Women And The Music Industry: Where do we Stand?

FBi’s Caroline Gates thinks we’re making progress… but there’s still a long way to go.

Creative industries are hard enough to crack but as a woman trying to make it in music, the odds can be stacked against you twofold.

“I think any female artist that you speak to will be very sick of, in every interview, being asked what is it like to be a woman making music, especially DJ’s!” FBi’s Program Director Caroline Gates laughs. “I think questions like that can confirm or reinforce the idea that it is unusual or that you’re an ‘other’. So while it’s hugely important to have women profiled and women visible on line-ups, I think you want that to become the norm and you want to look at them for their art and their work, not just for their gender and their sexuality.”

Caroline, who started her time at FBi as a volunteer answering phones, believes that there’s still a critical imbalance in female representation in music, even with artists that pull a major amount of fans – and dollars.

“You hear artists like Grimes and Björk and massive, hugely successful artists who are talking about the difficulties that they’ve faced being a woman in electronic music production,” Caroline explains. “Where there’s a kind of technical aspect, people [aren’t] respecting the skills that they have as auteurs.”

And while things may be shifting, there’s still a long way to go.

“I think it’s definitely changing a lot in really positive ways and people are much more aware of women’s representation and that’s kind of the first step! Visibility is a huge thing in changing attitudes and changing the music industry to have people thinking about gender representation when they’re programming line-ups, when they’re putting together the roster for their label, when they’re hiring people for their company – I think you’ve got to be conscious of it and then that’s when you see things starting to change,” Caroline says. “Like the Laneway Festival always has a line-up that’s much more balanced than a lot of others and I think that’s ‘cause they’re thinking about it. Female artists are there when you look for them and want to put them forward.”

Her experiences at FBi have been rooted in this supportive culture – she hasn’t personally experienced setbacks at FBi and the station actively tries to level the musical playing field but, she admits the conversation around equality for women in music is much more at the fore than in the past.

“I think maybe if you go back ten years, it just wasn’t quite as much part of the conversation, you know, when we look at our playlists and we look at the male/female balance, I think that wasn’t as recognised or wasn’t as much of, I guess, as much of a desire to take positive steps to address that,” Caroline explains. “I mean, it certainly was something that no one was happy about. I guess, I’ve seen like, across the industry, attitudes change and people rather than just saying, ‘well that’s just the status quo’, they’re trying to change that.”

And how what does she see as the best way to make a change?

“I think how you develop talent, how you develop hiring practices, how you program things [helps] to make sure that we’re addressing those issues across the industry,” Caroline says. “Force yourself to make a change, and then it will become easier! Do something that has a female-focused call out, [for example]. Simple things like that – make yourself be aware of it and be conscious of it and change your own practices and then it’ll just flow from there and become easier and easier.”


Caroline will be appearing at Vivid Ideas, as part of  MusicNSW Presents: Women in Electronic Music Industry Round Table, along with Future Classic’s Anna Burns and EMC (Electronic Music Conference)’s Jane Slingo. For the full program and to grab your tickets, head to vividsydney.com/ideas



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