Directory of female musicians could end gender imbalance at festivals


When festivals finally resume in 2021, the line-ups could be more gender balanced than ever before, thanks to a new database of female artists.

The F-list provides details of more than 4,500 musicians in all genres of music, and is free to use.

It was compiled by equality campaigner Vick Bain, who first uploaded it as a sprawling online spreadsheet.

The directory proved so popular that she has re-launched it as a fully-searchable, not-for-profit website.

It aims to improve representation of women at all levels of the industry – from session musicians and arrangers, to producers and festival headliners.

“The problem for women in the UK music industry is they are still in the minority when it comes to professional work,” Bain told BBC Radio 4’s Today.

“Only 20% of musicians signed to record labels are women and about 15% of festival headliners are women. So they don’t have much presence, professionally, even though they consist of nearly half of all music degree students.”

The launch of the F-list website aims to correct that problem, while a concurrent community interest company will champion equality and diversity in the industry.

“We are going to raise awareness, we’re going to create initiatives to help facilitate training and development, we are going to increase knowledge about gender inequality,” said Bain. “We want to be a major authority for promoting women in music.”

Sitar player Anoushka Shankar will be the inaugural president of the enterprise, having become aware of how gender imbalance impacted her own career.

“As a musician with 25 years in the industry, I have seen how women just aren’t booked the same way as men,” she told Mishal Husain.

“[And] I noticed that, even as a female artist and a self-proclaimed feminist, I was hiring way more male musicians than female and it was something I had to try and actively correct.”

She said that musicians often fell into a trap of hiring the same old familiar faces, instead of seeking out a more diverse range of collaborators.

“It’s the relationships that people already have in music that will be the easiest path to tread,” she said. “You’ll go back to the same guitarist, you’ll go back to the same bassist that you always worked with.

“And that’s the thing I can’t stress enough about this list,” she added. “You can go to the website and search by instrument, or search by genre, or by location and you’ll get a list of women who are right there doing exactly what it is you need.

“I’m sure as the list continues to grow it will become more and more thorough, but it’s already staggering.”

Glastonbury aiming for 50/50

The issue of gender balance at festivals has been a talking point since 2015, when the music blog Crack in the Road tweeted an edited image of the Reading and Leeds poster, erasing the names of all the male performers. Only 10 remained.

Despite the resulting furore, analysis by the BBC suggested that, before the pandemic, only 8% of 2020’s festival headliners were due to be female, with just three acts – Taylor Swift, Little Mix and Haim – topping the bill at the UK’s 16 biggest events.

At Reading and Leeds, only 20 of the 91 acts on the line-up were female, prompting former headliners The 1975 to announce a future boycott of festivals that did not achieve a 50/50 gender split.

Glastonbury organiser Emily Eavis also made an active decision to pursue gender balance on the festival’s stages, with 52% of the acts announced for 2020’s line-up consisting of female artists, female-fronted bands or mixed-gender groups.

“Our future has to be 50/50,” she told Radio 1’s Newsbeat earlier this year.

“It’s a challenge. Everyone’s finding it hard – but the acts are there,” she said, adding that Glastonbury’s former line-ups had “always been male-heavy”.

Meanwhile, some artists have committed to promoting female talent behind the scenes – including pop star Marina Diamandis, who recently announced her next album would be brought to life by an all-female creative team.

“It just felt necessary,” she told Vogue. “I’d been reading this book, If Women Rose Rooted, and just really thinking about women’s stories and how important it is for women to actually tell them. ”

“It’s my responsibility to make sure I’m hiring women who represent what I like talking about.”

Similar initiatives are being pursued outside the UK, too. Spain’s Primavera festival achieved a 50/50 gender balance last year, while Argentinian lawmakers enforced quotas on festival line-ups at the start 2020.

The “La Ley de Cupo Femenino” (female quota law) was passed in 2019, and approved by the senate in May, with 50 votes for, and only one against.

It states that female artists must make up at least 30% of the line-up in events with three or more acts.

While many believed the gender gap would eventually narrow over time, “sometimes you have to force it to happen,” Diego Boris, president of Argentina’s National Music Institute, told Billboard magazine.