TMW 2020 Keychange presents | Tallinn Music Week

Tallinn Music Week 2020 Creative Impact Conference. Keychange Presents: Cause and Effect

Tallinn Music Week 2020 Creative Impact Conference 
Keychange Presents: Cause and Effect
Estonian Academy of Arts, 28 August, 2020
Photo: Aron Urb

Keychange presents: Cause and effect

This conference session explored the organisations and activists making positive change in the music industry and beyond, and what it means for our future. How can we make sure our actions create a supportive and safe environment? Many organisations are taking action to achieve greater diversity and increase representation in work forces, boards, studios, festival stages and more. Presented by the international gender equality initiative Keychange, this panel of experienced change-makers discussed the nuances of this action, implications of targets, and what meaningful change really means in the music industry. The key takeaways from the discussion are: data is the basis and support for any action, confidence is a significant issue, diversity should also mean inclusiveness on more levels than gender, and future discussions should also be inclusive in order to be impactful.


Nadia Khan, Founder of WomanInCTRL, a platform for empowering women and highlighting gender equality in the music industry.  The organisation’s work includes research and data reporting to further the cause.

Bishi Bhattacharya, Founder of WITCiH, short for the Women In Technology Creative Industries Hub, aimed at elevating the voice of women and non-binary in technology-related creative industry.

Tejka Vasiljevic, Head Representative in the Balkans for Women in Live Music (WILM), an organisation for professional women working across Europe in the live music industry’s ‘behind the scenes’ roles.

Eva Ponomarjov, Employer Brand & Diversity Manager at Telia, Founder of Future Heroes. Telia has been a valuable partner to TMW since 2013 and in the role of the festival presenter since 2017. Future Heroes is a self-development and skill acceleration programme for teenage girls.

Moderator: Jess Partridge, Founder and Editor of In Stereo Group, founding Keychange Project Manager, member. Keychange is an organisation aimed at empowering talented underrepresented genders with training, mentoring, and network support, partnering with conferences and festivals. is an independent global network for women in music, working towards a more equitable music industry.

To open the panel, Jess Partridge highlighted three main strands that run through the work of each of the represented organisations: knowledge sharing through statistics and information gathering, collaboration, and creating opportunities for learning and development.


Why do we need data to back up what we’re doing?

Nadia Khan explained that data is hugely important because it tells a story. In fighting against discrimination, data provides facts. Throughout her own experience of moving through her career in the music industry, there was perceived injustice and discrimination, but it was hard to explain that through emotions and passion, to get the message across. On the one hand, data resolves that situation, and on the other, it also provides a baseline to work with. For example, the report of her research published in July 2020 contained an analysis of the makeup of the board rooms in 12 key UK music industry trade bodies. The research publication came concurrently with the wave of the BLM and the #ShowMustBePaused movements, and presented another ‘mirror’ for organisations to hold up to see whether what they are promoting in terms of diversity and inclusion actually also applies to their own organisations.

The response to the research was incredible, because it highlighted the scale of the disproportion. As it stands, among the companies included in the research, only 3 of 12 have female CEOs and only one has a female chairperson of the board. The share of women in boardrooms is also on a declining trend, as women have been replaced by men in the CEO roles. Of all board members, 34% were women. An intersectional analysis that looked at the share of black women on the boards found that their representation was even more abysmal – only 3% among board members (5 women out of 185 seats). This tells the story of a gross underrepresentation of black board members at a time when black music is thriving.

Nadja Khan also pointed out that race representation is not only along black/white/Asian lines –  in the UK the term used to talk about race issues is BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic), which includes all ethnic groups except white. Companies are using the term BAME to talk about how diverse they are, however, the research aimed to dissect the issue more closely and spotlight the action behind the words.

Another study conducted by WomanInCTRL looked at radio airplay statistics and gender disparity on the radio in the UK, and the findings revealed that across the Top 100 songs played most on the radio in 2020, 81% feature men. This reflects a 30-year trend of declining female solo artists played on the radio. Female artists find more success through collaborations with male artists, which further increases disparity. In addition to artists, female songwriters represent 19% and women producers 3% in the top 100 most played songs.

Representation is important, but so is looking at what’s behind promises. Radio 1/BBC announced that they have 45% representation of women in their playlist, but upon a closer look among the top 100 most played artists, the male representation was still 85%. So they are diversifying their playlists, but not following it through in the actual plays. Women are 51% of the population, but treated as minorities, so there is also a need for a change of mindset.

Getting the data is the first step in telling the story. Data highlights the inequality and provides the basis for the work that needs to be done to remedy the situation.

Lack of confidence – an invisible obstacle

Bishi Bhattacharya expressed her gratitude for those compiling the data, because if presented with facts, it gives women the confidence that they’re not mad – all the struggles, all the invisible walls are there, they are legitimate. From an artist’s view, Bishi sees that confidence is a big issue. In her lecturing work, she has seen that young persons in Gen Z are fast with tech, their social media set-up is so smart, but they need confidence and understanding on how to sustain their career long-term. So many women are  hacking and coding and creating incredible projects, but when it comes to manifesting that in the world and growing it, the confidence issue becomes an obstacle. People are not being invested in, but there is a link between investment and success.

Eva Ponomarjov founded Future Heroes to compensate for a lack of role models for young girls, as pointed out by her own teenage daughter. The programme focuses on young girls to build their confidence early, before they become conditioned to doubting themselves. She pointed out that women live in a perfection trap – if they are not 100% sure of success, women think, “maybe don’t do it”. As an example, she spoke of a radio correspondent, who said that she has to beg women to be on her show, while men respond to invites more along the lines of “I was wondering when you would call already”.

200 girls have participated in the programme already, and now thanks to the current Covid situation, they are testing a more democratic online community and building more impact through democratising. Paradoxically, the 2020 developments have led to a situation, in which reaching people is not as difficult anymore.

Types of action to promote diversity

Tejka Vasiljevic spoke of her experience in the “behind the scenes” section of the music industry. In her view, the situation is statistically similar in the music industry to that in the UK. In the Balkans, she has seen that motivating and educating is hard because people are not very open to it. Her approach has been to actively seek out females interested in that part of the music industry, as well as the schools that teach the subjects related to the backstage work in the music industry.

Bichi Bhattacharya pointed out that investment is one of the barriers to racism and ageism that could and should be changed. For example, Netflix and television in general have done an amazing job at showing interesting stories from a range of female perspectives. If the TV is doing it right and film is moving forward, what is holding the music industry back? It’s not like the talent isn’t there.

In terms of obstacles, Nadia Khan finds that one of the major ones is willingness – first to accept that there is a problem, and then to take action. However, the data helps overcome that obstacle.

On a positive note, Nadia Khan added that in 2020, there has been a lot more openness and dialogue, more pushing barriers and making organisations more accountable, more asking about the actual figures and why women are not on the boards.

She also explained why their research focused on radio – if you’re not getting airplay, you are not making money off the royalties. Women studying music represent 50%. Among music publishers in the UK 40% are female, 19% among record labels, 27% on rosters, 18% at PRS. So why are we losing women if they are studying music and want to get in the business? The obvious answer is that women are not making money in music, they are not being given the same opportunities. More exposure and representation would lead to more opportunities.

Going forward and tips for the future

As a representative from outside of the music industry, Eva Ponomarjov added that so much of the discussion is transferable to any industry, the same questions come up in her work. An example of best practices she emphasised is that when talking about diversity, include men, include different age groups, people from different countries, so it doesn’t become a situation of preaching to the converted. Often this work fails because it is done in a very closed community. Diversity should be about making sure you’re not leaving out anyone from the conversation who should be there.

Tejka Vasiljevic’s advice for future action is to realise that it is OK to fail, and she advised actively being there for anyone who needs help. Bichi Bhattacharya underlined the importance of trust, both in yourself and others – if you are feeling ideas, those are the seeds that will grow everything, trust your inner voice. If you want to go forward and write something, surround yourself with friends and mentors who can draw that out of you. Nadia Khan also echoed the call to support other women by reaching out. She called on others to be more honest with social media and communications. When showing a career in the industry, she advised not just talking about the perks and showing the glamorous side, but also speaking about how to deal with difficulties. Eva Ponomarjov’s advice was to  do it yourself, don’t wait for someone else to do it for you, and don’t do it alone. Trust yourself and others, because female solidarity is not quite there yet. Jess Partridge summed up the discussion by advising more proactiveness in the search for equality, as well as diversifying information feeds. For example, when reading the news, make sure the information you are getting is from a wide array of diverse voices.

To listen to the whole discussion, the DigiPRO subscription includes not just the TMW 2021 DigiPRO Pass, but also access to the TMW 2020 conference panel streams and a chance to upgrade to a TMW 2021 PRO Pass (onsite  & online participation) later just by paying the price difference with the pricing of your DigiPRO purchase date.

TMW 2021 will take place on 6 – 9 May.