Canadian Music Week (CMW) and North by Northeast (NXNE) are among 45 music festivals worldwide that are committing to reaching or maintaining a 50/50 gender balance in their lineups by 2022.
This initiative is being led by Keychange, a collaborative European program started by the UK music granting body PRS Foundation in 2017. The move was announced on February 26 at PRS Foundation’s annual event at the Canadian High Commission in London, England.
In an email to NOW Magazine, CMW festival manager Dave Henry says, “Aiming for gender parity is something we’ve been consciously working towards as we build the event each year, so it seemed natural to sign the Keychange initiative to reach 50/50 by 2022.”
“For us, this means ensuring proper representation throughout the events we program as well as the ones we partner on. We truly believe that it is important for the music community to continue working towards equal representation, and it is something we are excited to be supporting.”
Michael Hollett, founder of NXNE (and former NOW Magazine publisher), is aiming to acheive this before 2020. “We certainly won’t be waiting four years to achieve performer gender balance at NXNE,” he says. “We hope to do that this year on Yonge Street [which will be used this summer as NXNE’s ‘festival village’]. But, we’re happy to participate in any endeavour that advances the overdue conversation about fighting the inherent, systematic sexism that has existed for too long in the music industry.”
NXNE and CMW are the only two Toronto festivals to make the Keychange commitment. Other Canadian festivals include Montreal’s MUTEK and Kelowna’s BreakOut West.
The pledge ensures these festivals will aim for (or maintain) gender parity not only in terms of the artists they book on live stages, but for participants in conferences and industry events as well. CMW has come under fire in the past for its overwhelmingly male panels, which inspired writer Carly Lewis to put on an all-female discussion panel about the Canadian music industry called Work Work Work Work Work in 2016.
For the past two years, Candace Shaw, founder of Canadian Women Working in Music, has been grading music fests on how well they already meet or exceed gender parity in their artist lineups with a Festival Report Card.
“It’s really nice to see that [these festivals] have stepped forward and made this pledge,” she says in a phone conversation.
Neither CMW or NXNE were ever graded by Shaw’s annual Report Card she says, in part because she sees them as industry events rather than grassroots or community-centred festivals like Venus Fest (whose artists are all female-identifying, non-binary or genderqueer) or X Avant.
“I think that something like the Report Card is going to have more impact on people who are working more closely with the community and who feel community pressure a bit more,” she explains, but sees both initiatives as part of a bigger movement towards fairer and more accurate gender representation in Canadian music. “We’re all attacking the industry from different angles, which is exactly what needs to happen.”
With representatives like Garbage’s Shirley Manson and producer Tony Visconti, Keychange illustrates a shift happening from within the industry, which Shaw feels is integral to effecting any sort of long-term change.
What’s unclear about the announcement from Keychange is just how gender parity will be measured. NOW has reached out to the organization and is waiting for clarification.
For the Festival Report Card, Shaw measures gender parity based on acts fronted by women-identifying musicians. “I thought it was really important to differentiate between acts that sometimes hire a female fiddler for three weeks versus women’s voices, women integral to the creative process,” Shaw says. “No shade to side players.”
She’s also careful to explain that gender representation needs to happen not just where it’s visible, but behind the scenes as well. “I’m not sure how to address this but most bookers are still men,” she says. “In the 15-plus years I was booking in Peterborough, I don’t think there was another woman booking music in that city.”
To Shaw, advancing gender parity starts with festival lineups, but should also be applied to staff such as festival bookers and sound engineers. And beyond equal space for women, it should also mean equal pay.
Update: March 20, 2018 A representative from Keynote has gotten back to NOW and says each festival is making a gender balance commitment that makes sense to their own event. For example, “major classical events like BBC Proms and Aldeburgh Festivals are looking at the number of female composers they commission, popular music festivals are looking at the number of women on their stages and industry showcases are also looking at their conference panels,” they explained. Further to that point, parity will be measured in popular festivals by “any act featuring a self-identifying woman counting towards the final figure.”
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