The latest industry news to your inbox.

I'd like to hear about marketing opportunities


I accept IQ Magazine's Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy


We have to encourage change

Association of Independent Festivals CEO John Rostron explains why there’s no excuse for silence about female representation at festivals

29 May 2023

There’s no excuse for silence about female representation at festivals

In March, an article was being prepared for the Guardian titled Why Are There So Few Women Headlining Festivals? the Association of Independent Festivals (AIF) was approached for comment. This was my first brush with the topic as the new CEO. Representation is one of many important areas of work for our members, and our events are very passionate and active in making and calling for change. Several AIF festivals spoke to the Guardian for the piece. But no other festival outside of AIF did.

The article was about ‘festivals’ yet the only festivals speaking to the Guardian were AIF members. Where were the contributions from everybody else? Where were these big players? Where are the major operators of the biggest festivals in the UK on this issue?

This line from the article seemed telling: “While independent festivals have been ‘quick to act’ on gender representation, according to Keychange’s UK project manager, Francine Gorman, major festivals are notably missing from the list.”

Then Sky News got in touch with AIF. They were compiling a story on the same theme. They had some reliable data (credited in their piece) which took in stats from major festivals, some smaller events and a few of our AIF members. However, the figures they had didn’t feel representative of our group of festivals as a whole. So, I ran a survey amongst our members to try and understand just how AIF festivals are performing with women on stage.

What I discovered was what my gut was already telling me: AIF festivals – the 105 independent festivals who support each other and share best practice together as AIF – do things differently.

“We need to track progress empirically to make sure we continue to move in the right direction”

Across the Sky data source (which included all the major festivals alongside some other events), only 11% of total musicians at 104 UK festivals this summer are women.

According to our member survey, across the 105 AIF events (which will provide around 11,853 performances for artists this year), we’re doing much better: Over 20% of AIF festivals have a 50/50 split when it comes to all musicians on stage. 15% have a 55/45 split in favour of women, and 3% have a 60/40 split in favour of women. Our stats on women headliners exceeds those of major festivals — 93% of our festivals have some women headliners, with 15% having a 50/50 split. Our stats for women headliners across all stages is also much better than the major festivals.

AIF Festivals are driven by people with passion; by people who care about the music ecosystem, by true music fans who are deeply involved with the music and creative communities in their hometowns across the UK. We – as AIF and as a group of festivals – hold ourselves accountable. We answer calls from the media on this topic. We publish pieces like this. Together we try to do what we say we’re going to do. We genuinely mean it and we make it a priority.

In more concrete terms, at the last count around 49% of AIF Festivals were run by promoters who identify as women. That vital representation behind the stage is sure to have a positive impact on the stage.

This does not mean that we are where we want to be on this issue. There is always room for greater representation. It needs to be a conscious effort every festival season, and we need to track progress empirically to make sure we continue to move in the right direction. To that end, AIF plans to carry out an in-depth analysis of representation at member festivals this autumn and publish the findings in a new AIF annual report this November. That will tell us how we are doing and where we can improve.

Beyond that, we have to encourage change across the whole music business pipeline: Who gets to learn an instrument? Who can access concerts and performances? Who books grassroots music venues? Who gets signed to publishers or labels? Who gets the backing of booking agencies? Questions need to be asked at every step. And while festival promoters can’t always have a direct impact along that chain, they can support (or call out) organisations to help increase representation. AIF will continue to support this change, to work with people making positive steps, to offer greater opportunities on stage, and to support talent all the way to the top of a festival bill.


Get more stories like this in your inbox by signing up for IQ Index, IQ’s free email digest of essential live music industry news.

Comments are closed.