At this year's Liverpool Sound City conference, I chaired a panel of music industry representatives who are each, in different ways, taking positive action that will help women to sustain a career in the music industry. Unlike most discussions about women in music, 50% of our panellists - and our audience - were men; something that's unusual but essential if we want to change things from within, with input from those who currently hold the most power. Our starting point was also different from the traditional gender gap debate - if the statistics are old news and if there's still no real consensus around what's holding women back, our priority was to promote and discuss the growing number of pro-active approaches individuals are taking to transform an industry which doesn't reflect the world we live in.
Our panellists' commitment to leading change was impressive:
- Andy Inglis, manager, lecturer and regular industry commentator is leading a mentoring project for women artist managers in collaboration with Westminster University's Change The Record initiative and Agder University (Norway) because he thinks that the industry will benefit if more women of future generations are encouraged to pursue a career like his
- Debra King, from Brighter Sound in Manchester runs an annual singer songwriter residency led by Beth Orton to support the development of female music creators
- Yaw Owusu, is helping Sound City to diversify their programme and considering how the Liverpool International Music Festival Academy can encourage more female talent to come forward.
- Alison Lamb, from SO Recordings showed how it's possible to raise awareness and support others at a more personal level by blogging and creating informal networks with others in a similar position to you
Perhaps less anticipated was the outburst of ideas and information about other initiatives that our audience was eager to discuss. These are included at the end of this article and if we'd had more time I'm sure we would have heard about further campaigns and projects driven by a shared belief that gender equality should be a given in the 21st Century.
The collective sense of purpose around this panel demonstrates how much has changed since we at PRS Foundation launched Women Make Music in 2011. At that time, positive action was rare (and often disapproved) and social media campaigns about all male panels, one-sided festival bills and sexism within the music industry had not yet exploded as an outlet for frustration and awareness raising.
Five years on, I think we've reached an extremely exciting moment of transition.
The challenge now is to channel and multiply the energy of the many distinct but inter-connected projects through a UK wide campaign which presents male and female ambassadors for gender equality as the new normal across the music industry.
When asked what we should all be doing more of because it's 2016 and the need for change is long overdue, our panellists also came up with a host of common sense rules: men and women need to put themselves on the line, take responsibility, reclaim history, invest in the future, recognise the fallout between education and careers, learn from positive action within other sectors (e.g. visual arts, theatre and more recently film), raise awareness, work together and celebrate equality as a benefit for all.
If all of this energy, wisdom and news about independent initiatives came from one room of people at a conference on a Friday afternoon, imagine what could be achieved if we could multiply this and connect it to every level of the industry and to those who make decisions nationally and internationally about funding and policy development.
If you're interested in being part of those next steps, please get in touch.
Examples of positive action addressing the gender gap in music
Backline heroes - skills development, training and production
Association of Independent Festival's exploration of encouraging festivals to aim for 50-50 male/female line-ups
This article is based on a panel "Come Together United We Stand" which took place at Liverpool Sound City Friday 29th May 2016.