Australia's Music Festival Diversity Problem By The Numbers & Some Steps To Improve It

Australia's Music Festival Diversity Problem By The Numbers & Some Steps To Improve It

We look at the Australian 2017/2018 festival circuit, and chat to industry peeps on how to fix it.

With every wave of festival announcements, the discussion surrounding the inequality of the Australian music industry seems to increase dramatically, particularly when it comes to the artists playing on our festival stages. Last year's inaugural Days Like This festival failed to include a single woman or non-binary artist in their 30-strong billing, despite an impressive contingent of DJs and producers. Likewise, festivals including ORIGIN NYE and Falls Festival have publicly come under fire for hosting particularly dude-heavy first line-ups in their 2017/2018 editions. However, it's not just on our festival stages where women and non-binary artists and people of colour are severely under-represented.

A 2017 report by the University of Sydney's Women, Work and Leadership Group found that women were "chronically disadvantaged" in the music industry, highlighting that males predominately dominated key decision-making roles in the industry and that across the board, women of colour, women with disabilities and women identifying as LGBTIQ+ were mostly non-existent in these important roles. Furthermore, female-identifying figures represented only a third of registered employed musicians and only one-fifth of songwriters and composers registered on APRA, despite females making up approximately 45% of recent music graduates. In the same study, it was found that males made up 61% of the airplay across both triple j and Double J in 2015/2016, and when totalling the 100 most-played songs on commercial radio, only 31 featured a single female or more. Additionally, of the top 100 artists streamed on Spotify in 2016, only 21 contained at least one female and not a single female artist featured in the top 10.

Acknowledging that we're not quite done with the year just yet, 2017 is shaping up to be pretty similar. Recently, Spotify revealed the 30 most-streamed singles of the past few months. Excluding features, the highest-charting woman is Maggie Lindemann all the way down at #24, and even then it's a remix of her song made by a bunch of dudes. The ARIA Singles Chart paints a similar picture, with Clean Bandit (fronted by Grace Chatto), Pink and Taylor Swift being the only female or female-containing acts to take out the pole position at the time of writing.

On the festival front, an analysis of the gender gap by triple j's Hack early this year found that dudes made up the bulk of our festival line-ups, with Splendour In The Grass (74% male in 2016, 68% male in 2015), Falls Festival (68% male in 2016, 69% male in 2015), Laneway (64% male in 2017, 62% male in 2016), Groovin The Moo (79% male in 2016, 63% male in 2015) and Listen Out (65% male in 2016, 91% male in 2015) all boasting particularly male-heavy line-ups. In addition to Days Like This, last year's Spilt Milk Festival failed to include a single woman or non-binary artist on their billing (thankfully, this year's line-up rectified that issue), and 2015's final Soundwave Festival had only six female-including acts out of a whopping touring party of 73. Sexual assault and sexual harassment cases also went up, with notably covered incidents at Falls Festival, UNIFY and Rainbow Serpent.

However, I think one of the biggest take-home messages is that out of all of these studies, not a single one touched on the representation of people of colour - male, female or other. According to ARIA, 14 albums have reached the #1 position on our album charts at the time of writing, five of them written by acts containing at least one female. However, only two of these 14 artists - Gang of Youths and Busby Marou - include people of colour. A look at Spotify's 'Australia Top 50' playlist finds 22 songs featuring people of colour (at the time of writing). However, when stripping away guest-featuring artists, only 11 of the playlist's 50 songs are performed by people of colour - none of them Australian. People of colour (including indigenous Australians), especially women of colour, are severely lacking from every aspect of Australian music culture, from the musicians who make up the charts or the people behind the scenes of these musicians.

To the question we aimed to answer at the start of this feature - how do the Australian festival line-ups of 2017/2018 stack up in terms of diversity?

Note: Pilerats would like to acknowledge that the use of "woman" and "female" throughout this piece are inclusive of all cis females, non-binary persons and those who identify as female.

girls festival diversity3

Breaking down the line-ups of many of Australia's biggest (and most-covered) music festivals one act at a time allows us to analyse which of these festivals have strived for diversity and which ones fell flat. On average, your standard Australian music festival line-up is composed of 68% all-male acts, 23% all-female acts, and 9% mix-gendered acts, i.e. acts that feature a mix of females and males (whether it be six males and one female, one male and six females or any other combination). In 2017/2018, festivals including Laneway, Groovin The Moo and Listen Out are responsible for some of Australia's most equal billings, with less than 60% of their line-ups featuring all-male artists. Then there's The Plot, a sister festival to the touring Groovin The Moo event whose line-up is 40% all-male acts and 44% all-female-identifying acts, with mix-gendered acts making up the final 16%. Festivals like Meredith (61% all-male acts) and Beyond The Valley (66% all-male acts) are not far behind, especially in relation to the bulk of the festivals.

On the other side of the spectrum, Australian festival powerhouse Splendour In The Grass sets a standard regarding line-up quality, however not so much when it comes to line-up equality with 70% of its artists being all-male acts. Yours & Owls, Falls Festival, Field Day, FOMO, Lost Paradise and Let Them Eat Cake all sit around the 70% to 75% all-male mark, as does Sprung Festival, which is actually impressive to see considering that up until relatively recently, hip-hop has predominately been a boy's club. UNIFY's 2018 line-up - something we'll address more later in this feature - has only a single all-female act on it, with the rest of the billing composed of either all-male acts (83%) or mix-gendered acts (14%). Then, comes in Perth's ORIGIN NYE event where at the time of writing Canadian mau5trap maestro REZZ is the only female on this year's first announcement - something which the festival says will be improved as further announcements come later in the year (editor's note: Origin NYE recently added a couple more artists to the lineup, two of whom - Princess Nokia and KUČKA - were female).

artists of colour diversity

Unfortunately, the breakdown of non-white representation on Australian festival line-ups is even grimmer. On average, 80% of your typical Australian music festival line-up will be composed of all-white acts, and only 16% of the line-up will be acts solely containing people of colour. Revived Australian hip-hop festival Sprung is, in fact, the only line-up that comes close to racial diversity in Australia, with 45% of its bill composed of musicians of colour. Aside from Sprung, both FOMO and Field Day have relatively racially diverse line-ups, with musicians of colour making up 36% and 31% of their line-ups respectively. From there, however, things aren't too great. Splendour In The Grass' 2017 billing was overwhelmingly white (89% of acts contained only white members), as is the upcoming UNIFY event (97% white), Yours & Owls Festival (94%), ORIGIN NYE (89%), The Plot (88%), Let Them Eat Cake (86%), Lost Paradise (84%), Beyond The Valley (83%), Falls Festival (81%) and Listen Out (81%). In fact, aside from Sprung, FOMO and Field Day, only Meredith (78%), Field Day (69%) and Laneway (74%) have line-ups which are at least 20% composed of people of colour.

These statistics aren't exactly surprising by any means, but they are troubling. When further breaking down the representation of people of colour on Australian festival line-ups, one particular thing becomes evident - the majority of them are international acts. Names including Schoolboy Q, Stormzy, NAO, Vince Staples, D.R.A.M. and Noname are dotted across a handful of summer festival line-ups and as great as it is to see musicians of colour like these at the top of posters, it would be great to see festivals give Australian musicians of colour a chance. A.B Original, Sampa The Great, Ecca Vandal, Midas. Gold, L-FRESH THE LION, Kinder, Miss Blanks and Kuren are just a handful of Australian-based musicians of colour who populate festival posters this festival season, but it'll be great to see more festivals tap into the plethora of Australian talent we have to offer (in areas other than hip-hop, too).

Australian rapper Miss Blanks will be performing at v-diverse new Sydney festival Formations this weekend, and next year's Laneway Festival. Like her on Facebook HERE.

So, now that we've identified exactly how bad our festival diversity problem is, what's being done to help? What should be done to help?

After the results of an RMIT study commissioned by APRA AMCOS came back with less than satisfactory results, the association announced a series of goals which they believe will help with the issue. These goals include striving to double annual female membership applications within three years, creating a songwriter/composer mentoring program for female and non-binary musicians across a range of genres and sub-genres, and enforcing a 40/40/20 rule on all APRA-related programs - something which, if properly enforced, will ensure that at least 40% of all presenters and performers at award, workshop and APRA membership events will be female and 20% will be non-binary figures.

Additionally, at this year's BIGSOUND conference, feminist music collective LISTEN highlighted the biggest cop-outs for booking a line-up that lacks diversity as well as pointing out small things people in the music industry can do to help make it a more inclusive industry. Included in these tips were respecting people's pronouns and making sure to avoid lessening an artist or industry figure based on their skin colour and/or gender, something which Melbourne three-piece and passionate music diversity advocates Camp Cope have had to endure countless times. “It’s crazy how many male artists we talk to about this think we’re literally talking bullshit, said the trio to triple j's Hack earlier in the year. "People told us, 'You should book small venues because you don’t want to have a big venue that’s half-filled’. But we sold out every tour. It’s just patronising.”

listen flyer

(via LISTEN's Facebook)

However, if you're not involved in the music industry, questioning what you can do to help Australia's music diversity problem can sometimes seem pointless, but we promise it isn't. When booking festival line-ups, promoters search for what is being played and what is being supported; who's being played on triple j or FBi Radio? What about commercial radio? Who's performing well on Spotify, the triple j Unearthed charts or the ARIA charts? Who are selling out shows? If you're confused about what you can do to help, sometimes it's as easy as supporting women and musicians of colour who you want to see on festival line-ups. Request their music on the radio. Listen to them and add them to your Spotify playlists. Share their music with your circles. Buy their music. Go to their gigs, or, if they're not coming to your city, ask your venues and promotion companies why. Message blogs and music sites and tell them what they should be covering. All these little things can add up and make artists look desirable for festivals. Also, attend festivals and events that have taken the 'risk' to book a higher percentage of women and musicians of colour - like this year's BIGSOUND conference.

While it may not seem like much at the time, calling out festivals for their inequality is also something which may benefit diversity in the long run, as sometimes promoters may just be blind to the issue. For example, last year's UNIFY Gathering featured 119 band members across 26 artists, and of those 119 band members, only two were female. While the 2018 line-up may not be even close to equal, the minor uproar against the festival's booking choices led to the team attempting to make the next festival "as inclusive as possible", as pointed out in a Facebook post by the festival's head Luke Logemann. "We’ve tried our best and that we have thought about it [booking a festival with equal gender diversity] a lot," says Logemann in the post. "We made sure there was no shred of tokenism, and that we were booking every artist for the right reason. But we also made an effort to try and move this lineup in the right direction." To conclude the post, Logemann went on to call for suggestions on female and non-binary artists to book for future events, signalling their desire to build a diverse event with the aid of the general public.

The Beautiful Monument are an all-female rock band playing this year's UNIFY Gathering - like 'em on Facebook HERE.

As a white male, getting onto a pedestal to tell the general public how to solve the Australian festival diversity problem is rather hypocritical, as one major thing that musicians who are subject to sexism and racism in the industry highlight is their lack of voice when it comes to these issues. That's why in preparation for this feature, I reached out to several female and non-binary musicians, musicians of colour, and the organisations that promote these musicians to ask what they believe should be done to combat gender and racial inequality in the Australian music industry.

"If people with certain types of privilege call in other people in that privileged group that’s going to make huge sizeable changes," says Rachel Maria Cox, a non-binary musician and head of Australia's Sad Grrrls Club. Since forming in 2015, Sad Grrrls Club have fought to promote gender diversity in Australia, whether it's through their record label, festival (and other gigs), or anything else that'll give non-males a hand in creating music and shining in the music industry. "I’d like to see bands made up of cis white men demand that they play on more diverse line-ups, I think that’s where a lot of change has to happen. I think if bands put more pressure on promoters it would give the promoters more motivation to change. It’s also important that everyone listens when they’re called in/out on their privilege or their line-ups. Being called out is hard, but privilege is invisible to those who have it so it’s important for bookers to try and swallow their pride and understand that it’s not a personal attack, it’s about an overall cultural shift." Continuing with the topic, Cox then reaffirms that supporting your female and non-binary musicians are important in getting festivals to bring them on board. "Actions speak far louder than words when it comes to making booking agents, and festivals change their minds. Big festivals will go where the money is, so putting your money and your support behind diverse artists is how we can all help get those festival bookers to pay attention."

As an Asian-Australian who has been in the music industry for over ten years, Melbourne's Yeo understands the struggles of being a musician of colour in Australia and takes a side which targets those a little higher up than your small-time band bookers when asked what should be done to promote gender and racial equality in the Australian music scene. "If you're a white male top dog, step aside - I guarantee your qualifications will soon have you in another job that satisfies you," he says. "If you're higher up than a top dog, start hiring event and music directors that are women of colour, people of colour and/or LBGTIQ. If your organisation has been employing the same white male directors for years and getting excellent results, you're in the best position to improve diversity by moving that person on. Test your precious brand and see what it's really made of - quality music or white privilege."

Yeo is an Asian-Australian electronic musician. Like him on Facebook HERE.

As a woman of colour in the Australian music industry, Papua New Guinea-born musician Ngaiire has faced racism in all forms over her lengthy and celebrated career. So, when she was asked to curate the opening night of this year's Sydney Fringe Festival, she pieced together an applaudable, highly diverse line-up including herself, Kaiit, FROYO, Crooked Letter and more. "Certain cultural protocols need to be exchanged between [traditional land] owners and visitors, that festival bookers and ourselves would do well to learn more about. It has to go beyond an obligatory 'we acknowledge the traditional owners of the land' because I’m not sure a lot of people actually realise the gravity of uttering something like that, especially white people. It almost feels throw away now," she says on what Australian music festivals should do to become as inclusive as possible. "If we look outside of what the 'industry gods' tell us what’s marketable, you will find that the most interesting, informative and perspective-changing music being made in this country is by immigrants and minority groups. We need to start challenging ourselves and stop being so polite, so fearful to give minorities a voice, so complacent and so every man for himself. If we’re not challenging the status quo, then we’re not building a fertile breeding ground for ALL young artists to want to aspire to make more incredible, original AND informative music. With being more culturally sensitive of the people that are the rightful owners and the people who now call this country home, we will start to create more diversity based on understanding and respect."

Like Ngaiire above, Sydney-based musician OKENYO is another Australian name calling on our festival market to lift their game when it comes to promoting women, musicians of colour and LGBT+ musicians. On her recent single Woman's World, OKENYO proudly declares that the future is female, using her powerful hip-hop sound to make music that is bigger than just music. As a woman of colour who has worked extensively in many creative fields, talking about racism and sexism in various arts industries is a conversation she's had to face her "whole professional life," and something she'll continue to highlight as long as the problem exists. "I don't buy the idea that there aren't enough 'diverse' artists out there. I'm not spending on that sell," she says when asked what the music industry can do to strive for inclusiveness and equality. "When The British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) put into place a strict guideline stating that all submitted works must show they have boosted opportunities for ethnic minority and socially disadvantaged filmmakers, I was extremely buoyed. The same should be implemented in the music industry when it comes to programming festivals and events." Taking a stance similar to Yeo, OKENYO says that it's crucial that change comes from the top - those in charge of the music industry. "The people at the top (an overwhelming male presence) need to make sure that voices other than their own are given a chance. Relinquishing privilege means giving away something of your own in order to allow someone else to have some of the same."

Back when Falls Festival announced their first line-up, Melbourne musician Kira Puru highlighted some of Australia's best female/non-binary musicians, including Sampa The Great, Tkay Maidza, Wafia, Caiti Baker, Thelma Plum and both OKENYO and Ngaiire. Targeting the festival's overwhelming obvious lack of female and non-binary names (especially those of colour), Kira Puru's tweet struck a chord in OKENYO and what strives to see on Australian festival line-ups. "She'd created a killer line-up of artists I would absolutely love to see, and I'm not saying that because I was tagged in the tweet," she says. "I'm saying that because my work and a lot of the artists I admire are actually about the art and not about themselves. We just want the same opportunities as everyone else."

OKENYO is an Australian-based female musician of colour. Like her on Facebook HERE.

So, to all those people out there who comment on every single diversity-related piece with "racism/sexism in the industry doesn't exist!", take some time to reflect on these statistics and quotes. Take some time to reflect on your position in the music industry - whether it's as a general fan and punter, promoter, writer, A&R or anything else - and ask if you have any problematic behaviours that contribute to this issue that you should act on. Also, don't be afraid to call out your friends or anyone else you exhibit contributing to the issue, just because they're your favourite band or a close friend doesn't mean they get an excuse to be problematic, and it doesn't make you any less of a fan or friend than someone who stays quiet.

Yes, Australia's music scene has a massive diversity problem, particularly when it comes to who plays on our festival stages - it 100% exists, whether you choose to believe it or not. However, it's something that can be fixed, and the quicker we - the general public, the band bookers, the A&Rs and managers, the writers and editors and everyone else involved - get to work on promoting a healthy, inclusive Australian music scene, the better - for everyone.


For our analysis on Australia's music festivals and their diversity problems, the following line-ups were used: Splendour In The Grass 2016 (full poster-billed line-up), Lost Paradise 2017/2018 (first announcement), Beyond The Valley 2017/2018 (first announcement), Falls Festival 2017/2018 (first announcement), ORIGIN NYE 2017 (first announcement), Field Day 2018 (first announcement), Listen Out 2017 (first announcement, including region-exclusive acts), Sprung Festival 2017 (first announcement), Laneway Festival 2018 (first announcement), Yours & Owls 18+ 2017 (first announcement, including late additions Waaves), Let Them Eat Cake 2018 (first announcement), Meredith 2017 (first announcement), Groovin The Moo 2017 (full touring lineup, including festival marshals), FOMO 2018 (first announcement), The Plot 2017 (first announcement) and UNIFY 2018 (first announcement).