Working towards a fairer music industry

Launched in 2017, the Keychange initiative was set up with the aim of helping music festivals and conferences to reach 50/50 gender representation on their line ups by 2022. During the intervening five years the Keychange mission has expanded to encompass the wider industry, with over 600 signatories across the globe including record labels, booking agencies and orchestras.

In their latest report, Keychange revealed a ‘Pledge Action Plan’ outlining the next steps that signatories will take towards achieving gender balance. 

We spoke to UK Project Manager Francine Gorman to hear more about their findings, to see what improvements the industry still needs to make and the importance of turning a focus towards intersectionality.

For those who haven’t yet heard of Keychange, tell us a bit about how and why it was set up.

Keychange is a music industry movement, with a mission to create more space and opportunities for women and gender expansive creators and professionals. There are a plethora of statistics showing how under-represented, under-valued and under-estimated women and gender expansive people have been in this industry, so Keychange has developed a two tiered campaign to tackle this.

The first tier is a year long talent development programme, where we bring together 74 musicians and music industry professionals from throughout Europe and Canada for a programme focussing on professional development, networking, confidence building and much more. 

The second is the Keychange Pledge, which is a vital tool in bringing about sustained, systemic change throughout the music ecosystem. The Keychange Pledge can be taken by any organisation in music, asking them to commit to at least 50% representation of women and gender expansive creators and professionals in specific areas of their work. This could mean that a festival pledges to achieve 50% in headliners, performers on stage, sound and lighting technicians, booking and production staff, and so on. Or a music school could commit to having at least 50% women and gender expansive composers on its curriculum, in its student intake, on its teaching staff and board, and beyond.

It’s now been five years since the first signatories signed up to the 50/50 pledge. How has the music industry changed in that time? Have you seen a significant improvement in gender representation?

A lot has changed in that time, including the Keychange Pledge. When we first introduced the pledge, we asked music festivals and conferences to commit to "50/50 by 2022", but we quite quickly received feedback from the wider industry asking if the pledge could be made available to different sectors too. As such, in 2018 we expanded the pledge to invite  all music organisations around the world to pledge to achieve "at least 50% representation of women and gender expansive creators and professionals" within a 5 year timeframe following them signing the pledge.

We've just shared the findings after the first 5 years of the pledge, and are really encouraged to find that 64% of reporting pledge signatories have already achieved or surpassed their pledge targets, with many others making great progress. So what we're seeing is that this kind of targeted action works - if we can get every member of the industry to commit to individual actions, we can create sector-wide, lasting change.

We've been involved in actions encouraging increased gender representation on boards and in executive positions throughout the industry, as well as with grassroots venues and campaigns, to make sure that barriers to entry are removed. Change needs to come from the top down and the bottom up, and we're seeing action being taken in both directions - accompanied by growing pressure from the public on social media, and from ticket-buying audience members to be presented with inclusive and representative events.

So we're certainly seeing an improvement, and we're gathering more and more evidence to demonstrate that increased diversity across stages and in workplaces leads to more successful, more dynamic and more progressive events and outcomes.

Do you think we are making more progress on or off stage?

I think we're seeing progress in both spaces - what's really important to note is how vital it is to also make off-stage changes, in order to create more progress on stage. For an artist to become a festival headliner, they (often, not always!) need to have had hundreds of shows across small, then mid-size, then large stages. They'll probably have a manager, booking agent, promoters, radio support, playlist support, press support, label support, vocal or instrument training, potentially some funding along the way - and in each and every one of these areas, women and gender expansive artists are currently under-represented. They're under-represented in student numbers, on festival stages, on rosters, in radio, sales and streaming charts - the list goes on.

So we need to keep this conversation loud, and we need to make sure that every actor in the industry, every person involved in that artist's journey towards a headline spot, realises their importance and influence, and the impact that taking individual actions towards increased gender representation in their own work can make. Keychange Pledge signatories are certainly undertaking these actions, but much more needs to be done by the industry as a whole to safeguard opportunities for those that have previously had little/or no access to them at all.

Have Keychange signatories expressed any difference in the challenges between moving towards more equal representation on stage compared to behind the scenes?

Various signatories have faced various challenges - but challenges that can be easily overcome. In the past, some festivals felt that there were fewer women and gender expansive artists available to them for booking purposes, but found that when they expanded their booking circles, and actively sought out pioneering talent from women and gender expansive creators, not only were their issues resolved, but they also tapped into new, exciting networks and talent pools that have fed into their line-ups in the years that have followed.

If we're talking literally off-stage, then access to expertise has been reported as an issue here too - with the resolution being there are some amazing networks and movements taking place to create more visibility for women and gender expansive techs, engineers and touring staff. Women In Live Music is a great example of one, which is a database to find professionals in your area, and can be accessed by events that want to have gender diverse crews. And looking further behind the scenes, and considering labels, booking agencies and beyond, a lot of the actions taken have been centred around future steps - so ensuring that gender representation is considered when bringing new artists onto rosters, as well as when recruiting new staff and board members.

Can you tell us about the Keychange Talent Development Programme?

Absolutely - this is a year long programme that is undertaken by 74 women and gender expansive artists and professionals.

Each participant will travel to two full network meet-ups throughout the year, as well as one of our international partner festivals to either perform, or speak on a panel. They'll be engaged in workshops around not only their professional development, but also on topics such as safer spaces in music, mental health, and climate action. And they'll take part in a 6 month mentoring scheme that we host in collaboration with, where they'll be paired up with a senior music industry member from around the globe.

The main aim of the programme is to create an informed and engaged international network of incredibly talented people that will be the change in this industry. The network consists of artists, activists, managers, publishers, agents, mastering engineers, psychologists, coaches, and much more, each of them demonstrating how much more progressive, dynamic and rich the music industry can be when it invests in talent of all genders.

Talk us through the Pledge Action Plan. What are the key take-aways from your findings?

The Pledge Action Plan has come about from digging into feedback and results shared by more than 200 Keychange Pledge signatories. What we've found is that the very simple framework of the pledge has been really effective for many organisations - and many actors in the industry are now prepared to take next steps, such as creating faster, more visible actions to promote diversity in their workplace. Many organisations have reported wanting to be more inclusive of people of different races and ethnicities within their staff and the artists that they represent, and would like to implement the Keychange Pledge reporting methods to be held accountable for change in this area. And lots of signatories are interested in engaging further with the global signatory network of more than 600 festivals and organisations, as well as with further training and activism.

As such, the future of the Keychange Pledge will centre around 4 points: going Beyond Gender and including more intersectional considerations in pledges, taking Urgent Action to bring about systemic change, right now. Creating a Global Community of pledge signatories and participants from our Talent Development Programme, and creating safer spaces for Education and Activism.

Why is it important to take an intersectional approach when tackling gender imbalances and what are the key indicators you're looking at when assessing the Pledge's impact?

We know that women and gender expansive people are vastly under-represented in the music industry. And we know that women and gender expansive people who are Black, Asian, Indigenous or from an ethnically diverse background, people with disabilities or have access needs, people who are LGBTQIA+, and people from low income backgrounds and areas face even further barriers. As such, we're moving beyond gender with the Keychange Pledge, and we're inviting new and existing signatories to consider the intersectional barriers that are faced by artists and professionals, as they're making their pledges.

When it comes to key indicators, these will be unique to each pledge signatory, as each pledge is bespoke to the organisation creating it. We'll be asking all signatories to create targets in each of the areas in which they're aiming to improve representation, and we'll be creating links and dialogues with organisations working in areas relating to specific intersectional barriers, to be able to provide the most comprehensive information and support to pledge signatories possible.

The policies of global and national companies can obviously make a huge impact when it comes to visibility but how important are grassroots organisations when it comes to industry wide change?

They are so essential in this movement. Grassroots organisations and venues are the places where people get started - for many, they're the entry point to the entire industry, so if barriers or gender-based-access issues are prevalent at this early point, then we'll lose so much talent and so many brilliant people, right at the start.

Visibility is so key to this movement, and that especially applies to grassroots venues and projects. Young people need to be able to see themselves on stage - as drummers, as bassists - they need to be able to see themselves behind sound desks, and fixing lights on rigging. They need to be able to see themselves on selection panels for showcases, awards shows, funding opportunities. And they need to be able to see themselves as headliners on the world's biggest stages. There's a saying that "you can't be what you can't see", so grassroots organisations - as well as global and national companies - have a responsibility to provide and create space for role models at every level.

Where do you think the industry will be in another five years?

I think we'll have seen more progress - so many positive steps have taken place over the past 5 years, and this conversation hasn't gotten quieter - it's louder than ever. You can see that from the huge, negative reaction to the all male "Best Artist" award nominees at the BRITs this year, or from the outrage that will fly across Twitter when major festivals announce majority male line-ups.

But internally within the industry, structures have been put in place that will roll out in the coming years, so we'll be seeing more women and gender expansive people on boards and in decision making positions, influencing hiring practices, project direction and beyond.

While we still have a long way to go, i'm confident that the creative industries can be the guide for other industries when it comes to improving gender diversity. But in order to make this happen, everybody needs to take part. As we say in the Pledge Action Plan, “it’s the responsibility of every single member of the music industry to insist upon and bring about urgent, progressive, lasting change”, so we need everyone to keep engaging in this movement, to keep tweeting, to keep insisting on better representation, and we need everyone to keep this conversation as loud and as prevalent as possible as we move into the coming years.
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