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I realise this is a loaded topic and I am opening a can of worms here, but today I’d like to discuss a subject close to my heart: diversity in the music scene.

As I say, this is a controversial thing to bring up, but I think in this day and age, it’s important to discuss whether we truly feel that the music industry, and especially the local grass roots scene, is diverse enough.

Before I start, I would like to be very clear that the people with whom I network are a lovely bunch. If diversity is lacking in a lineup, it’s not deliberate – I don’t believe that any promoters or organisers around York are deliberately excluding anybody.

So, with disclaimers out of the way, my thoughts.

I don’t believe there is enough diversity in the local music scene in York, and this is disappointing for a number of reasons.

Look, I get why the higher up music industry is still having issues. There are entrenched ideas going back decades that are hard to shift – a lot more minds to change and a lot of work to do. But there is absolutely no excuse at local level. Most local shows are put on by much smaller networks, in a local area, drawing on a pool of talent easily accessible via social media. There is no shortage of musicians keen to play.

For some reason though, I’m looking at lineups around York at venues I frequent and in the singer-songwriter genre, by far the most prevalent act is guy-with-guitar. I’ve seen entire nights of just one gentleman with a guitar after another. Don’t get me wrong, I like a good guy-with-guitar as much as the next person, but it does get a little dull if that’s all that’s on the menu. Punk, rock and indie all show the same pattern – it’s all groups of lads, followed (but not closely enough) by bands with a female vocalist.

Where are the women? There must be female bassists, drummers and guitarists – I know because I went to college with some – but I’m not seeing them out on lineups – not nearly often enough. Female singer-songwriters are out there too, but again, not seeing them often enough. In fact, I have seen requests to play on facebook chats where the lasses are passed over for the lads. There tends to be a first come, first served policy with these types of gig recruitments, and it’s easy to miss the one female voice posting amidst all the lads clamouring for a spot.

So why is this the pattern? (And I fully expect it may not be the theme where you are, dear reader, so I am definitely keen to hear about scenes who are managing to get the balance right)

I have some theories (that it’s a demon?)

  1. Women are not networking the way the men are. This on its own may have reasons: lack of confidence, not hanging out in the same circles, not being as likely to be recommended (the lads have a bro pact and recommend one another to promoters and organisers, or like working together so tend to pick one another over a less well known female alternative)

  2. There are statistically fewer female acts in York, so they just aren’t coming up as often. This is probably true, but questions should be asked as to why. The local colleges all have strong diversity schemes aimed at drawing women into the music business, and I see dozens of women busking in the city centre, so why aren’t they playing more venue line-ups?

  3. Some promoters don’t view female performers as important or deserving of a spot on the bill. This is a controversial suggestion, but sadly may be true. It may be an unconscious bias, but I believe it exists just the same.

  4. Women can feel threatened by trying to slot into the male-dominated environment and may have their confidence undermined by men telling them how their kit works, or assuming they don’t know their instrument, or assuming they don’t take it seriously. This can result in them deciding that gigging is not for them and so you lose another performer from the scene.

Assuming local promoters would like to be more diverse in their lineups, I have some suggestions to help things along.

  1. Look at your lineup and ask yourself how many different types of people are represented. Not every lineup has to look like a rainbow flag, but at least try to get a few women in there. If you live and network in an area that is not very culturally diverse, it will be harder to get diversity reflected in your acts, but just about everywhere has a roughly equal ratio of men to women, so your gender diversity should certainly be present. If your area lacks lots of solid female acts, then recruit from further out and show the women who come to the show that they too could be up on stage, doing that thing.

  2. If local female acts put on a ladies-only showcase, please don’t feel threatened and start calling them out for sexism. Go to the show, and talent spot for your lineups!!! The only reason female showcases are still needed is because of the aforementioned lack of diversity. If you start giving women slots, and evening out the ratios, there won’t be a need for it anymore.

  3. Reach out to local acts via social media and start building connections. Then, when you need acts for a lineup, you already have a feel for who is gigging regularly, who is reliable and who will really bring that extra spark to your night. Please don’t be the dude who passes over the hard-working woman who shows on time, knows her own kit, plays well and pulls a crowd, for your mate who routinely rocks up late, doesn’t have his own leads and fumbles his way through his set. And yes, I have seen this happen.

  4. Don’t make women feel threatened, patronised, or lectured. I had a sound engineer tell me I could take my kit off on stage. I had another engineer tell me that I didn’t know how to plug my kit in – when his DI box was at fault. I have a thick skin, but women just trying to break into gigging may not have, and this may result in them never attempting to gig again.

  5. If you do a facebook shout out to fill a lineup, be extra careful not to overlook the female voices requesting to play.

  6. If it’s a paid gig, pay women the same as the men. This SHOULD be obvious, but we only have to look at the BBC to see that apparently (and sadly), it isn’t.

I realise there is far more to this than what my mere 1000 words or so has covered, so please, leave me comments – what is your scene doing well? Where can it improve? How can we make the local music scene more diverse for everyone?

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