Wednesday, 8 May 2019

Sticks ’N’ Strings: A manifesto

The image of Florence + The Machine fans at British Summer Time Fest never gets old...

Why Sticks ’N’ Strings?

Over the past ten - fifteen years digital disruption has shifted the economic focus of the music business away from record sales towards live music. It is no longer enough for bands to have a platinum selling album: Not when you need 100 streams of a song to count as one sale and payment per stream is so low. If you want to have a successful career you must sell a lot of t-shirts and tour. A Lot. For years at a time, on as many continents as possible.

From a fan point of view, bands and artists who might previously have been less available to you are now much more accessible to fans thanks to social media. Also, whereas once you might have seen your favourite band live about once every five years or so, now you’re seeing them at least once every couple of years, often more than that. In an experience economy led age, more and more people are going to gigs, and to festivals. Sadly, where you get increasingly large groups of people, you also get an increased statistical likelihood that bad stuff will happen.

It doesn’t happen to everyone, but it happens often enough to send a specific message.

That perhaps our concert halls, clubs, pubs, arenas and festival sites are places where women and girls are not welcome on our own terms. That our attendance and enjoyment is contingent on the whims and behaviours of the men in the crowd, and the unspoken assumption that women’s bodies are always up for grabs, whether on a crowded train or up against a barrier at a concert.

The UK Live Music Census 2017 highlighted that 66% of music venues surveyed “do not have a sexual harassment policy” and that, similarly, 87% of promoters surveyed “do not have a sexual harassment policy”. The survey raises similar concerns about child protection and terrorism and page 71 of the census report covers specific recommendations to address these issues.

If we move from the moshpit to the stage, things aren’t necessarily any better. The ratio of women headlining music festivals in the UK in comparison to the talent pool available to organisers, is woeful. Having reported on the issue in 2017, the BBC returned to the issue in 2018 to see if things had improved: They hadn’t. 

In a related note, there’s no guarantee that even if you score a headline slot on a tour or at a festival that you’ll be paid as much as your male contemporaries: HAIM famously sacked their booking agent last year after being paid a tenth of the fee of a male performer they shared a festival bill with. They have since hired Florence + The Machine’s booking agent, Emma Banks. On the subject of Ms Welch, while Florence headlined Glastonbury in 2015, making her the first British woman this century to do so, and the youngest person in a long time to do so, she hasn’t headlined Glastonbury since and, British Summer Time aside, the festivals she does headline are the smaller ones. That she sells out both her arena tours and these smaller festivals would suggest, once again, that this is an example of an artist punching below their weight.

If we look at concert hall gigs, clubs and pubs, things aren’t any better: Sexist promoters who treat women performers as a novelty are not unusual.

What now?

I felt this image of my desk would be more realistic than Unsplash...

I am all too aware that I cannot solve these problems myself. But I do want to at least try to make a difference, and to do so by using tools that I know I can use: Words and information. 

Sticks ’N’ Strings is being launched as a monthly newsletter that will promote women in the UK live music arena. It will do this by:

  • Providing a monthly gig guide of gigs coming up by women/non binary artists

  • Providing information on campaigns that aim to make festivals and gigs safer places for women

  • Shining a spotlight on music journalism that bigs up women/non binary artists and which has interesting stuff to say about women and the music industry.

  • Bigging up female gig promoters, activists, websites and other supportive folk.

The focus will be on all-women, women-dominated, women-fronted and non binary bands and artists of all musical genres and of all levels of success. From bedroom bands to stadium stars, choirs and orchestras to rappers and beatboxers, and all points in-between.

I don’t expect to change the world by putting out this newsletter, but I know that I will enjoy acting as a klaxon for the amazing pool of women and non binary musicians out there, many of whom are punching well below their weight right now and are not being given the attention they deserve.

Similarly, for all the gig going girls and women out there, if I can introduce you to some new gig going pals, get you inspired to go and see some fantastic bands and artists you might never have heard before, and point you in the direction of campaigns for safer spaces, I’ll be happy.

You can sign up to the mailing list here

1 comment:

  1. Great article - lots of gig venues just don't feel like a 'nice' place to be. I don't enjoy going to gigs much because a lot of places are centred around standing on beer-sticky floors, trying to prevent my glass of wine being knocked over (lol), crap sound because the sound engineer just gave up or didn't show up, or the PA system is too big for the space... I end up just feeling uninspired because promoters care less about having an inspiring space to be and more about numbers of drinks sold. Where are the wholesome, arty venues that care about the music and the lighting and the décor and the sense of creating a wonderful space? Please recommend me some!