Gender bias and a lack of diversity, be it unintentional, is a huge issue across Irish radio and in particular Regional Radio. It reaches out into every crevice of Irish society and our culture, preventing the voices of women and diversity from being heard.
All we have to do is turn the dial or switch the television on and it is predominantly men in suits, men in sporting attire, men speaking (even if it’s about women’s issues – there are no women present); it’s men everywhere.
From our previous Gender Disparity Data Reports we can see clearly that those who are given a platform to be heard on the airwaves equates to those who gain access to positions of power. The person that is heard is afforded the chance to grow in their career, craft or art, and to shape the society that we live in: is typically a white cis male.
For a country that was so ahead of the race with Marriage Equality and the Abortion Referendum, there seems to be a lot of work yet to happen until we reach one of the biggest challenges we face in this country; Gender Inequality. It is only if we work together that we will be able to shift unconscious bias and replace it with what works for us all: equality, inclusion and diversity.
It’s a real shame that there’s a muted desire to genuinely create change and represent a balanced view of Irish music and essentially the storytelling and culture of Irish people. What we have discovered is that Irish radio chooses to proactively amplify, promote and essentially employ one section of society to the detriment of another. Womxn and people of colour contribute to society just as much as white men. Plus, our music is just as good, we are just as talented, we get gigs, we get streaming, we have fans, and outside of Ireland we get radio play, but the Irish radio part of the music industry ignores us. Just as a radio listener, it gives the impression that if you aren’t a white man, you aren’t important.
As a curator, it’s one thing to fall into an unconscious habit. Once you’re aware of it and you continue, I think it means that you either don’t care about the impact that your role has in shaping national culture or you think that white men should be the authors of Irish culture with only space for footnotes by womxn or people of colour. It feels very 20th century and we’re in the 21st.
Our radio curators are hitmakers, game-changers, the editors of our national soundtracks. The Why Not Her? Collective hope that they move to consider that radio has a responsibility to promote a balanced version of Irish society that includes all its facets and flavours.
Irish music charts and radio stations largely ignore female and BiPoc artists.
Before Imelda May’s ‘11 Past the Hour…’ album topped the National Album Charts this month, April 2020, an Irish woman had not been seen as a lead artist in the top album spot since Lisa Hannigan in 2016. It was with no help from Irish radio that Imelda reached the top spot. When Dermot Kennedy charted high (and post that period) he has reached over 490.42m radio impacts on Irish radio, Niall Horan reached 290.11m, Hozier reached close to 90m Imelda just reached #1 and is at 23.11m radio impacts.
Then we have a supergroup of 45 + womxn comprising of 32 acts and 7 musicians that joined together to form IRISH WOMEN IN HARMONY, lead by Grammy Nominated Singer-songwriter Ruthanne, who featured across the Airwaves on Irish Radio and the Irish Homegrown Charts last year with the successful release of charity cover song ‘Dreams’ (Cranberries cover) which raised over €300k for SAFE Ireland.
Why does it only take one man and a guitar to reach the same level of success on the Charts and across Irish radio? Why did it take so long for Irish radio to support Irish womxn on-air, and why did it take a collective of over 45 women to finally hear the female voice on the radio? These are questions we want to be answered.
Throughout the report you will find years in time where a woman never even featured in the Charts. The very same as our previous radio reports where 90-100% white male artists dominated the landscape of heavy rotation across Irish radio stations Top 20 Charts. This equates to years of exclusion, lost income and shattered careers.
Female musicians’ exclusion from radio playlists and the singles charts directly impacts on their ability to make a living as artists.
Aside from the Gender and Racial disparity towards Irish artists; Radio stations and the Charts show an extraordinary preference for international artists over homegrown ones. At the top of the charts, things are incredibly bleak for Irish artists, especially womxn. Over a four year period, between 2015 and 2018, only nine Irish chart entries hit the Top 10, only one of which was by a female artist. The top spot was an Irish-free zone from early 2015 up until late 2020 when Dermot Kennedy broke the run after his Late Late Toy Show appearance.
The Why Not Her? Collective urge Gender Quotas and legislative changes to be applied and introduced across radio to promote Irish talent across all genres, genders, race, orientation, with diversity, equality and inclusion at the forefront.
Radio play makes or breaks careers.
How do musicians make money?
Most musicians make the majority of their living from live performances at concerts and festivals and touring. Additional income streams include selling merchandise, licensing their music for television, film, video games, partnerships and through royalties received via radio plays. In 2017 for example, U2 earned $54.4m. Of that 95% came from touring and the rest from streaming and album sales according to Billboard’s Money Makers report.
Each time a song is played on the radio a royalty payment, or fee, is recorded for each play. The higher the radio station’s reach, the higher the payment can be. The main advantage though is that radio play increases artists’ visibility and allows more fans to discover them and download or stream their music.
Why are the charts so important?
The top music chart listings are based on the number of streams, downloads and physical sales of each song. The higher the number, the higher their placing on the chart. Many Irish artists build a strong following here and abroad but are never in the Irish charts. This is a critical issue as chart success opens doors to deals with record labels, becoming a support or headline act for gigs, festivals and touring. Irish artists have reported that they have lost possible record deals because they did not place high enough in the Irish charts because they weren’t played on the radio.
Who gets played in Ireland?
In this report, we see a direct correlation between artists who receive radio support, airtime and ‘heavy rotation playlisting’ and those who get booked for music festivals. The vast majority of these artists are young white men. Over the 20 year period covered in this report, there were 594 musical acts that achieved a total of 1,233 Irish chart entries, an average of 1.2 new chart entries a week. These artists were those signed to labels as well as those released independently.
How does this exclusion impact womxn?
We know that radio plays leads to streams/ downloads which leads to charts and they lead to gigs, touring and possibly being signed by a record table. Therefore, it’s incredibly difficult – if not impossible – for female artists to earn a living as a musician when they’re largely excluded from radio play and support.
It’s not that they’re not good enough, as we know because they’ve made it internationally or chart internationally, it’s that they are not given the same opportunities as white Irish men. Pillow Queens appeared on one of America’s most highly rated TV programmes, the Late Late Show with James Corden, in January 2021 but had never received heavy rotation on Irish radio despite reaching #20 in the Homegrown Irish Charts in Aug 2020. The door to the music industry is not only locked against women, it’s triple bolted, sealed and reinforced by the individual, structural and institutional bias.
How many women have been forced to leave the industry because they could no longer support themselves as an artist? How many stories and songs have been left unheard because radio tastemakers deemed them unworthy?
Imelda May, who just reached #1 in the Official Irish Album Charts, (the first Irish female since 2016 to do so) commented:
‘As expected this report is alarming. It puts outstanding artists at an immediate disadvantage merely for being female. How can a female artist have her music heard if she’s not played? How can a female artist reach chart success if people aren’t even aware her music exists?
I’m well aware of the answers to these questions as I’ve had those struggles and with immense workload and sheer determination, I’ve overcome with the knowledge I’m pushing ahead for all of us seeking equality in music. I wanted my success to prove a point that it can be done but my God it should not be so difficult or biased.
I simply want to hear talented artists with the ability to connect with me and move me. Musicians and writers are storytellers. We are a supportive community of women and men that already co-exist but only one half get proper AirPlay. I’m eager to hear all voices that speak to me regardless of gender, age, race or sexuality. Aren’t you? Art is art is art”.
CMAT is the first-ever female solo act to reach #1 in the Homegrown Irish Charts, a rare good news story for Ireland’s independent female artists. While talking to The Times recently said:“There are some male acts getting so much radio play and they can’t sell tickets to gigs. Stations say they’re playing what people want to hear, but who wants to hear it? There’s such a disparity.”Lesley Roy who is representing Ireland in the Eurovision this year commented: Firstly I’d like to say a huge thank you to Linda and the whynother campaign for pulling the curtain back on this very important matter in Ireland. I truly believe whynother and other groups of Irish female artists are pushing the needle in the right direction. With that being said there is no denying the bleak difference between male and female Irish artists in the Charts. I would love to see this as a positive turning point to use this awareness of the disparity to advocate for equality.
Founder of Why Not Her? Linda Coogan Byrne says:“We are tired of hearing the same homogenised sonic landscape on Irish radio and across the Charts. With the dissolving of the BAI this summer, now more than ever it is the right time to call for the enforcement of broadcasting license conditions where equality, diversity and inclusion is at the forefront and reflects Irish society and our modern Culture.
If we cannot see it we cannot be it. Look at what the BBC 50/50 Equality Project have done, they are setting the course for everyone to follow. We see a broad and diverse array of broadcasters and artists/bands across their playlists since we worked on the same campaign in the UK last year. Why are Irish broadcasters so slow to the draw?
Regular monitoring needs to be done and paid for by the government. Everything we have done has been unpaid and voluntary. But we will not stop asking the question Why Not Her? Because we have had enough.
Singer-songwriter and Ruthanne commented:“Reading this report is not surprising but incredibly depressing and such a sad day for Irish female artists. It makes you feel hopeless & incredibly uninspired. There is just too much talent in our country going to waste. Talent that deserves an audience, a platform that is on par with our male counterparts. Irish female artists that deserve to be able to make a living in our own country. Talent that has been silenced for too long. We all have a responsibility to create the legacy of Irish music to inspire the next generation. I hope we can come together and finally see how important it is to make the changes needed to champion our women in music. The time is now”.
“This incredibly detailed report is the result of a monumental amount of work from Linda and the WhyNotHer team, for which we at FairPlé are immensely grateful. While not surprising to any of us, it is none-the-less devastating to see the gut-wrenching truth behind these stark figures, so expertly laid bare here. The figures speak for themselves. This report forms an important addition to an ever-growing body of research, all of which points to the need for urgent change. Please be part of that change, advocate for change, listen and buy music that HEY is made by women and bipoc, go to gigs that value and reflect ALL of Ireland’s talent. And if you’re not happy with what you’re hearing and NOT hearing – turn the dial!” – THE FAIR PLE COLLECTIVE