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Keychange: ‘The conversation about representation has never been so loud’

This year marks a seminal moment for gender equality initiative Keychange and the rafts of music organisations that have signed its renowned pledge.

Proposed in 2017 by a number of European festivals, the Keychange pledge initially asked live music events and conferences to commit to achieving a gender-balanced programme by 2022.

Since then, the pledge has expanded to include venues, promoters, booking agencies, trade bodies, record labels, broadcasters, publishers, collection societies and orchestras, as well as festivals.

Now, more than 550 music organisations across six continents have signed up to the 2022 pledge, committing to giving underrepresented talent a seat at the table.

Ahead of Keychange’s progress report this autumn, IQ catches up with Keychange project manager Francie Gorman to find out whether the signatories are on track to hit the target…


IQ: Keychange initially set 2022 as the target date for pledge signatories to achieve gender balance. Does that still stand?
FG: It was the initial target date when we launched the pledge back in 2018 but we’ve tweaked the language somewhat since then in reaction to some feedback that we’ve had from the industry. We broadened the scope of the pledge to include orchestras and conservatoires – moving away from it just being a festival pledge. Orchestras commission years ahead of time, and therefore, it would be good for them to be able to extend that target date so that considerations were put in place for the coming 10 years rather than just the coming four years. So we added in a bit of flexibility at that point, just to make the ledger as accommodating as we could to all of the different music sectors.

So the pledges are tailored to the organisation?
Everybody makes a different pledge, which I think is an important thing to note. Some organisations have pledged to have at least 50% women and gender minority artists on the stages and some have pledged to do that and also look at the technicians and the bookers and all of the infrastructure surrounding the festival. But when it comes to festivals, and all of the festivals that signed up when we first launched the pledge in 2018, then 2022 is definitely an important date, and the one that everybody’s been working towards.

“There are absolutely no excuses for people not booking representative lineups post-pandemic”

How many festivals do you expect to have achieved the pledge this year?
We are currently in the process of getting in touch with all of our pledge signatories and making sure that they’ve submitted data for each of the years that they’ve been involved in the pledge. Our hope is that the majority will have reached at least the pledges that they’ve made and perhaps even have some further feedback or some further achievements that they’re able to share. But we do also have to very much take into consideration the disruption of Covid and the fact that some of the festivals that pledged haven’t been able to hold events for a couple of years so how do we take that into account when we’re looking at their pledge? Should we extend their pledges? In what ways can we accommodate their ambitions to meet the target if they haven’t been able to put the events on?

To what extent can the pandemic be used as an excuse to take a rain check on representative line-ups?
There is absolutely no excuse – especially when it comes to festivals – because we’ve seen that the hunger for festival tickets has been such that festivals have been selling out with barely any names announced. So what better opportunity to really programme a festival as you want to and make it as gender representative as you possibly can? This excuse of women not selling tickets is invalid anyway but it’s invalidated further by the point that people have bought the tickets anyway.

And I think that another thing to consider is how active so many artists have been throughout the pandemic, putting sessions online and making themselves visible and available. So there’s also no excuse for bookers not to have discovered new talent throughout the pandemic as well. We will (hopefully) never again have so much time to sit and explore music in an online setting rather than a live setting. So there are absolutely no excuses for people not booking representative lineups post-pandemic.

“We’ve never had as many women of headline status available as we do now”

What other age-old excuses do you hear for gender disparity in the industry?
Throughout this project, we have had the comment that female headliners don’t sell as many tickets and it’s unfounded. If an artist is at the point where they can be headlining a festival then they can sell the tickets. We’ve never had as many women of headline status available as we do now. I think that we have quite successfully argued – and the wider industry has agreed – that there are no headliners if there are no opportunities at development levels.  Festivals really need to look at their full infrastructure and figure out if they’re giving grassroots artists the opportunities to then be booked as a mid-level artist and, two years later, have the opportunity to build themselves up to that headline slot.

Is the onus of gender equality in the music industry disproportionately placed on the festivals?
That’s a really good question. I don’t think it’s unfair because, at the end of the day, every festival booker in every festival team is responsible for the production that they’re putting in front of their audience. So there is certainly accountability in that respect but it is a good point that the festival headline slot is one of the last pieces of the puzzle. This is exactly the reason we expanded the Keychange pledge to be able to represent any music sector rather than just festivals because it’s a conversation that needs to be had at every twist and turn in the music industry. That’s why it’s fantastic that we have people like Alex Bruford at ATC Live making sure that at an agency level their rosters are representative so we can work collaboratively towards this end goal.

“I definitely feel like we’re in a much better place than we were when this project started”

The 1975 once committed to playing only gender-balanced music festivals. Do you think artists have a part to play in this?
It’s a difficult position to put musicians in when they’re at a certain level because the point of this conversation is not to take opportunities away from anybody – it’s to increase opportunities for those who have had less access to them in the past. We want all artists to advocate for each other and we especially want them to advocate for themselves. If they’re performing at a festival where they don’t see a representative lineup and they’re not comfortable with that, we want them to feel empowered to speak up about it and ask some questions. At the same time, we don’t want musicians to be losing out on opportunities ever, which is why Keychange exists. Inevitably, there are times and situations where conversations need to be had so we just want to make sure that we have a support system in place and an action plan for those festivals.

Tell us about the action plans for festivals that want to achieve a balanced line-up?
The very first thing that we get organisers to do is to look at the gender balance of previous lineups to get a very basic numerical overview of how things stand. If the festival wants to make changes, they will sign the pledge and the steps will be outlined. The steps can be things like incrementally increasing the number of gender minority artists on their stages by 2022. Then it’s a case of finding the talent. We are there to put festivals in touch with other festivals to find out how they’ve gone about changing the representation of their lineups. We can put them in touch with booking agencies, which could widen the pool of artists that they have available to them. Also, we can introduce new talent through our talent development programme. I think a huge part of making this change – especially on the festival level – is getting festival bookers to broaden their networks and make different contacts.

“I don’t ever get the ‘why is gender equality important’ question anymore…I see that as considerable progress”

Can you give examples of festivals that have risen to the challenge?
We have festival partners in 12 countries including the likes of Reeperbahn (Germany), Iceland Airwaves, and MAMA (Paris) who all work so hard to achieve gender balance in their conference and festival programmes each year.

It’s important to mention Primavera Sound which isn’t a Keychange signatory but is very much working within the framework of a 50/50 gender balance. It’s an absolutely enormous commercial festival and I think the fact that the organisers have been so publicly outspoken about the work that they’ve done in this area is so important.

In 2022, is the music industry the most equitable it has ever been?
The conversation around representation has never been as loud as it has been in 2022. I think that the feeling of empowerment that women currently have to claim their rightful space within the music industry has never been so strong. I definitely feel like we’re in a much better place than we were when this project started. Having worked on the pledge myself since 2018, I’m having such different conversations now to the ones that I was having when the project first launched. I don’t ever get the ‘why is gender equality important’ question anymore. The conversations tend to be about the finer details of how to achieve gender parity. I see that as considerable progress.


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The LGBTIQ+ List 2021: Maxie Gedge, Keychange

The LGBTIQ+ List 2021 – IQ’s first annual celebration of queer professionals who make an immense impact in the international live music business – was published in the inaugural Pride edition (issue 101) this month.

The 20 individuals comprising the LGBTIQ+ List 2021, as nominated by our readers and verified by our esteemed steering committee, have gone above and beyond to wave the flag for an industry that we can all be proud of.

To get to know this year’s queer pioneers a little better, IQ asked each individual to share their challenges, triumphs, advice and more. Each day this month, we’ll publish a new interview with an individual on the LGBTIQ+ List 2021. Catch up on the previous interview with Chris Ibbs, agent at CAA in the UK here.


Maxie Gedge
Keychange project manager, PRS Foundation
London, UK
[email protected]

Tell us about a personal triumph in your career.
When I got promoted into this Keychange role, it felt like a really big step that brought all of my life experiences together for a bigger purpose. It was so rad to host a queer dance party on the terrace of the Southbank Centre pre-pandemic with Dream Wife, Romy XX, Lil’ C and more – it was hot and packed, and everyone was dancing all day. It’s a memory I’ve cherished during this event drought.

With Keychange, taking part in Women’s Hour and travelling to Tokyo to speak about PRS Foundation were both bucket-list moments. I’m very lucky that my day-to-day work is focused on supporting under-represented voices in the music industry, so seeing them triumph is the best thing.

What advice could you give for young queer professionals?
Find your community. I’ve been very lucky that through good times and bad, my wife, band, friends, family and colleagues have been a safe space for expression, inspiration and motivation.

Tell us about a professional challenge you often come across as a queer person.
My vibe is transmasculine, which is quite attached to my queer identity (For me, not for everyone!). So the unconscious bias or immediate assumptions people make are often super obvious. I’ve learned to be good at dealing with awkward moments, but the constant ‘coming out’ is challenging.

“The pandemic should be a reason to create an industry that works for everyone”

What one thing could the industry do to be more inclusive?
There should be better processes and stricter rules for both representation and inclusion, so that there are more LGBTQIA+ (and traditionally under-represented) people in all areas of the industry, as well as processes in place to make those environments safe.

Causes you support.
There are lots of amazing organisations combatting abuse and harassment in the music industry right now, like the Musicians’ Union, Safe in Sound, and the work of SwiM. Pride in Music, the LGBTQIA+ work that Come Play With Me do, plus other positive action initiatives like Power Up and Girls I Rate, are all awesome. Heart n Soul is a really important and inspiring talent development organisation too.

What does the near future of the industry look like?
I hope there’s a move towards innovation and sustainability. Creating a collaborative ecosystem is essential, so every part of the music industry is valued and supported – and where that support is based on impact not income.

How could the industry build back better, post-pandemic?
The pandemic should be a reason to create an industry that works for everyone, not an excuse to lean on the old, exploitative, and discriminatory structures. We are losing talent and voices every day and we need to urgently work together to fix this broken system.


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Keychange welcomes 500th pledge signatory

Keychange, the European-born initiative for gender equality in the music industry, has announced that 500 music organisations have now committed themselves to achieving parity between men and women by signing its pledge.

The Keychange pledge requires signatories to achieve at least 50% representation of women and gender minorities in an area of their work. Started in 2017, Keychange initially focused on festivals – with signatory festivals pledging to book at least 50% of women for their line-ups – and now also includes record labels, broadcasters, venues, publishers, collection societies and orchestras in six continents among its supporters.

The 500th signatory is EBU Music, part of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), whose members broadcast around 3,000 concerts a year. “The European Broadcasting Union is working hard to ensure our organisation and activities properly reflect the diverse communities we serve and the world they live in,” comments EBU director of communications Vanessa O’Connor. “It takes time but making this commitment visible is an important step.

“I’m delighted that we will be partnering with Keychange once more after our joint initiatives earlier this year to highlight the stark disparity in gender representation in the music industry. Signing this pledge cements our commitment to increase visibility of these issues and amplify the voices of the many music bodies who are also signing in support of urgent and necessary change.”

“I’m delighted that we will be partnering with Keychange … to highlight the stark disparity in gender representation in the music industry”

“Keychange has been instrumental in highlighting the explosive nature of gender inequality in music for the past four years. With a strong and ever-growing network, we have managed to raise awareness of the problem while implementing concrete actions,” says Keychange project lead Merle Bremer. “We are very proud that more than 500 organisations have joined the Keychange movement and we are particularly pleased that EBU Music have joined Keychange as a signatory.”

Keychange had around 350 signatories last September, when agency ATC Live and a host of trade bodies signed the pledge.

EBU Music joins existing Keychange signatories including the Barbican Centre (UK), BBC Proms (UK) Bella Union (WW), C/O Pop Festival and Convention (DE), Canadian Music Week (CA), Centre National de la Musique (FR), Eurosonic Noorderslag (NL), EFG London Jazz Festival (UK), European Music Council (EU), Icelandic Opera (IS), Mama Festival (FR) Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (AU), Melt! Festival (DE), Royal Opera House (UK), Southbank Centre (UK), Spot Festival (DK) and Musicians’ Union (UK). The full list of supporters can be viewed here.

Funded by the European Union’s Creative Europe programme, Keychange is led by Reeperbahn Festival, PRS Foundation and Musikcentrum Öst, in partnership with Tallinn Music Week, Iceland Airwaves, BIME, Oslo World, Linecheck/Music Innovation Hub, Ireland Music Week, Sacem, Sound City, Way Out West, Mama Festival, Mutek and Breakout West.


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Keychange expands in Canada with Tegan and Sara

Canadian indie-pop icons Tegan and Sara have been appointed as the country’s ambassadors for gender equality initiative Keychange.

The Creative Europe-funded campaign encourages festivals, conferences, music organisations and institutions to sign a pledge to include at least 50% women and under-represented genders in their programming, staffing and beyond by 2022.

“We encourage members of our industry who have tremendous power to sign, fund, promote, nominate, support, acknowledge, and celebrate the diverse population working in the arts today,” say Tegan and Sara.

“The demographic breakdown of awards nominations and festival lineups reflects the structural confines of our society and industry. We must do better, as it sends an outdated message to the next generation about whose art and voice and message is valuable.”

The appointment is part of Keychange’s gradual expansion in Canada, this year an official country partner in the movement, which now includes two lead festival partners, eight participants and seven new signatories.

Breakout West, the annual conference and music festival, and Mutek, a Montreal-based electronic music festival, are lead festival partners and will host four international Keychange participants each, as well as the Canadian participants in 2021.

“We must do better, as it sends an outdated message to the next generation about whose art and voice and message is valuable”

The Canadian participants include: artist manager and talent buyer Rebecca Szymkow at Birthday Cake Media; music composer Kroy aka Camille Poliquin; Katrina Lopes, president of KL Management; Savannah Wellman, co-founder of Vancouver record label and management company Tiny Kingdom Music and Mar Sellars, an artist manager and radio host with her own company Mar On Music.

Artist participants are former Keychange ambassador Iskwē; Kimmortal, a queer Filipino nonbinary musician from Vancouver and Dana Beeler, frontwoman of Hello Delaware.

The seven new Canadian organisations which have signed the Keychange gender pledge include the Polaris Music Prize, a not-for-profit organisation that annually honours and rewards artists who produce Canadian music albums of distinction and MMF Canada, a non-profit trade association that offers education, networking and advocacy on behalf of its members, their artists, and the wider Canadian music community.

Other new signatories include music festival Folk on the Rocks; association Musique NB (MNB); record label and publisher Birthday Cake Media; Kaneshii Vinyl Press; and radio station n10.as.

Robyn Stewart, Breakout West says: “BreakOut West is committed to highlighting the diverse voices or our artists and industry. Our commitment as Keychange partners is one part of this as we strive to support female and non-binary leaders and the incredible mix of talent in Western Canada.”

Marie-Laure Saidani, Mutek Montreal says: “Gender equality is one of Mutek’s core values. Joining the Keychange movement in 2018 has definitely acted as a catalyst as we have achieved parity in our programming since. We are proud to belong to this international network which advocates positive change in the music industry.”

Keychange recently expanded into Poland, in the midst of clashes over abortion law and LGBTQ+ rights. Read more here.


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Poland joins Keychange’s gender equality movement

As Polish women take to the streets to protest a near-total ban on abortion, Poland’s music industry is leading the charge for gender equality after becoming an official country partner to the Keychange movement for gender equality.

The Creative Europe-funded campaign encourages festivals, conferences, music organisations and institutions to sign a pledge to include at least 50% women and under-represented genders in their programming, staffing and beyond by 2022.

Today, Keychange has announced three new Polish signatories: Ethno Port (festival); Chimes (agency); and record label, music publisher, management and agency Kayax.

Spring Break, an annual showcase festival in Poznań, has also been announced as the lead partner for Keychange in Poland and organisers have committed to gender equality on its lineup.

To celebrate the launch of Keychange in Poland, Chimes (Keychange capacity building lead) and Spring Break will collaborate on a focus week and panel discussion to explore the barriers for women and gender minorities in Poland, and the role of music in activism in the country.

Magdalena Jensen, responsible for planning training for Keychange participants this year, says: “We have witnessed the dangerous politicisation of gender in Poland this year with the president inciting hate speech as part of his re-election campaign.

“Sadly, that makes the Keychange movement even more relevant and important in Poland – it’s so important to take a stance for human rights, build bridges and strong support networks and it’s encouraging to see Keychange leading the way in our music industry.”

“With the dangerous politicisation of gender in Poland this year, Keychange is even more important in Poland”

Izabela Rekowska, Spring Break, says: “Our partnership with Keychange sets a tangible goal to achieve gender balance in our line-up. I truly advocate that more festivals should sign the Pledge and join the movement.”

The panel discussion, Artist on the barricades: Can music be a tool for social change?, will take place tomorrow (29 October) at Klubokawiarnia Tymczasowa (dawniej Meskalina) in Poznań with new ambassadors Avtomat and Karolina Czarnecka, as well as Iwona Skwarek (Rebeka) and Keychange participant Magda Chołyst (Artist in Bloom). The event will start at 6 pm and will be broadcast on Spring Break’s Youtube channel.

Speaking about her new role as ambassador, interdisciplinary artist Karolina Czarnecka says: “I grew up in Poland, a catholic and patriarchal society. It’s in my blood. It’s my heritage. Fortunately, I don’t know how, but there has always been freedom in my mind.

“Freedom is my truth. This is my everyday aim also in art. Everybody deserves it, without exception. Our words and actions have power, I believe we have influence on the world around us, even if it’s only our backyard.”

While, Avtomat, an openly queer composer, producer, DJ and vocalist, says: “I’m thrilled to be an ambassador for Keychange for the same reason I’ve been fighting against injustice in Poland – so that everyone can participate in the scene with equal chances.”

Since launching in 2017, Keychange has enlisted over 40 countries and over 350 organisations to the movement. The most recent slate of signatories includes UK booking agency ATC Live.


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Keychange pledge: ATC Live among new signatories

UK booking agency ATC Live is among a slate of new signatories on the Keychange gender equality pledge, committing to achieving 50% representation of women and under-represented genders.

The agency, which boasts a roster of more than 350 artists including Fontaines D.C, Georgia, Alma, Goat Girl, Mac Demarco, Metronomy and Nick Cave, joins over 350 organisations which have signed the Keychange pledge since 2017.

“Despite all the challenges that 2020 has brought, at ATC Live we are determined to remain focussed on doing what we can to achieve equality and diversity in our industry,” says ATC Live partner Alex Bruford.

“As part of this process we are signing up to the Keychange initiative and will work towards ensuring new additions to our roster and staff include 50% women and under-represented genders.

“Every year the important conversation around the balance of festival bills and equality on our stages and across our industry resurfaces.

“We understand that festivals can’t book the acts if the agents don’t represent them, so we are committing to playing our part”

“We understand that the festivals can’t book the acts if the agents don’t represent them, so we are committing to playing our part in the process of achieving real change.”

It has also been announced today that eight UK trade bodies have signed the pledge towards achieving 50% board representation of women and under-represented genders.

The new signatories are PRS for Music; The Incorporated Society of Musicians; the Featured Artist Coalition; the Association of Independent Music; the Music Managers Forum; the Music Publishers Association; the Ivors Academy, and the Musicians’ Union.

Keychange has also announced collaborations with Sound City, the Musicians’ Union and Gorwelion Horizons for ‘Keychange Week’ panels, discussing gender equality in each nation.

Three new ambassadors have also been appointed today including songwriter and founder of Girls I Rate, Carla Marie Williams, electronic musician planningtorock, and founding Keychange project manager Jess Partridge.


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