‘I was told men are just better at music’: Vick Bain talks The F-List and the fight for industry equality

Music industry diversity campaigner and former BASCA British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors) CEO Vick Bain has spoken to Audio Media International editor Daniel Gumble about the launch of her incredible new initiative The F-List, a vast and rapidly growing directory of women musicians, composers and producers aimed at creating a more gender inclusive industry.

Launched in November, the F-List is a comprehensive resource containing the latest information on over 4,500 musicians, 1,000 bands and 300 labels and publishers with women on their rosters, spanning all musical genres. Any musician, songwriter or composer is eligible to join if they are female (The F-List is also trans and gender minority inclusive). UK record labels and publishers can also apply if they have female artists on their rosters.

The F-List was initially published in February 2020 as a Google spreadsheet and has evolved into to a fully functional and searchable website that makes it easier for promoters and commissioners to find female talent.

Following its official launch in November, Grammy Award-winning artist Anoushka Shankar was announced as the F-List’s inaugural president, having played a pivotal role in generating awareness and support for the cause.

Here, Bain tells AMI about the shocking findings that led her to begin work on the F-List, the overwhelming response it has received and her ambitions to create a more diverse industry…

Congratulations on this brilliant campaign. Tell us what inspired you to begin work on it and how it came to fruition.
It came about through a big research project I did last year called Counting The Music Industry. I embarked on a mission to conduct a gender audit of UK record label and publishing rosters. The origins of that were from my time working at what was then called BASCA, where I was CEO for six years. I had looked at the percentage of women who had won awards there over 60 years and it was only six per cent, and that had only gone up to 10 per cent since 2010. So I had conversations with the directors and the team who ran the event and asked why it was so low. They said it was because the number of works by women submitted by publishers was so low.

Then I started looking at the rosters of the publishing companies. I spent four months doing this audit, looked at over 300 labels and publishers, something like 30,000 musicians, and found that only 14 per cent of those signed to publishers were women and that 20 per cent of musicians signed to labels were women.

I published the report last year and realised I could extract the names of all the female musicians and writers and put them online. Then, in January when the 2020 Reading and Leeds festival line-up was announced – before the world changed, of course – we once again saw this annual outrage at how few women were on those posters. People on Twitter were saying ‘I know a great female artist’ and giving one or two names, and I thought, I’ve got thousands of names! I’m just going to publish them on a spreadsheet. I did that at the end of February and that was the start of the project.

There are some shocking figures there. Was there anything in particular that surprised you in your findings?
Yes, the number of musicians. These were all current rosters, so I thought it would be at least one third, so to find out it was a fifth was quite shocking. There were lots of genre differences as well. Classical and folk music had the best representation of female musicians – classical was just over 30 per cent, and I think a lot of that is due to opera. But looking at genres like heavy metal, drum and bass, grime, they were around five per cent. I just thought, where are the women in these genres? And what do the women in them think about this?

I showed my initial research to various people I know who work at labels and in publishing and the feedback I got was quite interesting. I was told by one person ‘men are just better at music than women’, which is obviously really antiquated but was actually said to my face. Then I was told more men are interested in music than women and that this is reflected in the number of people who study music in education. So, I approached a government body called the Higher Education Statistics Authority and they gave me five years’ worth of data regarding those who had studied a music related degree between 2013 and 2018 – that’s 125,00 people. I found 44 per cent of those studying music over that period were women, with the number slightly increasing every year. That showed to me that virtually just as many women are interested in music as men, and that as they are doing degrees they are presumably pretty good at it! So, it demolished those things that had been said to me. The fact people still have those attitudes in the industry is a worry. We have to really challenge those attitudes, as they are obviously very deep-rooted.

As you mentioned, the Reading and Leeds festival line-up caused outrage once again even before to the 2021 line-up announcement, which features double the number (six) of Main Stage headline slots compared to previous years, yet still there are no women represented. Do you feel this is a deliberate stance from the organisers not to bow to some perceived pressure to diversify the line-up?
Maybe it is. It surely can’t be unconscious anymore because there has been so much campaigning and discussion in the public arena about this. And we look at the Grammys and all six nominees for the Rock Album category are all women. The talent in indie rock music is clearly out there, so if you’re not booking that talent it is a deliberate choice. It’s misogyny. The F-List shows just how many women there are in indie rock out there.

On the latest version of the website you can search for musicians and different gernes, different instruments, regions, and there are nearly 5,000 entries, and it’s only been launched for a few days. It’s like a Wiki. Every day, people are going to go on and add richer information so it will become more and more useful for event promoters. Event promoters are not going to be able to say ‘well, we asked them all’!

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What the response been like from festivals in general?
After I published the first spreadsheet I was contacted by numerous festivals in all genres who wanted to do better, who wanted to find more women to put on their stages. I had great conversations with people saying they would use the F-List to find new talent. But then a week later everything was shut down due to the pandemic, so I hope that next year a lot of these festivals – if they are able to go ahead – use the list. We are working with the Association of Independent Festivals, Independent Venue Week and a number of other festivals and promoters to encourage everybody to use the list.

How does the list work? How do you register and how do you seek out talent?
For people searching for musicians, there is a menu where you can search by name of artist, band or label; they can search for different categories, such us producers, composers, musicians; and they can search by genre, instrument or region. But if you are a musician, there is a create listing button where you just fill in a form. You can also embed links to your work. Once submitted, I check every application just to ensure that there are no bots and that everyone is a real musician. I authorise it and it’s done. There have been hundreds and hundreds of applications in the first few days, which is really exciting. Every time I refresh the page there is a whole bunch of new female artists, so I’m really thrilled.

What have you made of the response to the launch of the F-List?
It’s been one of the best things I’ve ever had in my professional career. It’s been a labour of love, it’s voluntary and it’s the result of hundreds and hundreds of hours of work, so to see it fly is amazing. Getting the support of Anoushka Shankar as president really helped me secure the attention we’ve had from people like the BBC. And we had Caitlin Moran tweeting about it, which was incredible!

We’ve had amazing support on social media support from a fantastic woman called Lisa Connolly who has been helping me for months to prepare the social media campaign and official announcement. We have 70 social media ambassadors and she’s been helping me coordinate all of them. The result has been hundreds and hundreds of women signing up, lots of companies getting in touch to see how they can support, so next year as we move into reopening I really think that more women will get booked and get professional work because of the F-List. That is my goal.

Tell us about Anoushka Shankar’s appointment as president. How did she become involved in the project?
When I first published the original spreadsheet earlier this year she started tweeting about it and saying positive things, and asking to be on it. She stayed in touch via Twitter over the year and wanted to know what she could do to help. Over the summer, I thought ‘this can’t just be a list’. I wanted to do more, so I put together a board of 12 other women from all across the music industry so that when I went to Anoushka I had something serious she could get behind, not just a list but a really useful directory. And we are now going to start running various projects and collaborations to ensure that female musicians get more profile and professional opportunities. Anoushka really saw something in that and wanted to use her incredible profile to help get the word out. She’s been fantastic.

What’s in store for the remainder of the year and 2021? Any partnerships projects you can tell us about?
We have lots of initiatives in the pipeline that I can’t talk about just yet ,but will be announced in the coming weeks and months. There’s lots to do. When our festival stages are 50-50 I will say my work is done.

Visit The F-List at https://thef-list.uk