International Women's Day: #Choosetochallenge in Music

Words: Women working in music in Nottingham
Monday 08 March 2021
reading time: min, words

Whether it’s the gender disparity on festival line ups, or reports of women being assaulted in the sector, conversation is building towards creating a safer music industry, as diverse as the huge amount of talent that exists within it. A large portion of this talent lies here in Nottingham, with numerous women working as artists, presenters, promoters, label owners and more. We wanted to celebrate them and share their voice...


The theme for International Women’s Day in 2021 is #Choosetochallenge. Read on for their response as we ask the question: “What do you think needs to be challenged within the music industry, to take action for equality?”

Aïcha Daffé, DJ, Honeydips founder and SHEAfriq member

We need more ethnic and gender diversity in positions of influence in music and events. Whether it is stereotyping, sexualisation and tokenism, having years worth of skills and experience being ignored or discounted, or experiencing unfair pay or working conditions, underrepresented groups get a rough deal time and time again. I want to see some diversity in the faces I see running labels, booking artists and calling the shots in the industry.

Alice Robbins, singer and songwriter

We need to challenge the attitudes in music shops, especially in the guitar world. Myself and a lot of female musicians I know hate and actively avoid guitar shopping for this reason. Before the pandemic, I went into a guitar shop asking to try some out when I was led to the “beginners guitars” section and mansplained to, extensively. As soon as my male friend came over to join us, the shop assistant’s attitude changed immediately and he then showed me the guitars I was looking for.

Other friends report feeling unwelcome, like they need to prove themselves and frankly silly in these spaces. This happens to a lot of women and is not conducive to the music industry feeling approachable or inclusive.

Avarni Bilan, Wigflex director, Fly Girl founder

Before there can be any real or long-lasting change within the industry, audiences, clubs and promoters all need to be more supportive of local up and coming talent.

Live music venues and promoters need to be scouting out the underrepresented emerging artists that exist within their city/region. This applies to race and gender and it means booking these artists for live events, paying them properly, promoting them and valuing them as much as they value the bigger artists.

Audiences need to be more supportive of their local music scene by being prepared to explore new music and try new events that they maybe didn’t consider before. This part is actually pivotal as venues only book talent that they think will sell tickets, so if they feel confident that the local community will have a certain level of support for lesser known artists, the whole ecosystem of equality becomes more viable.

It’s the responsibility of the cultural gatekeepers that share music with audiences to do their research into what talent lies on their doorstep from all different backgrounds, and then put in the work to give these artists a high-quality platform to perform on. Once this happens and the focus goes into authentically representing a broader range of talented artists, I think that female artists will naturally start to take up as much space in the industry as their counterparts and equality across the board will be integrated with long-term sustainability.

Babe Punch, band

We need to challenge people who abuse and degrade women in music and keep them out of positions of power. We also need to challenge the industry professionals who are already in power and are perpetuating the lack of equality in the music industry by not offering the same opportunities to women as they do men.

Aeris Houlihan, Witch of the East lead singer

Treat all bands the same regardless of their gender etc. A quick example:

Being a woman doesn't mean you need help carrying amps out of the venue. Especially not by drunk dudes not listening to the word 'no', then proceeding to carry your equipment banging it into every wall possible on the way out of the venue. Just stop and think... would I say this to a man? Your answer has just taken you one step closer to equality. And that my friend is sass training 101. (Proceeds to toss glitter all over) =  '*^/*}\"';;'[-^':'"*{"

Jokes aside, I also think promoters have a responsibility to not just put all band lineups with women in, or specifically as headliners, just because they're female. It should be about the amazing music they create and share to the public at their shows. And do we still need to say, “female fronted is not a genre?


Beka, singer and songwriter

The music industry has phenomenal people of all genders, races, background and cultures and those voices need to continue to diversify and rise up the ranks to change the cultures we work within. I feel this also happens from the ground up. It's each of us taking the opportunity to mentor, to give away our knowledge, to look for people who may not look and sound the same as us, and give our time and not wait until we feel are 'somebody' worth listening to, before we do so. I feel like equality starts with our personal responsibility in recognising the power we have in our little worlds around us.

Charity Stow, singer and songwriter, I’m Not From London programmer, Nottingham’s Got Talent casting researcher and writer.

I think a lot of people need to action what they're doing within their own sphere. It's amazing to support others and help facilitate change but, a lot of the time, the biggest difference you can make is within your own circle and your own work. I have found that I have become really conscious of this and, since I have been doing a lot of artist scouting and casting at the moment, I’ve been constantly checking myself and making sure that I am being as inclusive and eclectic as I can be. Because, in order to see the change I want to see, I have to be a part of it and help it come to fruition!

We all need to constantly be bursting our own bubbles and likes/dislikes in order to discover new music and give 'quirky', 'out-there' artists the support they sometimes aren't given by the mainstream media. In doing this, you're creating an incredibly more interesting and surprising music scene and, isn't that what we all want!? Once we start appreciating music for music's sake, I think we will have much happier artists and will be a step closer to equality within the music industry.

Chloe Rodgers, singer and songwriter

Something I think needs to be challenged in the music industry is the way the biggest live music companies pay the lowest amounts for their performers. Sometimes gigs genuinely are “worth it for the exposure” but a lot of the time this is just completely taking advantage of musicians.

Emily Makis, producer, singer and songwriter

I think understanding and accepting the issues that affect the representation of women in the industry is the first step to equality. Creating 'safe spaces', or workshops geared towards women and LGBTQ people to learn about music and technology might be a start. The music industry is male dominated, and some women may not feel comfortable asking questions and expressing themselves in these environments.

I also think it is important to highlight the experiences of industry professionals through social media platforms, online or articles. This generates an understanding that women aren't alone if they have experienced mistreatment, and creates a community atmosphere where people can find positive role models.

BLLE, singer and songwriter

I believe there's a lot of work to do to stop the industry feeling like 'a boys only club'. When speaking to my female peers, I found many felt being the only woman in the room was isolating and intimidating. This often puts people off wanting to pursue a career within the industry in whatever level they so wish to. All-female production classes, writing sessions etc could be a great start for women to feel comfortable when first getting into the industry and to help build their confidence for when they get into these rooms.


Gemma Danielle, singer and songwriter

The social norms. It goes beyond the industry, but for equality to happen we need to look at these social conditions and allow for people to express themselves freely. Speaking from being a woman, I never really understood the social differences based on my gender until my late 20s early 30s. I started to unpick certain feelings/thought patterns of guilt, shame and self worth. My constant need to compare myself to other women. As a female in the music industry I am aware of women's sexuality being a fascination. I feel we need to break the restricted idea that women are sexual objects. For a woman to be empowered and use her sensuality and sexuality as a form of expression is for her to feel like she can freely express herself.

This is very different to being objectified as a sexual object, something to be on display for the gratification and judgement of others. For our future generations; let's educate, speak out, lead by example and allow our women to express themselves from a space of empowerment, self love and worth. We need men and we need women in equal measures.  Reaching for equality in the industry and society will only make the world a better place for all. I feel we're moving in the right direction. All love x.

Jasmine Takhar, BBC Asian Network radio presenter and DJ, Scene Not Heard label owner

There’s an attitude that women can’t do certain roles as well as men so I think it’s important for us to create our own opportunities now that we have unlimited access to social media and create spaces where women are made to feel comfortable and various platforms to recognise and support talent.

Machine Woman, DJ, producer and Take Away Jazz Records label owner

An open conversation about being paid for the creative work you provide. Often it is presented as an opportunity, or it is not even discussed at all as many expect you to work or create for free. Learn to negotiate, it can be uncomfortable at first, the more you do it the more it becomes the second nature. Adequate opportunities should be presented every day not just once a year on IWD if the industry has the need to change.

Nikki O, DJ and presenter

Something that I think needs to be challenged in the music industry is the accessibility. In many aspects of the industry there are many barriers to participating, whether that be monetary, lack of connections, lack of training options or more. These barriers affect women, POC, and those on low incomes the most, and can make the music scene homogenised.

Better support systems, industry leaders providing free or subsidised training options, useful workshops, or more grants can help alleviate these issues. A positive example of this happening is from CUBE who ran a free Ableton course for women and non-binary people. I was lucky enough to attend (thank you CUBE!), if support like this was more widespread and common then the music scene would be a more diverse, exciting, representative, and fair place.

Janelle Ciara, DJ, host and presenter. Founder of Next Gen Movement

The exploration of black women vocalists in house music needs to be challenged, it is a well known fact that the vocalists on house tunes are unknown/erased from songs. This is a general theme for producers who use women’s voices on their beats but fail to credit them.


Shekayla Maragh, cultural producer and CUBE founder

There are some good initiatives happening to address this, but there is still a long road ahead. Lasting change happens from the top down. The more narratives that are visible in a variety of roles, including senior roles advocating for equality and fairness will help to create an industry that is better representative of its talent.

Sonia, DJ and promoter, Stiff Kittens / Sisters Of Sound

My career in the music industry started through my passion for live music, particularly the roles of sound engineer and music technician. However throughout school I had been directed towards more traditional female roles. So this was quite a challenge. Whether that is because it can be physically demanding, or that it’s science and engineering based I’m not sure, but I’m happy to carry a Marshall amp, or calculate a differential equation if it gives us a good gig! 

Also I had never seen females in these roles...until I went to see a band called The Sea, and they had a female engineer called Steph, that was it, I wanted to be part of this world!

Alongside this I was getting into DJing, running club nights and promoting events, although at the time there weren’t many female DJs either. So we chose to set up our own nights and made that change, especially with Sisters Of Sound, a collaboration with fellow female the legendary DJ Sue Starbuck, featuring other lovely ladies such as Cherry Fuzz, respect!

I’m also very lucky to DJ and put on events at venues in Nottingham who naturally embrace equality for women in the music industry, such as The Bodega, Malt Cross, Jamcafe, The Angel, Broadway and Rough Trade. I purposefully chose this because I wanted to feel comfortable, and be where I would happily drink on my own, if you know what I mean.

The music industry for women is now thankfully evolving but there will always be the need to challenge and make change so you can do what you love regardless of who you are. Also the more people you see do it the less weird it is for you to try too, so give it a go, you never know where it might take you and others might follow!

Tiffany Holland, singer and songwriter, Circle of Light assistant project coordinator and Youth Music ambassador

I’ve seen a lot of young women, myself included, settle into the background of a music studio waiting to be called upon before they voice their ideas. Society has us trained to think our only purpose is to add a cute image to a project and it’s easy to believe that when, despite all your other useful attributes, you only ever get invited to be in the music video.

I think it’s time we recognised that there are males working in many roles including; artists, engineers, videographers that take advantage of women trying to break into the industry. Women deserve an equal and safer pathway into a creative career and everyone in the music scene should be including those developments at the forefront of their current and future plans.

The industry could do more by specifically supporting talented women based on skill and not aesthetic, give us safe spaces to progress and ensure there are consequences for people who exploit their privilege and professional job roles.

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