Gender balance on Belgian festival stages: we're not quite there yet

It’s that time of year. Festival season. Festival goers around the world start making lists of the artists they want to see, prepare their travel and accommodation, and plan their outfits. But in recent years we’ve seen another recurring part of this preparation phase. We, the media and the music industry focus on the diversity of lineups and the different minorities being represented on stage.

This year, Coachella had only one female headliner; Ariana Grande was just the fourth female headliner in the festival’s 20 year history, after Beyoncé, Lady Gaga and Björk. Bonnaroo booked just two female headliners in their 17 year history, and only three festivals reached gender parity last year, according to Pitchfork’s analysis. Even after getting called out by Halsey last year, Firefly went on and released this year’s lineup with, again, no female headliners. And glancing at the Twitter account Book More Women, which visualizes the gender balance on the posters itself, we’re not even convinced we’re going in the right direction.

Reading & Leeds festival’s lineup (19% female acts)

Reading & Leeds festival’s lineup (19% female acts)

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So, just like last year, we dove into Belgian lineups specifically and present you the numbers today. It took a few days of research, tallying up lineups, googling artists, but here we are. Without further ado, here’s how gender balanced our Belgian festivals are.

Disclaimer: we’ve added a few new festivals this year, whose numbers are available, but without comparison to last year. Three festivals (in grey) decided to pull the plug (one of them being last year’s ‘winner’ La Truite Magique) and two festivals (in red) haven’t announced any artists yet. The festivals marked yellow have incomplete lineups. All information was accurate on June 1st, 2019. For genres, locations and last year’s numbers, please consult our source document.

Update June 6th, 14:55: we’ve updated the research to include Horst Arts and Music Festival. Update June 7th, 19:05: we’ve updated the research again to include Brussels Summer Festival. Update June 20th, 10:28: we’ve updated the research to include the Sfinks Mixed line-up.  These changes have impacted the averages (13,40% all-female acts instead of 11,72% and 23,47% acts with at least one woman instead of 21,16%).

Update June 6th, 14:55: we’ve updated the research to include Horst Arts and Music Festival.
Update June 7th, 19:05: we’ve updated the research again to include Brussels Summer Festival.
Update June 20th, 10:28: we’ve updated the research to include the Sfinks Mixed line-up.

These changes have impacted the averages (13,40% all-female acts instead of 11,72% and 23,47% acts with at least one woman instead of 21,16%).

A few obvious conclusions can be made by looking at these numbers: on average, 2019 is bringing us more female musicians than last year. In 2018, 9,22% of acts were all-female and 16,50% of acts had at least one woman on stage. This year, the numbers rose to 11,72% and 21,16%. Festivals leading the way are Cactus Festival, Francofolies (just like last year), Esperanzah, Rock Werchter and Dranouter. Among the genres that increased their female talent the most was electronic music, which is surprising as this genre remains the most male-dominated. Festivals making the biggest leap are Jazz Middelheim, mainly thanks to double bass player Anneleen Boehme curating her own stage, and Elrow Town, programming not a single woman in 2018, now booking 18% female acts for their 2019 edition.

Update June 20th, 10:28: After Sfinks Mixed announced their line-up, we updated the list. Sfinks was top of the class last year, but hadn’t announced any artists yet at the time of publishing this article. With their line-up, we see a clear winner in all ways. Sfinks has the highest percentage of women on stage, both all-female acts and partly female acts. They’re also among the festivals who took the biggest leap forward, with an 18,55% increase compared to last year’s line-up.

The new top five is now: Sfinks Mixed, Cactus Festival, Francofolies, Brussels Summer Festival, Esperanzah.

Although these numbers seem hopeful, we urge you to see it from different perspectives. Yes, we are making strides, but almost 80% of acts on Belgian festival stages are all-male.

A final important thing we want to highlight: these numbers are a clear sign of the imbalance we’re facing in the music industry, but are not an argument for quota. We are aware of the European Keychange Initiative, where festivals strive for a 50-50% gender balance in 2022, and we support it, but the quota should not be the goal in itself. What we’re seeing is that imposed quota make for another imbalance; you might see more women on stages, but they get programmed as support acts, on the small stages or earlier hours of the day. That’s why it’s important to see these statistics in a context instead.


A few months ago, we were part of a panel on imposed quota, organized by concert venue Ancienne Belgique and the University of Leuven. Two bookers among the panel members mentioned the challenges of booking more women. ‘Female artists are more expensive and harder to find’, they claimed. And ‘we have to work with what we’re being offered.’ We didn’t have a chance to respond in-depth to these claims back then, but we would like to address them now. Although we understand the difficulties of the music industry in general, we urge festival bookers to mirror the diversity of the world on their stages. When Coachella cofounder Paul Tollett was confronted with concerns about their gender imbalanced lineup, he said: “They were right.. There’s been more [women headliners] recently, and that should keep going. We shouldn’t be afraid to fix things. What’s bad is when you get defensive.” Adam Krefman, director of the Pitchfork Fest, told Grammy: “Just know that it is priority, it means a lot. It's not like an empty, sort of, "Yeah we'll do that by 2025," or whatever. It's also just not that hard to actually do.” And Marta Pallarès, part of the Primavera Sound festival, writes in her opinion piece for Loud and Quiet that getting to that 50-50 gender balance was easy, as this year brought more great music released by women and more visibility for female acts than ever before.

Getting to a diverse and inclusive music industry doesn’t happen overnight. Our festivals are not the only issue. We see a lack of representation in the charts, on record labels, in management, in music tech. And to change this, we will need all helping hands, in all disciplines, not in the least the proactive participation of our male allies. But, dear festival bookers, you are literally putting the spotlights on artists. You have more power and influence over the music industry than you think. By showing us a diverse festival stage, you might inspire not only an industry, but many next generations of great female singers, guitar players, DJ’s, drummers, producers, bass players. We ask you to use your position to rethink and reimagine a positive work environment that is both diverse and inclusive. Building better ways of working is something we collectively should be dedicated to, because we are stronger together.

Claïs Lemmens

The importance of sharing stories - 50 years of feminist memory

Last Saturday, Belgium was invited as a part of an information and exchange initiative by the Belgian Archive and Research Centre for Women’s History (AVG-Carhif). The aim of the event was to share stories, inspire each other and build a collective memory of the so-called ‘second feminist wave’.

Starting in the 1970’s, feminism became an ever-growing movement, gaining more traction and attention in Belgian society up until now. Today, fifty years into the wave, AVG-Carhif calls all organizations working around gender diversity to share their piece of the puzzle. The goal? Working towards extensive documentation of what has been achieved so far.

As a young organization with a niche mission - is currently only focusing on the music industry, connecting professionals across the industry worldwide - it was an honor to be invited as part of the discussion and listen to our sisters who have been paving the way for years. Some of the panel members told us their personal stories, dreams and frustrations, reminding us how far we’ve come in the past fifty years.


We joined a book club session on the Little Red Book, published in 1972 by women in both Flanders and Wallonia. The book is a manifesto denouncing the societal structures limiting female freedom. One particurarly striking example was a law deciding that pregnant women could be prosecuted for going to work. One of the participating women added that she was obligated to provide the date of her last menstruation for a job application, as a means for her employer to make sure she wasn’t pregnant.


A few important remarks were made throughout the day. We’re still doing important work, because these challenges are nowhere near solved. At the same time it’s incredibly helpful looking back 50 years and seeing how big the impact has become compared to the early days. We’re also more aware of inclusivity within the feminist movement. In the 1970s, to make as big an impact as possible, women had to focus on what united them. Now, there’s more space to focus on what makes us different. Because let’s not forget, there are many different types of feminism. The needs and wishes differ greatly for lesbian women, trans women, women with or without disabilities, women from different backgrounds or ethnicities, … Our power lies in what makes us unique.

To see the results of this day, we’ll have to wait a while. AVG-Carhif is now collecting all archival materials to be exhibited next year at the Belvue Museum in Brussels. Mark your schedules for February 12th, and find more information here.

Our recommendations for International Women's Day

Want to celebrate International Women’s Day but in need for inspiration? Look no further — since we’re not organizing an event of our own, we figured we’d shine some light on our sisters elsewhere. Here are Belgium’s recommendations for the 8th of March!


FRI - CYCLING - Liège - 2:30 PM

Organized by different women’s groups in Liège, this cyclo-parade focuses on the bicycle, a long-standing symbol of empowerment for women. They start at the train station at 2:30 PM. No sign-up necessary. Find more information here.

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FRI - MARCH - Brussels - 5:00 PM

More of a marching type? Women in Brussels are hitting the streets! No better way to celebrate than being loud and proud and claiming your space in our capital. The march leaves at 5:00 PM at the Central Station. More info here.

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FRI - PANEL & PARTY - Brussels - 2:00 PM

Our sisters at Psst Mademoiselle are celebrating their first birthday. Congratulations! They’re taking over the Beursschouwburg for a day. Our chairwoman Eline will speak on a panel on diversity in our cultural sector at 2:00 PM, but stick around for art works, merch, DJ sets and live performances. More info here!

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FRI - MARCH - Ghent - 5:30 PM

Another march is taking place in Ghent at 5:30 PM, organized by ROSA vzw. We joined this one last year and had a blast. This one is especially important because it not only focuses on sexism, but any form of discrimination. Read the full pamphlet here.

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FRI - PANEL & MUSIC - Ghent - 7:00 PM

Feminism has many faces, and it’s important to shine a light on all of them. That’s why we’re looking at the position of women in Iran. On the panel are four women’s rights activists out of different science fields. Afterwards the band Bomrani will perform a set of their most well-known songs. Get your tickets for the concert through the reservation link here. No tickets required for the panel.

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FRI - MUSIC - Antwerp - 8:15 PM

Greek/Belgian rapper Slongs is releasing her second album on International Women’s Day; the perfect day for someone who, in a few years time, made a name for herself, won a MIA and conquered the Belgian music scene. She’s bringing a bunch of surprise guests. You can find all info here.


FRI - EXPO & POETRY - Antwerp - 7:00 PM

The opening of a new expo by female artist Yasmien Adam, at Gallery ‘Who’s Afraid of Red Yellow & Blue’ by female gallery holder Nena Shaw with poetry readings by female poet Els Dejonghe. The type of evening that inspires, unites, moves. More information here.

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SAT - PANEL & MUSIC - Antwerp - 3:15 PM

Our friends at de Roma have a full weekend of female empowering activities planned. On Saturday there’s a panel around femininity, but stick around for different workshops (slam poetry, dj’ing, entrepreneurship) and an evening concert by Martha Da’Ro and Mona Haydar. Don’t forget to check out the programme for Sunday as well. All information here.


SUN - WORKSHOP - Ghent - 4:00 PM

Girls Go BOOM is showing you the ropes of professional concert photography. Technical stuff will be explained, but there will also be room for stories and experiences. Not to miss! More info here.

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ALL MONTH - MOVIE - Nation-wide

Movie buff? Want to celebrate International Women’s Day in a comfortable chair with some great entertainment and (crucial) snacks? 6th of March marks the premiere of ‘On The Basis of Sex’, a movie about Ruth Bader Ginsburg, female icon in the legal/political world and judge on the Supreme Court.

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ALL MONTH - EXPO - Brussels

Julie Scheurweghs is an artist who works with found footage often by taking it out of its original context and giving them new meaning. The topic of the ‘male gaze’ is a recurring theme in her oeuvre. An expo that makes you think. All info here.

Women on the Alternative Power 100 List: Ruth Timmermans

Ruth Timmermans © Sara Anke Morris

Ruth Timmermans © Sara Anke Morris

Last week, our global colleagues at launched the annual Alternative Power 100, a diverse alternative to the Billboard Power 100 list, which doesn’t seem to get any more inclusive over the years.

Last year’s list, which you can find here, made mention of Ruth Timmermans, managing director at music magazine Gonzo (circus). The magazine focuses on niche genres, visual art and any other stories worth telling. The magazine celebrates their 150th edition this year, so we sat down with Ruth about her nomination, her ideas on diversity and what she plans for Gonzo (circus)’s future.

You’ve been with Gonzo (circus) for 19 years, and managing director for the past 9 years. How have you seen the magazine change?

Gonzo (circus) has been around for 28 years and has grown from a fanzine to a professional magazine. That means a professional organization and the need for a framework for our writers. That might be the biggest change to our organisational structure.

In terms of content, we’ve always wanted to write about more than music and art. We strive to tell stories in their societal context. Because of rapid technological innovations and turbulent political times, we’ve started to pay attention to mechanisms that result in friction and tension in the music industry. Like Marc Fisher’s essay we published in 2012, about the precariat that artists find themselves in. Seven years old and still relevant as ever. One of our writers, Marc Schuilenburg, who just released the controversial book Hysterie, published a series of articles on privacy ten years ago! And writer Dimitri Vossen pinpoints new technological advances within the industry, long before the mainstream picks them up. We wrote about mp3s, bandcamp and blockchain when no one else did. That’s rare for a former punk fanzine.

Diversity has been a hot topic in more recent years. I’ve been doing a lot of research for our 150th edition, and it’s interesting to see the changes in artists we’ve been writing about. Just when it seems like we were highlighting too many white guitar-playing artists, we reinvented ourselves, in the mid-noughties. We had to. Since 2006 we’ve been publishing annual reports, required by the Flemish government, about our topics, our employees, and the diversity within our organisation.

The most important thing is to stay aware of how and why we make certain choices, for example who we put on the cover, the artists we select for our Mind The Gap CD, the specials we publish. It’s crucial for an organisation like ours to follow developments in today’s society.

Which gender-based challenges have you seen over the decades?

When I was researcher at the University of Leuven, gender was a big part of my field of research. But during that decade, I was too involved with gender to actually see the challenges. Only when I experienced harassment myself, and heard other women’s stories about it, I felt the necessity to start looking into it.

The biggest issue is that there’s no feeling of urgency. Even after the #metoo movement, we still don’t have enough public stories about what’s going wrong on one hand, and success stories about female artists on the other hand. The survey that’s been done in our industry in Flanders is proof of this, yet again.

That being said, I’ve managed to list a few of the biggest challenges we’re still facing as women in music and media, in my opinion.

Women in music are confronted with toxic work environments, and the pressure to comply with unnatural standards; I still feel like I have to be one of the boys to be taken seriously, which often means being rough in interactions, using crude language, drinking beer at the bar after a concert. I notice it at almost every festival I go to. This isn’t a healthy way to develop yourself professionally and safeguard your authenticity simultaneously.

Complaints about this toxic work environment and harassment aren’t taken seriously because of the lack of diversity within organizations. The need for counselors or mediators isn’t validated and when people in high positions are the subject of these complaints, they are often protected by excuses of being ‘invaluable’.

Male heteronormativity is narrowing our view on the audience and the world. We still assume that the white male is the standard. Just recently, a male volunteer called music written by a female artist “women’s pop”. When I asked if there was “men’s pop”, I got no response. I think that speaks volumes.

Female artists are faced with double standards and gender stereotypes. The bar is set so much higher for women. Also, when women are being interviewed, more often than not, they’re being asked about their appearance, their collaborations and other ‘soft’ subjects, instead of the technical aspects of their work. And then there’s the mother of all questions: “How do you combine your work with children and family?” Male professionals in the industry don’t often encounter that question.

Women are dealing with belittling and the disbelief that women can be leaders in their industry. A few weeks ago, someone asked me if he could talk to the manager! Our contributions aren’t being seen as much, let alone being valued. What’s worse is that women internalize these external assumptions and believe they’d be better fit in a PR or communication position, instead of manager or CEO. We need to be mindful of that as well.

It’s 2019 and we still haven’t realized how important this fight towards gender equality and inclusivity really is. At least I’m happy to report that Gonzo (circus) has welcomed a lot more tolerance and diversity, and we’ve had an increased number of female writers in our magazine. It seems trivial, but yes, women can write about music. And you better be sure they’ll be claiming their voice.

Being nominated for the Alternative Power 100 List implies that you serve as an example or mentor to others. Do you have mentors of your own?

I’ve never had a real mentor in the music industry. They were rare, and more specifically, they were barely visible. But I owe a lot to my grandmother. She taught me how to keep track of things and anticipate different situations, all with a bit of sarcastic humor - essential when you’re running a large family and farm.

Within my own generation, I look up to Annette Wolfsberger (Re-Imagine Europe). She’s a creative jack-of-all-trades, who’s impacting policies with her expertise, doesn’t take no for an answer and always keeps her head above water. Leen Laconte is another example. She’s been director of Overleg Kunstorganisaties and De Brakke Grond, and has taken crucial steps in innovating and professionalizing both organisations.

Who are you nominating for the Alternative Power 100 List this year?

I think the name ‘Power 100’ might be a little misleading. It’s not about who makes the most money or has the widest network. In my opinion ‘power’ should be about relevant work, personality and commitment to a community. I could’ve given you an endless list of powerful women, but after a lot of thought managed to come up with this shortlist.

Aurélie Lierman is active as a composer, sound artist and performer all over the world. She’s received the CTM Radio Lab Award in january and was invited as part of the line-up at Gaudeamus in Utrecht last year. She often collaborates with other inspiring women like Isabelle Vigier at record label Unsounds, and she’s an incredibly warm person.

Julia Eckhardt is the driving force behind Q-02, the art atelier for experimental music and sound art in Brussels. The publications and programming at Q-02 have contributed to my personal development and realizations that things need to be different in our industry. Every conversation with Julia makes me think.

Gilke Vanuytsel is the music programmer at Beursschouwburg. She has single-handedly diversified club life in Brussels by focusing on younger, LGBTQ+ and underground scenes which aren’t visible in mainstream media.

Mariëtte Groot is the founder of Underbelly, a pop-up store for books and DVDs on experimental art and music. She also conceptualized New Emergences, a platform for gender equality and inclusivity in electronic music and sound art.

Anne Laberge is an American composer and performer who’s been living in Amsterdam for years. She tirelessly works for gender equality in contemporary music, makes amazing pieces based on game technology, is co-founder of Splendor and co-curator at the influential Kraakgeluiden. I often think back on her work ‘Utter’ that I saw at Heroines of Sound Festival in 2015.

Nominations for the Alternative Power 100 List are open until March 8th. Don’t forget to nominate your icons - we welcome all genders, but are looking specifically to leaders focused on strengthening the communities around them. Send us your picks through this link.

Gonzo (circus) is organizing a network event for Flemish and Dutch music professionals on the 15th of March in Eindhoven. You can find more information here.

square1week-100.jpg Belgium cracks the code: how to successfully organize a music event

This past Saturday we partnered with a group of motivated students at VIVES to organize our second ever music industry hackathon. We invited a handful of industry professionals to help us reach our mutual goal: cracking the code to organizing a successful music event.

How do you manage big crowds? Which permits do you need? How do you build an integrated marketing strategy? Which innovations can be discovered in sound and light technology? What do you need to pay attention to in creating a budget?


The VIVES Innovation Centre in Kortrijk was the scene for interesting discussions, thought-provoking case studies and a lot of exchange of information. From concept to technical execution, communication, budget, … you name it, we covered it.

"There is a lot of support for young musicians but not everyone craves to be in the spotlight and become an artist. Belgium wants to support young organizers in the music industry as well. Instead of giving the floor to keynote speakers, we invite participants to share ideas and we put industry experts amidst them. This creates a whole different vibe of sharing ideas and inspiring one another and that is what we're after in the first place,” says Sylvie Vanrenterghem, coordinator at VIVES and event manager at Belgium.


A sincere round of applause to the event management students at VIVES Kortrijk for being such professionals and helping us organize this event, to our co-founder and Event Manager, Sylvie, for all the provided support, and our industry experts for sharing their views on the music event industry:

Lisa Van de Cauter (Ancienne Belgique, concept and programming), Tia Broodcoorens (Soundsystem, light and sound), Ilja Theuwissen (The Safe Group, safety and security), Tineke Codron (Kokopelli Festival, communication and marketing), Tijs Vandenbroucke (Nasty Mondays, permits and legal), Renzo Dewulf (De Brabandere, catering) and our own Sylvie Vanrenterghem (VIVES Eventmanagement, budgeting and staff).


We’ll be compiling the information from this hackathon into a handy e-book, which we’ll share with you in a few weeks. Keep an eye out!

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Celebrate the new year with Belgium! 🎀

The start of a new year is traditionally a moment to pause and reflect. It is also an opportunity to celebrate and look to the future.

For these reasons we'd love to invite you to our exclusive, member-only New Year's Drink. No better way to kick off 2019 than having a drink, meeting new people and celebrating diversity.

Thank you to The Sister for accomodating us!


RSVP mandatory! Didn’t get an invitation? That means you’re not a member yet.
Sign up here:!

RoSa vzw calls for more boobs in the Tijdloze


Earlier this year we dove deep into gender balance on festival line-ups in Belgium. The clear lack of women on festival stages didn’t come as a shock to anyone, but seeing the numbers helped us bring the issue to the surface in a very concrete way. Long story short, if we want to change the way the music industry operates, one of our main action points should be supporting women in reaching their professional and personal goals, and highlighting female role models and ambassadors.

As a non-profit advocating for women and minorities within the music industry, we love supporting organisations with a similar cause. RoSa is a Belgian non-profit and documentation centre focused on women’s issues, feminism and gender. Last week they launched their latest campaign, which again points out the painful lack of women in music, specifically in music charts.


Making lists at the end of the year is quickly becoming our favourite way of organizing a year into highs and lows. We rank the cities we’ve visited, the concerts we’ve seen, the books we’ve read. Radio stations, streaming services and concert venues ask for your highlights and favorites. The holiday season is the perfect time to reflect on a year passed, in all genres of music.

One of our most well-known annual lists is the Tijdloze, the most timeless songs ranked by listeners of Flemish radio station Studio Brussel. As RoSa points out, year after year women end up being the obvious absentees on this list. The first women, Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie in Fleetwood Mac, take up spot no. 36. The only female solo act is Sinéad O’Connor, snatching a meagre no. 48.

Rock music isn’t the only genre struggling with this issue. On the other side of the spectrum we find classical radio station Klara’s Top 100. Admittedly, almost all of the composers on this list have passed away and organizations such as and RoSa are a few centuries too late to change the circumstances for history’s greatest female composers. Nevertheless it supports our story; for centuries, women have had to take the backseat while their male colleagues take the lead. Even worse, in many cases people don’t even realize that people like Clara Schumann, Francesca Caccini and Rebecca Clarke exist and helped shaped classical music into what it is today.

RoSa’s pin buttons with musicians like Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone and Dolly Parton.

RoSa’s pin buttons with musicians like Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone and Dolly Parton.

Surprising? Not at all. But as we have mentioned in our festival research article, we can only start changing the current by actively bridging the gap. And that is where RoSa comes in. Taking aim at Studio Brussel’s listeners and their voting history in the Tijdloze, they call for a change. No longer a Tietloze (Dutch for ‘without boobs’), but a balanced list of Pearl Jam, Joni Mitchell, Radiohead, Amy Winehouse, and many other male and female artists in the Hall of Fame of music history.

You can support RoSa’s campaign by purchasing one of their buttons, listening to their Spotify playlist, being part of the conversation by using the hashtag #Tietloze, or of course, voting a woman into the Tijdloze. No inspiration? RoSa would love to see Respect by Aretha Franklin appear in this list, and so would we. You can vote until December 2nd.

Claïs Lemmens

P.S. Don’t forget, we need to hear your voice in our Diversity and Inclusion Survey! Help us gather the numbers so we can better cater to needs and aspirations of women and minorities in the Belgian music industry. You can fill in our survey here.

Gender balance in Belgian festivals


This past weekend, Rock Werchter, mother of Belgian rock festivals, had its 42nd edition. With a fourth stage added and even more tickets sold, the festival keeps expanding. This has an obvious impact on the line-up. As visitors are leaving the camping grounds and life slowly goes back to normal in the surrounding villages, we dove deeper into the gender statistics behind the line-up at Rock Werchter and colleagues throughout the summer.

Every year around the start of the festival season we see articles on gender imbalances, the theories behind them and the solutions to bridge the gap. You can find these resources scattered around the internet. We won’t do the same, but we do want to give you the pure numbers.

Updated on 12/07/2018 at 19:09.

Updated on 12/07/2018 at 19:09.

All this counting has lead us to this overview, where we can clearly see which festivals are doing better (Francofolies, Couleur Café, Sfinks) and which ones are failing the test. However, the most interesting conclusions are noticeable in the comparison between genres. Metal and electro genres, the ones that are already assumed to have a lower count of women, are pulling very low numbers. An interesting discrepancy is noticeable in the jazz and world genre. The festivals in these genres are situated on both ends of the spectrum, with very low numbers on the line-up of Jazz Middelheim and Reggae Geel, and higher numbers at Couleur Café and Sfinks.

Anne-Marie at Dour Festival 2017. Picture by Noémie Bernard.

Anne-Marie at Dour Festival 2017. Picture by Noémie Bernard.

Other conclusions are hard to make. We need to remember the context in which these festivals are programming their line-ups. Are we looking for an equal 50-50 split between male and female artists? Festivals are usually a representation of the music industry, and we don’t see that balance there either. Since festivals depend on bands’ touring schedules and take sales into account, they may get the feeling that they have to work with the skewed music industry as is. On the other hand, festivals, promoters and concert venues play a big role in changing the status quo and should thus put in more effort to program female acts. Only then we’ll be able to see change happening. The most important disclaimer we have to make here, is that gender equality is not the only issue in this. When we look at numbers on LGBTQ artists, artists of color and artists with disabilities, the picture painted is even more grim.

By repeating this exercise annually, we can start looking at the progress. We’re planning on collecting these statistics and more, and comparing them with our other communities around the world. If you’d like to enquire about other festivals or if you’re part of the organisation of one of these festivals and would like to add comments or feedback, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us.

Claïs Lemmens

Are we, women in music, collectively overreacting?


It’s been almost two months since March 8th. International Women’s Day. The annual culmination of weeks of increased press attention for successful women and opinion pieces on the importance of female trailblazers. The one day when the world collectively agrees to shine a light on the important ladies in their lives. This year was no different, and thanks to its many key actors in the public eye, the music industry was a prominent part of the many discussions.

In the build-up to International Women’s Day, we’ve seen concert venues, promotors, labels and brands enthusiastically announcing their initiatives to push for more gender equality. Ancienne Belgique’s programming coordinator was interviewed about their ‘surprisingly female line-up’ to BRDCST Festival (1). Keychange, a UK initiative, released the 45 festivals who pledge to achieve a 50/50 gender balance on their programming by 2022 (2). David Byrne was forced to publicly apologize for the fact that his latest album release includes 25 collaborators, but none of them female (3).

In 2017 women claimed their spots, unapologetically taking up more space than before and bravely standing up to anything from online trolls to institutional injustices. Women called out sexual harassment and assault, sometimes after decades of silence, through the #MeToo campaign. The music industry saw both Ke$ha and Taylor Swift on the forefront of this movement, with different but very personal stories. All of a sudden, thanks to power in numbers, women felt empowered to take a step forward. Girls supporting girls was a strong theme over the past year. We have never gotten as much exposure, understanding, support and responsibility in our industry as right now.

So that poses the question...

Are we, women in music, collectively overreacting? After all, the first International Women’s Day was held in 1914 in Germany - after a few isolated attempts in Austria, the United States and Russia. Back then, women had fundamental problems to focus on; education, representation, employment, voting rights. Nowadays, women have more opportunities, even in a challenging industry as music and entertainment, than they had 104 years ago. How urgent are our needs and wishes, and how fiery should our fight be?

The answer to this question is as nuanced as the shift of the problem. Yes, we have access to music education. We are legally allowed to go to concerts by ourselves. Girl bands are no longer a rarity. We have a ton of strong female role models in all genres, from pop (Beyoncé, Charli XCX, Dua Lipa) to rock (HAIM, Karen O, Björk) and electronic music (TOKiMONSTA, Charlotte de Witte, Nina Kraviz). Rebecca Allen, the managing director of Decca records, even says: “I honestly believe that the door is wide open to women. Young women I’ve come across in the last few years have no fear and quite frankly stand as tall, if not taller, than their male colleagues.” (4) So if we can’t agree on the problem, then what are we fighting for?


We are held back by assumptions.

A recent study by the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism shows that only 12 percent of the most popular 600 songs from the last six years were written by women. Female producers only made up 2 percent for the top 300 in the same time period. (5) Pitchfork crunched some numbers as well and found that festival bookings remain far from gender-neutral. Of the 996 acts they logged, only 14 percent were female, with an additional 12 percent from groups with male and female (or non-binary) members. (6) Of 899 individuals nominated for a Grammy Award between 2013 and 2018, 90.7% were male. (7) Neil Portnow, former president of the Recording Academy which presents the Grammy Awards each year, came under scrutiny after he told women to ‘step up’ and that ‘they would be welcomed’, suggesting that female musicians are not already doing so. These skewed statistics and anecdotes have created the false idea that men are more successful at what they do and that women are just not as present in this industry as men.

This perpetuated myth trickles down to other areas as well. On the organizational side of things, we see that women make up 60% of interns, 59% of entry-level business roles, but only 30% of senior executive positions. (8) This proves that women are present, but somewhere along the way, they get discouraged from reaching higher and getting promoted to senior roles. A personal story from Ruth Jiang, (9) marketing manager at Bit Bird, shows the gravity of this discouragement. “Quite often, as a woman backstage, you hear comments like “She must be someone’s girlfriend.” It’s impossible to respond to all of it, and it shouldn’t matter, but it’s very demotivating.”

Assumptions that men work better in leadership are damaging to women’s careers. We need to highlight more women in creative and senior roles to combat the idea that they don’t exist, are not qualified or don’t have the ambition.


There are still underrepresented niches in the music industry, like music tech.

Bas Grasmayer, Director of Product at IDAGIO and founder of the Music Tech Network recently released a list of female founders in the music tech industry. This included all tech platforms, apps, software and hardware that directly have a purpose in music. On this list are only 24 female founders. (10) Compare this to the vast amount of male founders there are, it’s clear that music tech still has a long way to go in gender equality. A lot of this has to do with the fundamental imbalance in STEM fields, but the fickle conditions and aforementioned assumptions in the music industry only add to this inequality.

And then there’s engineering and producing. SoundGirls, a global organization which supports and connects women in music production and sound engineering, claims that women make up just 5% of all professional producing and engineering jobs, based on an estimate of the Audio Engineering Society in 2000. That means that the vast majority of music we listen to on a daily basis has been produced, engineered, shaped through the ears of a man. No woman has ever won the Grammy for Producer of the Year (Non-Classical). Encouraging and inspiring future generations of girls to take up jobs on the technical side of music will be one of our biggest challenges.


We can’t forget about minorities.

Things have started to change, yes, but predominantly for white cis women. That doesn’t mean, however, that our fight ends there. The music industry employs a diverse multitude of people, and as long as we don’t have equality for women of colour, women with disabilities and women in the LGBTQ community, we can’t end our efforts.

Statistics don’t give an accurate idea on the issues for minorities in the music industry. In 2017, for example, 8 out of 14 successful artists in the Billboard Top 100 were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. Although a positive statistic, this only mirrors the receptivity of the audiences to welcome people of colour on their iPods and Spotify playlists and doesn’t address the situation within the music industry. Looking behind the curtain, the stories are rather sombre. Women of colour have to work significantly harder to prove that they’ve earned a seat at the table, and are dealing with very specific assumptions. Carron Mitchell, entertainment attorney at Nixon Peabody LLP in Los Angeles, can attest: “As a person of colour some people will assume you only work within limited genres of music, like urban and hip-hop. That’s absolutely not the case.” (11) Similarly, Stacie Anderson, producer at Z100 and artist relations and booking for the iHearts Dunkin Donuts Lounge, says: “The one concern I have is when dealing with resolutions of a conflict or disagreements. I have to be extra careful with how I express my feelings because what would be considered assertive behaviour for some will be stereotyped as “The Angry Black Woman” for me.” (12)

A big advocate for more equality in this field is former M.I.A. ­drummer Kiran Gandhi, aka Madam Gandhi. She saw this issue as an opportunity to push other female producers into the ­spotlight. In October 2017, she released a remixed ­version of her Voices EP with each track ­produced by a woman of colour. (13)

LGBTQ representation in the music industry is even more problematic. Finding statistics is nearly impossible and the conversation is being held very limitedly on a few panels at music conferences, but we haven’t seen much impact in the music industry so far.

Initiatives like’s Alternative Power 100 List - a reaction to Billboard’s annual Power 100 List - are important to bring to light the many female trailblazers and open the discussion on diversity in our industry. For this year’s shortlist, asked for submission of nominees specifically with a minority background. The list was made public on April 24th. (14) Another project to keep an eye on is the GRRRL collective, which connects female musicians from all over the world, specifically from areas of conflict. The collaboration stemming from these interesting dynamics is positively celebrated during live concerts across the world. They are currently touring in Australia.

It’s been almost two months since International Women’s Day and the initial hype and enthusiasm have faded. Women in the music industry are yet again a statistic or an anecdote, but no longer the focus. Are we overreacting? Not at all. The problems have shifted and so should our strategies. Slowly, through local initiatives and small-scale battles, we will have to keep making progress.

Claïs Lemmens