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).