Girls may rule the world, but the numbers say they are still missing from music spaces.
Despite strong rallying cries for equality in several industries in today’s socio-political climate, the music business still sorely lags behind in female representation. For proof, take a quick glance at almost any festival line-up. In 2018, online music publication Pitchfork.com broke down the numbers and found that only 19 percent of festival line-ups comprised female performers.
One local promoter is hoping to tip the scales in a positive direction and provide a welcoming environment for artists and fans inclusive of all genders. Grace Gibson, a promoter for Live Nation, is on a mission to bring more female-focused acts to House of Blues and the venue’s smaller stage, The Bronze Peacock, in addition to Revention Music Center. Over the past summer and this fall, she’s booked fast-rising performers, a way to cultivate female talent and promote female-centric acts in the local music scene.
“As a woman trying to carve out a place for myself at the table, there are few things more powerful than women supporting women,” Gibson said. “It’s every talent buyers’ job to provide a platform for artists to connect to their audience in a live space.”
Some of the shows earlier this summer that speak to Gibson’s vision included Boston female led alt-rockers Charly Bliss, forward thinking pop star Carly Rae Jepsen, L.A. pop-punk upstarts The Regrettes, indie pop act Sasami. Upcoming shows include singer-songwriter Ashe (October 22), folk act Jade Bird (November 2), and riot girl indie legends Sleater-Kinney (November 7).
Gibson experienced lack of representation in music firsthand. Raised in Montrose, she attended the Houston School of Performing and Visual Arts and graduated from the University of Texas with a Bachelor of Arts in music business.
“If you look at my upbringing and when I was first trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my future, I thought I could either be an opera singer, a singer on Broadway, or a music teacher,” Gibson said. “There wasn’t anything else or an example of what a career in music would look like for a woman.”
But Gibson fell in love with going to shows while growing up in the Houston music scene, heading to local haunts such as Walter’s on Washington and Fitzgerald’s to see local and touring acts perform. Unfortunately, she found it difficult to convince female friends to join her and found a disproportionate percentage of males-to-females at concerts.
“Most of my free time was spent going to shows and concerts even though I was studying classical music,” Gibson said. “It was like pulling teeth to get a girlfriend to come with me to a show and sometimes I would have to go by myself. Once I got there, there’d be no women on stage.”
Following graduation, she had an opportunity to join Live Nation as a talent buyer, and she jumped at the chance, eventually moving to New York City to book shows at the famed Manhattan venue Arlene’s Grocery, with stops in Washington, D.C. and Austin. Her background made her acutely aware of the need to book burgeoning female talent that spoke to young women that would also serve to encourage them to come out to largely male dominated spaces.
“Support doesn’t just come from paying them to play the venue,” Gibson said. “Support comes from creating and generating awareness and building their presence in the market, which is something that we’re all working toward.”
Take one of the hottest performers in the world right now, R&B/hop-hop star Lizzo, for instance. Grinding away for years, Lizzo finally caught on with industry insiders and then mainstream audiences. Her recent show at Revention Music Center was one of the hardest tickets of the year to find with the resale market charging up to $125 for a chance to see her.
“She’s an example of why it’s important to try and book female artists at a smaller club level, to try and make a point of providing a platform for them,” Gibson said. “I saw Lizzo in 2013, she opened for Har Mar Superstar at U Street Music Hall in D.C. I think maybe she had 20 people.”
The solution to closing the gap is complex, but Gibson is ready to take on the challenge by simply exposing young women to the possibilities open to them in the industry, not only as a female talent buyer, but through the acts she books to perform. She says it’s also about creating a space that is inviting to all music fans and breaking down long established labels placed on performers, especially female acts that are labeled often as girl groups.
“You use an element of empathy – you don’t want people to think you’re anti-man, you don’t want kids to think something is meant for one gender, one identity,” Gibson said. “To have something characterized turned on its ear like that, it’s really powerful and exciting. At the end of the day, the problem is the distinction. It stems from the lack of equal representation from the performer side, the industry side and everything.”
Gibson’s efforts already seem to be working. After booking The Regrettes for a show last year at the Bronze Peacock that drew respectable numbers, she saw a huge upswing in tickets for their return show this August around the release of their new album, How Do You Love?
“Reflecting back to my childhood going to shows and not seeing anyone like me on stage, I think it’s so important that we work toward equal representation in booking venues,” Gibson said. “Houston is one of the most diverse cities in the whole country and I think it’s so important that we reflect the diversity of the whole community.”