Have Festival Brands Made Good on Promises of Diversity and Inclusion?
“I’m so sick of arguing with people about putting queer POC talent at the forefront of this industry when we’re the whole reason why it exists. I can name so many people off the top of my head who deserve to have their moment at these huge stages. Let’s work to make it happen.” tweeted Moore Kismet, after Insomniac’s EDC Las Vegas lineup began circulating on social media earlier this month, with only a few weeks left until the event.
They’re not alone in speaking out this month about the continued lack of diversity visible in festival lineups this year.
NLV Records label founder and music producer, Nina Las Vegas shared a similar sentiment, noting she had never been asked to play despite being a major international dance music act.
Out of the 264 artists playing the EDC event later this month, only 20 are women, and 63 artists—around 20 percent—are people of color: 23 are Asian, 23 are Latino, 16 are Black, and one is Native American.
This information first came to light via Twitter user @TokenOfTheMonth. His visual aid makes a striking argument. He's done this for several other dance music festival lineups including Lost Lands in an effort to help people understand how large the disparity is.
“You’d think after everything, people would make more of an effort, but they still don’t want to go out of their way to find new talent because they don’t want to damage their existing relationships with people,” said Staley Sharples, Press Manager at Listen Up—a UK and Los Angeles-based promotional company, whose clients include Aya Nakamura, Princess Nokia, Jamie Jones, Gallant, and The Martinez Brothers.
EDC is one of 16 festivals that dance music promoter Insomniac hosts—Electric Forest, Nocturnal Wonderland, Beyond Wonderland, Escape, and Countdown are only a few of its events whose lineups have caused a stir for the disparity seen in inclusion and diversity.
The juggernaut event promotion company has a tight grip on the music industry, especially in the live event sphere. It hosts shows globally in the UK, South America, and Mexico annually. They own various nightclubs including Exchange in Los Angele and Echostage in Washington DC. They also run a record label group that boasts a GRAMMY nomination for Fisher’s “Losing It”
“When you have monopolistic promotion companies running things and being able to dictate intense radius clauses and such, it makes it so much harder to challenge that,” said Sharples.
A radius clause is a form of non-compete clause used in the live music industry in which a tour promoter may impose on a performer a form of territorial exclusivity that ensures that an artist or act will not book events with competing promoters and venues within a certain distance of the city where they are performing. Promoters argue it negatively affects their ticket sales.
Promoters and agents in favor of the clause say their intention is to protect the organizers’ production and event promotion investments and will often emphasize the expanded exposure that a festival performance may provide. Critics argue that the clauses are influenced by a profit-oriented mentality in the live events industry and it discourages performers from playing in smaller cities. And thus, we will continue to see the same major artists who locked down contracts in the last year or so continue to play at large events while rising artists and underrepresented artists must continue to wait to be offered a chance to headline.
“People keep getting booked for these things because they’re all friends with each other, and the people that are making the most money don’t want to lose any power,” said Sharples.
Still, after a year and a half of civil unrest, protests, a global pandemic, and no live events, women, and artists of color continue to face adversity when it comes to gaining public recognition and booking events.Jess Stadler, an LA-Based artist manager at seven20, manages a roster of mostly female artists which includes Qrion, Lauren Mia, and Speaker Honey.
“Artists and their managing teams are putting in almost 50 hours a week only to be overlooked…We’ve had a lot of time last year during this pandemic to really pay attention to these things and now people, not just fans, are making more of a point to call attention to this when we see it happen,” said Stadler.
Stadler attributes seven20 artist Qrion’s consistent event booking success in part to the public recognition the artist has amassed from being included with other women and people of color in publications, online, and in the media.
“In the beginning, it was a little bit harder because as you know, women and POC artists have to work harder to pave their way to being recognized, by fans, blogs, and promotion companies... all these things that contribute to people paying attention, or wanting to book an artist,” Stadler said.
“In the last couple of years, it’s gotten a little easier for Qrion to be booked more,” said Stadler. “We have her booking agent, Rob at SPIN who’s been working with her since the beginning. We’ve felt fortunate to have [Rob], who also has quite a diverse and inclusive roster when it comes to women, BIPOC, and LQBTQ people.”
Rob Woo is an agent at SPIN, an independent artist booking agency. Woo has over 14 years of experience in the realm of developing artists’ careers. As an industry veteran, his advice to rising producers looking to stand out to talent buyers and promoters is to continue to work hard, have patience and get creative.
“It's amazing to be in business in an industry that you love, but the most successful artists I see work extremely hard and did not see success overnight,” said Woo. “Even if it sometimes appears that their achievements were sudden, it almost always took many years developing their artistry and often having releases or shows that didn't get as much attention as they perhaps deserved before the catalyst(s) that accelerated their growth… don't be discouraged if things don't immediately connect at a higher level.”
For some, a measurable level of success means making it onto DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJs list, whose voting period took place over two weekends of virtual festivals recently, headlined by artists like David Guetta, KSHMR, Timmy Trumpet, and Miss K8.
The list sparked plenty of conversation this week with many noting that because clubs and festivals remained closed or were canceled last year, participants were clearly basing votes on live-streamed sets or basing them off their past favorites.
“As guardians of the poll, encouraging voters to consider a diverse range of DJs to better reflect the global electronic music scene and its origins within LGBTQ+ Black and non-Black POC communities remains a key focus for DJ Mag,” read the statement on the magazine’s website, which also called the list their most “racially diverse poll yet.”
Out of 100 DJs, 13 are women and 23 are artists of color. European DJs charted 30 percent of the list, and the magazine stated that the majority of the poll voters came from Europe.
According to DJ Mag’s poll analysis, China accounted for almost 15 percent of the overall votes, US, and Mexico had the second largest number of voters, Brazilian voters “made a large impact” with the third-highest number of voters and Asia was the “fourth-highest voting continent.”
In total, the analysis stated that around 1.3 million voters participated and votes were counted from 231 countries, principalities, and islands.
“Changing this requires extra time, other than just looking up a Top 100 DJs list and booking every white male. I mean if you’re basing your bookings only off of DJ Mag’s top 100, then you probably have a lot of other problems you need to work on,” said Stadler.