This year marks a change for Liverpool’s Sound City festival: not only has it moved back to the city and into the creative fringe that is the Baltic Triangle, it’s also the first year the festival is proudly running as the official UK partner for PRS Foundation’s KEYCHANGE initiative. Keychange is a pioneering international initiative with aims of empowering women to transform the future of music and encourage festivals to achieve a 50/50 gender balance on their line-ups, conferences, commissions and production teams by 2022. Having quickly gathered speed across the music industry, Glastonbury’s Emily Eavis, an ambassador for the initiative, endorses the project: “A project like Keychange is an excellent way of promoting the brilliant women that are working in music, while encouraging men and women from the industry to do more to support their careers.”
Keychange aims to accelerate change and create a more inclusive industry for everyone in the music business and, with Liverpool being the diverse city that it is, it’s little surprise to see Sound City leading the charge and pledging to make their festival fully inclusive by 2022. Becky Ayres, Sound City’s Chief Operating Officer, thinks the move towards a 50/50 gender balance is the perfect fit for the festival. “Championing equality is at the heart of what we do at Sound City; across our festival and conference programme and within our organisation we strive for diversity in everything we do.”
To kick-start the festival, an event was held at the Sound City+ conference to celebrate 40 more festivals signing up to the initiative and to present arts and music pioneer Jayne Casey with a Keychange Inspiration Award for her services to Liverpool’s punk and new wave scenes in the 70s and 80s. Vanessa Reed, CEO of PRS Foundation, expresses the importance of this award, highlighting how important role models such as Jayne Casey are right across the creative spectrum. “I’m sure that the industry innovators and artists we’re supporting through the Keychange talent development programme will be inspired by people like Jayne. She demonstrated the importance of women’s contribution to music at a time when the gender gap was even greater than it is now.”
Inspiring people through awards has recently proven to be a popular and powerful platform, one that has been used to covertly address gender inequality through the media. In Hollywood, actress Frances McDormand recently ended her Oscar acceptance speech for Best Actress with the line, “I have two words for you: inclusion rider.” A term unknown to many, McDormand was referring to an equality clause that actors and actresses can insist be inserted into their contract that requires all of the film’s cast and crew to meet a certain level of diversity in regards to race, sexuality and gender.
Away from Hollywood, we have become accustomed to gender inequality being prevalent in the music industry. In regards to the recent #GrammysSoMale debate, Recording Academy president Neil Portnow patronisingly suggested that women need to “step up” to be considered for awards and festival line-ups in the music industry. New Zealand pop star Lorde found herself at the centre of this debate after she was the only female artist on the shortlist for the Album Of The Year Grammy, but the only act not asked to perform solo on the night. Despite all of this she did indeed step up, just like the countless female musicians who have come before her and fought back against the archaic idea that women don’t deserve to be treated the same as men in the music industry. Festivals such as Sound City are the ideal place to start addressing this issue of gender equality in the music sector: they attract a lot of attention and hopefully projects like Keychange will percolate through to grassroots musicians and venues after being successful at festivals. This is why Sound City is in such an interesting position; people come from all over the world to experience Liverpool’s music and culture scene, so to be one of the first cities championing gender equality is a great move forward.
During this year’s festival, we decided to go out and canvas opinion on the impacts of Keychange from those who it affects most: the artists. From speaking to a number of acts performing at Sound City, it’s evident, and perhaps unsurprising, that performers are embracing the initiative. Brighton-based indie-rock quartet BLACK HONEY speak to us before their storming set at Camp and Furnace. Vocalist Izzy Baxter expresses her excitement in welcoming the change. “Getting to watch the difference between before and after, we’re really stoked to see more women and diversity.” She also offers ways for the campaign to go even further: “It’s also down to culture. If there were more girls being encouraged from a younger age I think it would be more even. The campaign could be like, ‘Give young women instruments and electronics and teach them how to produce,’ that is also a thing. You’ll see that change happen naturally then.” District headliners THE ORIELLES also recognise the importance of encouraging young women role models to reach the top. “They aren’t encouraged in the first place, it reflects why there’s a lack of female headliners,” bassist Esme tells us. It all starts from the bottom.
The idea of women being involved in all aspects of the music industry is one that has proven popular among artists. Creative three-piece STEALING SHEEP’s Suffragette Tribute was arguably one of the most important performances of the weekend. 2018 marks the centenary of women’s suffrage and working with Manchester organisation Brighter Sound on their Both Sides Now campaign, alongside co-commissioners Edge Hill University, Stealing Sheep’s Lucy, Emily and Rebecca created a special marching band procession to celebrate the movement. The mesmerising performance was created with women and equality as the focus and brought together female musicians, designers and production students to walk to the beat of a new drum, a new outlook on women in music and a new hope for everyone in the industry. “It’s about trying to get more women involved in the music industry through different projects,” Emily explains while the trio are taking a break between rehearsals for the performance. “The standard format is generally male-dominated, but it seems like there aren’t many role models for women to think, ‘I want to do something like that.’ It’s not an obvious option for women, they might not have the confidence to do it.” This is what the Keychange initiative is encouraging, a place for women in the music industry to harness and share their creativity and be treated the same as the men involved. 50/50 equality is at the root of the issue; it’s not about division, as Lucy explains. “I don’t want all-female or all-male [line-ups], I want it to be even, with everyone being treated equally.” This is a valid message; the point of the movement isn’t to disregard men from festivals, but make sure that there are equal opportunities for everyone.
It’s also important to get a male perspective on gender equality. “I think we should definitely support it,” says Chris from Black Honey in regards to Keychange. “When more guys are saying it, maybe other [guys] will start listening.” The Orielles’ guitarist Henry agrees with the sentiments, adding, “I think the lack of females at festivals goes beyond it just being a festival; in terms of the music industry, female musicians are actually promoted a lot less and that’s reflected in the festival line-ups. If you listen to the radio and then list the amount of women doing the festivals, it just doesn’t reflect music.”
Alongside the Keychange initiative, Sound City have joined forces with local university, Edge Hill, which has been named as an Innovation Partner for the festival. Not only are they working with Stealing Sheep for the suffragette performance, Edge Hill are also introducing students to the music industry. CATHY BUTTERWORTH, Edge Hill’s Arts Manager, addresses how important it is to give young people these opportunities. “A lot of our students are women, but not a lot would think they could go into performing arts at festivals. Access to the music industry is important and for Sound City to be signing up to this change is so important.”
It does all come down to education and awareness of the problems surrounding gender equality, not only in the music industry, but across every workplace. To have women equally sharing festival line-ups with men, the wider industry needs to be addressed from the ground up, and by Sound City signing up to the Keychange initiative it shows that we’re more than ready to make this a reality sooner than later. To paraphrase Frances McDormand, I have two words for you: sign up!