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Why aren't more women on Irish festival lineups?

Is it true that female acts don’t sell tickets?

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AFTER EXAMINING HOW sparse Irish festival lineups were without the male acts, the discussion once again came up as to why women aren’t on festival lineups. Many people believe that it’s simply due to the fact that female acts won’t sell tickets.

The first thing worth pointing out here is that Electric Picnic sold out completely before the lineup was even released.

That argument should pretty much end there, shouldn’t it?

But while we’re here let’s once again reiterate that huge crowds are consistently drawn out by female acts. Outside of festivals, Lana Del Rey’s last Irish performance was at a sold out show in Cork which saw huge numbers of people from around the country head out that way to see her live. It’s not often that people bother leaving Dublin to see an artist, but at Cork’s Marquee I might as well have been in Workman’s, because everyone I knew was there.

Grace Jones sold out the Olympia last year and had to add a second date with tickets limited to two per person. Clearly she’s in huge demand too. I’m not going to list the achievements of every female artist that has played in Ireland, but festival crowds love acts like Grimes, FKA Twigs and Warpaint. Even Lily Allen and Blondie had huge turnouts in the past when they played Electric Picnic.

electric picnic

So where does the real problem lie?

The music industry is a boy’s club at every level. I know girls who are too embarrassed to go into music shops and buy guitar strings from male staff members for fear of being judged for not knowing what type they need. This isn’t just an issue in music, but across all male-dominated fields of interests and hobbies.

Women are made to feel self conscious when bringing their car to the mechanics or going into a bike shop where they are often patronized or met with condescension. I’ve even spoken to men who admitted that, at times, they feel too self conscious and embarrassed to enter these environments – from barbers to bike shops.

While I appreciate and encourage men to openly speak about feeling like this in male-dominated spaces, men still have the advantage of automatically being taken more seriously in these situations than women.

We spoke to musician Emma Langford who’s behind The Limerick Lady movement. Emma curates The Limerick Lady Festival, which is initiative based in Limerick that aims to tackle the issue of gender imbalance in the music industry. Much like Dublin’s F_Festival, it’s interesting to see how the impetus for these kind of groups exists nationwide.

Source: Keith Pendred/YouTube

Emma pointed out that the issue certainly isn’t a lack of female artists of merit, which I wholeheartedly agree with. She has compiled a Spotify playlist to showcase some of the talented Irish women in music, which might be nice to listen to while we talk about how bleak the situation for all of those women.

https://open.spotify.com/embed/user/1162344477/playlist/1ZJp88gwk26oXvDkDtAAUp

One of the big obstacles for Irish female musicians is radio.

A couple of months ago I decided to look at the schedules for popular Irish radio stations to see just how much airtime female djs manage to get. The results were pretty grim.

One Twitter user made this point:

PastedImage-49417 Source: Eoin Ó Drisceoil

Anyway, Muireann O’Connell is the only woman on the air on 98FM.

Fm104 is pretty much the same. Their weekday lineup from when The Strawberry Alarm Clock begins at 6am to when The FM104 Phone Show ends at 1am does not contain a single female presenter. That’s 19 hours of male voices. During the time with the lowest volume of listeners, 00.00 – 06.00 every night, they have two female presenters on The Nighttime Network. These women are Mel Byrne and Tara Murray.

However, Mel and Tara share this slot with a male presenter, who FM104 probably left there to subdue a potential uprising in the studio or to make sure they don’t start talking about woman stuff, like menstruation and the best place to get a bra fitting (actually, that sounds like pretty welcome content to me).

PastedImage-93014 Source: FM104

That’s not to say that there aren’t some excellent female DJs and presenters on radio at the moment (e.g. Louise McSharry, Jenny Greene, Louise Duffy and Alison Curtis are all extremely popular), but Emma Langford told me about how her boyfriend came across an article on the Irish Times revealing which stations played the most Irish music.

He decided to access the data referenced in this study and use it to examine the gender ratio in Irish radio playlists:

His findings were pretty grim. They discovered that 2fm and Today FM’s playlists between January 2016 and January 2017 were on average, 85% male. The remaining 15% were female fronted bands, bands that had a core female member and bands with members who identify as non binary.

If we don’t hear women on the radio and don’t see them on festival lineups, that’s going to negatively impact on their visibility.

For young artists like Emma, it can be pretty disheartening to see that there’s a significantly lower chance that they’ll be on the airwaves. It just doesn’t matter how many women are making amazing music because they’re going to be excluded to make room for homogeneous male acts both on festival lineups and on radio either way.

This has a negative effect on young girls looking to get into music. Unless they take it upon themselves to really go looking, they’re not presented with anyone to look up to or aspire to be like. It’s really not unusual at all for boys to start bands in secondary school.

If you’re in an all boys school and there’s nobody in your year in a band, you’re guaranteed that someone in the year above or below you is in a band.

In girls schools, often the closest thing they have to a student in a band is that one girl who plays inoffensive Westlife songs on acoustic guitar at the school mass every year.

This undoubtedly has a lot to do with the fact that girls are taught to mock and sneer at each other from a young age. Because being in a band or making music isn’t considered the most feminine thing a girl that age can do, so it’s fairly likely that they’ll be ridiculed for pursuing an interest in music, especially when it’s outside the parameters of what is deemed as ‘girly’ music. If they aren’t laughed at by other girls, they’ll likely be patronized by boys.

Girls need to be exposed to other female artists in order to feel comfortable making music.

In boys schools, boys can ask older lads for help and advice about equipment. They can discuss the technicalities of setting up an electric guitar and teach each other new things. In girls schools, there is nobody to turn to because girls are not being presented with any non-popstar female artists to aspire to be like..

Even when young girls do manage to make music, they’re expected to meet a very high standard if they don’t want to be subject to ridicule. Meanwhile, boys across the country have the freedom to start bands for the laugh, just to make noise and joke around. Nobody expects them to be extremely technically skilled and have expert vocal training. They just get to have fun.

15940906_1550185534995170_6147247469611209934_n Source: F Festival via Facebook

So how do we fix this?

There’s only so much that can really be done from the outside. We need to make it very clear that we have an interest in music made by females, we need to request songs on radio stations and even contact festivals to express this interest. We need to demand that brilliant female acts aren’t shafted to stages miles outside of the main arena at festivals.

We need to support groups like F_Festival in Dublin and groups like The Limerick Lady Festival. We need to encourage groups like these to set up all over the country. We need more workshops and summer camps like Girls Rock Dublin where women can learn instruments and meet other women who share their interests. Emma pointed out that at present, there is not one single established and gigging all-female band in the whole of Limerick.

The Limerick Lady Festival has run numerous events since Emma got started.

The launch night was a night of music, movement and spoken word in Limerick’s Big Top at the Milk Market. They ran an event for Culture Night last year in vintage shop Lucky Lane.

Most recently however, Emma ran a panel talk in Chez le Fab Art Cafe featuring 8 women from 8 careers talking about steps they took in their careers to “be bold for change”. That event was intended to be the first in a series of panels called She Means Business, a group of women from diverse backgrounds sharing their experiences as women in the industry and offering advice to other people – women and men – planning to enter a career in the industry.

she means business The panel for She Means Business Source: Kennedy O'Brien

There’s been excellent interest and demand for the events, which have been jam-packed and gotten great reviews. Locals are excited to see efforts towards changing the structural obstacles and barriers that women in music face. Most importantly, the She Means Business panels aims to talk to girls at secondary school age, providing them with actual, normal, cool girls that they can relate to and aspire to be like.

The next steps for The Limerick Lady is to secure funding for next year’s festival and to create a series of workshops aimed at bringing women together to make music and learn from each other, providing them with a welcoming and open environment to ask questions. Non binary people and men are welcome at these workshops, but they’ll be led and facilitated by women and aimed at helping to set up new bands and ensembles that are uniquely female-dominated.

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About the author:

Kelly Earley

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