FEATURE: A Brighter Future… The Desire for Balance and the Extraordinary Women Who Have Paved the Way




A Brighter Future…


IN THIS PHOTO: BBC Radio 1 D.J. Annie Mac is a huge advocate for gender equality in music/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

The Desire for Balance and the Extraordinary Women Who Have Paved the Way


THIS feature is not prompted by one event…

  IN THIS PHOTO: Lauren Laverne on BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs/PHOTO CREDIT: @BBCRadio4

but is more a culmination of concerns and situations. I guess everything comes back to gender parity and the fact that, whilst there are steps being made and things are happening, I am still seeing too many holdbacks, cheap shots and problems. I wanted to start with an article that definitely inflamed social media and received a lot of backlash. There has been a lot of talk regarding an article that appeared on The Spectator’s website that needlessly attacked Desert Island Discs presenter Lauren Laverne. It was obviously written from a very snobbish and privilege viewpoint and was incredibly short-sighted and offensive. Here is one particular extract that caught my eye: 

There’s no getting away from it: Lauren is lightweight and uncerebral. Her capacity to come up with the forgettable phrase is quite something. When I asked a former radio critic what he thought of her he answered instantly: ‘Awful. I heard her with [poet] John Cooper Clarke and it was sucking up to PC idiocy and brandished plebbiness. But that’s what the programme is for now… Guests can be nearly anonymous provided they are vibrant and diverse.’ A BBC journalist observed: ‘The latest run of programmes have been really flat — is that her or is that the selection of guests? Nobody chooses anything or says anything that is surprising — perhaps her lack of big interview experience tells’”.

The condemnation and wave of love towards Laverne was swift. I watched her social media feed as she posted a brave message thanking people for being in her corner.

It was an ugly affair, but I think one that spoke volumes about how women in music are treated. I will look at gender parity in a wider sense. Not only was The Spectator’s article offensive regarding Laverne’s origins and northern background but it had this sort of noxious attitude that is hard to shift. In truth, women like Laverne are inspiration to many and paving the way for others coming through. Rather than degrade and put down brilliant women in music, we should elevate them. Look across the music landscape and it is true some progress is happening. Primavera Sound easily achieved gender parity on its bill this year and 42% of the acts on Glastonbury’s line-up this year was female. I shall get to festivals soon but, regarding radio and gender, how long until we get a fifty-fifty balance? The Stylist wrote this in response to the hatchet piece The Spectator wrote about Lauren Laverne:

It’s true that the BBC has pledged that gender parity on-air will reach 50/50 across its radio stations by 2020. Just last week, we reported how the reaction to Zoe Ball’s recent ratings drop spoke volumes about the sexism against female radio DJs. But we only need to look at huge talents such as Annie Mac, Sara Cox and Annie Nightingale to understand the power of female voices on radio. And Laverne is no exception, as the strong support she has received proves”.

IN THIS PHOTO: Pioneering D.J. Annie Nightingale in the 1970s/PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images 

Not only do we need to eradicate sexism against D.J.s like Zoe Ball – the drop in her ratings does not reflect a lack of popularity: a lot of Chris Evans’ listeners (Ball replaced Evans as BBC Radio 2 breakfast host) followed him and Ball will see her listener figures increase soon) – but we need to encourage more women in radio. I have covered this subject before but I do feel that there are so many media outlets that have this sexist approach. I do hope there is a fifty-fifty split very soon because there are some brilliant female broadcasters coming through. Look at pioneers like Annie Nightingale and how they paved the way for change. Nightingale was the first female D.J. on BBC Radio 1 – she started on 8th February, 1970 – and is their longest-serving D.J. Although Nightingale is not especially keen on a fifty-fifty split – she is more in favour of being judged on talent and not quotas – she recognises that there is still sexism and there are amazing women who are not getting the respect they warrant. In this article from 2017, Nightingale revealed how shocked she was by the lack of progress and how few women followed her into radio:

I was staggered that it took twelve years before Radio 1 had another female DJ when Janice Long came along. I asked myself ‘do women just not want to do this’? The women getting attention at that time were the newsreaders.”

Inspired by pirate station Radio Caroline, Nightingale was determined to make her mark on the new, legal, nationwide pop service.

She finally wore down the BBC’s male hierarchy, who granted her a Sunday evening show.

“I said ‘Let me have a go. If I’m no good I will go away forever.’ It takes three years to change anything at the BBC. I don’t think they really wanted Radio 1 at the time.”

“They didn’t like the term ‘DJ’. They hadn’t caught up with the changing world of working women”.

Maybe a blind fifty-fifty divide on radio could be seen as quota-filling but I feel a lot of the finest broadcasters are women and they are not getting their dues; there are many rising talents that are being overlooked in favour of men.  Not only is there an issue regarding radio and the respect we show to female broadcasters but, still, we must talk about festivals and inequality. To wrap up this article, I will discuss women in other areas of music - but we are still living in a time when festivals are struggling to react to the immense quality of female artists. This year has been dominated by women in all areas of music and, apart from one or two festivals, not enough is being done to represent them at festivals. Think back to this year’s Glastonbury and commanding performances from Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Kylie Minogue and Christine and the Queens (among many others) and you would think that, given this, next year’s festivals will react – seeing why we need more women on bills. Whilst we are (slowly) moving towards equality at festivals, Hear Her is a new event that is all-female. This article explains more:  

Amid controversy over male-dominated line-ups, an all-female music festival has been announced.

HearHer, which is set to take place from October 11-13 in Poole, Dorset, will feature a programme comprised entirely of either female solo artists or women-fronted bands, with all behind-the-scenes production organised by women, too.



Organisers claim that 70 per cent of UK festival line-ups in 2018 were all-male bands, and added that HearHer will be the only festival in this country “to boast a 100 per cent female bill”.

KT Tunstall will curate the Friday line-up, headlined by British pop artist Shura. The Saturday bill will be led by Northern Irish musician SOAK.

Elsewhere, there will be performances from the likes of Bang Bang Romeo, Cat Burns and Hannah Trigwell, spread across three stages.

The event, which trialled last year as the majority-female Diva Music Festival, will be supported by Keychange, a foundation which encourages festivals to deliver gender-balanced line-ups, and has named domestic abuse charity Refuge as its charity partner.

Various high-profile musicians, including Lily Allen and Annie Mac, have bemoaned the lack of female performers at festivals both in the UK and abroad.

HearHer festival 2019 line-up

·         Shura

·         Soak

·         Ariana and the Rose

·         Bang Bang Romeo

·         Betty

·         Caitlyn Scarlett

·         Cat Burns

·         Charlotte

·         Carpenter

·         Grace Savage

·         Hannah Trigwell

·         Heather Peace

·         Kal Lavelle

·         Katey Brooks

·         Laky

·         Lanta

·         Lots Holloway

·         Lucy Whittaker

·         Saara Aalto

·         Toya Delazy

·         The Coaltown Daisies

·         Xylaroo”.

Articles like this highlight the fact that, although some of the biggest acts of today are women, that is not being reflected in festival line-ups. Perhaps, as Vox discussed in the article, the fact there has been such slow progress is the fact that, in the backrooms, a lot of men are calling the shots:

You can only create diversity onstage or on the screen if there is diversity behind the stage and behind the screen as well,” Andreea Magdalina of SheSaid.so, an international organization that advocates for women in music, told me. “If you have a bunch of men in the boardroom deciding who gets booked for what, of course they’re not going to be mindful of representation diversity and inclusion.”

Keychange’s Partridge echoed this sentiment. “It’s really important for everyone to recognize we have a responsibility — we all have a responsibility — to make sure this is an inclusive industry. ... It’s down to us each individually to look at our fields of information and see who we work with, who we hire, and really examine if we are being equal in these things.”

Both SheSaid.so and Keychange were founded to support female musicians. SheSaid.so offers professional mentoring and networking events for women in the music industry; Keychange encourages international festival promoters to sign its pledge to have a 50-50 gender split between male and female musicians by the year 2022. Today, Keychange has more than 165 festivals on board to work toward gender parity — more than three times the number it had when it launched just one year ago, in February 2018”.

From iconic broadcasters like Annie Nightingale to the new wave of powerful female artists, it is clear more still needs to be done in order to achieve equality. Festivals and radio stations have pledged parity by 2022 but I wonder if we need to start in the studios and boardrooms. Male producers and songwriters still dominate - and inequality is a big issue. I can see change happening in all areas of music and I do feel the future looks a lot brighter now than it did, say, a few years back.

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 PHOTO CREDIT: @akeenster/Unsplash

One of the biggest problems is the fact so many festival organisers, radio bosses and figures in the boardrooms are men. I know there are so many fantastic female producers and engineers; brilliant businesswomen and radio chiefs who are in the minority. With so much control in the hands of men, it is small wonder we still have not seen true equality. I do feel more needs to be done to overturn the dominance of men in these areas and ensure there is activism occurring. It is all well and good asking for gender parity at festivals and on the radio…but we also need to look at areas that are male-heavy and aim to create diversity. With so many inspiring, ambitious and passionate women ready to lead, guide and formulate change, I do hope something is done to redress the imbalance we have right now. Maybe it all comes back to The Spectator and their article about Lauren Laverne; how there is sexism and disrespect in so many places. I hope there will be some big changes but, as we are seeing so many  incredible women striking hard in music, studios and at festivals, we cannot ignore the need for equality. Festivals will get to fifty-fifty soon, but one wonders why most have not already; radio stations, in terms of their playlists and personnel, still have some work to do – and there are glaring gulfs when it comes to the number of male and female producers/engineers. With such a wave of wonderfully talented women in all corners of the music industry, let’s hope those with the power recognise this and it…


 IN THIS PHOTO: Award-winning producer Catherine Marks is one of the best in the industry/PHOTO CREDIT: Catherine Marks

LEADS to growth and balance.