In our fourth article on women, the music industry and discrimination we interview prominent campaigner Vick Bain about her work as a researcher and the development of the F list promoting women within the industry.
How did you get into undertaking research into gender discrimination in the first place?
"My first job was working at a music store in London, because I couldn’t get a job at record labels. Yes, I could do a three-month internship for free, but I couldn’t afford that. So, I worked in arts admin until I could find a way to break in.
"Then from 2005 -2018, I worked at the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors. During this time I also did an MBA. One day I happened to go to a workshop run by a woman called Remi Harris who asked the questions ‘where are the women in the music industry?’ and ‘why do we have no data?’. She made me decide to look at this topic for my dissertation. So I chose to write on attitudes to diversity and equality from those running music businesses in the UK.
"As part of my job, I also oversaw the Ivor Novello awards, the awards for song-writing and composing. I was fortunate to be able to have access to over 60 years of history as to who had won these awards. Over that period, I found out only 6% had gone to women. So when I left the British Academy, it was with the desire to find out why the industry was so biased."
Since your report you have been influential in creating the F-list. What impact do you think that has had?
"The F-list is incredibly popular with women. Every day they’re creating new listings on the platform. I get a lot of thanks regarding the list because it’s designed to showcase women so that they can be discovered and booked for gigs, festivals and shows. There are some fantastic women and bands listed. I try and listen to as many as I can and I’m always left thinking, gosh you are really good. Why are you not headlining at this event? Why are companies not investing in your careers the same as they do with men? Again, it goes back to vertical segregation, it's either outright or covert sexism.
"However, audience pressure and the fan base is changing for festivals. We’re trying to work with certain festivals to increase the number of women on their line-up. I think ten to twenty years ago no one batted an eyelid about there being no women in the line-up. Now people are being called out and there is a demand and backlash from audiences. The smaller festivals are doing really well but it’s the bigger rock festivals that aren’t. I think they’re dinosaurs but tastes will change and they will have had their day."
In the report you highlight motherhood being a significant barrier for women. Tell us a bit more about that.
"We have some of the lowest levels in Europe in terms of employment rights. I’m a trustee of a charity called Parents and Carers in Performing Arts, working with companies advising on best practice. However, there are many problems. Lots of people work as freelancers with no employment rights. Going on tour becomes a real challenge for women with children. It’s not impossible but it is very difficult."
What do you think men can do to be an ally to women in music?
"Culturally I think people realise sexism is bad and they don’t like to admit that, but their behaviour is different. For example, I hear women tell me that they hear from labels saying ‘we can’t sign you because we already have a woman on our roster’. There’s someone who I know who is signed to a decent independent label and she’s the only women on their 30 acts roster. And even she didn’t notice this until I pointed it out. The danger here is that labels that have a single woman on their lists has a distorting effect. When challenged they will pick out these single women to say ‘look there’s no discrimination, we have x or y on our lists’ when that one female is all they have. This is why it is so important to get the actual statistics out and have conversations around that.
"It is easy for men to be helpful to all those who run companies, who work in A&R, then sign more women. They have to open their minds to female talent. It's also being aware of the data and stop denying what is going on. They need to be aware of their own privilege and then use it."
So do you see any signs of change?
"Now some people will say the situation is changing rapidly. The UK music diversity survey shows there has been an increase in women in music, but where is that occurring? Predominantly in women at entry level, low paid jobs, something which we see in every sector. But will these women rise up the ladder in the next 10 or 20 years? If they don’t, we have vertical segregation, where there are plenty of women in the bottom quartile taking low paid jobs, whilst the top quartile continues to be the preserve of men."
Is there a danger of tokenism? Companies that say we already have a woman on the board or a woman in senior management - 'job done'!
"It’s important we don’t just have token women. As more women take on previously male roles then ironically, they become more visible because there are so few of them. It’s this distorting effect which makes people think ‘ahh there’s loads of women in music, for example what about Adele, etc? We need to get back to facts and the real proportions. That’s why it's so important to get the data and statistics out there."