Reflections on Keychange – One Year On from its Founder, Vanessa Reed, CEO of PRS Foundation

I started to explore the idea of a European talent development programme for female artists back in 2014 when we were evaluating our own Women Make Music fund at PRS Foundation. We established this UK initiative for female composers and songwriters when the debate about music’s gender gap was mainly under the radar and people were only just beginning to talk openly about how unbalanced things were – 13% of registered songwriters and composers in the UK were female at the time.

Conversations about our experience with Directors of festivals, development agencies and collecting societies across Europe and in Canada revealed a common theme – that low representation of women in music was a huge concern but no-one seemed to be doing anything significant that would bring together artists and industry professionals from across Europe to influence widespread industry and policy change.

Keychange is the result of those conversations: a talent development programme which promotes and invests in women from across Europe who could be contributing to the music industry’s future; a collaborative international network which grew its ambition to have impact not just on the sixty female artists and innovators who were selected to take part, but on the success of the industry as a whole and on opportunities for future generations.

An important watershed moment in the first year of our programme was the realisation that we couldn’t be credible backers of female artists and industry pros unless we were prepared to make a statement about our own structures’ potential to accommodate a more balanced workforce in the future. That’s why our founding festival partners (led by Alex Schulz at Reeperbahn Festival) set themselves the goal of reaching a 50-50 gender balance on their stages and conference panels by 2022. This announcement was important in other ways – 6 of our 7 founding festivals are led by men and I’ve always believed that in a male dominated industry their buy-in and example-setting is crucial if we want to achieve tangible and lasting change.

“As we approach the end of the year, over 150 festivals have set themselves the 50-50 goal and millions of Euros worth of press coverage has been generated to raise awareness and stimulate a debate in mainstream and industry media”

The Keychange pledge took off in ways we hadn’t envisaged. As we began to discuss it publicly at industry events in Europe and North America people approached us about how they could get involved. By February, we celebrated Keychange at Canada’s High Commission in London and 45 festivals had become signatories. Now, as we approach the end of the year, over 150 festivals have set themselves the 50-50 goal and millions of Euros worth of press coverage has been generated to raise awareness and stimulate a debate in mainstream and industry media.

So what have we learnt from this 12-month roller coaster of a project? The most positive things I’ve been struck by are the urgency for change amongst the next generation of men and women, the importance of this debate in countries with the greatest inequalities and the pace at which we’ve moved from discussing the problem to proposing practical solutions. Our presentation of the Keychange Manifesto at European Parliament last month is just one example of these practical steps which is already generating results. European Commission representatives confirmed at this event that assessment criteria for the Commission’s next round of funding will incorporate gender thanks to Keychange’s influence. Representatives of membership bodies who attended the event expressed their interest in the pledge as a broader industry kite-mark, which could work beyond its current focus on festivals.

“Diverse teams and programmes will ultimately make the industry more relevant and resilient”

Of course, at the many discussions we’ve presented over the past year we’ve also confronted resistance – “What about quality? What’s in it for me? It’s not possible to reach a gender balance. We don’t know where to find women who are right for our panels or stages and we don’t agree with targets…” Thankfully, our Keychange network of exceptional artists and innovators along with female participants from other national grass roots movements represent a tangible challenge to these beliefs. That diverse teams and programmes will ultimately make the industry more relevant and resilient is another response we know to be true from expert analysis of other sectors. And why not be open about where we are now and where we want to be in the near future? That’s all a voluntary target implies. It increases the chance of us being able to drive change and it helps us monitor what works and what doesn’t along the way.

The question of where to go next with this crucial international movement is complicated for an EU funded project led by a UK based organisation. Brexit’s threat to European artists’ freedom of movement across borders and the importance of UK’s ongoing involvement in the EU’s cultural and education programmes is a real concern that we and other creative industry leaders are discussing with UK Government. In spite of this, I’m convinced that the power of shared beliefs, peer-to-peer exchange and the collaborative nature of music-making in itself will propel Keychange and the appeal of its goals through the next few years. The industry’s need for innovation, fresh perspectives, new business models and networks will also make Keychange and other movements like it an essential contributor to the industry’s future sustainability.

As for our longer term goal, this has to be about reaching a point when initiatives like Keychange aren’t needed anymore. A point in time when people, regardless of their identity, can talk about their work before their gender. I can see why “Women in music” fatigue is already apparent at some industry conferences. However, we mustn’t lose the energy and determination that has been driving those debates at this crucial moment in the history of female empowerment and recognition. Let’s channel it instead into other pragmatic steps that will build on the unprecedented momentum for change triggered by #metoo #timesup and millennial values.

We finally have a chance to make the next century of music a better and more varied experience for everyone. We can’t miss this opportunity.

– Vanessa Reed, CEO of PRS Foundation & Keychange Founder