Since its formation in 2018, Women In Live Music (WILM) has been working tirelessly to make the live music business a more diverse and inclusive place for women across Europe. The non-profit online hub has attracted around 2,500 members to date, connecting women with just about every conceivable role there is in the biz, from sound engineers, stage managers and backliners, to riggers, tour managers and lighting designers.
In addition to the networking and employment opportunities on offer, members can also capitalise on educational seminars and workshops held all over the continent, designed to equip them with the knowledge and skills required to develop in their careers. To find out more about the organisation’s work so far and its hopes for the future, PSNEurope editor Daniel Gumble spoke to live sound engineers and WILM founders Malle Kaas and Hannah Brodrick…
How did you first meet? Tells us a little bit about your backgrounds.
Hannah Brodrick: We met whilst Malle was doing the Britannia Row Advanced Live Sound course in London. I had taken the course a few months earlier and was working in the warehouse.
Malle Kaas: Yes, I was already involved organising live sound workshops when we met at Brit Row in 2014, and from that day on we started to do the events together.
What led you to launch WILM?
HB: Women only make up a small percentage of the music industry. Some women have never even worked with other women. So as you can imagine, meeting a female colleague would only happen on rare occasions (and still does). We wanted to create a platform where the women could find each other, network and share opportunities.
MK: By launching WILM we were able to create a platform for women working in all different parts of the live music industry, like female merch sellers, truck drivers, tour managers etc. and technicians of course. Simultaneously, we wanted to make our female co-workers more visible, so we created a Crew List on our website, where festivals, rental companies and artists can easily find qualified female crew members from all over Europe.
What is the purpose of WILM?
HB: To bring together women, inspire them, and give them the confidence to succeed in the live music industry through friendship and mentorship.
MK: We can see that having a community like WILM helps to keep women in the industry for longer. At the same time we want to give newcomers a more comfortable and secure start, which we are trying to achieve through a programme we have called ‘Safe Learning Environment”. Here, we arrange workshops, for instance Intro To Live Sound, executed by women, for women. We see a significant change in the participants when they get lectured by another woman, they are a lot more engaged and less afraid of asking questions.
How has the platform developed since its launch?
HB: We now have a very active Facebook group with nearly 2,500 members, a great working website with a merchandise shop, and are becoming widely recognised. Everyone has been so supportive and a lot of manufacturers and trade shows have taken interest and asked us to hold workshops and panel discussions.
MK: We have also been approached by a couple of festivals who want to bring in more diversity to their stage crew. By now we have already had some successful collaborations, and we would be happy to collaborate on more projects with the established parts of the live music industry to help increase diversity backstage.
What are the biggest challenges the industry faces in becoming more inclusive?
HB: I think the competitive nature of the industry means that people are often unwilling to help each other out. I’ve noticed with other online industry groups, people seem more eager to put each other down than share their skills and work opportunities. A lot of people are scared of someone else taking their job.
MK: The whole ‘let’s get more women in the industry’ approach can seem intimidating to our male co-workers. But WILM is not telling men to move over and give women some space. Our main focus is to provide our female co-workers with the right skills to be able to do a good job by sharing knowledge and expertise.
What are the key things you have learned since launching the platform?
HB: It varies vastly between countries. We have a lot of members from Scandinavian countries but very little from Mediterranean ones. Culture plays a huge part. With our new chapter in the Balkans, we hope to make a difference in this part of Europe as well.
MK: We have learned how much it means for women to have a community to lean on in order to stay in the industry longer. It doesn’t help to get a lot of young women interested in the industry if we can’t hold on to them. We can see that initiatives like WILM really help them to stay in the industry – even though it can still be tough to be the only woman in the crew over and over again. Through our community, they see hope for having other female co-workers.
What impact has WILM had since its launch? What has the feedback been like?
MK: The feedback has been tremendous. Lots of positive feedback from co-workers, unions, organisations and festivals from all over Europe. People do want to see more diversity, and you can tell that they appreciate the work we do to bring female crew members closer to the industry. I really believe that the way we run WILM has a positive impact on the industry. We insist on a nice and relaxed tone in the community, and I think this is why WILM has been as well received as it has.
What measures can be taken to make the pro audio industry a more inclusive place, from employers and professionals to the media and education providers?
HB: Inclusive language plays an important part. It’s a minor thing but using gender-neutral terms instead of ‘sound guy’ helps to shift the image of it only being men who work in audio. We can also do more to increase female visibility; women need to see other women doing these jobs.
MK: Education providers, from primary schools to universities, could definitely do a better job at showing ‘women can do this too’. As for the industry, WILM works with manufacturers like Rational Acoustics and d&b audiotechnik to encourage more women to attend technical training. We also work with Allen & Heath to help provide a group of female dLive trainers.
Have you seen any significant changes in attitudes in recent years?
HB: More people are open to having others shadow them on their gigs – I think we may have started a trend! Employers and crew bookers actively want to have women on their team too. I’ve noticed that everybody is also much less tolerant of sexist behaviour.
MK: I think it will still take a while for people to get used to seeing women on their tech teams. And it will probably take another couple of generations for people (both men and women) to understand that a woman can be in charge of sound – and that she can actually troubleshoot as well as her male co-workers. There is no need to call for assistance, just because you see a woman behind the mixing board.