The London live events industry for women: Band guys and cable ties

Words: Kiera Chapman | Subbing: Bernadette Galbraith

Not every 21-year-old can work a high vis – nor can they say they’ve worked with some of the most exciting talent 2017’s music scene has to offer.

From Nothing But Thieves, to Fickle Friends and Declan Mckenna, Joanna Chidgey has witnessed them all, radio at the ready.

Having graduated from Buckinghamshire New University with a degree in Music and Live Events management, Joanna has blossomed from pupil to professional. She now goes by the official title of Events and Promotion Assistant and yes, a badge does come with that.

She kindly invites me in from a piercing November chill into her cosy home on the outskirts of London, and I am quick to ask her if she can recall her CV off by heart.

“Reading Festival, Barn On The Farm, 110 Above, Truck, Download, Creamfields, The Roundhouse… I’m sure I’m missing one. What else did I do this summer? What else? Oh! 2000 Trees!” She gasps and beams momentarily as though she’s actually recognising her self-worth.

110 Above Festival by Kiera Chapman

“I absolutely LOVE my job,” she cries as she plumps a furry crimson throw; we sit down. “The best thing about it is being able to watch reactions unfold of something you’ve helped make happen. The main aim is for everyone to be happy and safe, and when they are, you can watch a gig just ‘happen’, knowing you’re a part of its success.”

Unfortunately, not everything goes to plan sometimes. Joanna recognises that it can’t be helped; that it’s never entirely her fault. “We put loads of effort in, so of course it’s disheartening when things don’t pan out the way you hope.”

The main reason I’m in nestled in the corner of her front room is not to spy and plot how to steal her flat mates fancy pizza board from afar – Jamie Oliver, FYI – but to discuss what it’s like to thrive in an industry run by men.

Researchers from the Trades Union Congress and the Everyday Sexism Project found in 2015 survey that 52% of women had experienced unwanted behaviour at work. This included groping, sexual advances as well as inappropriate jokes.

The media is currently soaked in a sudden surge of women making their voices heard in regards to being mistreated by men within the entertainment industry: Typically, men abusing their roles and power. So I’m keen to hear whether Joanna has been subjected to any forms of sexism and if so, how does she champion it?

As it is so rife, the subject is sensitive, yet when I pry she chirps and claps her hands together in the air. She clips her words with a sarcastic twang. “Why yes I do [experience sexism] because I am female!”

She chuckles then sternly says: “but I don’t experience it from anyone I work with at the moment because we have mutual respect. I experience sexism mainly from artists, during public appearances as well as tour managers.” She pauses, “I don’t know if this is sexism or not but bands will shake the hands of my male colleagues, then go to kiss me on the cheek. I don’t know why but it makes me feel uncomfortable. Why are they treating me differently to them?”  

I offer the thought that perhaps they’re just being polite, but it’s definitely weird if they linger.

“Band members will hit on me. They’ll be like ‘I’ll buy you a drink’ when I’m on the job. Can’t they see I’m working?” She now gives me a hard stare as though I’ve just offered to buy her a tequila with a slice of lime. “Stop trying to diminish my role. I’m not just there for you to hit on. I’m trying to get important information out of you; I’m doing my job.”

Car Park Lark by Kiera Chapman

From what I can gauge, Joanna doesn’t believe that her gender limits her. It makes things tricky by presenting situations that a male wouldn’t have to typically face.

“That’s very well put,” she brushes a lost strand of hair away from her cheek. “Especially with some acts, if they’re already drunk when they turn up, I feel like they’re more likely to do what a man says. They’ll be more likely to listen to what one of my male colleagues says.”

I wonder whether situations like these put women off working in the live events industry – especially in London. The music scene is fierce; feisty. It takes a lot of self belief and strength to champion as man, let alone a woman. Gender shouldn’t matter, yet it does. It’s the hard truth reflective of a society that’s still coming to terms with the concept of velvet suits and acai bowls.

“I think women can be put off, especially with fandoms and the groupie culture,” Joanna confesses. “These paint women in a bad light. For me personally, I want people to know that I can do my job and still like the band that I’m working with’s music at the same time.”

“I’ve had it before at festivals, having a conversation  with a band about their music and expressing an interest in it, and for them to turn round and ask for more beer, thinking I’ll get it because ‘I’m a fan.’ Like, what? No? If the main event organiser was there, they wouldn’t ask them.”

According to the World Data Bank, women represent just under half (46% in 2014) of the total labour force in the UK – this is a figure that is echoed by the live events industry. However, it’s changing.

Whilst it is an industry mainly run by men – similar to film and theatre – since generations X and Z have been discussing social topics more openly and fluidly, gender stigmas and stereotypes attached to job roles have been become more and more irrelevant.

Joanna slumps back, subtly satisfied, as a squark from a gang of said X’s slips through the window. “Weirdly, a lot of festivals I’ve worked at there’s been a lot of us around the same age and there’s a lot more of women. I was in a class of 24 at university and only 5 of us were men. I’ve had comments from artists at festivals about how it’s nice seeing lots of women do it. There’s nothing wrong with men having these high roles, I’ve worked with some great men. It’s just about respecting them and those around them.”

Mellow Yellow by Kiera Chapman

Her front door starts to rattle with a fumble of an excitable key – her flatmate is returning home, with company.

Whilst now she gives me a dart of baby eyed delight, knowing that she’ll be able to introduce my painfully anxious self to more strangers, Joanna is mature. She is passionate and she clearly doesn’t let gender defy her, or withhold her from doing what she loves.

Take every opportunity you can, even if you aren’t looking forward to it,” she advices those seeking success in an industry she’s subconsciously dominating. “I would stick with it because it’s worth it in the end. It’s crazy how small the industry is, you make loads of contacts. I was talking to a tour manager earlier this week and he was at Barn On The Farm when I was there. He said it was like three degrees of separation. I’m pretty sure he said three,” she pauses,”but isn’t it normally six?”

I reassure her we’ll Google it, as the front door swings open.

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