Picture this: you’re at the music festival of your choice. You arrive at the venue, open up the festival guide and pore through the line-up. Scanning the festival guide as you walk, your brows furrow, confused. You re-read the lineup, making sure that you’re not mistaken, as you realize that there are less than 15 female artists in a lineup of over a 100 artists.
Indian Music Festival Scenario
India’s music festival landscape is catching up to international standards, with the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Magnetic Fields, Backdoors, Ziro, VH1 Supersonic and Electric Daisy Carnival being the main big-ticket names in a sea of music festivals in India. The festival audience is diverse, with both male and female festival-goers showing up in equal numbers. However, there is one figure that stands out bleakly amidst all the happy festival vibes: the disappointingly low number of female artists on the roster.
Over the past seven installations of the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, the average percentage of female artists on the roster is only 12%. The Weekender seems like one festival where diversity stands out in every aspect, so it is therefore disappointing that it has had only one female headliner till date, Imogen Heap in 2011.
If you are looking at other music festivals for more female representation, you will be disappointed. VH1 Supersonic 2018’s lineup had only 14% female artists with no female headliners in a roster of 58 acts, Backdoors 2018 had only one female artist in a roster of 8 artists, and EDC 2016’s India edition had a single female artist in a lineup of 22 names. Magnetic Fields Festival 2018 is currently the festival with the highest number of female acts with 11 female artists among 39 artists on their lineup, bringing them up to an impressive figure of 28%.
… vs the International Scenario
Similar studies have been conducted across international music festivals like Coachella, Lollapalooza, Bonaroo, Unsound Festival and many others, with the same trend across: female artists make up about only 15% of the total roster, with even fewer female headliners. The most disheartening part is that these numbers haven’t really changed much at all in several years, despite numerous studies and articles calling out music festivals for their gender gap. In the Indian scenario, a few reasons have been given for why this happens: there aren’t enough women in the Indian music scene, gender isn’t considered while programming and lastly, “financial reasons”, or in short, programming women won’t get sell enough tickets.
Gender bias is not desired
When organizers say that they don’t consider “gender” while programming, we have to clarify that there are two ways of considering gender. One is choosing an act because of their gender, which is not desirable in any circumstance. The second is recognizing the glaring gap, carefully considering a sizeable number of acts across all genders, and program a mix of all genders, and the outcome will surely be better than a mere 10-15%. It would help immensely if programmers stepped outside the comfort zone, and actively began searching for new, female talent and nurtured their talent. Decision-makers in the music industry would agree that it takes one big breakthrough to pave the way and act as a role model for budding musicians to take the leap into professional music, and women don’t have that right now.
How do we encourage change?
How can we have more women playing festivals in the the highly male dominated music ecosystem in India? We can start by encouraging talented young girls to pick up instruments and mics and perform in their schools and colleges. Parents usually discourage artistic pursuit due to lack of financial stability in music as a career, but the case is much more serious for women in music than it is for men, primarily for reasons of safety and exploitation. Creating safe spaces for everyone to perform and flourish is extremely important if we are to improve the drop-off rate for female musicians after school or college and ultimately increase the number of female musicians in the scene.
Mohini Dey is putting India and women bassists on the global map, and it is one of the most encouraging things that could happen to the Indian music scene. Women are visibly taking ownership of their spaces, releasing more music and putting themselves out there on the public forum, fighting to be heard. Lastly, having more women in leadership roles taking programming decisions, or programmers regardless of gender actively seeking out female artists is crucial to solve this issue.
The database can only grow with more research, encouragement to newer female artists, a fair platform, collaboration, and most of all, a real desire to see the numbers change. Far too many of us are perfectly content with a 15%, because in a male dominated industry, even 15% can seem like “enough women”.
For all the new musicians out there: If you identify as a woman and have original music in the making/ already released independently or through a label, please fill out this form. The change starts with you. https://goo.gl/forms/56h2s04e5t84O9ew1.