massy continue to do amazing things and are helping to bring about awareness. I am especially a fan of Catherine Marks and the work she does; the variety of artists she has produced for and how influential she is – and is acting as a really strong role model for female producers. Producers in general get comparatively little attention in the industry but the role of the producer is vital and undervalued. I have noticed women in radio and how strong their voices are. From Arielle Free and Sara Cox to Dotty and Lauren Laverne; Georgie Rogers to Annie Nightingale and Elspeth Pierce, there are so many great women who, one suspects, are being paid less than their male peers. The disparity regarding women in radio and how few are given the bigger shows worries me. I do not want to cover too much ground I have explored before but I do think these great women need to be put in focus. Like the best music coming out right now, I find that the most appealing and interesting voices in radio belong to women. There have been some changes regarding gender imbalance on the big stations but not enough. It seems, in every corner, women are either being ignore or provided fewer opportunity than the men.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Carly Wilford is a successful D.J., businesswoman; public speaker and presenter/PHOTO CREDIT: Tom Jamieson for Huck

From the super-producers and headline bands to the biggest D.J.s, those in power and the innovators, we need to get away from the male-dominated attitude and start recognising women more. From Country radio in America prioritising men to the festivals not acting fast enough, so many problems need addressing. Not only is it frustrating to see so little big progress but a general ignorance means that many great artists and talent and struggling. I have sort of skimmed the surface and mentioned a few names that I really love but, to be honest, it would take hours for me to pay proper tribute to all the great women who have helped shape my music tastes and inspire me today. This great article is one I stumbled on when I wanted to look at the finest albums by female artists. It is amazing seeing how many classics are there and, when we think about it, how much the industry owes them. We live in an age when anyone can put out music and it would be naïve to say that women are being held back when it comes to recording and getting their material heard. I do think a lot of the issues stem when it comes to the top of the industry and those who make the decisions. Emily Eavis has said how she feels the male-dominated culture at festivals like Glastonbury is impenetrable.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Emily Eavis/PHOTO CREDIT: Katherine Rose

This article goes into more detail. Eavis is keen to see progress but she described a typical viewpoint/impression of a male booker and those in charge:

"They love a beer with the guys, the agents. They do golf days, they do football trips, and there's a whole brotherhood which is so tight. It's impenetrable. It feels like it. I'm like, 'Come on'.

"I know they are labelling me as a real hassle, and it's such a hassle. 'Will you just shut up' and 'It wasn't like this when your dad was in charge’

Men in every genres and corner of music need to be more vocal regarding women – I think there is not enough being done by them. Whether it is Grime and Rap addressing gender imbalance or those in the mainstream speaking out against inequality and asking for change. The fact that statistics keep coming out regarding the amount of hits written by men compared to women in shocking. Many might say this indicates a lack of talent from women but that is not true. There are countless incredible female writers, producers and engineers that are not finding as many opportunities as the guys. I do worry that, unless there is some sort or revolution or radical change, these statistics will remain. Will festivals book women to headline and will genres that have an imbalance start recognising talent and opening its doors regarding women and their worth?! I do think a lot of the issues can be addressed and overcome by those in charge.


 PHOTO CREDIT: Help Musicians UK

There are women who run labels and book festivals but, largely, things are still male-dominated. Most articles regarding sexism and gender inequality are by women and when it comes to speaking out and asking for progress, are men doing enough in general?! Whilst it is not true that women in every corner of music are being marginalised, I do think there is anything close to parity. In terms of merit, some of the best music around is being by women and it is not converting to acclaim and adequate attention. Music is going to be removed from the school curriculum and will that make it harder to see more women in studios and working for labels?! Innovating and bold women like Rhiannon Mair, Olga FitzRoy and Carly Wilford are all names I have mentioned before – and might get sick of me name-checking them a lot – but more needed to be done by men. There are panels, discussions and symposiums where strong female artists, producers and D.J.s (and others) talk and provide this education. If we are seeing some small steps being made – and there is development in some areas – I do feel like it is women pushing this.

 IN THIS PHOTO: Olga FitzRoy alongside Rhiannon Mair are both newly-elected directors to the MPG (Music Producers Guild) Executive Board/PHOTO CREDIT: Music Producers Guild/Rhiannon Mair

Articles like this show an issue in Pop whereas this feature shows the industry has a long way to go until there is genuine equality. It is pleasing to see that there is movement and steps taken; there is hope that, years from now, we might be close to balance. Given the fact there are so many epic and pioneering women in all sections of the music industry, does the media, festivals; labels and other men in the industry need to do more to highlight them? Organisations like Women in Music and Help Musicians UK are doing sterling work but I do wonder whether a lot more shout and energy needs to come from men. How often does one see male journalists speak out and label bosses asking for change and greater progress?! Maybe it would be risky to do so but, with such a one-sided and female-led drive, is it enough to penetrate and resonate? From Classical music to Internet radio; to the studios and mainstream through to bedrooms and the club circuit, there are some amazing women who are inspiring and hugely impressive. We want to think that the music industry can compel girls and young women and, if they want to be a producer or a successful songwriter, then there is no fear and barriers. So many great women are working hard to change attitudes but a few recent news stories have affected me.

PHOTO CREDIT: @hannynaibaho/Unsplash

From Emily Eavis trying to rally against the golf-playing executives who laugh off her suggestions of more women at Glastonbury to the Government feeling music in schools is expendable…what does this mean for music and gender equality? I think the biggest lessons and the greatest sense of guidance comes at school age. Apart from the amazing talent out there, how are we going to foster the next generation of female producers, musician and talent? I shall resist writing too much about discrimination and imbalance for a while but, whilst some good and positive steps are happening in some places, there are heels digging in where we do not need them. I am not sure whether there is a quick solution regarding bringing about equality but there needs to be more action and impetus from the Government and the big names in the music industry. I am always passionate when it comes to women in every area of music but I know for a fact they have to shout louder and struggle harder than the men. This is not a happy situation and I do worry what example this is setting for future generations. Whether it is more men shouting themselves or something else, I do feel like so many ultra-talented and passionate women are not being rewarded. Rather than let progress trickle on and assume that things will catch up eventually, I think it is paramount that men – in power or just those in the industry – do a lot more to ensure that women are pushed…

 PHOTO CREDIT: @globelet/Unsplash

TO the forefront.