Empowering Women in Music

We need equal rights in the music industry. The Keychange initiative is a movement made up of festivals and music organisations that support this goal. This year sees the launch of Phase 2 of the project: an international development programme for artists and innovators. Project leader Christina Schäfers explains what that means – and some of our favourite artists have something to say as well.

Keychange Videocover


About Keychange

The declared goal of Keychange is to trigger a global debate which will lead to sustainable change in the music landscape. The UK PRS Foundation launched the initiative in 2017. In the first step, an alliance of international organisations and festivals developed the Keychange pledge: the goal is to have at least one woman, transgender or non-binary person present in 50 percent of the acts in the festival and conference programme by 2022. A total of 180 festivals are already on board with this campaign.

Diversity is a gain for our culture – and more successful economically as well. In the second phase of the Keychange initiative, a growing network of committed ambassadors and organisations is gathering behind these ideas. From September 2019 on, the EU Commission is to support the Keychange initiative for a further four years, with total funding of 1.4 million euros. At this stage, the Reeperbahn Festival is to take over the leadership of the joint efforts.


“Think big”

Interview: Kim Lara Oswald, Photos: Roeler

Men earn thirty percent more. Only one in seven labels is in a majority of female hands. Two figures for one fact: the music industry is anything but a place of equality. The Keychange project aims to make a difference, the second phase started at the Reeperbahn Festival. Project leader Christina Schäfers provides an overview.

Christina IMG 9732

Christina, why are you part of Keychange?

I’m part of the Reeperbahn Festival – and therefore part of Keychange – because we believe that the whole music industry will be a better place when more women are involved.

Keychange will bring artists of different genders from twelve countries together in future. What’s behind this network concept?

We’ll benefit enormously if we swap ideas across borders. It’s a relatively simple principle: get to know people, see possibilities. It’s super-inspiring to meet so many cool women. You have a lot more confidence in yourself when you know other people will speak up as well, stand up and be counted and say, for example: “Yes, of course I deserve better pay!”

But you also say that it’s not just about women. What do you mean by that?

Equal rights is an issue that affects the whole of society. A lot of women have absolutely fantastic qualifications. The music industry is shooting itself in the foot – and risking its medium- and long-term business success – if it blanks out this part of society. A lot of headliner festivals still argue: “We would like to book more women, but we have to sell tickets as well”. Yes, maybe the figures will still work that way in the short term. But we know it’s a mistake in the long run. It’s important to have a programme like Keychange, because the music industry’s own self-perception is that everyone is equal, everyone’s cool with each other, that there’s a super-large number of great women on stage. Yes. There are. But still, the structure doesn’t reflect that situation as yet.

This year, the Reeperbahn Festival took over leadership of the Keychange initiative from the PRS Foundation. What will change?

What makes a festival different from a non-profit foundation? It’s louder, it’s more pop culture, it’s maybe a bit more “in your face” and up front as well. Keychange is a good fit with our event, we can offer a strong platform for the issues of gender equality and female empowerment. In the next round of Keychange we’re expanding, there will be more partners, a longer duration, more money.

.... You’ve raised 1.4 million euros from the EU with the initiative.

That’s not even the total amount flowing into the project. We need 2.8 million to be able to do everything. It’s the norm with EU projects for half the support to come from the European Commission, and the rest from sponsors and partners. And from the contributions that partners like the Reeperbahn Festival make, when we offer performance opportunities, for example.

“When you feel this connection and this crazy network as well – it’s amazing.”
Christina Schäfers

You’ve presented the second phase of the Keychange initiative at the Reeperbahn Festival - what happens next?

The next big milestone is on 4 October, from then on artists and innovators can apply to join Keychange for a year. That means opportunities to appear at participating festivals, it’s also about taking part in the Creative Lab programme, for example in workshops, conferences and mentoring. The selection will be made in November, there’s a big meeting in January when everyone will come together. It worked fantastically even in the first round – it generates the best energy, the best sharing, the biggest feeling of “It’s huge, this isn’t a national problem, not a personal problem, it’s global”. When you feel this connection and this crazy network as well – it’s amazing. It’s also something where women have been proven to be different from their male colleagues and it’s the starting point for this programme.

How many people can take part?

Every participating country sends three artists and three innovators, that takes us to a total of 72 participants. So after four years of the programme, that’s more than 200 people.

And what will happen after 2024?

This is our thinking: first the music industry microcosm, then the question of whether and how our experience can possibly be spread even more widely. One step after another – but there’s no harm in thinking big.

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