Our music festivals have a diversity problem

The past few months of festival lineup announcements have come with the usual intense conversations about which festivals are worth attending, and who should have headlined instead of James. But this year marks a noticeable increase in blogs and social media users questioning the diversity of our lineups – both in terms of gender and genre. If you were on Twitter the day of the TRNSMT reveals, this would have been apparent. This has been a long-running and slow-moving cultural shift, but it’s perhaps been sped up by a recent tweet from Lily Allen, who called out Wireless for only booking three women over the three days.

The latest batch of Summer Sessions acts announced this week only extrapolated the issue for Scottish music fans. So far, Paloma Faith is the only woman booked by the festival.

With TRNSMT now in it for the long haul as T’s replacement, and Electric Fields settling into its new three day weekend, now is as good a time as ever to ask if our festivals our diverse enough.

This is what the figures tell us…


Of the 10 festivals analysed, from the huge TRNSMT to the not-so-huge Stag and Dagger showcase, men make up 64% of the bill. All-female acts make up just 16%. Matters are worse when looking at each festival individually:


The two largest festivals (TRNSMT and Summer Sessions) are also two of the worst performing in terms of gender equality. Both focus on big-name acts that can pull huge crowd. This suggests that no female artists – barring Paloma faith, who is the sole female headliner of any of the big festivals – aren’t deemed able of pulling those same crowds. It’s not clear whether this is the fault of the festivals, the industry as a whole, a wider cultural issue, but our commentators all have their say in our analysis section.

The only festival to have equal representation is Edinburgh’s Hidden Door, which has garnered rave reviews for its showcasing of small talent since launching in 2014.


But how do our festivals do in terms of musical diversity?



[The percentage of acts playing a given festival who have played another Scottish Festival in the last three years.]

The bigger festivals also don’t fair too well when it comes to delivering fresh acts for their audiences.  Though the smaller festivals have quite a reputable score when it comes to keeping the lineup fresh, both TRNSMT and Summer Sessions have been relying on the same acts to keep the festivals afloat. Belladrum, a medium-sized family festival in the Highlands, is almost guaranteed to sell-out regardless of line-up, and this is reflected in its predictable lineups. Hidden Door and Electric Fields, both of which specialise in highlighting up-and-comers, did well here, regardless of what you think of the quality of the bills.


ad4d7b456bbaa320e6be6c5184fc41fc[The uniqueness score is essentially the reciprocal of the average number of UK festivals that will be played by a given festival’s lineup—the more unique the lineup, the higher the score.]

Understandably, Edinburgh Jazz Festival is the most unique of the festivals, with an average of only two-festivals-per-act.

Transmit is the worst offender, with acts playing an average of 4 UK festivals.

But what does all this mean for the current state of UK festivals? A range of musicians, music fans and critics from all areas of the music industry weigh in.


Harry Harris – Folk Singer/Songwriter and freelance journalist


On the selection process
“It’s entirely random and based on chance. Just being told who to send my album to, who to email and what they’re looking for would be helpful.”

On restrictive pay
“If a festival can’t afford to pay all its acts, then it’s not a business, and it doesn’t deserve to exist. You could say that that’s sad, or that I’m being entitled, but this is my job. I can’t afford to play for free anymore. I’m a freelancer, I’m self employed and if I wouldn’t work for free anywhere else, I wouldn’t do it here. New bands will take the free ticket because they think they could use the exposure, and its cool to be able to celebrate being on the bill with your mates. That’s fine, but doing that makes it normal. Even if they offered minimum wage for that half-an-hour set, that’s something. It’s exploitative not to get paid otherwise.”

Zoe Graham – Singer/Songwriter

gLq84OYP_400x400On unsigned acts

“Scotland undoubtedly hosts some of the best festivals in Britain. However, I feel like festivals need to try a bit harder to include unsigned bands or bands without managers. Sometimes, it feels like just applying on their website isn’t nearly enough and the scores of emails you send to festivals are largely ignored.

“A lot of the time it seems you have to know someone who organises the festivals, for a lot of bands that can be very difficult to achieve. “

On Diversity

“I’ll actually be heading to talk this year at Wide Days that talks about exactly this. Festivals aren’t diverse yet, whether we’re talking about gender balance, ethnicity, or just variety. There’s plenty smaller festivals that I feel are doing way better than the big boys, who have a wee bit of work to do. I don’t think we’re too far from diverse festivals!”

Matthew McGoldrick from the Vegan Leather


On promoter politics

“Only occasionally have I encountered negative experiences. One festival we did up in the highlands folded as a company and we didn’t receive our performance fee, leaving us out of pocket due to travel and accommodation costs.

“One festival actually took us off their line-up because we were performing with a rival promotions company. Promoter politics is the worst part about performing sometimes, because at the end of the day it affects the bands and fans more than the promoters.”

On diversity

“I’d say that the bigger festivals seem to stray away from involving genres of music that are not seen as popular as others. You have to travel a little further to go to a festival that has a wide array of different music from different cultures.”

Jill O’ Sullivan from BDY_PRTS:


On the limitations of the festival circuit

“A lot of times when you talk to your friends and you’ll be like, ‘I’m on road, I’m doing this’, and maybe you’d be complaining about something, and you’re friend might be doing a job that they didn’t feel fulfilled in. They’d tell you to quit your winging.”

“But with my bandmade, Jenny, [Reeve], she’d empathise. I could moan to Jenny and she understood what I was saying. She wasn’t like “I don’t wanna hear about it because you get to see Switzerland, and you get to see Italy, and you get to see all of these beautiful places”. Instead she totally knows the reasons.

Touring can be really hard work, but it’s even harder when you don’t feel like you’re getting a fair shake either because you’re a woman or because you make leftfield music. The larger mainstream festival circuit isn’t completely accommodating to both, unfortunately.

Katie Hawthorne – freelance music critic


On Diversity

“We all know that music festivals in general tend to be heavy on the white men, and a quick scan of this summer in Scottish fests suggests the same. I think there’s no excuse for this year’s TRNSMT headliners, honestly – five nights in a row headed by exclusively white, male musicians?

“That’s a statement in itself, if only through carelessness. Even with Electric Fields, which has a much more creative approach to booking, you don’t find a woman on the bill until the third tier of artists. Diversity across intersections, backgrounds and abilities is something everyone should always be working towards, and it’s simplistic to frame diversity in music as ‘men vs. women’, which happens often.

“The quick answer: book fewer men, and book more people of colour. Nuture exciting local bands, so that we have a new generation of great future headliners. Trust your audience to want diversity AND great music, and fiercely defend the fact that these two things are *obviously* compatible.”


LP Records Owner Lorenzo Penni


On diversity and predictability

“The death of T in The Park should have been a massive wake up call, but TRNSMT replacing it has already booked the same old irrelevant white male soft-rock nonsense for the most part, and completely ignored women and people of colour.

“It’s depressing to be having these conversations year after year, particularly with this chance for a fresh start. The people in these positions of power and taste-making influence need to do better, but they seem to be wilfully ignorant about their responsibility and the damage it does to the culture.

“On the plus side, I think the smaller promoters do an amazing job here, and the more people that get involved with that and try and bring their group’s favourites acts to the city the better. We’re thriving on that front and only getting better.”

Producer and performer Wuh Oh



“I’ve not played too many festivals yet, but the smaller ones have been very accommodating. The main worry I have is that difference and  risk-taking isn’t going to be appreciated as much as artistry the further up the industry ladder you go. This is nothing new, of course, but it’s a very real worry when a good amount of bands rely on the gig circuit for their livelihoods.”


[All research and interviews conducted by Stephen Butchard. It should be noted that TRNSMT, Summer Sessions and Eden Festival are all due to announce more acts, which could slightly even out the gender disparity, and improve uniqueness rankings]


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