Three: Participation & Representation

Women’s Opportunities to Participate

In order to develop as artists or technicians, women need access to the live scene.

Women in Darwin and Alice Springs reported that there were sufficient performance opportunities, including from tourism, corporate gigs, local government sponsored events, as well as regular gigs or open mic/jam sessions, community festivals and other major events to make a modest career as a musician. However, it was difficult even for more established female artists or technicians with interstate and international experience to book a headline. Also, women don’t get booked as session musicians or techies and so on. There are women with as much or more skills as the fellas out there across industry but we are simply not getting the work and Major Events seem to select from a small group of artists, mainly bands. A recent major concert in Darwin featured an all male line up except Sarah McLeod when I asked the private promoter why he said it’s not about gender: it’s about audience engagement. Women are not seen as being essential to our industry.

Women’s participation and representation varies across musical genres. Brass bands, chamber ensembles, choirs or orchestras generally have high proportions of women and girls singing or playing and there are an increasing number of female classical composers. However, it was also noted that most conductors, executive or creative directors and those in charge across such genres and groups are males which meant that there has been little shift in their artistic leadership and direction.

The contemporary live and recording music scenes are pretty much all fellas with guitars or doing the production and linked in with pub culture.

Many participants were strongly in favour of having quotas with most advocating for equal representation or for a 40:40:20 split and several commenting that if there is evidence of massive marginalisation then maybe the aim should be 70:30 until things level out. Affirmative action promotes awareness of gender equity and diversity and gives targets to work towards and evidence of change. Other participants were concerned that quotas promote the ongoing “pigeonholing” of women’s music and to perceptions that “she only got the gig because she’s a woman” or “because she’s Indigenous.” Women need inclusion, not boxes.

Caiti Baker observed that media coverage for Settle Down Sisters is all around being women and not around being musicians - MusicNT hears this from almost every female musician they interact with, Shellie Morris noted when I started performing at Woodford Festival it was on the “Indigenous stage”. It was great that there were opportunities for First Nations artists and the Festival organisers clearly wanted to support us. But we got stuck on that stage and then weren’t included in the broader program. It’s becoming a lot more integrated now which is how it should be.

A non-Indigenous respondent stated inclusive programming means having structures to support diversity and elevating marginalised voices but separating people into programs based on their cultural identity is divisive and doesn’t foster an environment of collaboration.

MusicNT agrees whilst also maintaining that, right now, marginalised groups also need dedicated programs which equip them with the skills and confidence literally to be able to take the next step in mixing with more diverse groups of musicians. MusicNT is also committed to consulting directly with affected groups or communities before abandoning or opening up programs which have been implemented specifically to address their disadvantage. As part of this, clearly there is a need to prioritise career development for people experiencing multiple oppressions – queer, disabled, non-binary, trans, Indigenous, POC.

Change is needed at many levels and any campaigns around quotas need to be accompanied by other strategies promoting or highlighting women’s skills and achievements, along with a clear rationale for their introductions. MusicNT is keen to hear more from industry around the pros and cons of introducing quotas and will undertake further consultations around this in 2021.

Ongoing Sexist Attitudes Towards Women in Music

Put succinctly, women need respect and a go. Put bluntly, change society so males aren’t such dicks.

The root cause of women’s marginalisation as musicians is sexist (and ageist) attitudes towards women and girls. This manifests in many ways including the live music scene being built largely around pubs, clubs and late-night gigs, women’s greater role as family caregivers, being excluded or belittled at jams or being treated unprofessionally by male technicians or producers, and, not being represented on boards or in positions of power and authority. As mentioned in the introduction, massive social agendas like these require sustained action at all levels to shift attitudes and beliefs along with the prevailing culture within the Australian music industry itself. Even small changes take a long time to impact across large population groups. As one respondent put it, we need broadscale efforts and strategies to smash destructive stereotypes.

Another telling observation is that there's no disparity between males and females to access instrumental lessons here, but there's a disparity when it comes to being treated like a professional during performances and gigs. For example, for student recordings, sound engineers will approach male students like they are professional musicians and give them direct feedback. Whereas, whether or not the female student plays confidently or not, sound engineers will offer them advice like 'it's okay if you make a mistake, we'll edit it out', or 'just play your best, it doesn't matter'. These kind of comments, although supposed to be supportive in nature, shows the disparity in society that we think boys make better musicians and girls just aren't skilled enough.

A number of participants talked about the two different types of jealousy that can impact negatively on musicians, especially women. The first is around jealousy from over-controlling male partners or family members when women start gigging or going out socially or more independently. The second emerges when women do actually play or sing or write better than their male counterparts.

There can be jealousy and coercive elements from males in music… We get comments like “I could manage your (all female) band.” Or “Man!! You’re a good drummer [wait for it…] for a chick”

A number of female respondents commented that men simply don’t see the problem and we need women’s reality to be reflected. MusicNT was seen rightly as having a key role to play here as a peak body. Peaks need to model the behaviours and attitudes they expect others to adopt across industry. Industry, including peaks also need to use constructive ways to address unsavoury - or worse - behaviours when these occur. MusicNT sees a strong role for the Safe Venues Project in encouraging this during live music events.

Stevie Jean | Photograph by Steve Kelk
for Foldback Media
Stevie Jean | Photograph by Steve Kelk for Foldback Media


A number of respondents commented on ageism within the music industry. Again, this is the same across Australia – and internationally – but it affects women differently, and probably more profoundly, than men, especially when linked with sexism.

Participants obseved that at one end of the spectrum, people aged over about 35, especially women, are excluded or are expected to look or behave in a certain way. At the other end, 15 and 16 year olds with a pop sound are being pounced upon before they have the maturity or experience as performers to know what they want and the confidence to negotiate with producers or labels around the image they want to portray.

Generally, images of women in music via media promote stereotypes and persist in using sexist imagery to sell songs. As one more established artist put it, I got more likes for a photo on my artist page of me with my bum hanging out than I have for any featuring my music. Industry is starting to see pushback from artists like Tones and I and G Flip wearing baggy clothes and refusing to buy into commercial industry stereotypes.

Music, Mental Health and Wellbeing

There has been an increasing spotlight on mental health within the Australian music industry in recent years and MusicNT has partnered with mental health specialists including Support Act and the Mental Health Association of Central Australia (MHACA) in providing workshops in 2019 and 2020 addressing this. MusicNT is keen for all musicians and broader industry personnel to know about and feel confident in reaching out to organisations like Support Act for professional support, including women.

In 2019 in partnership with APRA AMCOS, MusicNT presented a workshop in Darwin facilitated by Viv Fantin specifically for women musicians called “Tune Out Your Inner Critic”. Viv was a previous Director of the Big Day Out Festival, had and recovered from a breakdown she speaks publicly about and now provides coaching services for musicians and other creatives. The session was well received by over 80 women. Programs like Divas also support Indigenous girls and women through some of these challenges. Participants saw opportunities to share tips on overcoming debilitating anxiety or self-talk as effective ways to reduce isolation and increase individual resilience.

Whilst music can be a “saviour”, it can also be a “destroyer” when it comes to taking the plunge and performing or publishing music, especially perhaps original works. One participant expressed this as follows: My own life journey has meant I don't have the struggles of children or family, so my experience of seeking to become a "woman in music" hasn't had to navigate those challenges. The challenges I've experienced are more in the "invisible" or "systemic" tone of the world, which can be hard to articulate or describe, and sometimes I think I am just going crazy!

I am a trained performer. But I'm not a trained musician. Music to me is a form of healing, connection, celebration of embodiment, a means of leaning into expression, and a way to allow space for some of the more universal sense of things to come into play. It's something I can turn to at any time: when life feels raw and on the edge of impossible as much as when life feels alive with possibility and flow. I'm so grateful for it! When it comes to taking that next step--that risk of sharing creations and expression beyond my livingroom bubble - I've found the existing jam spaces widely varied in their sense of safety for that to happen.

The healing power of music was also commented on by others, with one respondent noting that currently there are only three registered music therapy practitioners in the NT. Several also commented on music’s role in strengthening culture: it would be interesting to see a focus on what women elders would like to see, including their music both singing and rhythm and dancing. MusicNTs experience through offering programs like Sista Sounds is that, as with mainstream Australian culture, elders are generally into different music than their younger relatives and their role is primarily to support contemporary music making. Having said that, where possible MusicNT also supports broader music making within communities and often this includes engaging with older women who are into gospel music, cover songs and sing-alongs.

Music is also often linked with health or youth initiatives – for instance via group song writing about specific health concerns such as Trachoma, alcohol and other drugs and family violence. This can be a powerful experience especially for program participants and their immediate networks. However, this is different again to creating music pathways and providing regular music development activities.

Eleanor Dixon | Photograph by Steve Kelk for Foldback Media
Eleanor Dixon | Photograph by Steve Kelk for Foldback Media


AIM 3.1

A more representative music scene across all areas of industry – singing, songwriting and composition, playing instruments, live and recorded production, event management, artist management, recording labels, peak bodies (see also Aims 2.1, 2.2, 2.6, 3.2, 3.3, 3.4, 4.1, 4.2)


3.1.1 Develop, implement, promote and review gender equity guidelines for all events MusicNT presents, partners or sponsors

3.1.2 Develop and promote the uptake of gender equity guidelines across all NT events and funding proposals

3.1.3 Provide or seek partners to provide “start up” activities including acting as “music hubs”or groups for women and older girls in as many key urban regions and remote local government areas as possible

3.1.4 Promote issues relevant to NT women in music to national groups including AMIN, APRA AMCOS, AMRAP and major festivals and industry events

3.1.5 Present an NT women in music festival or conference, or hold specific workshops focusing on women in music as part of broader industry events

3.1.6 Hold women’s songwriting, composition and /or conducting competitions


37. MusicNT to develop and promote protocols or guidelines which actively support gender diversity across industry

38. Uptake of gender diversity guidelines and protocols across industry

39. MusicNT to embed protocols or guidelines for gender diversity internally within programs, events and services

40.Continued consultation around the best ways to support participation by NT women in music including “hubs”, practice groups or other “start up” activities

41. MusicNT to investigate supporting activities presented or coordinated by NT Women in music which include professional development and support the growth of emerging artists (eg, in kind support, promotions, limited financial support)

42. Inclusion of discussion topics/ workshops/etc directly relevant to women’s experiences within the NT music industry as part of the next conference or workshop series presented by MusicNT

AIM 3.2

More inclusive programming and less “pigeonholing” of women’s music and women in music (see also Aims 2.2, 3.1, 3.3, 3.4, 4.2)


3.2.1 Hold structured discussions with gender diverse panels about how to create more representative music scenes in the NT

3.2.2 Promote gender diversity as affecting and potentially benefiting the WHOLE music scene, not just women

3.2.3 Awareness campaign around quotas, inclusive programming and affirmative action


43. MusicNT to provide an awareness campaign around creating and supporting representative and diverse local music scenes linked with Safe Venues, Live Music Strategy and other initiatives

44. MusicNT to hold regular discussions or workshops promoting and strengthening gender diversity, inclusive programming and equity for women in music

45. All groups, not just women, engage with and take up messaging around supporting industry diversity

AIM 3.3

Constructive ways to address sexist attitudes when encountered (see also Aims 2.2, 2.3, 3.1, 3.2)


3.3.1 Develop and promote protocols or guidelines around how to actively support gender diversity and constructively confront sexism with industry

3.3.2 Facilitate ongoing sector discussions around addressing sexist attitudes across industry

3.3.3 Develop guidelines and offer training for venue operators and staff via MusicNTs Safe Venues Project


46. MusicNT to include a panel discussion about sector diversity in an appropriate event or workshop series within the next year

47. MusicNT to develop and promote protocols or guidelines about actively supporting gender diversity and constructively confronting sexism across the NT music industry

48. Develop and promote guidelines and provide customised training for venues operators and staff as part of MusicNTs Safe Venues Project

49. Broader industry takes up messaging around safe venues and ways of constructively addressing sexist attitudes and behaviours

50. Venue owners and managers implement guidelines and take up opportunity for staff training

AIM 3.4

Reduced ageism across the NT music industry (see also Aims 2.2, 3.1, 3.2, 5.3)


3.4.1 Include ageism when implementing strategies to increase sector diversity and inclusivity

3.4.2 Provide/source workshops in leadership, self-image, etc for women and girls as part of developing and maintaining the “image” or “brand” they want as artists


51. Advocating for increased diversity in location, times and intended audiences for gigs and industry events across the NT

52. Inclusion of workshops on selfimage, self-promotion, leadership, etc in MusicNTs regular industry workshop program and the next industry conference or similar event

AIM 3.5

More support for women struggling with mental health


3.5.1 Continue to hold women, music and mental health workshop/s in Darwin and Alice Springs, and include mental health as a topic in the next NT industry conference or similar event

3.5.2 Encourage women to build networks with supportive others and access relevant professional supports including from Support Act


53. MusicNT to provide a women, music and mental health workshop each year in Darwin and Alice Springs, with capacity for participants to also log in remotely

54. Include a women, music and mental health discussion or workshop within MusicNTs next Industry Conference or similar event

55. Continue to encourage informal networking between women (and supportive others) to reduce isolation, self-doubt and anxiety, and to share strategies which promote accurate self-reflection and recognising inner strengths

56. Regularly and actively promote Support Act and other reputable, relevant mental health services across industry, especially for female identifying musicians and songwriters