Berlin’s CTM Festival Explores Ways To End Sexism In The Music Industry

Sexism is a hot topic within the music industry. Looking for answers, we attended CTM Festival’s afternoon of talks dedicated to this issue.

In 2013 Female Pressurean international network of female artists in the fields of electronic music and digital arts, released a new report highlighting the disparities between the amount of men and women booked at music festivals and venues. Berlin’s pioneering, adventurous festival CTM was part of the study, and it turned out its lineup featured 25 female-identified or non-binary acts for no less than 153 men.

Fast forward to 2015, and a new edition of that same female pressure study concludes that the festival’s lineup now has 24% female and non-binary acts—a nice improvement that was even taken forward in their 2017 edition. 43% female-identified and 1.5% non-binary artists performed this time, which makes CTM Festival very progressive in terms of gender representation.

For this year’s edition of the festival, an afternoon was also dedicated to discussing opportunities to change the situation. On a cold February day in Kreuzberg, several dozen people gathered in former deaconess hospital turned art center Kunstraum Kreuzberg/Bethanien to hear talks about—and by—female and female-identified networking groups and events.

Female Pressure released a report highlighting the disparities between the amount of men and women booked at music festivals and venues

Involving major local and international actors, this afternoon of panel discussions culminated with a talk hosted by event series Salt+Sass, which aimed to share best practices to try and put an end to sexism within the industry.

One of the guests, Luz Diaz, a DJ behind inclusive club night Room 4 Resistance, stated one thing to do was to “focus on what you can do instead of focusing on what other people do wrong”.

Therefore, here are some ideas to implement that we’ve taken away from these discussions.

1. Booking female artists isn’t enough

For Umfang, who was invited to represent collective and booking agency Discwoman, while women are getting booked more often thanks to equality becoming more, erm, “cool”, this is just the next step. Our next challenge? Making sure that women penetrate all layers of the music industry, for example by becoming sound engineers, club bookers, label owners and more. Another idea is to make sure those working behind the scenes, for example as photographers or graphic designers, are also women.


2. Stop with the “strong, independent woman” rhetoric

While we can all agree that Beyonce is awesome, privilege isn’t distributed equally among all human beings and we need to acknowledge that each person comes with their own struggles. Let’s stop assuming that successful, female-identified artists all need to be fearless, doubtless and bathing in self-confidence as allowing women (and men) to be vulnerable and providing support is key to opening new doors.

3. Intersectionality is key

Sister and Discwoman, two organizations founded by POCs (people of color) that were featured during the event, were represented by white women who didn’t forget to remind the audience that they were here on behalf of the initiators of these projects. While the situation in the music industry is getting slightly better for cis, white women, we cannot forget that a significant part of those who identify as “female” have it much harder. Therefore, one takeaway from CTM Festival’s panel discussions was to try to lift each other up whenever possible.

4. Use your position of power to make a change

A great anecdote shared by Ena Lind from artist collective and booking agency MINT Berlin was about Planningtorock, an English musician and producer who’s been living in Berlin for 15 years. While promoting her previous record, she insisted that magazines wishing to feature her hired a female photographer to take her picture. While many outlets claimed to not have female photographers among their rosters, all of them did manage to find one for the shoots.
Another example that was mentioned is how some male artists actually have contracts which specify that they won’t perform unless there’s at least one woman on the lineup—a great way for them to use their privilege positively.


5. Use “call-out culture” wisely

By providing the audience with hard-hitting facts and numbers regarding gender inequalities in music, female pressure is a prime example of how call-out culture can be used in an efficient way. No need for unnecessary anger—facts usually do their job way better. Moreover, some participants in the discussions insisted “call-in culture” would be more useful, i.e. trying to educate and include people rather than publicly shame them.

6. Create safe spaces

One of the many situations women and LGBTQ are made to feel unsafe is when going out. Therefore, it is every club’s responsibility to make sure venues and club nights are safe for people who can be the target of sexism, racism or any other discrimination. For Luz Diaz, briefing a venue’s staff is absolutely necessary, especially when hosting a queer night in a non-exclusively queer venue. During the discussions, someone also mentioned that having volunteers responsible for intervening in case of crises would also be an asset.

7. Share your knowledge

Whether you are mentoring people trying to get into the music industry, reviewing young people’s resumes, booking upcoming artists instead of only experienced ones or teaching people how to DJ or produce music, these strategies are all efficient ways to lower barriers to entry in this difficult, competitive industry. Online communities such as Shesaid.so contribute to creating a worldwide network of women from the music business, thus trying to offset some of the privileges that straight, cis men are de facto entitled to.

Considering the fact that music is a universal language which is known for helping change the world, following these simple ideas might make a big difference in our fight to end sexism both in and way beyond the music industry.

Photo by Luis Nieto Dickens

Camille Darroux is a Paris-born, Berlin-based digital consultant, writer, and DJ. You're most likely to find her having pizza & wine or at the club.
  • moses

    that’s so nice! <3