Background & Introduction

Why the Need For an NT Women in Music Plan?

In 2020 MusicNT presented Territory Sounds, the first ever countdown of the Top 40 NT songs of all time, as a celebration of Territory Day and as voted by the NT population. Popular voting resulted in only 3 females - or 4 of 40 songs, all by Indigenous women - being represented. Whilst this could be due to a range of factors, given the growing list of recorded female identifying artists from the NT, it provided hard evidence supporting the need to consult broadly with industry about gender equity across the NT, including collecting information on successful programs or activities.

MusicNT has provided a range of programs for women and girls over the years, most notably an Indigenous Women’s Music Development Program (IWMP) which has been offered continuously for over a decade and incorporates Divas for emerging singer songwriters and Sista Sounds which provides a general introduction to making music and writing songs or beats. Deep concerns remain around the ongoing lack of opportunities for women and girls from remote communities to learn, play, practice and perform music. Whilst remote bands, almost invariably male, are going from strength to strength there has been little change for their sisters in music and there is evidence that women do engage with music when they are provided with culturally appropriate mentors or teachers.

Other recent initiatives for women in music presented by MusicNT have included a one day conference in Darwin 2018 and the establishment of a Facebook group for women in music. In 2020 MusicNT also commenced work on a Safe Venues Project including consultations with venues and musicians which will result in training and recommended guidelines for venue operators and some broader awareness strategies for across industry. Whilst this is not a “women’s project” per se, it clearly stands to benefit women whether as venue staff, musicians or punters.

Consultations were conducted throughout September and October 2020 that substantiated the need for clear and measurable plans and strategies to ensure women in music across the NT can access and have equitable representation within the NT music industry, and that wherever possible these are actioned.

The National Picture

TripleJs The Hack has been reporting on gender equity across the Australian Music Industry since 2016. In 5 years of reporting, enrolments in music have remained stable with almost an even split between females and males enrolled. What’s clear is that interest in music isn’t gendered. The makeup of the industry after this early stage, however, skews towards men. Their report for 2019 found that women are still underrepresented in the industry at almost every level – including on festival lineups, on the boards of peak music bodies, on radio and at record labels. There were some improvements including greater parity in earnings by female and male songwriters, greater diversity in award nominations and more women managing independent record labels.

In 2018, Vicki Gordon established the Inaugural Australian Women in Music Awards to showcase Australian women working across the industry. The Awards not only reflect female and nonbinary artist’s achievements but also include broader industry categories which many Awards do not acknowledge. As Greta Brereton writes in The Beat: …it’s difficult to really challenge gender inequality while we’re still having to break into two separate categories for women to get the recognition they deserve. Having an all-female awards ceremony like the AWMA is a great thing, but what we need to change is the lack of women who take out awards once they’re head to head with their male counterparts. It’s the same story with representation on the radio, or on festival lineups, or in business roles, where women fight tooth and nail for a seat at the table of major record labels.

We all know that it doesn’t come down to a lack of qualified women or talented musicians – it comes down to culture and attitudes.

Researchers like Rae Cooper, Professor of Gender, Work and Employment Relations at Uni of Sydney and co-author of the 2017 Skipping A Beat: Assessing the state of gender equality in the Australian music industry research report, considers that a range of practical solutions, enacted simultaneously are required otherwise we’re going to be sitting around having a conversation like this with someone who’s my great granddaughter.

Practical strategies include measures such as more government funding for female artists, more strategies to stamp out sexual harassment and assaults at gigs and festivals, a push for more women to be on public boards, quotas, and broadscale efforts to reshape community attitudes and beliefs.

Opinions remain divided nationally about introducing quotas with some believing that they lead to unhelpful attitudes such as she only got the gig because they needed a woman or that talent and merit are cast aside in the quest to meet targets. Others believe that quotas promote equality by forcing people to consider diversity and to actively change their thinking.





Crystal Robins | Photograph by Steve Kelk for Foldback Media
Crystal Robins | Photograph by Steve Kelk for Foldback Media

How the Plan was Developed

This Plan reflects MusicNT's pre-existing knowledge combined with the views of 34 participants in group sessions held in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, Katherine and Darwin in September 2020, 21 respondents to an online survey and input from 7 participants who were unable to make it to group sessions. Of these 62 participants, 9 were male and 7 were Indigenous. Group sessions included the option for women to meet separately in Alice Springs and Darwin.

Group sessions were facilitated by MusicNTs Central Australian Manager (Liz Archer) and supported by our Indigenous Music Development Officer (Jessie Grainer), both female. After presenting background information including the national research cited above, participants were asked a series of openended questions including:

• what it’s like for women in music in each community or region,

• evidence of a gender gap,

• whether some groups were more marginalised than others,

• successful programs or other supports for women in music they were aware of, and,

• the role MusicNT should play to support opportunities for women across industry.

During the second half of each session, individuals were invited to write aims and strategies for NT women in music onto separate pieces of paper which were then mapped on the floor. Similar ideas were grouped together. Participants from each group session were provided with a copy of the notes taken and the visual plan developed by their group several weeks later and invited to make further comment. These were then combined with input from the online survey and individual responses and with MusicNT’s existing knowledge.

Summary of Findings

here was overwhelming support from participants for holding these consultations and getting the conversations started in a more public arena, especially in MusicNTs capacity as peak body for the NT music industry. There is a need to continue and deepen discussions around more contentious issues such as introducing quotas compared with making the mainstream music scene more accessible, and, extending these discussions and strategies to include other marginalised gender identities and groups such as First Nations, POC, LGBTQI++, those with disabilities and older or younger musicians.

Whilst pathways through the music industry and many of the issues faced along the way might be similar for all musicians or industry workers, there is compelling evidence that women in the NT are more adversely affected by these than men.

Indeed, the impact of the lack of representation of women across industry was the most commented on topic running through all consultations. The biggest disadvantage many women saw in participating in the music industry was being a Mum.

Other factors contributing to gender based under-representation were:

• exclusion from open mic and jam sessions and not being offered work as session musicians or as headline acts

• live gig culture often revolving around alcohol and late nights which is not family friendly and makes it difficult for Mums to attend, especially if they are primary carers and/or working

• funding bodies and sponsors viewing additional demands for women as being a barrier rather than factoring in extra funding for costs such as childcare, freight costs for prams and cots, etc.

• lack of respect for women, especially those in broader industry roles such as sound engineers, other technicians, management, artistic direction and so on.

The graph below shows the results from asking survey respondents which of a number of things they thought were more difficult for women and girls to do than for males. 19 of 21 responses identified a range of areas, with one male respondent seeing things as pretty equal and another saying it’s hard for everyone but perhaps males have a bigger network to draw from. Of greatest concern is that the two areas respondents saw as being more difficult for females are “being treated professionally at gigs or when recording” and “feeling safe at a gig.” These impact greatly on representation and genuine access and inclusion of female musicians and further substantiate the need for and value of having resources and training available for broader industry via initiatives like MusicNT's Safe Venues Project.

Women in Music Consultation, Darwin, 2020
Women in Music Consultation, Darwin, 2020

And these concerns are further illustrated by respondent’s answers to their direct experience of gender based discrimination. Whilst personal safety did not show as highly as in the previous question, respondents were clearly concerned by the lack of female role models and their opportunities across industry.


Women who participated in group sessions were disappointed that more men did not come along (5 of the 6 males who did were in one group, with 4 of these asked to attend as part of their paid work role). Female respondents are keen to know whether males see gender diversity as relevant or important, or whether males were reluctant to step forward and be seen as “taking over” or “speaking for” women. Participants recommended that future general conferences or similar events presented by MusicNT include panel discussions around gender equity that include male panelists.

One of the outstanding strengths for NT women in music is their ability and desire to collaborate. A number of respondents noted that women seek out collaborations with one another and with males, but males rarely seek to collaborate with women. Ways to better support collaboration between women and to incentivise gender diverse collaboration are welcomed.

Participants were concerned by decreasing support for music programs in schools, especially in remote regions. Whilst there are great resources available through programs like The Song Room, these are of little value if there is no teacher. Concern was also voiced about the lack of participation by older girls and women in Vocational Education and Training courses and whether these and Higher Education music curricula best serve current and anticipated industry needs. The lack of music teachers in rural and remote regions also means decreased resources within local music scenes as teachers are often skilled performers, band or choir leaders with experience in organising events.

Concern was also expressed that most of the music development type activities offered in regional and remote areas is provided by Fly In Fly Out (FIFO) projects– e.g. interstate Hip Hop week long intensives that produce a snappy video but leave very little else in the community. These are costly and savings could be reinvested in regular local programs which also support communities themselves to upskill. Coupled with this is the need for regular, basic industry workshops targeting women and young people.

The need for women as role models was emphasised throughout the consultations and has been a keynote of MusicNTs Indigenous women’s programs, including building support for Indigenous role models. “You gotta see it to be it” is one of the most common phrases MusicNT’s women’s program staff hear, followed closely by “when one of us shines, we all shine” with Indigenous programs.

Many of these findings can – and need - to be embedded within MusicNTs broader initiatives including our ongoing strategic directions, the Live Music Strategy and Safe Venues Project, and support continuing regular programs like the Indigenous Women’s Music Program and our industry workshop series.

Whilst there is a long way to go to reach gender equity within the NT music scene, there is no shortage of practical and creative solutions. This report provides a starting point. Participants are keen for these conversations to continue, for talk to become action and for an evaluation system to be implemented so we can measure change, celebrate achievements and know where best to place scarce resources.

Women in Music Consultation, Darwin, 2020
Women in Music Consultation, Darwin, 2020


This document provides strategies that are either already being actioned by MusicNT or can be readily implemented without major additional investment, along with recommended longerterm actions or initiatives that require additional sponsorship, collaboration with other organisations and individuals, or which are outside our charter or control and which are required for lasting change which will benefit ALL. Whilst as peak body MusicNT is committed to leading by example, the changes required for a diverse and inclusive industry rely on all key stakeholders doing their bit towards creating this reality.

To this end, MusicNT will activate this plan by:

• launching it as part of International Women’s Day celebrations in March 2021

• continuing to consult with interested groups around the best ways to support women in music from different regions

• ensuring gender equity and diversity is measured, monitored and factored into all events we present or sponsor, highlighting the benefits of and advocating for inclusive programming with event organisers, venues and musicians, and, providing protocols or guidelines for gender inclusive gigs and events

• reviewing our overall workshop program to ensure it addresses issues most relevant to female identifying artists and providing production and other identified workshops in Darwin and Alice Springs, including sessions for female participants

• ensuring strategies and initiatives relating to work in remote locations are considered by our remote music development programs

• ensuring strategies and initiatives relevant to women in the live music scene and to venue safety are considered within the Live Music Strategy, Safe Venues project and any other relevant MusicNT initiatives

• providing targeted additional support to initiatives which build the overall capacity of female identifying original artists to participate more fully within our industry

• seeking additional resources to develop a robust evaluation strategy to measure the impact and help determine where current and future resources are best placed to support gender inclusive and diverse music scenes throughout the Northern Territory