“I used to play monthly at a pub. But all of a sudden I stopped getting booked there. For more than a year afterwards, when I visited this pub and saw the monthly poster for who was playing, every single booked artist was a man.”
You would think that in the 21st century, stories like this one from a local Newcastle singer/songwriter would be nothing but tales from a past world that didn’t have its head screwed on straight. Unfortunately, incidents like this are still very much present.
“I’ve had a few blokes who have certainly made me feel belittled (particularly DJs who rock up to take over as I’m nearing my finish), however, I’m not sure if that’s because I’m female, an acoustic artist or for other reasons.”
While certainly an issue of the past, Gaye Sheather, academic and former musician, not only found herself running into the roadblocks of being a female artist as a musician in the 80s, [AG1]
“There were bouncers at some clubs that thought I was just carrying my boyfriend's microphone into the venue to get in for free. I have read a lot about women in the rock music world, and it certainly was the case that many of them were discriminated against when they were seriously trying to make a name for themselves in what was very much a man's domain.”
Taking a look at the Cambridge Hotel’s upcoming shows at the time of writing this (May, 2017), out of the 20 artists on the lineup, only four were female artists. Of the 45 acts to feature on the latest Groovin the Moo lineup in Maitland, 11 included female talent. Out of the 15 acts at last year’s Live at the Foreshore event, only one was female, and the same stands true for This That Festival, of which six of the 24 acts were women.
What these figures represent is an ongoing issue society is no stranger to. Women struggle to fight for equality in many sectors of the community, and one of those includes the music industry. The statistics we are seeing here in the Newcastle area are a reflection of what is happening on a national scale.
Discussion around this issue most recently came to the forefront on International Women’s Day. Triple J carried out their annual Girls To The Front investigation, and highlighted the issue on their daily Hack program. Research undertaken by the program uncovered some eye opening facts. Of all the payments made to the Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) artists in 2016, 78% went to males and only 21% went to females. Of all the new artists who joined APRA in 2016, 72% were male and only 25% were female. Also take a look at the 2016 Billboard’s Power 100 List; only 11 women made it on the list and only one made it into the top fifty.
Men are still dominating; they are the majority when it comes to those making music, they’re more likely be booked at a festival, more likely to be played on the radio and more likely to be staffing any organisation or board that is related to music. Triple J undertook this research last year, and while they did report there has been an improvement, the issue is certainly still at large.
If you’re thinking “oh look another female having another rant about inequality”, that’s part of the problem. As local Newcastle writer, Laura Kebby highlighted, “female artists often get really ostracised if they try and speak out about anything. You’ve got people like Nina Las Vegas who says ‘all my friends came to me who didn’t want too speak out because they knew that if they're seen as that whingy female, they’re not going to get booked.’”
While Newcastle seems to certainly have female artists in the mix, you have to look for them. “There are quite a few other female artists in the Hunter, you just have to know where to look and keep an eye out,” commented one local singer/songwriter.
“There’s bands like Ceilings and there’s a singer/songwriter Sienna Lace who’s really good. So there’s a few, but you’ve kind of got to look and you’ve got to really be wanting to,” said Laura Kebby.[AG2]
But should we have to dig deep to find a female voice? Could it be that wanting to make money is hindering the growth of equality? Laura highlighted such a possibility. “There’s this perception of ‘we want artists that sell tickets’. However, these guys are good, do your job and promote them and they will sell tickets instead of being lazy and just going ‘we will give this really well known band a gig’”.
Inequalities in the music industry aren’t just faced by live female performers, with women working as DJs and live music photographers also facing gender struggles.
“In the Newcastle DJ scene, there is an inequality regarding genders, hands down. There’s definitely a huge amount of guys who are DJs who I feel pretty much control the whole thing, hindering other artists’ chance to break into the industry as well. I personally know many of these DJs and there’s so much exclusiveness, it kills me. They are super cocky and entitled,” said a local Newcastle artist.
Local photographer, Melissa Wilson has also noticed a lack of diversity when it comes to live music photography, though she feels it’s an area that is certainly improving.
“I’ve always felt I’ve had to go that extra mile to prove that I should be taken seriously.
I started five years ago almost to the date, and I do remember consciously thinking early on that there wasn’t many women doing it. Now, when I shoot a festival, there are so many new young faces and plenty of them are females. I do feel like a complete gender balance is improving, but it’s not quite there yet.”
So what can we do about this problem? Some think those who own venues need to be more aware of the choices they’re making when putting together their lineups.
“There’s this perception of ‘why do we have to purposefully create this environment of equality’? Why can’t I put this artist on simply because they’re good. It’s just a matter of finding this wonderful middle ground of consciously saying, ‘what artists can I get that represent everyone and what can I portray with my gig’. Obviously, it comes down to public relations, which is money-driven, and that's fine, that’s their job, but at the end of the day, it’s really important to include a wider range of artists,” said Laura.
Others believe we need to be tackling the issue much earlier.
“It won't just change with greater numbers of women getting into the business side of music and supporting women in their musical talents. It will only change when we start at the very beginning, most significantly when young boys and girls are in primary school, and boys are educated in how to show respect for girls,” said Gaye.
It seems the issue of inequality for women in music is still in the heat of discussion. Recognising the issue is the first step to solving the problem.