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You can’t be what you can’t see … Festival Republic steps up to Rebalance gender inequality in our music industry.

At the Leeds Festival Press Day earlier this week, Melvin Benn, MD of Festival Republic, launched an amazing new initiative borne out of research from PRS Foundation (UK’s leading charitable funder of new music development) in a bid to redress the gender imbalance in the music industry. In PRS Foundation’s recent Women Make Music Evaluation, it was revealed that only 16% of UK songwriters and composers are women and that there is a lack of women in other roles across the industry particularly in engineering, which is viewed as an almost entirely male ‘closed shop’.

Melvin Benn started by setting the scene.

“I book artists and performers that the public wants to see yet in truth it would appear that too few of the bands have women as part and parcel of the band and I felt that this was an issue. I realised that it was also my issue and that I could and should do something”

Therefore, he decided that something needed to be done about gender equality in the music industry. He knew he needed to be proactive in changing and working towards this no longer being an issue in the future, and that, in a nutshell, is what this project is about.

Vanessa Reid, Chief Executive of the PRS Foundation, was invited to be involved in this project.

“This is exactly the proactive stance we need if we want those who are under-represented in the industry to be heard and stand up and be counted”

Melvin Benn explained,

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“There is a significant lack of female acts with recording contracts, and indeed airplay – it’s quite astonishing. Women are not recording music enough and that is the root cause of why there is an issue. Almost any recording studio is staffed almost entirely by men which can be an intimidating environment to record in I would imagine”

The music industry has always been dominated by men in all areas, with women often being part of a male dominated band but invariably not leading the song writing or the production of the sound. Because of this, women often do not see a career in music is an option for them. This leads to a very low uptake of careers in the music industry by women.

Natti Shiner, lead vocals in Fickle Friends, will be part of the initial selection panel. She had this to say:

“Let’s face it, guitar music is male-dominated and it seems like the wider music industry is hard-wired towards men – even the fact that people often feel they have to refer to our band as being “female-fronted” feels wrong. Whoever referred to Arctic Monkeys as a “male-fronted band?!”

ReBalance is a pioneering project which will run initially for three years but hopefully will continue. Female led bands (and by female led that means those identifying as female) where at least 50% of the band are key players, i.e. songwriters and composers, will be recommended by industry experts (that is streaming services, labels, publishers, promoters, agents, journalists etc) to create a shortlist of UK based artists once every three months from which a selection panel will shortlist and select. The selection panel will change over time in line with availability and demand. It will provide one week’s studio recording time at the Old Chapel Music Studio in Leeds to a core female band, female musician or female solo artist each month in 2018, 2019 and 2020.  They will not only have access to the studio and an engineer but will also be provided with accommodation and travel. At the end of the year, Festival Republic will give these successful acts the opportunity to play at the Festival Republic or Live Nation Festival.

Vanessa Reid explained that lack of women in the recording studio is another major barrier. There is a significant lack of women in music production and research from the Women Make Music Evaluation indicates this number is 5% or fewer.

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And so, Music Republic have a second part to this initiative – an apprenticeship scheme where two successful candidates will be chosen to train over the three-year programme as apprentices.  The initial 18 months will be in-house at Old Chapel Music Studio receiving support and training and then during the second 18 months they will lead or be co-engineers on the project.

Melvin Benn added,

“There are virtually no female sound engineers in the country. By creating this opportunity, by the end of it, we’ll have two women engineers which will double the number of women engineers in the country! And that’s huge”

Vanessa Reid confirmed,

“Targeted initiatives really really work and have a tangible impact … and are beginning to push change. 79% of women [we worked with] have become more confident when encouraged in this way …and 86% of women who applied were new to the industry. It’s the only way to broaden reach and introduce new talent”

Lande Hekt, vocals and bass from Muncie Girls shared her own experience of life as a woman negotiating our current music scene and was grateful to see that there may soon be a positive change. She said,

“Positive discrimination and funding targeted at this specific topic is absolutely essential in bringing a gender balance. I think that role models need to be nudged into visibility because you can’t be what you can’t see. When you’re a young girl who has no role models it is so so difficult to take the initiative to actually play a show and get out there and do your music … so thank you to Rebalance. I think it’s a really great initiative”

Melvin Benn has really stepped up to make a positive change for everyone. He believes that this may be a small step but perhaps the most important step in redressing the gender imbalance in music.

Vanessa Reid told the assembled crowd that she is delighted that the Festival Republic is responding to their research by offering new opportunities which will support female artists alongside younger women who want to develop skills in music production and sound engineering. That this is happening in Leeds acknowledges the importance of promoting infrastructure and opportunities for talent development outside of London. Vanessa Reid believes that from projects such as this will be rolled out across the country as others see the benefits of the Rebalance programme.

She concluded,

“A more balanced industry is not only going to be a truer reflection of our society but a more successful [music] industry”

KATE O’BRIEN 

 

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