top of page

The podcast discussing gender inequality in folk music

Join Elisabeth Flett talk about gender and folk music with… Elisabeth Flett – this could get slightly meta

By Elisabeth Flett

Elisabeth Flett is the host of 15 Minutes With, the quickfire podcast about women in folk music. She sits down with… Elisabeth Flett (yes, that is the same person) for a quick chat about the project and about the issues surrounding gender equality in folk music in general. This could get slightly meta... listen along!

Hi, Elisabeth. Could you start off by explaining the premise of 15 Minutes With? Why does the world need yet another podcast?

Hi. So, the idea of 15 Minutes With popped into my head last March after I went along to a talk at King’s Place about the experiences of womxn in the UK folk music industry. The talk was a panel event that was part of Rachel Newton’s Trad. Reclaimed: Women in Folk festival, and as the conversation progressed it was really shocking to me how many issues were being experienced on a regular basis by all the womxn on this panel. Everything from misogynistic harassment from audiences and event hosts to being refused a private place to breastfeed at venues seemed to be happening across the scene, so often that there was almost a sense of tired resignation about these issues.

As a female folk musician myself, I had thought that I had a fairly good grasp on the level of gender inequality happening in the folk music industry. I was wrong. After that event I realised that my own personal experiences of micro-aggressions, the occasional leery-eyed older man, and patronising behaviour (I’d wager every all-female band has gritted their teeth through countless onstage introductions including some variation of that condescending phrase: “and now for some lovely music from the girls!”) barely scratched the surface of what other womxn were experiencing. I decided to create a way for female and non-binary voices to be heard. And what better way to share those stories through that most iconically ‘male artist’ of mediums... the podcast? In a tongue-in-cheek subversive take on the seemingly endless podcasts out there where (usually male) hosts talk… and talk… and talk… for often an hour or more, I decided to include a literal timer in the premise of the show. The use of that timer, set to 15 minutes, and a list of pre-determined questions would ensure that my role of host would be limited to someone who enabled other voices to be heard, rather than the podcast turning into a Elisabeth Flett vanity project.

Says the womxn currently having an interview with herself.


Courtesy of Elisabeth Flett

Give me some cold, hard facts. What are statistics saying when it comes to gender inequality in the UK music industry?

Rachel Newton, the founder of Trad. Reclaimed and member of The Shee, a critically acclaimed all-female folk band who were once told by a festival organiser that they “already had their ‘girl band’ for that year so wouldn’t be booking another,” is one of the strongest voices in this current discussion about gender inequality in the UK folk music scene. Newton pointed out on social media that nominees for the 2016 Scots Trad Music Awards Live Acts Category were almost exclusively all-male bands. As Kate Mollesden points out in her 2017 online article On Scottishness, folk music and gender balance, that of the six acts on that shortlist, only Blazin’ Fiddles included womxn — making the grand total of nominated womxn an astounding three… against 36 men.

This all-male focus is an issue that hasn’t improved over the last three years. In 2018 a BBC Reality Check survey found that out of the 756 acts that performed across the nine main 2018 UK music festivals, a whopping 77% were all-male, with another 9% being groups with more male than female members.

This imbalance isn’t just in the UK music industry. A 2018 USC Annenberg Association study on popular music showed that 98% of music industry producers and 97% of music industry engineers and mixers are men. Here in Britain, that statistic is slightly better (according to an 2018 Guardian article 5% of sound engineers are women), but the inequality is still clear. Inequality, in fact, seems practically inevitable: when industry meeting rooms are predominantly male, festival bookers are predominantly male. And when festival bookers are predominantly male, unfortunately, festival headliner line-ups are predominantly male. The proverbial glass ceiling stopping all-female bands from becoming successful is very much intact, and unlikely to shatter any time soon.

That’s pretty grim. Is this sorry state of affairs likely to change?

Soon? No. But the wheels of progress are slowly turning. The Recording Academy’s ‘Women in the Mix’, the ‘ReBalance’ scheme, and the PRS KeyChange 50:50 initiative are examples of the industry trying to create change in this traditionally male career path. KeyChange 50:50 in particular has real potential: festivals signing up to the scheme promise to achieve a 50% all-female line-up by 2022. However, in the words of Dazed magazine: “It’s a positive step, but is it enough?” Even when the band onstage is all-female, the engineers, managers. and producers backstage are likely to still be mostly male.

All is not lost. Whilst the music industry itself will take a long time to reach gender equality – some statistics suggest 70 years, in fact – female artists themselves are taking progress into their own hands. Female-run events such as Diva Magazine’s HearHer 2019 music festival, the aforementioned Trad. Reclaimed festival, and projects such as the HEARD Collective, a London-based all-female collective that is both a band and a support network for womxn in the arts – and a project in which I am personally involved – are helping usher in a more gender-equal music scene for the 2020s. But we also need your help! Supporting female artists doesn’t need to look like organising a whole all-womxn festival: going to our gigs, paying for our music, sharing articles, and encouraging discussion about the issue all helps this gender inequality be addressed and, ultimately, tackled.

”Whilst the music industry itself will take a long time to reach gender equality – some statistics suggest 70 years, in fact – female artists themselves are taking progress into their own hands”

Okay, that’s a suitably optimistic point to start wrapping up this interview. One last thing – I believe you’re now going to shamelessly ask the readers for money?

Well, as a self-respecting Scottish person, I find asking for money mortifying, but yes, since you’ve brought it up… 15 Minutes With currently has a live Kickstarter Campaign to help fund a Season 2 over on Soundcloud. Soundcloud only allows artists to post for free up to a certain amount of minutes, and after one season of 15 Minutes With that ’allowance’ of free time is all used up! I want to continue posting the podcast episodes onto Soundcloud – as opposed to a different streaming service that would require folk to pay to listen to the podcast – and that means I need help raising £100 for a Soundcloud Pro membership. Soundcloud Pro means that I would be able to post unlimited content on the channel for a whole year, allowing the podcast to continue for its second season. We already have a great guest line-up for S2, including Joanna Stark, Robin Gage, and Ainsley Hamil, and I’m excited to share these new episodes with you all!

All right, that’s enough self-marketing. Where can I find out more about the podcast?

You can follow the Podcast on Soundcloud and Twitter. S2 will hopefully be coming in late 2019! I’ll be posting links to social media platforms and the Kickstarter campaign at the end of this article so you can check out everything over there.

Elisabeth Flett, it’s been…well, it’s been bizarre. This whole split-personality thing is going to have me confused for the rest of the day. Goodbye from both of us, I guess…?

Bye. Thanks for reading!

bottom of page