Time To Reassess: The Covid Reset Or Business As Usual For The Music Industry?

We’re going through an unprecedented period of change right now. Several movements have emerged since 2020 (with many more existing for decades) to address inequality in various areas of life, culture and politics. In the music industry, organisations such as KeyChange, WhyNotHer?, She Said So, and The F-List (to name but a few) are leading the charge for change and are working towards gender equality and diversity across the festival and gig circuit and a total restructuring of the music industry in reaching full gender and racial equality.

It isn’t an easy task.

Why Not Her? asked the general public and people within the music scene to show their solidarity, hundreds of people posted images online which resulted in trending on Twitter.

At the Why Not Her? collective, I have led a team of volunteer data analysts and feminists with experience in Culture Change and DEI and we have put out a series of reports spanning the last 20 years of Charts and Radio play in Ireland and the UK.

You can view the reports here. (I really urge you to view the reports before formulating a biased opinion that people just ‘prefer the male voice on radio’).

Fasten your virtual seatbelts as we are about to go through some stats and data and your attention will be needed…

We have published reports across the UK and Ireland which use the power of data to enact change. They have been shared and published across all the major Press and Media platforms from the Guardian, The Times, The Independent, Irish Examiner, Clash, Music Week, BBC, and RTE NEWS 6:1 TV covered the latest report to over 900,000 viewers in Ireland. The reports in total over the last number of years have reached over 150 million in audiences from all the exposure across the web and in National press publications in Europe, USA and Canada, among other territories.

All of the national and international media coverage has played a prominent role, covering key events and sharing commentary and points of view with audiences around not just the UK and Ireland but the world.

Additionally, many news outlets have been doing their own reflection, challenging the role media plays in perpetuating prejudice and inequity. It has caused a sort of ripple effect if you will, which correlates to who and what gets played on the radio waves to who gets into the charts and who ends up playing on the headline line-ups at festivals.

In Ireland: Our studies of the Top 20 Playlist Charts of Radio Plays given to domestic artists in Ireland would correlate to the major headlining domestic acts that end up at events and festivals over the last few years. Of notable mention in Ireland, are artists such as Hozier, Dermot Kennedy, Picture This, Gavin James, Kodaline, Snow Patrol, The Script etc.

Dermot Kennedy is the most played domestic Irish artist of the last 5 years on Irish radio, reaching the Number 1 most played Irish artists in the Top 100 songs of the year on Irish radio for the past three years in a row. Ed Sheeran was the Number 1 most played artist in the Top 100 songs played on Irish radio in 2021.

In another report we published, focusing on 20 years of the Irish charts, we found that just one in nine Irish artists with a hit single over the past 20 years have been women. And female artists made up only 11.2% of the Irish musicians featured in the singles charts between 2000 and 2019. Then of the Irish artists with Top Ten singles in 2000, 71% were men and only 15% were women. The remaining 14% were collaborations. Furthermore, Irish women achieved just 9% of No 1 singles by Irish acts since 2000. Between 2002 and 2007, and again between 2010 and 2019, no Irish female artist topped the chart.

In our UK Report, we found that between the 1st of January and the 1st of August 2021, 44% of the top 50 British artists played on UK radio were male, down 7% on 2020. Women accounted for 20% — an increase of 1% — and non-binary artists, represented exclusively by Sam Smith, 2%. Mixed-gender collaborations represented 34% of airplay, up 4% from 2020.

The slight shift was also tangible behind the scenes. Male songwriters and composers created 76.4% of these radio hits, down 3.6%. Female songwriters and composers represented 23.2%, up significantly from 19% last year. Non-binary songwriters and composers slipped from 1% in 2020 to 0.4% this year

One could be led to believe that women simply are not making and releasing music.

If we go back to the first year of the reports being published, we saw almost 95–100% all-white cis male prominence across Commercial, National and Regional radio Top 20 playlists from 2019–2020. Only 8% of artists who were played on Top 20 radio playlists were female. It is worth noting that since the last two years of data reports and campaigning policy changers, TDs and Politicians and sharing the data for all to see, especially the eyes of those on radio, the numbers have only shifted mildly. For instance, in 2022, over 15 radio stations in Ireland have now shifted towards gender parity and diversity and have reached 25% plus on women on the playlists. This has never happened before.

Diversity is now on the rise on Irish radio:

From 2019 to 2022, not a single black male artist was a leading male artist on the Top 20 playlist charts of Irish artists across Irish radio. Yet we have witnessed an increase in airtime allocation to black female artists. But why are they not including music by black male artists?

Our 2022 annual report is out now (you can read it here) and it proves that when the choice is given, it’s easy to make the choice that is inclusive and diverse. What I would like to know is why the other stations continue to choose to ‘exclude’. When diversity and inclusion benefit us all?!

The data also acts as a means to see the correlation to festivals line ups:

There has recently been a study conducted by the data team at the BBC which reveals that in the UK only one out of ten of the festival headliners at the top levels of the music festival industry in 2022 will be women and that only 13% of UK headliners in 2022 are female. The Times also published findings that showed a ‘Disappointing’ shortage of female acts at summer music festivals in Ireland. Across the top seven festivals, just 26% of performers are female, including band members.

There have been many events and bookers who have previously promised they would achieve a gender balance of 50:50 across their line-ups by the year 2022. Especially since campaigns to boost the number of female artists at music festivals began in 2017 after a study found that 8 of the Top 10 slots at 14 major festivals were male, prompting the PRS (Performing Rights Society) to fund the ‘Keychange’ campaign to push for a more equal representation on music stages by 2022. And another initiative led by Be Balance began too. Yet, fast forward 5 years and they have not reached their goal as we can see in the latest BBC data, only 13% of females occupy the major Music Festivals in the UK this year. Some of Ireland’s biggest music festivals across a wide variety of genres have a similar disparity within them and what we see from comparing data is that those headlining at festivals are those who are played the most on Radio.

With Electric Picnic having doubled its headliner count this year, it had ample opportunity to shift towards gender balance; however, there is only 1 female headlining act at this year’s festival, Megan Thee Stallion, amid an otherwise all-male lineup led by Dermot Kennedy, the most played Irish artist on Irish radio. In the year 2020, their ill-fated headliners were 100% male. In addition, Longitude has a very heavy male lineup, with only a handful of women (Megan Thee Stallion being one of the only 4 female acts).

Time to Reassess: The Covid reset or business as usual?

While the likes of Electric Picnic, Longitude and many others had an opportunity during Covid to reassess, it would later emerge that very few of them wanted to bear responsibility for these imbalances in their lineups and failed to do so. Festival Republic Managing Director Melvin Benn (Electric Picnic, Longitude) previously commented in the media that ‘There isn’t a gender balance ability across headliners, and all festivals reflect that’ but this is not true...

‘All festivals’ do not reflect that. Some of the biggest festivals in the UK have easily followed Spain’s Primavera Festival which has been reaching gender balance since its 2019 event that Miley Cyrus led. Becoming the first major EU festival to reach that status and continuing that footing ever since.

All in all what we have found is that Radio Playlisters and Festival organisers say it’s ‘unfair to blame them alone’ for the lack of diversity and gender parity, and some insist some progress has been made, (which is wonderful-we applaud this!) and that in time it will continue to change but that it will ‘take time’….

Why Not Her?

Why does everything take time when it surrounds the issues of equality and diversity? I have been told since I began my own work in campaigning for gender and racial equality in music that I need to give it a few years, 5 to 10 at the least, to enact real change and that I have to go slow…

To quote Ijeoma Oluo from her brilliant and enlightening book, Mediocre (the dangerous legacy of white male power) her sentiments can be felt across every area when it comes to racial inequality and inequality as a whole:

Looking at Glastonbury, Emily Eavis announced the 50/50 gender parity lineup that also included Billie Eilish headlining the Pyramid on the, becoming the youngest solo headliner in the events line up history. Emily went on to state that having females at the forefront is just as important as having males.

It was as simple as that.

Annie Mac’s Dance Festival, Amp Lost and Found, also reached a 50/50 lineup, likewise with Blue Dot Festival that takes place in the UK this year featuring headliners Bjork and Groove Armada among a 50/50 balanced lineup. Radio stations such as BBC Radio6 (UK), Classic FM (UK), Spin 103.8 (Ireland), Rte Radio1 (Ireland), Midwest Radio (Ireland) and more have reached total Gender parity and have adapted to inclusion across their music playlists.

Here is what we now know: It IS possible to reach gender, racial parity and inclusion when festival organisers and radio playlisters, and their teams therein, make conscious efforts to include women and artists of colour.

It is down to a choice, rendering the lacklustre efforts of their peers contemplatable.

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Music Publicist & MD at @goodseedpr Activist & Feminist. Media Consultant & Artist Manager. Artist & Culture Writer.

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Linda Coogan Byrne

Music Publicist & MD at @goodseedpr Activist & Feminist. Media Consultant & Artist Manager. Artist & Culture Writer.