The Keychange Movement

By Emma Zillman (From The Fields) and Emily Pilbeam (BBC Music Introducing)


Keychange is a pioneering international movement which empowers women to transform the future of music whilst encouraging festivals to achieve a 50:50 gender balance by 2022.

We hear from Emma Zillman (From The Fields) and Emily Pilbeam (BBC Music Introducing) regarding their thoughts on the importance of such an initiative.


How important is it to display a balanced gender split on a festival line-up?

Emma Zillman (EZ): I believe that a festival’s line-up of entertainers (across arts, culture and music) should at least be representative of the audience attending that event, which isn’t currently happening in the commercial music festival industry.

It’s really important for this to change for many reasons including promoting inclusivity, opening the minds of audiences, and inspiring future generations of performers amongst others.

But I think it’s a wider issue about diversity at music festivals, that isn’t just limited to gender.

Emily Pilbeam (EP): It’s really important to try to get as balanced a gender split as possible. Well, it’s important to get a balance of everything... gender,  genre,  ethnicities.  Particularly  at the BBC, it is important to be as representative of our community as possible. We need to be making sure that everyone feels represented and feels connected to the music community. It’s such an important way of pushing for change to happen, although not the only way.


Is it easy to ensure a 50/50 gender split while maintaining great music programming?

EZ: There are plenty of amazing female artists out there, but the question is really about whether you can book the best bands for your budget… and the short answer is no! One of the reasons is that there are generally more male performers available at a higher level, which ultimately makes them better value than their female counterparts as there’s more competition in the market. I should point out that this isn’t the same across the board. It’s quite genre- specific as well. A folk or pop festival will have a much easier time finding suitable female artists than a metal or EDM based festival will.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom as I’ve found that  it is getting easier, slowly. The conversation on gender diversity has become an everyday topic; which in turn means that there’s more focus on it, and more constructive and supportive initiatives to combat the issue are being implemented as a result.

EP: On both of the shows I work on (Monday Night Mixtape and BBC Music Introducing in West Yorkshire)    it is fairly easy to aim for a 50/50 gender split. I think in Leeds and West Yorkshire we’re really lucky to have a lot of organisations that push for representation at gigs and events. You  just have to have a quick look at Girl Gang    to see all of the amazing events they’re doing to ensure that women and people of marginalised genders can feel empowered to get involved in things. >>


What support does a festival need to help generate a fair gender split across its stages?

EZ: Actually the support doesn’t really need to come to the festival directly. Change needs to start much earlier in an artist’s career – way before they play on a festival stage…

As a festival we want to book the most popular acts for our audience within budget. If the most popular acts (based on a variety of things but mainly ticket sales, as well as record sales, streaming numbers, critical acclaim etc.) are all male, then it makes it very hard to take risks away from that. Perhaps major record companies have the most sway to influence popularity with their marketing budgets, but ultimately it is the consumer who will dictate the change needed for festivals. Having said that, the best thing you can give festivals at the moment to address this issue is some time. Wheels are being put in motion at the lower levels now to try and enforce some positive change, but it will take a few years to get there. We’re trying to rectify years upon years of prejudice and discrimination here!


Are there any obvious roots to the problem we have seen with lack of female headliners?

EP: A lot of women talk to me about wanting to get in to the music industry, or wanting to start a band but lack the confidence. This whole issue of a lack of female headliners is part of a deeper problem within the patriarchy where men and women are led to believe they can only do certain things or certain jobs. Obviously a big part of the problem is that the vast majority of people at the top of the music industry are men, and I’m not about to tar all men with the same brush, but it has been proven that managers tend to hire people that remind them of themselves. I imagine there’s a similar link with labels and the bands they work with.

EZ: I’d say that the problem can be traced back to the lack of female artists breaking through and going on to sustain career longevity in the industry as it currently stands.

This is due to a few problems really. If, at the beginning of a career, a female artist experiences (for example) sexual harassment, a lack of role models, difficulty in getting their voice heard or being taken seriously as a musician, not to mention being asked to exploit their sexuality for promotional purposes, is it any wonder that many women may decide that a career in music isn’t for them? These are all discriminatory practices that can, and should, be wiped out. That would make a big difference!


Do you think there has been a negative impact on young female artists and writers seeing mainly male line-ups across festivals?

EP: I think it can be discouraging not seeing someone like yourself headlining a major festival, but I think something like that can affect people in different ways. It can either spur you on to change things, or it can put you off doing something that you love.


What is a movement like Keychange providing for the live music industry?

EZ: Keychange is great. Our involvement with their initiative is really just at the endpoint of providing the festival line- up data, but I know they’re working tirelessly behind those scenes not just to balance festival line-ups, but also to empower women in the industry. They give a platform to those who might not otherwise have had one.

It’s hugely helpful to us to have a goal to aim for (having  a 50/50 gender balance on the line-up by 2022).  The most important thing is that bookers are actively thinking about this issue and doing what they can to affect change where it's needed. Keychange provides an international framework to bring festivals together with a singular aim, and I don't see how that can be a bad thing. I also think it’s important for the festivals not to be penalised if we can’t get there – Keychange realise that there are a lot of factors to take into account with programming line-ups. It’s a pledge to do better.


What changes have you seen since the active push to get more female (and other underrepresented groups) artists involved in live music?

EP: I’ve noticed a lot more events that focus on promoting underrepresented groups, and it’s been really inspiring to watch. I sometimes worry that events aimed at a specific gender or underrepresented group could invoke division, but overall I think it’s positive.

EZ: It’s been really positive I think, there are more groups and active campaigners/supporters for female-created music and female workers in the industry than ever before. The supportive and collaborative nature of groups like She Said So and NOWIE (Network of Women in Events) and festivals like WOW (Women of the World) are invaluable tools for empowering women and ensuring we’re all moving towards a more balanced future. On a more cynical note I definitely feel there’s some opportunists out there and I’ve occasionally noticed that some of those higher level female artists might have disproportionately higher fees – but this is a direct result of the competition being so high because there are not enough of them. And I’m hopeful to continue to see a change there.

What do you think the future of music looks like with the support of such initiatives as Keychange?

EZ: The future will show much more balance thanks to Keychange. The more female and underrepresented groups artists who are supported from the start of their careers, the more evenly balanced the pool of available and suitable artists will be at the top.

As for the future of music, I don’t think I have enough room here to go into that!

Emma Zillman

Programming Director, From The Fields (Kendal Calling, Bluedot, Off The Record)


Emily Pilbeam

Team Assistant, BBC Music Introducing

(West Yorkshire, North Yorkshire and Humberside)

To learn more about Keychange, its manifesto and those involved, visit

By Emma Zillman (From The Fields) and Emily Pilbeam (BBC Music Introducing)

Ahead of graduating @tashadmusouk is making their professional debut in Vernons Girls at @RoyalCourtLiv from 9 June…
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