Quotas, safe spaces, and image obsession – Report from the Leeds Open Space

There was a great turn out at Sheaf Street on Monday 26 March for good food and an evening of conversation and debate about how we can begin to tackle inequality in the music industry.  In fact so good was the Leeds open space that I was struck dumb (literally, with the flu, hence the slightly tardy nature of this report)!

This was the third of our Both Sides Now Open Space events – to discuss, galvanise and stimulate positive individual and collective action for change in an industry we love, and also which can frustrate us beyond measure!

We asked attendees to create the agenda for the session by convening their own conversations around a burning issue, question or great idea. Here’s what we talked about:

  • What’s stopping you/me making music as I’d like to?
  • How do we achieve a 50/50 gender split at festivals and is a quota the way forward?
  • Solo acts – the challenges, pressures we face. How to get started.
  • What’s the best way to design a course to appeal to young women?
  • Why is music tech even more male than pop and rock music?
  • Ageism – how can women of all ages find their space in the industry
  • How can women find empowerment and enjoyment in hip hop despite its misogynistic history?
  • What lessons can music learn from other cultural sectors – ie women running organisations / board members
  • How do gender stereotypes contribute to the lack of women represented in music?
  • How can promoters/we diversify audiences? How can we make a variety of people feel more welcome? How can audiences be a better reflection of the UK population?
  • Confidence – different levels between the genders – why?
  • Image obsession in the industry

The Leeds Almanac

At the end of the day we asked participants to reflect on a series of questions and share their thoughts via postcards and to each other. We’ve typed all the responses up into the following digest – a take away of the key messages from Leeds

First we asked attendees to prioritise one key issue from the day:

  • How can we help diversify crowds and make more people feel welcome in venues/festivals
  • Misrepresentation both in audiences, artists and industry
  • Inclusivity at gigs – how can we keep everybody safe?
  • Image representation of women in mainstream music and the limitations of that.
  • How can we change the industry to be more accepting of different types of women?
  • What’s stopping people creating the music they want, and possible solutions to this
  • Contributing to the diversification of audiences by introducing DJing and electronic music from younger ages. And how this can diversify audiences. I realised how important reaching out and changing young audience mentalities is.
  • Lack of women enrolling on Music Technology courses
  • Intelligent marketing so as not to unintentionally exclude audiences.
  • Representation of over 30s women in the music industry

We then asked attendees to tell us what they were going to do to keep things moving as a result of what they heard, said or thought about during the day:

  • Se up a Sisterhood label/showcase/meetings to support and encourage other fmale artists, especially those under-represented in the mainstream.
  • Push for more diverse range of bookings, run workshlps for women to help them get further. Possibly host an opern space event!
  • Be a more active member of my local, and wider, music scene
  • By coming to more events like this and also calling out companies who I think could do better.
  • Have conversations, regular meet ups, plan events, network
  • Use Equaliser (female DJ collective) to curate safe space/accessible platform. Use that platform to talk about racial as well as gender issues – there’s a lot of disparity in the scene
  • Sisterhood music collective facebook.com/sisterhood. Promoting female artists, challenge ageism and sexism and discuss gender inequality
  • Take notice and feedback from these events
  • Tackling fear and anxiety in emerging non-cis-male artists. Creating platforms and making them feel accessible.
  • I will be contacting Leeds College of Music and high schools with the DJ collective Equaliser, looking into workshops for under 18s. Also the Black Music Festival. Empower through hardware!
  • Keep reaching out to organisations in Leeds to keep these issues on their agenda.
  • Research more

Was there anything that participants felt wasn’t discussed or we could have discussed more?

  • Female role models. How and why they are needed and how can they be made more visible
  • Sharing ideas around DIY musicianship that are in keeping with good ethics, branding around female musicians and identities that don’t fit into traditional female archetypes.
  • How those not under-represented can help
  • How outreach work could create more opportunities for minority groups to engage with the music scene
  • Sexism at gigs – from venues and punters
  • Non binary and trans audience safety

And How Did People Feel at the end? 

  • United
  • I feel driven and excited and full of ideas for helping other women using the Sisterhood platform. I also feel clear about what makes me tick and the clarity of passion I have for subjects affecting women in music and driven to talk about them more.
  • Empowered, invigorated. Thank you, today has been amazing!
  • Tired, but like a weight has been lifted
  • I’m feeling energised! It’s always encouraging to be in a room with people who care about the same things as you. Fab event!
  • Very positive – inspired!
  • Positive and inspired with a number of ideas to take away
  • Positive – very good to openly converse about diversity in music, mostly with people I’ve never met before, who have valuable experience in the field.
  • Positive, tired but in a good way. A lot was talked about – I have lots of food for thought and am thinking of ways to apply changes in my own work.
  • Happy to have been able to share ideas and have so much common ground
  • Enlightened

 Thanks everyone – all these conversations, actions and issues will really help shape and inform our Big Conversation event as part of the Great Exhibition of the North at the Sage Gateshead on the 2nd July. Look out for the invitation!