29 Jul 2012

Girls at their best?: Gender and performers at Indietracks 2012

By Daniel Novakovic and Jennifer Reiter

Here’s where the story begins: In November 2011, Ladyfest Malmö in Sweden began tallying men and women in bands performing at the various concert venues in Malmö as well as at the major Swedish music festivals. With Malmö placed in between capital cities Stockholm and Copenhagen there was a good number of bands passing through Scandinavia. The numbers that Ladyfest found were startling and rightly so: 80-90% of performing acts were male (see an explanation of what a ‘male’ act is under ‘methodology’). Some venues even went for months when only 100% male bands played. Ladyfest’s findings were published and written about in major printed newspapers and online media. Some venues reacted helpfully and promised to do better, some put the blame on the booking agencies and some went on the extreme defense. One such person was the booker of the Emmabodafestival - traditionally an indiepop oriented festival - who was quoted in Sweden’s biggest morning newspaper, Dagens Nyheter, saying:

"Håkan Karlsson, booker at Emmabodafestivalen, is unequivocally opposed to Ladyfest’s reasoning.

- We book only good artists. No, we do not think about the handicapped and crippled or whatever. We book what we like and what suits. We are doing a party for ourselves. This does not interest us at all. Honestly, I wonder who it is who really cares. It is not our task to look at that.

So you do not agree that you, the organizers, have a responsibility?

- No, not really. I cannot influence either. I cannot book a bunch of crap and sell 300 tickets. It is a strange approach to have to the music. I really respect the equality ideal, but it isn’t something I can put into my work and I am proud that I do not [our emphasis], says Håkan Karlsson." - Dagens Nyheter, 2011-12-19

After that interview, I followed every update from Ladyfest but felt that they weren't really looking at or describing "my" indiepop scene as most of the bands and artists were of the mainstream/alternative kind. Many, including the two authors of this blog post, have looked to the indiepop scene as being more favourable to gender equality amongst musicians. Some have even spoken out about this assumed equality. In mid-July, Kip Berman of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, was quoted in the Village Voice:

"Another aspect of indie pop that I believe allows it to have a consistent vitality is that it has the highest representation of female band members, club promoters, DJ's and festival bookers of any non-gender specific genre (riot grrl, queercore, etc.). Think about a generic list of "10 Greatest Rock Bands of the 1990s" in a mainstream magazine. It would be a list of all men, with maybe The Smashing Pumpkins' D'arcy, Tori Amos or Courtney Love as the lone exceptions. That's a list of 40 to 45 musicians, with maybe 3 being sexed female.

The hypothetical indie pop list of that era would probably have a third to one half of the bands comprised of women, and many in non-"pink collar" positions like lead singers, drummers and guitarists. indie pop still has a long ways to go towards true gender equity, but compared to what is out there in "indie rock," punk, hip hop, metal and hardcore, it has made the most progress in being gender-inclusive of any genre I can think of. The interesting part is, only mainstream pop and possibly folk comes to mind as places where female artists are represented equally to their male counterparts."- Village Voice, 2012-07-13

Kip is considering the gender of people involved in making records as well as performing, DJing and promoting. However, Ladyfest Malmö looked at and analysed who was performing on stage. Why? Because this is the picture that people often see of who is actively involved in making music. We see these performers when we go to gigs and we see them when we look at photos of shows online and in other media.These powerful snapshots provide an interesting document as to who is involved in making music.

So I decided to have a look for myself and investigate how Indietracks stacks up. I sent off an email to Ladyfest Malmö to ask how the process of tallying and analysing musicians on stage worked and asked Jennifer Colour Me Pop if she would help me as I knew she was attending Indietracks and has an interest in gender equality.

This is how we counted performers at Indietracks. The process is based on the Ladyfest Malmö method. EDITED TO ADD: A lot of people have reacted to this part. This method was chosen to be able to compare our numbers to those of Ladyfest who have counted about 6 venues a month plus festivals since November 2011. But no matter the method of band categorizing the second chart counting total of people on stage stays the same.

  • A female act is an act where the majority of band members are female
  • A male act is an act where the majority of band members are male
  • A 50/50 act is comprised of half females and half males or equal members of males, females and trans people

Some illustrations and clarifications:
  • Allo' Darlin would be categorised as a male act because there are predominantly males in the band (3 males, 1 female)
  • We have counted those performers who self-identify as trans or genderqueer
  • We have counted only those who performed at Indietracks 2012 (not those who play with the band on record or with the band at other gigs)
  • We did not include impromptu or merch tent performances at Indietracks

To start with, we looked at band photos and read band credits on record and online to discern who may be playing in the band at Indietracks. Final numbers were confirmed by Jennifer’s eagle-eye at Indietracks and by looking at photographs taken at the festival.


  • 56 acts were booked in total.
  • 38 were male acts
  • 7 were female acts
  • 11 were 50/50-acts

The female bands were: Golden Grrrls, Liechtenstein, Robberie, Rose Melberg, September Girls, Tender Trap and The Werewandas.

The 50/50 bands were: The 10p Mixes, Bart Cummings & Pam Berry, Go Sailor, Minibar, the School, the Smittens, The Spook School, Summer Camp, The Sunbathers, Veronica Falls and Young Romance.

Of the 38 male acts, 23 have at least 1 female member, 10 of which are lead vocalists. Similarly of the 7 female acts, 4 contain at least 1 male member of which 1 is a lead vocalist.


  • 226 people on stage
  • 159 were male
  • 64 were female
  • 3 trans or genderqueer.

Having followed the reactions and comments after Ladyfest published their findings, we’d like to emphasize that we didn't conduct this analysis to put blame on anyone, in this instance the good Indietracks organizers. This discussion is not to point fingers to any individuals but rather to start a conversation about how to move toward a more equal music scene. We know the reasons more women aren’t involved as performing musicians is complex and nuanced. Hell, even my own female fronted club wouldn't be 100% female if I counted musicians involved, but something is askew when such a disproportionate amount of the people on stage are men.

Looking at the numbers it’s hard to argue that our indiepop community is approaching gender equality in terms of musicians and performers when only 64 of 226 (28.32%) of all performers at Indietracks 2012 are female. That figure might increase if we included the organisers and those who ran the workshops but we’d argue that the change in figure would not be statistically significant. Additionally, we wanted to emphasize the striking visual picture that is documented when the majority of people seen on stage are male. We were surprised and saddened by these findings. Maybe you are too (or maybe this is no surprise to you). Read on for some questions to get us all talking and moving toward gender equality in actively making, not just consuming, indiepop.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS (please respond in the comment section below)
1. What can our indiepop community do to encourage more women to take active roles as musicians in indiepop, particularly ‘lead’ roles? (e.g., lead guitarist, songwriter, arranger)

2. What can promoters, bookers, musicians and fans do about the inequality in representation of gender (sex) amongst indiepop musicians?

3. Celebrate steps towards equality! In the comments, share with us those female and trans indiepop musicians who are taking the lead into their own hands and making music.

Girls to the Front: The True Story of the Riot Grrrl Revolution (“...a rousing inspiration for a new generation of empowered rebel girls to strap on guitars and stick it to The Man.”)
Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender (particularly the introduction and the chapter ‘Women and the Electric Guitar’)
Women and Popular Music: Sexuality, Identity and Subjectivity

Willie Mae Rock Camp For Girls and the Girls Rock Camp Alliance


Pete Green said...

How do you think these figures would compare with other festivals? Clearly 70/30 is a long way from 50/50. But I bet Indietracks does way better than Leeds and Reading.

What further steps could indiepop could take towards equality? Worthwhile question. What might be learned from the progress indiepop has made already? Worthwhile question. Let's see a bigger picture, without being complacent for a single moment. Like you say, let's celebrate steps towards equality.

Polka dot pie charts may be the best thing ever.

Simon Nelson said...

I wonder what percentage of indie musicians are male, female or transgender? Have you any figures relating to this? It would be unfair to aim for a 50/50 ratio of male to female musicians if only 30% of indie musicians generally are female.

Plus I think it is more important that there is a high-quality, interesting and provokative line-up than having bias in the selection of bands/acts. Musicians would prefer to be judged on the quality of their work then their gender wouldn't they?

Anonymous said...

I think this is a really fascinating subject ... I've often thought about it myself while watching indiepop shows. I am a female performer in both an otherwise all male band and in a 50/50 band according to the criteria and I do feel there is a difference in the way sound engineers or venue staff talk to me depending on which band I'm with which is different to my band mates...I don't know if there is am issue with how a musician's ability is judged being dependent on gender but I do think there is a perception (not amongst my friends but others ) of the only woman in a band possibly being 'decorative'...do any men playing in all women bands feel this too ?

Iain said...

Very interesting (and important). It's probably pretty close to unquantifiable, but it'd be interesting to try to figure a way that bands are 'creatively-female' or 'creatively-male' into this analysis - e.g. how someone like Allo Darlin' (I think, I don't know that much about them) seem to be creatively centred on the female member but are still a 'male' band. We could find a very different picture than we would at a festival with similar figures, but where a bunch of the women are in the classic 'token bassist' role and things like that. It wouldn't be a basis for eliminating gender imbalances as a problem in the culture, but I think would help ask what kind of problem it is, exactly. Maybe it's not a question of a resistance to booking female-centred bands or anything so institutional, but something that's a bit more of an undercurrent running through the culture about what it means to play an instrument, to be part of a band - what kind of gender roles are playing out at this level?

Anonymous said...

Isn't one of the perceived strengths of indiepop that it provides a platform or arena for non-heteronormative males to be themselves? To be sensitive, non-macho, non-aggressive, etc? Being non-heteronormative doesn't mean that you identify as genderqueer, it just means you reject a lot of normative notions of maleness. That means for me that this kind of head or genital count presents a black and white overly-simplistic view of something that's far more nuanced and far more complex. It doesn't seem particularly helpful or even fair, especially describing Allo Darlin' as a 'male band'. I'm willing to have my conceived notions turned on their head, that's healthy, but I need to be convinced by something a little more considered first.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Simon Nelson, i.e. "It would be unfair to aim for a 50/50 ratio of male to female musicians if only 30% of indie musicians generally are female."

I think you're trying to find a solution to a problem that isn't where you think it is and one that as far as I can see is beginning to solve itself - that chart at least shows progress. Forming a band has been a traditionally male thing but is becoming an increasingly more gender balanced activity. Young boys have always had more talented musical role models than women and it perpetuates the idea that lads learn guitar, girls sing. Well isn't that changing? So in the future there will be more female acts to book, but maybe right now there still aren't enough of them to expect a 50/50 balance.

Also, you ask how to encourage women in more lead roles, yet you discount this in your own criteria, leaving bands that are, as Iain describes 'creatively female' to be counted as either male bands or 50/50 bands, when these are often crucial to implementing the change you are after.

As someone in a 50/50 band which could also be described as creatively female, I also acknowledge anonymous' point about treatment from sound engineers etc, but these people are usually from an older generation. Our own generation has made progress and we need to continue to set this example and provide strong female role models in music.

E said...

I actually think this goes much deeper than a promoter-booker issue, and without having statistics for the gender ratio of the indiepop scene external to Indietracks, and indeed gender ratios in other scene, there’s only so far you can go with it. There's an interesting article by Mary-Ann Clawson, 'When Women Play The Bass', which suggests that women tend to begin learning instruments and joining bands significantly later than men - they start playing aged 19 on average, and join bands aged 21, while men start playing aged 13 and join bands aged 15. That's quite a few lost years of skill acquisition, and in my experience at least, it's harder to approach joining a band when you know your male counterparts are likely to be technically more competent than you – and as Clawson points out, it also affects instrument choices (the shallower the learning curve, the more chance you have of joining a band sooner rather than later, which understandably makes 'pink-collar' positions like lead singer a more appealing prospect).
The upshot of this is that you end up with a smaller pool of skilled women musicians on which to draw, leaving promoters with fewer female bands to book, and it leaves certain positions within bands less open to them than others, which influences the gender balance within any given band. I would at some point like to explore this more broadly both within the indiepop scene and outside it (though I’m sure stats have been drawn up for, for instance, chart music, I’ve never investigated them). It’s not a problem *with the indiepop scene* per se, it’s much broader than that. Age of learning an instrument presumably isn’t the only factor, but it’s the only one I can remember enough detail about to explore off the top of my head here.
One thing that this study neglects is a breakdown by the gender of the main songwriter. Allo Darlin’ may be a predominantly male band but it has a female songwriter – the same is true of Standard Fare and Cosines and I’m quite sure there are others I can’t think of right now. Seeing as you’ve brought up songwriter as a conventionally male role, and since I’d argue it’s the chief creative position and by far outstrips any other band role in terms of power relations, it would be interesting to see how (if) the numbers differ.
My instinct is that the indiepop scene is more female-friendly than most by quite some way. Certainly the statistics here (and the studies I’ve talked about above) suggest that gender is still a factor which affects outcomes as a musician both within and outside indiepop – but what I’d really like to know is how much better (or not) we’re doing than any other scene, or indeed the mainstream music industry. Based on personal experiences, my hunch is that, as music scenes go, indiepop is a pretty egalitarian one, but it’s still affected by culture at large and can be expected to reflect that (and the responsibility to empower girls and women to perform and be creative and play music and make art goes way, way beyond the indiepop scene).
One other thing that struck me about this article was the number of trans performers (though I'm unclear as to whether all three were non-binary or whether trans women and men were also counted among the total number of women and men present, as they should have been). It certainly isn't many. But it's more than I can think of across the entire mainstream music industry (Laura Jane of Against Me! and Anthony of Anthony and the Johnsons, and then I'm stuck). Again, I guess, we're not there, but it's a start.

E said...

Also, I should note here that I’ve seen people on twitter suggesting that this article claims that some positions in bands are inherently more valuable when filled by a woman than others, and I don’t think that’s what’s being said. Instruments are perceived as stereotyped by gender, there are numerous studies that suggest this, and Leslie Gay has written interestingly about male musicians’ responses to female keyboardists in particular – the keyboard is labelled a ‘women’s instrument’, and it’s viewed by the men in his study as slightly shameful and feminising for a man to play it. For a woman to play an instrument that is typically played by a man, like the guitar, actively destabilises this perceived binary. Nobody is saying women who play keyboards aren’t valuable or aren’t good musicians, but they also aren’t deconstructing normative gender roles as a side-effect of their choice of instrument. I’m assuming that’s why position in bands has been discussed here, rather than as an attempt to devalue anyone as I have seen suggested (and I’m a keyboard player who can’t play a single guitar chord).

Additionally, sorry for the hideous wall of text in the above comment, I assumed paragraphs would auto-format, and they didn't, and I'm sorry. Insert linebreak before 'the upshot of this' and again before 'my instinct is that'.

Nye said...

To clarify the non-binary/trans performers question a wee bit - I'm one of the three and was asked how I identify/would like to be counted and said genderqueer/trans (rather than male or female). I'm guessing the others were also asked how they'd prefer to be counted. Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

Interesting stuff but I would agree with the general point that a 50:50 aim is skewed if the overall source of indie pop musicians is not 50:50 also.

My view is that gender is irrelevant, surely equality would be when bands booked only on quality of music.

I think indie pop is more inclusive/blind to gender and sexuality than other music. It's strength is that it is open to all and crowds accept people for who they are.

(I'm in a band with 2 girls, 3 boys - all people!)

Anonymous said...

Right, I'm not doing this on FB. I'm going to do it here. I have so many opinions on this from working with indie and non-indie pop bands as a woman at a record label for 7 odd years I could write a dissertation but its Sunday and I can't be arsed.

Needless to say I think we still live in a sexist world when it comes to music. The ethos of some scenes may be more or less sexist than others but they still live in a world of SOME venues, record labels, radio stations, managers, promoters etc. that are yet to quite FULLY believe in the idea that girls want to listen to girls live (surely they want to just shag the male lead singer?!) or that boys want to either (unless they can imagine themselves in that band too, maybe the chap on guitar on the left eying the lead singer). Its just a risk they can't be arsed to take if they don't have to. Especially at the lower rungs when bands are just starting. SO they don't get on the rung. Even though they are WRONG it is taking a long time to change.

One of the key characteristics of the digital revolution is the disruptive nature it has on gendered marketing and digital distribution is a game changer in particular for music. My own personal love affair with music (even though I am not a digital native) really illustrates this. I lived in the arse end of nowhere, even the big town (miles away) was without a decent record shop. I had tapes from the radio (John Peel of course!) and a handful of CDs. Boys were in bands, they scoffed the idea you had a clue about anything like that, record shops (when I found them) felt intimidating and snooty places. Few girls had any interest in the music I liked. So I loved it but my exposure was stunted. I grew up without the internet and found myself by chance cataloguing music for a big online retailer (not downloads, they didn't exist then!). I had every kind of music at my fingertips. It was amazing. And it changed my life. Had it happened earlier I might have joined a band. Instead I ended up at a record label...

And when I look around at younger women the doors have been opened a little more for them through the accessibility of online music. I am convinced of it. And its probably the kids that know no different and are born into this levelled playing field of listening to any music they like that are going to take the most advantage of it. And thats STILL pretty NEW. For what its worth I think the less gendered ethos of indie pop is pretty cool but it doesn't live in a hermetically sealed world and I thought that was what this article was trying to say right?

Anonymous said...

...I guess that just says its a matter of time and doesn't really offer any solutions. I say if you want to encourage girls to get involved or just empowered in general I say get involved in youth work. How you can counter it right here and now I'm not so sure.

Anonymous said...

I was at Indietracks, and spoke to various members of various bands, and observed many others around (I'm a people-watcher!). There were a few bands who initially seemed (however they turned out on stage) to not seem like they belonged at Indietracks. In hindsight they were all all-male bands, by far the minority at Indietracks. The Jasmine Minks in particular looked to my mind more like they'd be in a security-type role than being a band, and I was surprised when I recognised the group of out-of-place (and 'hard')-looking blokes on stage later on. I'm not sure what my point here was.

Anonymous said...

The School kinda epitomise the instrumental binary roles you mention. Despite being very much centred on a woman who is the face and voice of the band, and writes all of the songs (a couple of co-writes, but generally it seems to be just her), their photograph on the Indietracks site shows the four male members of the band on one side with guitars, a bass and drums, and the four female members on the other with violins, a cornet and a microphone stand respectively.

E said...

@Anonymous directly above me - 'In hindsight they were all all-male bands, by far the minority at Indietracks.'

Were all-male bands really the minority at Indietracks? This is the kind of intriguing detail that I wish was covered by the stats!

thehaircut said...

A good article addressing an important issue. I've got to object to the methodology though - I think the fact that Allo Darlin' is fronted by Elizabeth, who writes the songs, means that they should at least in part count towards the female tally. If we are talking about what the scene should do to encourage more active female participation, then putting on more Allo Darlin' shows would be a great start, as Elizabeth is inspirational. Statistics always fail us in some way, as I'm sure the authors have realised by pointing out the anomaly of Allo Darlin' not contributing to the score, but I think that there is a difference between a songwriter and a

thehaircut said...

Hundred female tambourine players, or (god bless the Loves but they're not doing a great deal for equality) a thousand all-girl dancing troupes. So, you know, let's tweak the stats to reflect how awesome Allo Darlin' are, eh?


E said...

@thehaircut - Cosines and Standard Fare are in the same position as Allo Darlin' in that all or most of the songwriting is handled by a woman in each case even though numerically the bands are counted as male. The same is true for The School, who are (I think?) split 50:50. I don't know how many other bands at Indietracks this is true for but I bet there are others (if anyone can think of them please name them!).

Clearly AD are not a one-off in this respect, which makes it even more important to account for songwriting/creative control, I think.

Anonymous said...

I agree with keeping an eye on equality but with any large event the emphasis will always be on booking quality acts. Please don't let that be construed that music that girls make is of lesser value than the music that 100% male or mixed groups make. I think for the research to be taken forward or for researchers to find out why there is a lack of girl bands at Indiepop festivals like indietracks they need to find out the lifespan of all female groups compared with mixed or all male groups. It may be that girl groups just don't stay together long enough to be considered for festivals and events like this.

In general though I've found that there will always be a split. If it's not gender then it will be sexual orientation, race or disability all of which will have valid reasons for not being attracted to certain events.

Anonymous said...

"The Jasmine Minks in particular looked to my mind more like they'd be in a security-type role than being a band, and I was surprised when I recognised the group of out-of-place (and 'hard')-looking blokes on stage later on. I'm not sure what my point here was."

Was is it that middle-aged or older men have no place in indiepop? They clog up gigs with their fat tummies and balding heads, leer at young girls and suffocate the scene with their dreary old opinions. Why won't they just fuck off? We don't need you, go away!

Lisa said...

I don't think no. of tits divided by no. of willies, divided again by two then times by a hundred tells anyone anything about the experience of women in the music scene.

Daniel Novakovic said...

Hello everyone,

Thank you for your comments. We anticipated criticism but are encouraged by the conversation on gender, musicianship and the indiepop scene that’s been taking place across a number of online channels, particularly the thoughtful responses on this blog post.

We would like to address some of the most pertinent points of discussion that have arisen across various online platforms.

Any sound piece of research should state what it is researching and what it is not. We chose to look at gender (sex) because of our personal and professional interests. We chose to look at musical performers because these are the people we go to see at shows, whose records we dance to in clubs, who we take pictures of on stage, whose musical output we buy and whose music and lyrics we write about in fanzines and blogs. We chose Indietracks because it is arguably the most recognised event in our indiepop scene. Attendees and performers come from all over the world to attend this 3-day festival. Even those who do not attend keep current with what happens at Indietracks online. This is the community both of us feel part of, actively participate in and unequivocally love.

We do not have the time to calculate and analyse the genders of performers at other festivals or in other scenes. However, Ladyfest Malmö have been doing a sterling job tallying up the genders of performers at various festivals in Sweden and running analyses. Here are a selection of their findings but please follow the link for a full rundown of many more festivals. http://www.ladyfest.se/malmo/ladyfest-malmo-raknar/sammanstallning-festivaler-2011/

Way out West 2011
total of 105 acts
22 female acts = 21%
1 x 50/50 acts = 1%
82 male acts = 78%

Hultsfred Festival 2011
total of 96 acts
15 female acts = 15.6%
3 x 50/50 acts = 3.1%
78 male acts = 81.3%

Emmabodafestivalen 2011
total of 49 acts
6 female acts = 12.3%
3 50/50 = 6.1%
40 male acts = 81.6%

A lot of you have argued that compared to other festivals and music scenes, Indietracks and indiepop in general is a lot more inclusive of women. That may be true (and we feel it is) but with this small piece of research we wanted to stick as close as possible to facts; here, the breakdown of the genders of those who played music at Indietracks. We welcome any links to or further research on gender analysis in other scenes.

There has been an interesting discussion from many promoters and some musicians who do not want to ‘ghettoize’ female musicians (http://altmusic.about.com/od/top10lists/tp/10-Trailblazing-Female-Musicians.htm) by trying to achieve gender parity when putting on shows or festivals. A common statement has been that promoters just want to book bands they like, bands they think are high-quality. This is something I have struggled with as someone who puts on gigs. I, too, only put on bands I admire and think are great. However, every time I book a bill, it truly bothers me how few women are involved as musicians. I think carefully about this because I strongly desire for more women to be represented on stage. I also do not want to book a band simply because there is a woman/women/trans person in the band. But why aren’t there more bands to look to in our indiepop scene that have members that are not men?

Another interesting point that has been raised in the discussion around inclusivity of the indiepop community is that there are other way s for women to get involved in participating. This could be through writing in fanzines or blogs, by putting on gigs and festivals, by DJing and setting up club nights or by releasing records. This is to be celebrated too, that there are other ways to actively contribute to the richness and diversity of our indiepop scene. This piece of research was not to detract from the contributions that many have made through these other means.

Daniel Novakovic said...

(part 2)
But let’s get back to the central issue of our research and blog post. Who are we booking? Who are we writing about? Whose records are we releasing? Who are we dancing to? Because with this research we are looking at Indietracks, then we are booking, writing about and dancing to many more male musicians than we are to female and trans musicians.

We believe we need to be thinking about issues of gender and representation if we want to increase the inclusion, diversity and sustainability of our scene. We recognise that there are much wider cultural and contextual issues at play too. It is not solely up to show bookers, record labels and DJs to help achieve gender parity when it comes to increasing the participation of female and trans musicians. We have many more of questions. Why aren’t more women picking up instruments and writing songs, whatever their age? Why don’t more women have the confidence to form bands? What do women need to feel more comfortable and supported to learn and practice instruments and songwriting? How does the issue of getting on a stage and playing in front of people factor into a woman’s decision to participate in making music?

And now to address a few specific comments on this blog.

We knew from the start that categorizing Allo Darlin’ was going to be difficult. Indeed, she is a songwriter, musician and singer and her participation and international success in music making may have wide-reaching implications for encouraging more girls and women to get involved in making music. If Elizabeth had been playing solo at Indietracks, she would have been categorized as a female act. But for consistency in methodology in this particular piece of research, Allo Darlin’ is classified as a male act.

If we were writing for an academic article in a peer-reviewed journal, we would have used the term ‘sex’. As we are writing for a blog in generally a pop culture context, we have chosen to use the term ‘gender’ though we recognise that gender is a social construct. The ever thorough Scarleteen has a fantastic primer on sex and gender (http://www.scarleteen.com/article/body/genderpalooza_a_sex_gender_primer). If you scroll to the bottom of the article there is a sort of dictionary of terms which gives a good working definition of the term ‘genderqueer’. Except for Linton from Go Sailor (http://www.austinchronicle.com/screens/2006-03-10/346306/print/), we wrote to the other two musicians who we have classified as trans or genderqueer. They confirmed to us that they self-identify as trans or genderqueer. We were delighted to find in our research that each of the three bands that have a trans or genderqueer musician in them are bands that are categorized as ’50-50’ acts!

We would love to read the article by Mary Ann Clawson, ‘When Women Play the Bass’ (http://gas.sagepub.com/content/13/2/193.short) but it is available only to those who have access, probably through an academic journal subscription. The articles citing it also look very relevant and interesting.


Daniel Novakovic said...

(part 3)
@E, what you point out from that article is fascinating and could help in our understanding as to why there are not more women involved in making music. The analysis of the difference in age that boys and girls pick up instruments and the resulting effects that come out of that (girls having to play ‘catch up’ in learning an instrument and getting involved in a band) probably rings true to many. Additionally, your other article citation about gendered instruments also strikes a chord and is something no one else seems to have mentioned online but is certainly something the two of us have discussed while researching and writing this piece. You are correct; we were not meaning to devalue singers or female players of certain instruments like the keyboard but rather pointing out the gendered expectation of certain roles. We would love to read that article by Leslie Gay too.

@E, you also made good points about songwriters. However, finding out who is a songwriter in each musical act would be much more subjective and dependent on which recordings are spoken about and which band members were involved at the time. Our piece of research specifically focused on performers at Indietracks but you raise an intriguing point about women’s role in ‘chief creative positions’ which brings us back to Allo Darlin’ again. We must emphasize that we feel strongly that it is important to provide a snapshot of what people see when they go to a festival, in this case Indietracks. In the case of Allo Darlin’, we would argue that many attendees do not know that Elizabeth of the band writes songs. Thus, a person who is new to the festival, to the scene or to this band sees on stage one woman and three men. This is applicable to other bands too, like the Cosines, where the audience sees one woman surrounded by men. This sends a powerful visual message that is not only seen by festival attendees but is also documented online in photographs for people around the world to see and refer to historically. Let's think about younger women and trans people interested in participating as musicians in indiepop. If they do not see themselves represented on stage, will they feel encouraged and supported to participate in making music?

There are a lot of really interesting perspectives and factors that have been raised online today after this blog was posted. We wanted to start a conversation with this blog and are happy that we have. We would encourage anyone interested in the numerous additional perspectives and factors to carry out their own research and analysis and continue the dialogue.

Jennifer and Daniel

Anonymous said...

"In the case of Allo Darlin’, we would argue that many attendees do not know that Elizabeth of the band writes songs. Thus, a person who is new to the festival, to the scene or to this band sees on stage one woman and three men."

Christ, this is tiresome, you think you're presenting fact and data but look at this statement you're 'arguing' that many attendees do not know that Elizabeth writes the songs. That's your judgement call, that's based on your hunch, it's meaningless- like your research that misses or deliberately overlooks how these bands were selected for the festival, what bands weren't available and the fact that Indietracks itself would not happen without a small group of predominantly female organizers- what is it that your saying about their efforts/their choices? Presumably you know best and they are... what exactly? Misguided? Naive? Ignorant?

Daniel Novakovic said...

Some more stats here with similar results from Indietracks 2009-2011


MsTheNat said...

As a regular indietracks goer, I want to have my two penneth worth (as my mum says). I'ma massive (!) feminist and spend most of my days tweeting about day to day sexism that pisses me off, such as finding the Economist magazine in the Men's interest section etc... but...(and I am coming to a point here, I promise) indietracks is the one place on Earth where I DON'T feel the FEM-RAGE! Au contraire, my girlfriend and I always feel like our faith in men as lovely people is totally restored each year as we mingle amongst lovely beardy cardie men! To get back to your work, i find it interesting (and I am happy to be part of a scene that invites this kind of self interrogation and is commited to equality) but ultimately have to agree with previous posters. It ain't broke, we don't need to fix it.

Daniel Novakovic said...

Anon: Even IF we counted creative voices in the bands the stats wouldn't be much different. The tendency is still clearly the same: there are many more males on stage than females. Of 226 people on stage 159 were male, 64 were female and 3 trans or genderqueer. There is no making up of those numbers. Those were the people that ended up on a stage.

The point was, again - and I can't stress this enough, NOT to put blame on anyone. Indietracks does an amazing job. But as there is a discussion in Swedish media I, Daniel, wanted to see how the Indiepop scene was compared to "mainstream" scenes Ladyfest Malmö had counted. Because, like Kip of POBPAH, I expected a more balanced scene. And it turned out it wasn't really that different.


E said...

My brain is too frazzled at this point to respond properly, but re: the sources I cited -

Apologies about the Clawson article, I forgot I had to be logged in as a student to access it. For those who are London-based, I know the British Library holds copies of the journal Gender And Society (it's vol. 13:2). Alternatively if you're genuinely interested I could reproduce some of the stats from it here, but would rather not distribute the whole article into a public space since obviously it isn't mine to use.

The Leslie Gay article is titled 'Acting Tough, Talking Tech' and is in vol. 42:1 of Ethnomusicology journal, but it only touches on the gendering of instruments, there's heaps of other stuff out there on that especially regarding guitar culture (Steve Waksman springs to mind).

Anonymous said...

I had a similar discussion/rant going on a while ago on the Big Pink Cake facebook group page. I posted a plea asking for suitable local bands to support The Lovely Eggs + Standard Fare, and I said "preferably female-fronted". This caused outrage by several people and the main point raised was that nobody should ever specify a gender choice for a gig, you should simply only concentrate on booking bands who are good, regardless of gender (as if to imply that I would book any old crap band, just as long as they had a female singer!!).

My point was that, essentially, Lovely Eggs and Standard Fare were female-fronted (although David contributes some vocals, as do the Standard Fare guys), so it made musical artistic sense to book another band with a female vocalist, rather than put a male vocal band on as local support. Nobody agreed with this!

After causing such a stink, a few months later I also posted asking for supports for a gig I put on with The School, and this time I purposely did NOT specify they should have female vocalists. I left it completely open, so anyone could apply. Not one male band got in touch with me, and I ended up booking two local female bands who contacted me, one being 100% female, one 1 female singer/guitarist and 2 male musicians. So I now think all the local male bands hate me and refuse to perform at my gigs, because I've built up a reputation for booking female or mixed sex bands! So I tried to help and redress the balance, but I became any enemy to many local bands as a result!!

Gareth Jones (and that was me with the Lovely Eggs+Standard Fare too!) said...

Incidentally, if you want research for poor female representation on a mainstream level, take a look at this year's Reading festival. I must confess I don't know every single band, so I can't give you any figures/stats, but I recognise that the following female or mixed sex bands are playing: Paramore, Crystal Castles, Florence & The Machine, Blood Red Shoes, Los Campesinos, Friends, Santigold, Post War Glamour Girls, The Joy Formidable, Band Of Skulls, Katy B, Azealia Banks, Grimes, Sleigh Bells, The Subways, Veronica Falls, 2:54, Lucy Rose, Savages, Niki & The Dove, to name a few.

I'm quite sure the entire weekend will have a far higher ratio of men on stage than women, but based on the bigger indie/rock/electro acts around at the moment, I don't think that's a bad line-up of mixed/female acts performing at a traditionally male-based festival, do you?

MJ Hibbett said...

As a patronising middle-aged gentleman of Indie, may I start by saying Well Done Everybody? An interesting and important THING tackled and debated properly by one and all, it fair makes me proud.

However, I do dispute the idea that someone watching, say, Standard Fare, simply sees two men and one woman on stage. As someone who has been both At The Front and At The Back in bands I can assure you that this is VERY MUCH not the case, to an upsetting degree to all concerned. Everyone - ESPECIALLY people who don't know the scene or the band - looks at the front person pretty much to the inclusion of all other band members. The evidence you need for this could be gathered by following one band around afterwards and seeing who gets recognised, congratulated or bought drinks for. Or you could just ask the drummer, grumpily packing his or her gear up while the singer is on their second pint.

Elizabeth Morris said...

Hi everyone. Thought I might jump in an add my two cents, seeing as I'm the one being talked about so much here!

- First of all, personally I'm offended at Allo Darlin' being labelled a "male" band, but also I think it's a bit silly. Surely a "male" band is a band of all dudes? Likewise a "female" band is a band of all girls? Otherwise a band is "mixed"? What does the data look like if you look at it this way, rather than saying anything higher than a 50% ratio deems something male or female? I don't think Emma from Standard Fare or Helen and Steph from Shrag would be impressed with their bands being labelled as "male" either, but I haven't spoken to them about it. By this methodology, Jens Lekman would be classed as a "female" act when he plays with his female backing band, which is clearly a bit silly.

- Having said that, last year I started a conversation with people on Twitter about Reading / Leeds, and the abysmal numbers of women playing in 27 headline bands. I think it was about 3. People said "oh that's just Reading, what do you expect?"

- Simiarly, when we were recording our new album I read a Q mag feature on the Top 100 Frontmen of all time (the mag was lying around in the studio, I wouldn't normally read Q!). The list featured four women, two of whom were pictured in their underwear (Jessie J and Florence Welch). It made me me very angry. Clearly, this is a very important issue.

- I think E's comments about girls not picking up traditional "rock" instruments until they're older sound about right. This is one of the reasons why I really try to encourage the young girls who come to see us play at festivals or other all-age shows. Often they'll tell me they play guitar or sing. It's one of the reasons why I really want Allo Darlin' to play more all-ages shows. I'd also be very interested in working at a Girls Rock Camp, which is something that they have in America, but not in London as far as I'm aware. I think giving girls encouragement and support while they're younger is the way to improve the numbers.

-Having said all that, and I feel this is important, I think it's patronising to say that girls need to see lots of other girls on stage in order to feel inspired. Thinking about my own experience, the bands that I really love have women in them, but they are not the main songwriter (Velvet Underground, Yo La Tengo, Talking Heads, Go Betweens etc). It's fair to say that I'm a big fan of the women who play in these bands, but it would be the men in these bands who have inspired me to write songs. It's Lou, and Grant and Robert. However, when I was 12, say the same age as some of these girls who came to AD shows, my favourite was Alanis Morrissette. Did she inspire me to learn guitar? Yes! I played "Hand In My Pocket" to anyone who would listen!

I sign off with the lady who should inspire guitarists everywhere, Sister Rosetta rocking that white SG. Elizabeth x


Elizabeth Morris said...

Also, one point I forgot! AD always get our percentage of boys / girls shirts 70 / 30. Seems like this is a recurring split. It definitely seems like more men buy our music, come to our shows and buy our shirts. Perhaps along this 70 / 30 percentage. How many girls vs boys came to Indietracks?

I would feel uncomfortable if somebody booked our band just because I was a girl.

Daniel Novakovic said...

Elizabeth: I hope you do understand that this wasn't done to offend you, or bands where the opposite happened. Or - again - to single out somebody.

This was done according to the method used by Ladyfest Malmö strictly to be able to compare numbers to their findings. They've counted up to about 6 venues a month + festivals since November 2011 so there is a lot to compare to and it had to be done their way of counting otherwise it couldn't be comparable. They chose counting actual people on stage because they obviously don't think it isn't patronizing* that girls need to see girls. And according to their criteria Jens Lekman would have ended up as a male act with female musicians (reflected in the total people) just as Robyn would have ended up as a female act with male musicians (reflected in the total people). There wasn't any combination like that at Indietracks otherwise we would have included it. We did however add trans and genderqueer.

Had I done it "my way" which is to compare vocalists the numbers would have been different. Sadly not much better though.

Counting all-girl, all-boy and mixed would have provided a bit better numbers BUT everybody seems to just look at how male/female/50-50 were determined. No matter what method was used the second chart doesn't change. It still remains that of 226 people on stage, 159 were male, 64 were female and 3 trans or genderqueer.

*A side note about the patronizing thing: Having just finished the Girls To The Front book about the riot girl movement and the new K records book, particularly on the last minute addition all girl night on the Love Rock Revolution festival it seems like a lot of people involved didn't find it patronizing either in those days. I personally just feel it'd be nice if there were more than 10-30% females, not only for girls but for everybody to see and be inspired by, on a stage.

And I absolutely agree that males can be equally inspiring as your own experience and I'm guessing that a lot of female artists are tired of just being compared to other female artists.

Daniel Novakovic said...

That last comment was from me, Daniel.

Anonymous said...

@other anonymous

Regarding the Jasmine Minks, my comment really was on my preconceptions of what an indiepop band looks like, and how four or five manly-looking men really don't fit it.

Gareth Jones said...

Also in reference to Elizabeth's comment about Q Magazine picking 4 female front women out of 100, I would say the radio equivalent of Q mag is Absolute Radio. It's amazing how few female artists they play. If you check the playlist on their website, in the last 24 hours they've played a total of 11 bands/artists with a female singer. That's actually more than usual to be honest! A friend listens regularly and normally only ever hears Florence, Adele and Blondie played on there! That seems wrong to me, when the rest of the day is non-stop Coldplay, Stereophonics and Snow Patrol. Is it sexist? Do they think their target audience prefer male rock? I'm not sure. I imagine their average listener is Jeremy Clarkson, in which case he'd want male rock all the way!

For nearly 4 years I ran a club night in Bristol called 'Lipstick On Your Collar' where we only played records with a female vocalist. I was accused constantly of being sexist and that I should just play "good music". We felt all the records we played WERE good though, and offered a chance to hear records/artists you wouldn't normally get to hear at most Indie clubs. The average Indie club in Bristol only plays the Gossip, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Le Tigre and Blondie, and they seem to think that's covered everything!!

On a mainstream basis though, female artists are actually bigger than men in recent times. Whilst I'm not a fan, Adele has been the biggest selling CD in the UK of the past two years. And the Spice Girls probably outsold Take That at the time. So there's been plenty of female success, it's just that polls and Q Magazine try to keep it a male world!

Owen said...

Quite a few of us menfolk buy the female t-shirts though - they fit much better!

Katie Mc said...

I think the research itself says more about this situation - the method used (i.e. quantitative) is often associated with an anti-feminist stance. In attempting to apply universal laws, the importance of the situational aspect of social reality is lost. For women's voices to be heard, researchers shouldn't treat women as numbers and submerge them in statistics - this is usually viewed, in social research, as a method of control, which can be seen as a masculine approach.

Anonymous said...

I just had a little look (a glance you could say, cause that shows what everyone coming into this scene for the first time sees, right?) at the writers Facebook groups for some further statistics. I haven't been able to sum up what songs people are dancing to in the So Tough! So Cute! pictures but after counting the male and female people in the gig photos in the Colour Me Pop Facebook group, out of the people who have been clearly photographed 73% are MALE and 27% are female. I also had a look at what has been used as poster images and the result was 0% male, 50% female and 50% teddybears, handholding, present etc. That’s not entirely representative of the male to female ratio of the musicians at your gigs, is it?

Surely if you go by statistics that are easily accessed at first glance (or at least the way that we are both conducting our studies), you're doing the same thing as you're trying to prove Indietracks guilty of? You’re telling us to ask ourselves the questions “What can our indiepop community do to encourage more women to take active roles as musicians in indiepop, particularly ‘lead’ roles?” and “What can promoters, bookers, musicians and fans do about the inequality in representation of gender (sex) amongst indiepop musicians?“. Are you really practicing what you preach when 73% of your photos from the gigs you have put on are of men? Cause it’s all down to numbers, right?

This blogpost doesn't actually say that much really. Which is a shame as it's a very interesting and, more than anything, important matter.

Daniel Novakovic said...

Hello Anon. If you'd given it a second glance instead of trying to be snarky maybe you would have noticed that we SEVERAL TIMES say that this wasn't done to put blame on anyone or prove anyone guilty of anything.

Lets try this once again: This was done to simply see what a UK indiepop scene looks like compared to mainstream scenes. And to talk about it.

And since you bring it up, maybe a third glance would have let you known that of 21 guest-dj sets in 2011 I had 12 done by ladies, of 9 guest-mixtape compilers I had 8 females involved and 5 males. 100% of guest-djs at TCTP have been females this year. As for STSC in 2012 it's about 60% males and 40% females so far.


Anonymous said...

Reading your comments here and elsewhere I'm beginning to be a little weirded out by how convinced you are that you and you alone are privvy to The Truth based on this peculiar methodology you're using. What Katie Mc says is spot on, yet you ignore her. Also, the female contributor to this blogpiece is entirely notable by her absence in comments here and elsewhere. Doesn't she have a voice? Do you forbid her from speaking? Is she distancing herself from all this now? What's the story on that? A conversation is being had now, which is great, by you're so convinced by this counting method in the face of valid and very pointed criticism that you have to keep going back to it again and again. Give it up already and let the conversation continue. It's a necessary one. I'd love to see you respond to Kate Mc, please, and what does Jennifer think?

Daniel Novakovic said...

I'm not convinced of anything. I question it and myself and have since last year when these starting popping-up. I'm just trying to get people to actually read it. Some of commenters seem to have skimmed the whole piece, looked at the first charts, not bothered at all to compare it to other numbers (which was the whole point). Could be I did a bad job formating it but too late to change that now.

I wouldn't even know where to begin to reply to Katie MC as I honestly don't even know where she's coming from with this. We're tallying performers, not to keep it as it is or submerge but because we want to see more females involved with making music.

I'll let Jennifer speak for herself.

Daniel Novakovic said...

But you're right, I'll refrain from commenting as a lot of great discussion has come up with much better conclusions and ideas than I could even begin to formulate

Cris said...

I won't comment on anything as I dont think I haev anything interesting to say that hasn't been said yet. But I think it is important that ANYONE who comments makes the effort to actually READ what others have said before even starting to write. It is amazing to see the number of comments written on preconceptions on what the authors think rather than what they actually state in their research.

Cris said...

*have*, sorry.

Anonymous said...

More info on the qualitative/quantitative divide:

Katie is absolutely right on the fact that feminist academia often views quantitative research as inherently masculine and therefore potentially erasing of women(since there is no such thing as fully objective research, even if it is quantitative.

***See here - http://www.qualitative-research.net/index.php/fqs/article/view/974/2124 - section 3 is on statistical surveys.***

With that said, not all feminist researchers think quantitative methods are inherently evil. Coding mathematics and measurements as masculine, and interpretation and lived experience as feminine, veers too close to essentialising the idea that men are more objective/reliable/rational than women for my comfort, and frankly sometimes background data is essential for quick presentation of information. The best approach often combines the two. MANY feminist academics have used quantitative methods to great effect.

I do think maybe this is the point at which it'd be cool for women in the scene to start using the stats to discuss their personal experiences, but I get that it's tough to single-handedly steer the discussion away from critiques of the methodology. I guess a question to add to the bottom of the post (although it's likely too late now) is: as a woman in the scene, what have YOUR experiences been of making music, and do you think your gender has affected those experiences?

Daniel Novakovic said...

Anon: Ok this is definitely interesting. Thanks for pointing it out. I'll give it a proper read this weekend although the academic language is probably bit above my school english.

That is also a valid question and starting point for a discussion which probably should have been included. We, or rather I, kinda expected that the discussion would automatically pick this up. But I'm taking notes of this, and others points, and hopefully more bases will be covered the next time we do a count.


Katie Mc said...

Sorry I've come back to this a bit late - I know the discussion is kind of over but...

Anon: Great to see that you think the research method is important too and I think that you've raised a good point re asking women about their own experiences. With regard to the feminist research - I think the nuance lies in that it is the application of universal laws, seen as a method of control, which is (sometimes) viewed as a masculine approach, rather than the quantitative method per se. I definitely agree that mixed methods are the way forward though.

Daniel: I'm afraid that you've missed the point spectacularly. Your comment about "the next time we do a count" made me want to bang my head against the wall. Clearly you have a horrible grasp of social research methods because this "data" is so poor and your method so flawed that it's impossible to be able to draw a single valid conclusion from it. I understand that you might not have the time or inclination to sit down and read about scholarly research methods; if you were doing this for your own interest or for fun then you wouldn't need to. But you can't expect any serious or meaningful discussion to arise from this school-level "analysis" and it's naive to think that people won't pull you up on this. I hope that you understand where I'm coming from this time.