Gender equality in the music industry has made ground in the past few years, but female, non-binary, genderqueer and gender non-conforming artists are still falling through the cracks.
Prior to 2019, many music reports showed that one in five artists on the charts were women, with only 14 per cent reported as songwriters. On festival lineups, the majority of artists represented continue to be men while club lineups across the nation are still disproportionately represented.
By 2019, Melbourne’s state peak music body, Contemporary Music Inc. (Music Victoria), had greatly contributed to the gender equality issue through their previously declared state gender diversity policy – as a part of the commitment, 40:40:20 gender quotas were required at all Music Victoria events. By 2020, the inclusion of strong female and non-binary artists and women of colour on music lineups had greatly improved, but the playing field is still far from equal.
I met local Melbourne artists, Sarah Morgan (aka DJ Sarah), one-half of legendary Interstellar Fugitives, and Florence Brown (aka Floss Dogg), one-third of renowned collective Primer and web developer at FLSY Studio, over a Zoom call at the tail-end of 2020’s COVID-19 isolation that disrupted and severely damaged Melbourne’s thriving event scene.
Wine in hand over virtual chat, the girls were happy with how isolation had gone – utilising the extra space and downtime, they decided to do something about the lack of diversity on lineups. They were sick of seeing male-dominated bills and people claiming it was because “there were no chicks to book.”
Determined to prove that there is definitely a diverse range of female and GNC artists, the two women have officially launched the WIP Project – a free, online database uniting bookers, artists and the wider dance community with a common goal of improving diversity and equality. The slick website features more than 130 artists and their craft – making it easy to curate a more inclusive selection on any dance bill.
“I would get asked all the time if I knew any female and gender non-conforming DJs and would get tagged in all these Facebook posts when people were looking for some. I was in two minds about it,” says Morgan. “At first, I thought this shouldn’t be happening, but I also thought that at least people were trying.”
She recognised people were actively trying to make a change, so she would compile lists and send them across to people whenever they asked if she knew of anyone.
“I got triggered by another all-male lineup one day and that was my tipping point. I went on an Instagram rant and posted a massive list on my story showing there were heaps of people available. It gained a lot of traction and I realised I opened up a can of worms, so decided to put all the names in a spreadsheet,” she says.
The spreadsheet Morgan created got shared hundreds of times and she noticed that several people were actively using the spreadsheet at any given time.
A few months later, Brown reached out to Morgan and they met up over a drink to discuss utilising the spreadsheet to create the WIP Project where any female, genderqueer or GNC artist could simply submit their own profile and present themselves in an easily accessible and aesthetically-pleasing format on the website.
“I wanted to take the load off Sarah compiling the list and being the monitor, and this website seemed like the next natural step to making this initiative useful,” says Brown.
The spreadsheet and the website received overwhelming feedback and has quickly debunked the theory that there’s not enough female, genderqueer, non-binary and GNC artists available for bookings.
In the industry where males have long-dominated nearly all key positions, the website has made it much easier for a booker to find anyone, from a DJ, producer, vocalist, runner, door-person, mastering engineer and other roles, at the simple click of a button.
The site also helps those struggling to break into the industry by maximising their growth and visibility, which would have been harder to achieve if they were out on their own.
Morgan and Brown know that the website may not be a be-all-end-all solution, but believe it’s a good start. Acknowledging they are two white girls who come from privileged backgrounds, they understand the importance of learning and recognising that what is important is getting it started.
“We ask ourselves a lot, ‘Are we doing this properly?’ If you get scared of doing it perfectly, you’ll end up doing nothing,” says Brown. “Persistence is key – I think in any creative business or pursuit you’ve just got to keep at it. And doesn’t matter how much success comes your way, you still feel like you’re not succeeding enough. But if you focus on those barriers, it will slow your process of getting there.”
Increased diversity and inclusion on lineups may be on the rise, but we’re not entirely there yet. This industry awareness often has unintended side effects. Being asked to join a lineup “because you’re a chick” is still very prevalent, and it’s important to not be tokenistic.
“This happens,” explains Morgan. “But I think doing your research is important and that’s why we’re trying to provide the platform. It can get tricky when you’re trying to be more inclusive and you don’t know where to start. We now know that it’s not that there aren’t enough women – it just means maybe you didn’t look hard enough. They’re there.”
The pair also believe it’s important to not give flack to those who are trying.
“People are often trying their best. There are some amazing males in this industry trying to make a difference. I think we all just need to have a little bit more empathy,” says Brown.
Researching is one the biggest highlights of being a booker, she adds.
“The best part of this project is seeing the talent we haven’t come across before and listening to people’s Soundcloud and thinking, ‘I thought I knew everything!’ As a booker, you sometimes think you have your finger on the pulse. But you realise you have no idea. Doing your research provides this whole new level to your gigs.”
The research pays off when you go down rabbit holes on Bandcamp or record stores and find those little gems, say Brown and Morgan.
“Your parties get so much better because you’re like, ‘My god, look what I found!’ That’s where you have your best events – when you find those undiscovered, talented artists,” says Brown.
The WIP Project is live and open for submissions for all female, non-binary and non-gender conforming artists looking to get their footing in the industry. You can find out more here.
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