Radar Report 2023: Taking pulse of gender balance in bookings today


ESNS has a proven track record for supporting new artists. Over the last 20 years, the event has made significant and commendable strides in achieving progress towards gender balance across its bookings.

Illustration by Lisa Sportel

By Connie Chow (shesaid.so Amsterdam / FUGA Marketing Strategy Director – Dance), and Melissa d’Engelbronner (shesaid.so Amsterdam / FUGA Head of Audience Strategy)

Since 2018, ESNS has maintained a remarkable 50/50 split between men and women artists – these results are based on the Keychange standard, a global network and European Union-supported movement working towards reaching full gender equality in the music industry. It would be critical for us to note at this point that within the context of tracking gender balance, the current data does not specify non-binary or non-disclosed genders – we expand on the need for this below.

Returning to the results on gender parity, ESNS’s achievement of an equal split ratio across its line-ups goes beyond a one-time equality measure; it reflects the commitment to change. This normalisation of gender balance in live bookings paves the way forward for addressing gaps across the entire gender spectrum.

Looking at the data from the last five years in more detail – women artists who secured the most bookings during this period include Arlo Parks, Alyona Alyona, Celeste, CMAT, Flohio, Girl in Red, Pip Blom, Priya Ragu, Sigrid, Yonaka and Wet Leg. All of these artists played a significant number of festival bookings, allowing them to showcase their music and build fan bases internationally. This was also during the global pandemic, which impacted live touring and festivals extensively and forced all events to transition online – including ESNS Exchange, which continued its dedicated support for new artists through virtual events.

July Jones at ESNS23
Priya Ragu at ESNS22
girl in red at ESNS19
Banji at ESNS23
Heartworms at ESNS23

Between 2013–2017, it was more of a mixture of genders, but stand-out artists throughout this period include, Danish singer/songwriter, - who has since recorded chart-topping tracks with Major Lazer and Norwegian songwriter and producer, Aurora who herself secured 13 bookings for two years consecutively between 2015 and 2016, making her the most booked artist globally. Aurora has since collaborated with The Chemical Brothers and wrote her book titled The Gods We Can Touch.

2015 was a bumper year with the top 4 acts consisting of women and non-binary artists, including Aurora, Ibeyi, Soak, and non-binary artist Kae Tempest. Other stand-out women artists during this period included Finnish singer Alma, French duo Her, and Dua Lipa; Dua has gone on to headline countless festivals with performances from ESNS Exchange festival partners such as Open’er, Roskilde, Sziget, and many more.

“ESNS was a massive step in my career,” shared Dua Lipa on her participation in the programme. She later won an EBBA Award (now the Music Moves Europe Award) in 2017 which was presented at ESNS.

This shift toward counting individuals ensures a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of gender diversity within the industry.

If we look at the data between 2008 and 2012, this is where things started to change for women artists who saw more bookings secured in comparison to previous years, including a slew of British artists such as Anna Calvi, Blood Red Shoes, Ellie Goulding, Jessie Ware, Marina & The Diamonds, and The Ting Tings, as well as Scandinavian artists such as Danish pop band The Asteroids Galaxy Tour, Agnes Obel and Swedish pop icons Lykki Li and Robyn. During this period, Blood Red Shoes and Anna Calvi both gained 12 bookings between 2008 and 2011, with The XX securing 11 bookings in 2010.

Although these artists’ success stories are all very positive, the balance is not reflected across the overall European charts, with balance only being reflected across Emerging artist charts – does this mean we’re better at programming support acts with women members rather than headliners?

So, what’s next and how do we address this? Ultimately, the goal is to foster an inclusive and supportive environment for artists of all gender identities, ensuring that they receive recognition and opportunities based on their talent and contributions to the music industry.

Naaz at ESNS23
Sans Soucis at ESNS23
Pip Blom at ESNS20
Sigrid at ESNS18
Alina Pash at ESNS23

To promote a more accurate and inclusive assessment of gender representation in the music industry, the industry as a whole should adopt the same method: to count statistics based on individual members rather than employing a criterion that relies on the presence of at least one women member in a band or act. This shift toward counting individuals ensures a more comprehensive and nuanced understanding of gender diversity within the industry, transcending the concept of tokenism and providing a clearer picture of the actual distribution of genders across all musical acts.

We must also keep in mind that language around gender is evolving, and it’s crucial to stay open to updates and improvements in how we categorise and discuss gender identities.

Looking ahead, a far more inclusive approach to tracking gender balance would be one that accounts for non-binary artists. This might involve expanding categories beyond a binary classification of men/women and recognising a broader spectrum of gender identities. Recognising a broader spectrum of gender identities is important for fostering inclusivity and provides individuals with the option to select the label that best aligns with their identity. We must also keep in mind that language around gender is evolving, and it’s crucial to stay open to updates and improvements in how we categorise and discuss gender identities. Additionally, providing an “Other/Prefer not to say” option allows individuals the flexibility to define their identity in ways that may not be covered by specific labels.

Overall the data over the past 20 years is encouraging in that it shows there are more women artists getting bookings at some of the biggest and most highly-regarded festivals in Europe.

What would also be interesting to know is how many women artists are applying to perform each year and how we can encourage more and also non-binary and gender minority artists. We look forward to seeing how the data evolves and who will be the future women and non-binary artists making waves at the 2024 edition of ESNS.