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Supporting Women Means “Change for the Industry as a Whole”

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Supporting Women Means “Change for the Industry as a Whole”

Iceland airwaves talks

Photo: Keychange/Facebook.

Keychange, an exciting new project led by by PRS Foundation (UK), partnered with Iceland Airwaves to host a panel discussion on Friday. The discussion focused on the importance of supportive networks for women in music.

Keychange is supported by the Creative Europe program of the European Union, and celebrates and invests in the talent of female music creators and innovators. Just one of the project’s fantastic initiatives has been to partner with festivals in Europe and Canada to promote gender balance in their line-ups.

The panel discussion was held at Bíó Paradís and hosted by PRS Foundation CEO Vanessa Reed. She was joined by Guðrún Björk Bjarnadóttir (General Manager of STEF, the Icelandic royalty collection society), Melkorka Magnusdottir (member of pop duo Milkywhale, Keychange participant and music creator), Thea Lillepalu (Keychange participant and innovator from Estonia), and Colm O'Herlihy (label manager for Bedroom Community).

Vanessa Reed started off the event by expressing admiration for the high level of gender equality in many aspects of Icelandic society and a desire to learn from the country’s successes. She stated her strong belief that “music is more interesting when it’s pulling from different sources,” and that supporting female music creators and innovators would be a good thing for the music industry as well as a smart business move. She pointed out that although the landscape of the music industry has completely transformed in recent years, the workforce still has not – and that is precisely where the work of Keychange comes in.

The participants all agreed on the importance of networks like Keychange. Melkorka (Milkywhale) stated “we need dialogue, not monologue to bring out ideas forward.” Panellists pointed out the importance of change in many areas, such as more diversity among music critics and broadcasting, asand not only among performers. Thea pointed out that sometimes change can happen faster in smaller countries like Iceland or her native Estonia, which can then lead others by example.

Guðrún was not so quick to accept Vanessa’s praises of Iceland, saying although the country has “come pretty far… when it comes to gender,” the Icelandic music industry still has not. STEF distributes only 9 percent of its income through royalties to women, who make up only 18 percent of its members. When she joined the organization there were no statistics on women and in 2011 they still had an all-male board. Guðrún also praised KÍTÓN, the Icelandic organization for women in music, which has made a huge impact in the Icelandic music industry since its foundation only four years ago.

The panellists did not, however, always agree on the causes of gender imbalance in the industry or the best solutions. In response to an audience question about the underrepresentation of women in sound engineering, Thea suggested it may be due to the job’s “long hours”. Guðrún was quick to point out that many jobs typically associated with women, such as nursing, also have long hours, and that the reasons women are underrepresented are in fact much more complex.

The general atmosphere at the talk was optimistic and supportive. When the floor was opened to questions from the audience, many asked how they could get involved or shared their own struggles and success stories as women in music. When asked about how Keychange hopes to involve men in their work, Vanessa responded that she strongly believes in including men, and that the organization works for “change for the industry as a whole”.

The chat was followed by an informal gathering over beer and vegan sushi, kicked off by a short address from President of Iceland Guðni Th. Jóhannesson. The President joked that although he was “white, male, and middle aged,” he wanted to do everything possible to support women in music, citing Björk and Vigdís Finnbogadóttir as Icelandic women to be inspired by. The address was followed by a short performance by Hildur, whose rocking pink outfit and hit anthem “I’ll Walk With You” perfectly embodied the solidarity and optimism of the event.

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