Some wonderful things came about as a result of a greater awareness of women’s place in the arts. The Keychange initiative – an international project which has, as part of its aim, to encourage festivals and music organisations to achieve a 50:50 gender balance by 2022 – is one such positive step and the #MeToo movement in 2018 jump-started something of a kickback. Many initiatives provide women with support in music but progress in achieving more visibility for women still feels slow.

Yet change is happening and an increasing number of women are being appointed to senior positions within orchestras, recording companies and music publishers. Quite why #MeToo achieved such a heightened awareness of women’s issue was due in part to the fact it saw support from celebrities, TV and social media. Other initiatives existed before and many have started up since, but it was #MeToo which gained wider media coverage and gave women the confidence to speak out when necessary (and to champion each other and support others who spoke out). The momentum has continued and within the music industry there is a steady but slow progression of awareness. Suddenly, gender equality is an issue to be discussed and researched, not a vague notion.

Like other areas, the music industry has looked deeply within itself and found change needs to happen. The difference now is women feel empowered to speak out. The music industry is still male-dominated and there pervades a chauvinistic attitude in some quarters, so for it to progress more, both men and women have their part to play. The practice of blind auditions taken on by some classical orchestras has seen women get far beyond the initial audition in front of a panel and around a thirty percent increase in female orchestra members. When a panel goes purely on what they hear rather than what they see, it makes a difference.

The setting up of record labels run by and supporting female performers helps too. Jazz groups are seeing more women in leadership positions and not just as singers or piano players but also on bass, saxophone, harp or other instruments previously perceived as ‘masculine’. All this is inching towards a time when good music, composition and performing is acknowledged regardless of gender, age, origin or any other defining label. 

Women hold powerful positions in record companies – they are heads of departments; radio stations are run and programs presented by women and there are countless great shows hosted by women including Anthea Redmond, Jenny Green, Anne Frankenstein and Claire Martin. Of course, there are many talented female performers too.

There are so many women in positions of influence and power in music now it seems ridiculous to even try to list them. From authors, columnists and reviewers, radio, PR companies and managers of venues and musicians, women are everywhere, though still not nearly as prevalent as men. Or, hang on a minute; is this true? Venue managers and musicians comment that because there are few women who are well known, audiences tend to see the same performers time and time again, yet talk to female musicians and they cannot understand why venues are not aware of the many talented women out there. So, it is clear that women need not only to be present but to be visible. This is where The F-list comes in. Now, there they are, listed, their genre and experience available.

One list, no excuses.  

Many men and women are uncomfortable that gender is even an issue in the arts. There is transition in progress. Some musicians experience misogyny and misandry – one may be a reaction to the other but many too find their careers unhindered by discrimination. Young people are coming through in all genres whose experience has led them to a much greater awareness of gender issues and their avoidance.

The issue of women in music has long been a difficult area for some because it is hard to quantify and decide exactly what discrimination is. Whether that discrimination is perceived, actual, deliberate or just thoughtless and unintentional, we should be careful that we do not make people afraid to comment at all. Differences are there to be noticed and should be celebrated. After all, it is these differences which make one musician different from another; why we engage with one performer and not another. The music itself knows no boundaries. It is what binds us together and in music, we all have more in common than issues which separate us.  

Women are stronger than they think and have a powerful voice in music. The F-list and other positive steps will simply even up the playing field and provide a valuable resource for event organisers, musicians, labels, researchers and writers.

Music is vulnerable to labels like any industry but it is changing and the voice of women is being heard loud and clear. We have begun the journey and we are continuing. The F-list is one way of making the journey just that bit easier.

Blog written by Sammy Stein.

Interesting reads

Sally Placksin’s American Women In Jazz 1900 To The Present: Their Words, Lives And Music (1982),

Linda Dahl’s Stormy Weather: The Music And Lives Of A Century Of Jazz Women (1984)

Morning Glory: A Biography Of Mary Lou Williams (1999)

Biddy Healey’s Be a Good Girl and Play Like a Man(2016).

Steinberg’s 2001 “Take A Solo” An Analysis of Gender Participation and Interaction at School Jazz Festivals.

K. McKeage’s Gender and Participation in High School and College Instrumental jazz nsembles(2004)

Dr Arial Alexander’s guest editorial in JazzEd Magazine, Sept 2011 titled Where Are The Girls?

Marie Millard’s Five Things To Teach Your Female Students About Jazz in Brass Chicks(2018).

Vick Bain, the creator of The F-List, is an advocate and campaigner for equality and diversity in the music industry. She has over 25 years’ experience in the business and has been enrolled into the Music Week Women in Music Awards Roll Of Honour and featured in BBC Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Music Powerlist.

The F-List grew out of research she undertook in 2019,  analysing the gender of the rosters of over 300 UK record labels and publishing companies.  Her findings were published in the report ‘Counting the Music Industry’. For the first time, it provided data that demonstrated how few women are supported financially by the music industry, in comparison to men.

Using data from that research, The F-List is the first directory of its kind to feature up-to-date information on UK-based female* musicians, songwriters and composers.

Many event or festival organisers want to promote female artists but don’t know how or where to find them outside of their own network. The F-List solves this problem. With thousands of professional musicians who are currently signed to labels across all genres of music, this directory makes it easy to search for, and discover, great female talent. And as more women upload their music and information onto the site it will keep growing as a resource, like a wiki for UK female musicians. 

But The F-List is not just a list. It’s a growing community, supported by a not-for-profit Community Interest Company, that’s committed to creating a future where gender equality is celebrated and properly represented throughout the music industry. 

Over the past few years, it has been a fact that at the large UK festivals it’s often less than 15% of the musicians on the main stages are women. This is even though women possess the talent and desire to pursue a career in music – over the past five years they made up almost half of all music performance degree students.  And this figure also drops dramatically when it comes to female representation on UK record labels and publishers.

You will have heard of many of the artists we feature – Adele, Sade, Charli XCX, Little Simz, Hildur Godnadóttir, Anna Meredith to name a few. But it is still a fact that many female musicians do not receive the professional opportunities their male counterparts may enjoy.

A fairer gender-balance can only be achieved if we build a community that begins to address the barriers that female artists face in the industry.  With covid19 it is going to be more difficult than ever for musicians to make their living out of their music, we want to ensure that female musicians are not forgotten when we re-open.

So whether you’re already famous or just starting out, The F-List community can help you.  We provide support and development through a network of people who have years of experience within the music industry.

It’s never been easier to find female talent within the UK music industry!

*The F-List is proud to be trans and gender minority inclusive