Are Music Festivals Balancing Gender Better in 2018?

Article by: Laura Mason|@masonlazarus

Thu May 10, 2018 | 13:05 PM

Last year, Pitchfork came out with a fascinating study on how well American music festivals balance male and female acts on their lineups, as well as lineup diversity in general. The findings were, to say the least, depressing: Out of 23 festivals and 996 acts taken into account, only "14 percent were female, with an additional 12 percent from groups with male and female (or non-binary) members." Yuck. The media company's new 2018 study, however, reveals a slight shift.

By logging nearly 1,000 artists playing 20 different large multi-genre music festivals in America and ranking them according to their placement on each lineup poster, Pitchfork amassed data that shows "female representation has increased from 14 to 19 percent, while the percentage of groups with at least one female or non-binary member, held relatively steady at 11 percent. Of course, that still means that seven out of 10 artists on festival bills are men or all-male bands."

Pitchfork Infographic 1 Copy

Photo by: Pitchfork

One of the most alarming findings from Pitchfork's 2017 study was that not a single festival they examined reached the 50/50 male/female threshold in terms of gender balance. "In 2018, three make it: FYF, Pitchfork, and Panorama. On the other end of the chart, Firefly, Bottlerock, and Bunbury barely clear the 20-percent mark when it comes to female and mixed-gender acts in 2018..." Musical genres also have a lot to do with female representation on lineups: Pitchfork found that festivals that booked more electronic, hip-hop, and indie artists generally meant more female representation, while more rock- and pop-oriented fests mean more male-heavy lineups.

Pitchfork Infographic 2

Photo by: Pitchfork

The dull roar growing around gender inequality at festivals has grown exponentially lately. Look at reactions on social media to festival lineups both this year and last year and you'll see how often people point out how far down female musicians or mixed acts pop up on lineup posters. Pitchfork cites Lollapalooza as an example, noting that "Chvrches is the first non-male act on the poster, listed 15 spots from the top." Outside Lands made history this year by booking its first female headliners (Janet Jackson and Florence + The Machine) ever in its 10 years of existence. Earlier this year, a slew of venerable European fests and a couple of Canadian fests responded to the current dismal state of things by announcing they would produce gender-equal lineups by 2022. While the thought is there, we couldn't help but think: "Really? It's going to take FOUR YEARS to formally recognize all the incredible female acts out there?!"

Pitchfork Infographic 3

Photo by: Pitchfork

When looking at the top 10% of acts listed on the lineup posters Pitchfork examined, only five festivals reached above 50 percent female or mixed, "and four fests (Sasquatch, Boston Calling, Shaky Knees, and Bunbury) at zero—that is, entirely male in the largest font-size categories." Their interactive graphic here lets users sort festival lineups by gender and uniqueness (in terms of the homogenization of festival lineups), and it's quite interesting what fests fall where.

Pitchfork Infographic 4

Photo by: Pitchfork

It all ends on the slightly positive note that acknowledges festivals have inched (inched!) closer to gender equality since last year. "Of the 19 festivals for which we have two years of data, only Governors Ball and Pickathon decreased their percentage of female artists, in both cases only marginally (Pickathon actually has one more woman than last year, but booked more acts overall)." But with the festivals they tracked showing only 19% female representation, there's a very long way to go to achieve anything resembling equality.

By unearthing this kind of data, it allows the industry to take a hard look at itself. What Pitchfork has found hopefully leads to some soul-searching so that a more inclusive future approaches much more quickly than the not-so-near future of 2022.