It’s the Brits! Awards & Festival Line-ups: the Pipeline Problem

It’s Brits time again on the annual schedule of music award ceremonies. The Brits unveiled new gender ‘neutral’ award categories this year, a move I initially felt might be detrimental to women, but on reflection I believe this can do some good as it has shone a spotlight on inequity in the music industry and might encourage change.  

To say there has been some discussion on social media about diversity in award ceremonies and festival line-ups this year would be an understatement.  Journalists, influencers, celebrities, broadcast media, even bona fide princes… everyone has an opinion about them, and those print and social media have put this issue centre stage.  And as a campaigner for women in the music industry it is great to see these conversations happening out in the open.

There are commonalities with award ceremonies and festival line-ups; they both represent the pinnacle of the music industry.  The events that are discussed and generate their own hashtags, and the festival line-up posters with all the all male acts removed are usually the most venerated, highest profile events and they usually have the most money backing them. There’s a lot at stake, reputationally and financially, and of course both are inextricably intertwined.  

While I was Chief Executive of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors for six years I was in a privileged position to see the day-to-day mechanisms involved in music award ceremonies. I analysed over 60 years’ worth of data of the Ivor Novello Awards and found only 6% of awards had been given to women. That has only increased to 10% since 2010. This was despite working on ensuring the judging panels were as diverse as possible, but the judges can only choose from the works that are being entered in the first place.  Below is the pipeline for award ceremonies; you have to be in it to win it!

The same pipeline is used in live. 

The pipelines above are what led me to research the rosters of the music publishing organisations for Counting the Music Industry. There, I discovered only 14% of songwriters/composers are female and that only 20% of artists on the label rosters are female. So there are a heck of a lot fewer women at the start of the award/festival pipeline than men, and even fewer are making it down the pipe to the awards and festivals.

But one issue compounds the next. For labels and publishers to enter their acts into the awards or promote them to festivals, they need chart placements and economic success to be eligible. If women are relegated to being the novelty act on a label in a serious minority, they wont be getting the attention, the best professional, and financial support they deserve and need to push them to chart success and placements. Coupled with an unconscious bias towards male artists from the general public based on what they are accustomed to hearing, it’s a relentless circle.  These are systemic barriers which result in fewer female artists being submitted to award competitions and ending up on the major festival stages. 

For festival promoters scratching their heads over the fact they don’t know any female artists I have compiled a snapshot of 150 pop/indie/electronic labels with signed female artists on their rosters…..please go to this link here where you will find nearly 700 solo artists and over 600 bands with at least one female band member.

UPDATE 2023 the directory now has nearly 6K entries, over 4K solo artists and nearly 1.5K bands and groups with women in them. 

The more these women are booked onto festival stages the more likely they will sell product and become better known. The festival stages have a symbiotic relationship to the award ceremonies. 

Disclaimer – this is absolutely NOT a definitive list; it is compiled from notes I made in my research last summer and rosters may have changed by now, I have also removed duplicates so if you are expecting to see a particular artist with a certain label and she’s not there she may very well be with another label and finally please bear in mind not every record label has a working website to gather data from.  Please bear in mind this is also focussed on UK labels only.  And if you know of a great label with female artists on it and I haven’t listed it…do let me know and I will try to do a regular update, so it becomes a growing resource.  

Back to award ceremonies, the Brits is on tonight and we see here why separated awards for men and women hide the bigger picture in the music industry. In the four mixed-sex categories of the Brits there are startlingly few women…only three women are credited as writers out of 32 in the Best Song category. The Best Album and Best Group consist of only male musicians and bands. If we had entirely gender separated awards, we might go away thinking the music industry is totally balanced and equal. But we would be very wrong, as my research and that of many others such as the fantastic work conducted by Annenberg University on the Billboard charts demonstrates. 

So, we should be thanking the organisers of the Brits really…for highlighting the unequal position women have in the music industry…and hopefully going forward we can all have a good, hard think about what we are going to do to change that. 

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