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Festival Republic relaunches gender-balance initiative

Festival Republic has announced the relaunch of its development programme for female and gender-expansive artists, on International Women’s Day.

ReBalance, which initially launched in 2017, is a year-long initiative designed to address “challenges along the new music pipeline journey while providing crucial, tangible support to emerging talent,” organisers said in a press release.

The programme is designed to provide opportunities on both the stage and in the studio. Beneficiary acts will receive dedicated studio time, mentorship from industry leaders, a year-end showcase, and a guaranteed Festival Republic event performance in 2025.

“We’ll be investing in emerging artists, offering practical support at a pivotal stage in their careers”

Studio work will be “led and/or assisted by a woman or gender-expansive professional,” in an effort to both diversify the recording environment and provide opportunities for production professionals.

“We’ll be investing in emerging artists, offering practical support at a pivotal stage in their careers. This includes providing them with tools, connections and a commitment to a festival booking at one of our events,” says Melvin Benn, managing director of Festival Republic.

The six UK-based acts for this year’s class are Mary O’Donnell, Sprout, Bebeluna, samxemma, cruush and Red Ivory.

The relaunch of the initiative, which ran for three years before being paused due to the pandemic, comes during a period of heightened focus on misogyny in the UK music industry.

National lawmakers recently reported that the industry is a “boys’ club” with women facing intersectional barriers including racial discrimination.

“Women’s creative and career potential should not have limits placed upon it by ‘endemic’ misogyny which has persisted for far too long within the music industry,” says MP Caroline Nokes, Women and Equalities Committee chair.

Across 50 of Europe’s leading festivals last year, 90% of headlining performers were men, according to a study by IQ and ROSTR. Artists across the complete lineups also skewed male, with 35% of artists being female and 1% non-binary.


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FR launches International Women’s Day event

Festival Republic has announced ReBalance Celebrates International Women’s Day, a networking event for women across the live music industry, as part of the promoter’s gender equality programme, ReBalance.

The event is taking place at the 900-capacity Union Chapel in Islington, London, on Sunday 8 March, the day dedicated to recognising the movement for women’s rights worldwide.

Last year’s International Women’s Day saw pop star Dua Lipa speak at the International Live Music Conference (ILMC) in London, who illustrated the struggle faced by young female artists trying to break into the industry.

Festival Republic is looking to combat this, with a daytime programme aimed at introducing those who want a career in the industry to women working within it. Professionals from Festival Republic, Live Nation, PRS Foundation, Academy Music Group, Sony Music, MAMA, Melody VR, Metropolis Music, the BBC, National Merchandise and Safe Gigs for Women will be in present to offer advice and deliver educational talks.

An evening performance from singer Nilüfer Yanya will follow the networking event, as well as appearances from Martha Hill and Tamzene, two artists to have come through Festival Republic’s ReBalance programme.

“We are incredibly proud of what ReBalance has achieved, so it only made sense to take the scheme further”

Launched in 2017, ReBalance is a six-year programme combatting the gender imbalance within the music industry. It offers five day’s studio time to one core female-identified band and artist each month, as well as a slot of a Festival Republic or Live Nation festival.

So far, 300 nominations have been made across six rounds, with 19 finalists performing live at The Great Escape, Wireless, Latitude and Reading and Leeds Festivals.

“We are incredibly proud of what ReBalance has achieved, so it only made sense to take the scheme further by hosting an event on International Women’s Day for those who want to meet women in the industry,” says the ReBalance team.

“Aimed at newcomers or if you’re just curious, this event is the chance to learn from the brightest stars and pick up some tips. Lack of female representation in music is an industry-wide issue, and we want to level it.”

Day tickets for ReBalance Celebrates International Women’s Day can be purchased for a £2 charity donation to Safe Gigs for Women, with evening tickets priced at £17.50. All tickets are available here.

Photo: Paul Hudson/Flickr (cropped) (CC BY 2.0)


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FR, PRS Foundation reveal 2019 ReBalance finalists

Festival Republic and PRS Foundation have announced that Luna, Lady Sanity and Martha Hill are the first 2019 finalists for ReBalance, a programme providing five days’ recording time to a female artist or female-led band, as well as a slot at a Festival Republic or Live Nation Festival.

Launched in 2017, ReBalance aims to combat the gender imbalance within the music industry, providing support to UK-based core female-identified bands and artists, as well as offering studio apprenticeships to women wanting to become sound engineers.

Artists and engineers eligible for the scheme are nominated to a panel of industry experts who select their choices. A quarterly selection panel then shortlists and chooses the successful artists and engineers. One successful artist applicant is selected each month.

The first finalists for this year are Liverpool-based electronic pop artist Luna, Birmingham rapper Lady Sanity – set to perform at Wireless Festival this year –, and Newcastle’s Martha Hill, a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist.



Finalists have the opportunity to showcase their talents every few months at the ReBalance Sessions.

Candidates from last year’s programme include Dublin’s Æ MAK, who are booked to play Reading and Leeds festivals this year and have signed with Primary Talent’s Matt Bates.

Lazy Day, another 2018 finalist, will soon release their new EP Letters, recorded as part of the ReBalance programme, and will appear at Latitude festival this year. The band’s founder and lead singer, Tilly Scantlebury, will speak on the International Live Music Conference’s diversity panel on Thursday 7 March.

Recent reports from BBC news and the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have highlighted the continuing gender imbalance within the live music industry and the need for initiatives that address the lack of parity between male and female artists and crew members.


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Why gender diversity leads to better business

2017 looks like the year when the industry finally started walking the talk about amplifying women’s voices, both on and off stage.

In June, Spotify’s Daniel Ek and Max Martin launched the Equalizer Project, which focuses on increasing the number of female songwriters; in August, Melvin Benn’s Festival Republic announced ReBalance, a three-year project aimed at addressing the chronic gender imbalance in the music industry; and in October, PRS Foundation went live with Keychange, a European project that will empower 60 female artists and industry innovators. Meanwhile, many Scandinavian festivals are already committed to a 50:50 gender-balanced bill.

Anders Wahren, of Roskilde Festival in Denmark, said: “We try to inspire – through the very talented artists we have on our stages; through the work we do with organisations and underground promoters such as Freemuse, Girls are Awesome and Femtastic; and by having debates and talks with artists such as Madame Gandhi and Princess Nokia at this year’s festival. We can encourage our audience, upcoming artists and potential future artists, by supporting campaigns for more girls to pick up an instrument, and setting up summer camps for girls. There is a lot to be done that does not start with the big festival stages – but the beauty of it all is that when we, as a non-profit festival, fund causes like this, we actually also help develop the future headliners that we will be presenting in five to ten years.”

These initiatives are to be applauded, and are clear signs that the 21st-century music industry has finally realised that there are huge business advantages to be gained from promoting women on stage and behind the curtain. All the research reports that diverse teams of people are more creative, more dynamic, and more profitable to an organisation than homogenous teams, which in the music industry’s case – and in many others – means middle-aged, Western, white men. It makes good business sense to fully capitalise on the talents of the entire workforce. It makes good commercial sense to design festival bills that reflect the diversity of consumers and the multicultural society we live in.

Progress on gender equality and diversity is not an either/or – the work needs to progress in parallel. Both need targets and strategic plans if they are to change the mix of leadership teams. Both are at different levels. BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) staff struggle to reach middle management in numbers, and women hit the wall at middle management, so a talent pipeline needs to be built.

“The working culture was designed by men in the middle of the last century”

Here, unconscious bias recruitment and mentoring is key: if you can see it, you can believe it.

Digital technology has transformed our lives and yet its potential to transform our working lives, known as ‘smart working,’ is still to be realised in most music biz offices. The working culture was designed by men in the middle of the last century, and it’s based on command and control, presenteeism, an obsession with process, the jacket on the back of the chair, the need for the boss to look out at his team. Modern companies are task-and-output focused – employees are encouraged to work flexibly, and they are trusted and given responsibility: if you can’t trust your team, then why are they working for you? Smart working increases access to a much broader range of people, for whom working in an office five days a week is not practical or desirable. In 2014, government legislation was introduced giving every employee the right to flexible working – who knew?

Smart working is a proven game-changer for creating a diverse and more gender-equal workforce, and it allows a more balanced work/home life, which, thankfully, is a huge priority for Generation Y – the days of the macho, stay-in-the-office-all-hours type are thankfully dying out, as are the industry’s old guard.

The music industry is largely made up of small- to medium-sized companies that often have no HR function and certainly no company manuals, hence knowledge about employee rights, such as shared parental leave, can be sketchy. This is an area that should be addressed with the utmost urgency and requested by staff.

The future is looking bright, in the hands of a new generation of leaders who grew up with diversity, increasing gender equality and a life that has balance. Everyone has a part to play in bringing this change.


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Brighter Sound leads diversity push with Both Sides Now

UK-based music charity Brighter Sound has announced Both Sides Now, a three-year programme to “support, inspire and showcase” women in music across the north of England.

Focusing on Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Newcastle and surrounding areas, Both Sides Now will combine residencies for emerging talent, mentoring, digital resources for schools and education, industry training, apprenticeships and national and international events. Backed by Arts Council England’s Ambition for Excellence fund, the programme aims to “bridge the gap in access and opportunity between the north of England and London”.

The charity explains that it uses an “inclusive definition of ‘women’ and ‘female’”, inclusive of cisgender (women who were born women), transgender and non-binary participants.

“There needs to be a space … that allows our up-and-coming female producers and engineers, writers and composers a place they can … explore their passions”

The campaign will launch at the Old Granada Studios in Manchester on 23 November with an event hosted by Miranda Sawyer and featuring a showcase directed by Beth Orton.

It follows the launch of Festival Republic’s new ReBalance initiative, which is pushing for greater gender diversity in the live music industry nationwide.

“There needs to be a space consciously created that allows our up-and-coming producers and engineers, writers and composers who also happen to be female a place they can unquestioningly and unapologetically explore passions that might otherwise remain someone else’s domain,” comments Orton (pictured).

Those interested in participating in should register at brightersound.com/bothsidesnow for more information and updates.


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“Something needs to be done”: FR launches ReBalance

Festival Republic has announced the launch of ReBalance – a three-year funding scheme that aims to combat the “gender imbalance within the music industry” by providing free studio time, and a slot at a Live Nation festival, to female artists or female-led bands.

The programme, supported by PRS Foundation, will also help women into sound engineering – also a male-dominated profession – by offering studio apprenticeships to wannabe engineers.

A recent PRS Foundation study found women represent just 16% of songwriters and composers in the UK, and that the industry is seen as an “almost entirely male ‘closed shop’” to women.

Sexism rife in UK biz, finds study

Artists and engineers eligible for the ReBalance scheme – in the case of the former, that includes all who “identify as women”, while bands must feature female members who are “fundamental to the writing or producing duties” – will be nominated a panel of industry experts invited by Festival Republic and PRS Foundation to nominate their choices.

A quarterly selection panel, which includes Festival Republic MD Melvin Benn, Live Nation’s Kelly Chappel, Coda’s Natasha Bent, Dice’s Jen Long, ATC Live’s Isla Angus, journalist Alexis Petridis, artist Nadine Shah and The Guardian’s Laura Barton, will then shortlist and select the successful artists and engineers.

Successful artist applicants – of which there will be one per month in 2018, 2019 and 2020 – will be provided with a week’s recording time, accommodation and travel to the studio, and a festival slot at a Live Nation or Festival Republic event.

Two successful engineers will train as apprentices at Old Chapel Music Studios in Leeds, first (for 18 months) as apprentices then as lead/co-engineers.

Reading and Leeds Festivals, promoted by Festival Republic, have in recent years attracted flak for their overwhelming male line-ups: in June, The Independent reported the festivals have been 95% male for the past decade.

“This is a project that gives a step up from start to finish”

“Something needs to be done about gender equality in the music industry,” said Benn today. “It’s a wider issue that involves us – the live industry – but the solution doesn’t rest only with us. I have decided to be proactive in changing and working towards this no longer being an issue in the future, and that’s what this project is about.

“We’ve been working closely with PRS Foundation and their Women Make Music programme, alongside Old Chapel studios in Leeds, to pull together this exciting new initiative. ReBalance will enable future, and current female musicians within the industry, to have the support they need in order to be recognised.

“There is a significant lack of female acts with recording contracts and, indeed, airplay; it’s quite astonishing. Artists like Maggie Rogers, Halsey (pictured), Zara Larsson and Ray BLK are all playing festivals and succeeding in the music industry, so in that respect there has been a surge comparably to previous years – but all these artists have a very mainstream presence. Mainstream pop doesn’t seem to have an issue, but the festival environment caters for all genres; hence this being a wider problem. Shockingly, there has been only one UK no1 single this year from a female solo artist: Ariana Grande’s ‘One Last Time’.

“[Almost 80%] of the applicants to the Women Make Music programme have said the support they had made a significant impact on their confidence, which proves that targeted approaches like ReBalance may well be the answer to correcting this imbalance.

“This is a project that gives a step up from start to finish.”


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