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Check (your privilege) one, two...

“Check (your privilege) 1, 2…” Inequality in the Australian music industry




All eyes in the Australian music industry were set on Splendour in the Grass dropping their line-up for 2018 this week. Not only for the general excitement around one of the largest selling out music festivals in Australia, but for the level of gender equality in the artist line-up. The festival is organised and owned largely by Live Nation, one of the biggest music promoters in Australia. Live Nation also organises Falls Festival, where Australian all-female band Camp Cope called them out in late 2017 for not supporting and showcasing enough women on their bill. (Rowe and Selvaratnam, 2018) Earlier in 2017, headlines were made again when two-piece male band Regurgitator pulled out of a show which held a completely male dominated line-up with ten bands, no female or non-binary musician was to be seen. (TheMusic, 2017) These actions have been sparking conversations in Australian music over the past few years, making us think twice about who we see on stage, and even behind the scenes in production.


By the Numbers 2018 states that Year 12 students are roughly even when it comes to males and females studying music, with 46% male and 54% female focusing on the subject in 2017. But this number drops dramatically when it comes to musicians working professionally, according to 2016 Census data. Out of 8376 musicians in the survey, only 29% were listed as female. This fraction of statistics continues through professional events where numbers are stacked against popular music festivals, with an average of 34.8% making up women on stage. Even approximately 50% of the radio waves over 58 radio stations throughout Australia are dominated by male musicians over the last decade. The remaining 50% accounts for female musicians, mixed gender bands, and songs by male artists but featuring a female singer. Australian music awards, are also male heavy, with 30-55% of award nominees featuring at least one female musician. The gender gap is prominent again in wages, where females currently earn just $.80 to a males’ $1. (McCormack, 2018)


Skipping A Beat, a study into gender inequality in Australian music describes it as a pyramid format that essentially enforces women’s inequality. Women are underrepresented in all aspects in the music industry, through from musicians on stage, producers, board members, and record companies. Approximately 70% of those in power (board members) are male. These people are the driving force of the industry, they make the decisions, and they have the power. (Cooper, Coles and Hanna-Osborne, 2017) Australian Music Industry Directory (AMID) who has been declaring a ‘Power 50’ since 2012, made their most recent list in 2016, stating only 3 females out of 13 made it in the top ten (some positions were shared partnerships, Jessica Ducruo and Paul Pitico sharing the #2 place as Secret Sounds CEOs), and around a quarter of females in the full list of 50. (theMusic, 2018)



The lack of women’s representation in senior positions means decisions about the industry are largely made in the absence of women, and thus women’s voices are not heard. Lack of airplay translates to lack of sales, streaming, awards, and less chance of female music artists being signed. And if women’s voices aren’t being heard, then there’s a danger of only single stories being told.


Chimanda Adichie explains the implications of a single story in her TED talk The Danger of a Single Story (Adichie, 2018). In Adichie’s case as an African woman, she was brought up to believe she was a poor African and that’s all she’ll ever be. Our lives get reduced to a single story, or a single perspective. David Brooks describes the danger of a single story as, “if you reduce people to one, you’re taking away their humanity.” They can never aspire to be anything else as that’s all they ever know.  (Brooks, 2018) Whilst there are many stories throughout the Australian music industry being told, a majority of them are being told my white men, so this is a danger to any young people to identity other than that. We need to hear stories from all walks of life, women, non-binary, people of colour, and LGBTQ+.


Why representation matters


Maggie Bochat interviewed by Alice Angeloni for Fremantle Herald (Angeloni, 2018) describes diversity as:


… a showing of masc [sic] and femme energy, a representation of our Indigenous brothers and sisters alongside other people of colour. It’s a display of all sexualities – members of the LGBTQI+ community. Diversity is a celebration and representation of EVERY type of human; we are lucky to have so many.”


Bochat also believes that seeing more women on stage is only going to empower and inspire more young women, due to the increase of role models.  Outside of Australia, Beyonce (an African-American woman) is beginning to break down barriers in pop music, singing about running the world. (Knowles et al., 2018) And not only this, but Knowles shows women in a position of power in her music videos and social media. Back on Australian shores, ‘one woman band’ Tash Sultana is killing it with sold out world tours, only being a few years into her career, and at 20 years old. (Aware Project, 2018) These women are inspiring and empowering young women off the stage.


Too often young women are growing up with issues in regard to self-confidence, and mental health issues. Girls are taught they have problems, they need to be thin, pretty, and perfect. Sarah Marsh discussed the issues of perfectionism in women, and we can find that women are approximately twice as likely to be less confident than men, finding in one workplace that women would only apply for a promotion if they met 100% of the criteria, while men would apply at 50%. This perfectionism leads to serious mental health issues, with Marsh declaring US statistics showing 28.2% of 16-24 year olds suffering from anxiety, depression, or other disorders. (Marsh, 2018) In Australia, these statistics follow on par, at 21.2% for a similar age group, and 20% for all Australians, according to the Black Dog Institute. (Blackdoginstitute.org.au, 2018)





Parker Curry's awestruck reaction to Michelle Obama's official portrait in the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, was captured by a fellow museum visitor on March 1, 2018.



The woman’s place is in the kitchen



The sparsity of seeing women on stage is centuries old, dating back to early classical music. The rise however, can be related to decades ago in the 1970s when rock and glam in alternative music gained popularity. At that time, women were seen only as fans, they were there to adore the men on the stage, and that was it. Men were the supply, and women were to demand them. It wasn’t until second wave Feminism in the 1970s and 1980s that began to give women back some of their voice. (Sport, 2015). Mavis Bayton in Frock Rock (1998) writes that feminism has been a major force in getting women into popular music making and given women the confidence that they can be music makers rather than simply music fans. Women would now begin to take power and reclaim their space. Traditionally, women are seen as domestic keepers to run home life. An article on multiple job holding in the creative industries states that women are more likely to spend their time at home with domestic and caring duties, with less time and energy to spend on creative endeavours, than their male counterparts.  (Throsby and Zednik, 2011) Sandberg refers to this “centuries-old division of labor” (Sandberg 2013, p. 21).


There is a stereotype engrained in generations of us that girls should focus on marriage, becoming a housewife, and bearing children, anything beyond that and to aspire to hold a career outside of the household is described as an ugly stereotype. Any signs of a girl or young woman seeking to task risks and advocating for herself are traits that are discouraged. However, boys and men are often applauded and supported for taking on these characteristics. Women pay a penalty. Whilst there have been small changes in generations of perspectives shifting, these views are still retained by current day Millennials (otherwise known as generation Y, born between 1980-early 2000s). Sandberg describes a case study from New York University professor Cameron Anderson who ran a test with his students, telling a story of a successful business woman named Heidi. However, with half of his students, the story changed gender, to the name “Howard”. This case study from 2003, resulted in less ‘likeability’ for Heidi, over Howard, even though the stories were completely the same, apart from gender. It’s still engrained in us that men are favoured over women, that they’re allowed to be bossy and ambitious.


Men are still holding the power, and they’re holding the power over the noun. Later in her book Lean In (2013), Sandberg challenges the notion of power in occupation. She notes that we often describe occupations as female pilot, or female engineer, and in our case of the music industry, female musician or ‘girl band’ is frequently used. Sandberg quotes Gloria Steinem, “Whoever has power takes over the noun—and the norm—while the less powerful get an adjective.” (Sandberg 2013, p. 150). And unfortunately, those who hold the power, also feel like they have a license to do what they feel.


With great power comes great responsibility…


In 2016, along with the rise in third wave feminism, women began to reclaim their space and power, again. This wave of feminism is becoming importantly intersectional, to include a wider spread of population of non-privileged women, people of colour, LGBTQ+ communities, and even men. (Rand, 2018) It’s these minorities that began to challenge the abuse of male power (read: privilege). Harvey Weinstein, a popular Hollywood director was called out for sexual harassment against many female actors, including Rose McGowan (BBC News, 2018), and  Taylor Swift, a major pop icon sued a radio DJ for inappropriately groping her  (Dockterman, 2018). Whilst these issues are based in the United States, similar news stories broke in Australia. David Cutbush, a major music promoter received allegations in numbers (theMusic, 2018) and previously in late 2016, Sticky Fingers band member Dylan Frost verbally abused and physically threatened a female musician, Thelma Plum and her boyfriend (theMusic, 2018).  Kirin J Callinan lost privelages and was removed from a Laneway lineup after exposing himself at a music awards event, while an Adelaide sound technician made headlines after making sexist comments to a musician of Boat Show (McCormack, 2018). Many other personal stories come from the #MeNoMore campaign, which can be read here.


The shared thread here is power. Clark calls it ‘The Weinstein Effect’ (Clark, 2018) It’s powerful men against young women, and, unfortunately, it’s not just the music scene. Any industry which is male dominated is likely to rife with sexual harassment. Australia's Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins has conducted research to find sexual harassment cases in the Defence force, Police force, Medical, academic, as well as the arts.


"… these situations don't happen everywhere, they happen in situations of power. They happen where speaking up is difficult." – Jenkins (Clark, 2018)


It’s a common ground issue. 52% of women are sexually harassed by a male perpetrator in Australia, compared to 16% of men sexually harassed by a male or female counterpart, and 11% of female sexual harassment on other females. (Abs.gov.au, 2018) So, if men make up the majority of population in the Australian music industry, these numbers must be dire. Although cases often go unreported, we can look at statistics from an article The Growing Epidemic of Sexual harassment at Aussie Music Festivals (2018) by SBS reporter Maria Lewis, that in Melbourne alone, 80% of ‘gig-goers’ believe that its commonplace. Her article interviews a number of young women at festivals stating that they have received inappropriate attention, but generally shrugged it off as normal practice.


To counteract sexual harassment at shows, Camp Cope initiated the It Takes One campaign in 2016. It Takes One began as a notion that one person can makes a change, according to Kelly-Dawn Hellmrich, bass player of Camp Cope. The musicians worked alongside Laneway Festival organisers to introduce a safety hotline for festival goers to call and ask for help against sexual harassment. The hotline involves speaking to an operator and if required, ground staff would be on the scene to deal with the issue. (theMusic, 2016)


Challenge the voices. Empower the voiceless. Represent and celebrate diversity


We’re already seeing it with Camp Cope challenging the mainstream, calling perpetrators out and creating support networks. There are more initiatives being born to support girls and young women into the industry, such as Girls Rock, established in Canberra in 2016, and is now spread out to Melbourne, Brisbane, and Sydney. This organisation is a series of ‘girl rock camps’ empowering girls, trans, and gender-diverse youth in music through mentorship. (Girlsrockaustralia.com.au, 2018) Sad Grrrls Club also popped up on the scene recently, hosting Sad Grrrls Fest to promote gender diversity and non-male voices.


"I did have a couple of acts on my list that contained females, but they weren't available." – Peadon after the ANU line-up challenge (TheMusic, 2017). To contest these excuses, Maggie Bochat of Recycled Rainbow Records based in Fremantle came up with a ‘Diversity Database’, and LISTEN also introduced a database to prove there are enough women and people of diversity to include in future line-ups and production. Keep challenging these notions, and do your research.


Collective empowerment is becoming more visible with social media campaigns such as the #metoo, #menomore, and #ittakesone. Sexual harassment is becoming a public issue rather than being swept under the rug. Professor Keltner (Clark, 2018) believes as we work together in a collective, and take control of the situation, things will change. Women and men are no longer scared of not standing up and saying anything, the truth is being told, and actions are being accounted for. This goes for both men and women, we need to work on this together. We need to be supportive of one another, respect everyone’s space and call it out when harassment happens.


And whilst grassroots movements can make waves, and festival line-ups are shifting to be more gender diverse, there needs to be arrangements on all levels, including management roles, board members, and executives. ‘Inclusion riders’ are becoming a hot topic from the recent 2018 Oscars, after Frances McDormans mentioned it in her acceptance speech. The inclusion rider is a clause in a contract stating that there must be a level of diversity in the cast and crew of a movie set. (Poole, 2018) Taking a leaf from the book, if we can work on inclusion agreements, for example boards and teams in the industry to be 50/50 in equality, then we’re on our way to a beautiful place in the Australian music industry.

Dee Mosca