Stevie G: Radio playlists need more women

This is a country where young Irish women are making some of the most exciting music here in years, so why are they not getting the air-time they deserve? So asks Stevie G in his Downtown column
Stevie G: Radio playlists need more women
Denise Chaila is probably the most significant voice in music her right now, according to Stevie G.

THE lack of airplay for Irish women in music has been pretty depressing in recent years, and it was brought back into focus recently by some playlists from an online radio station called Eirewave.

Eirewave isn’t a particularly huge platform anyway, but the lack of women on their Irish playlist was remarkable. Earlier this year, a top 20 of tracks on Irish radio overall indicated that the pattern on Eirewave is pretty much reflected on radio as a whole, which is dominated by male bands or solo performers.

In some ways Eirewave is an easy target, though the publication of subsequent lists after initial criticism, which still largely ignored women, show that they don’t seem to bothered about trying to be more representative. They have pointed to the fact that their playlists are listener led, but it’s a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy at times, especially since most of their playlists are dominated by artists who already enjoy huge success both here and abroad.

Irish radio is dominated by a particular sound, which is fairly acoustic or rock orientated music by bands such as Picture This, Kodaline, The Academic, The Script, The Coronas and more recently, very good and deserved success stories, such as Gavin James and Dermot Kennedy.

Some of this music may not be to everybody’s tastes, but I find that dismissing the artists who do get played here is a bit unfair and irrelevant. It’s not their fault that radio and the music industry here doesn’t support women in an adequate way.

Singer Sinead O’Connor. Picture: Domnick Walsh
Singer Sinead O’Connor. Picture: Domnick Walsh

There are notable exceptions. This is the country of Roisin Murphy, Sinead O’Connor, Dolores O’Riordain and many more, but this is also a country where young Irish women are making some of the most exciting music here in years. Add in the fact that most of the aforementioned lists are all white artists and you’d be forgiven for thinking that something isn’t quite right.

Although there is a dearth of women on the airwaves, Soule enjoyed a daytime radio hit with ‘Love Tonight’ this time last year.
Although there is a dearth of women on the airwaves, Soule enjoyed a daytime radio hit with ‘Love Tonight’ this time last year.

For every Soule, who enjoyed a daytime radio hit with “Love Tonight” this time last year, there’s dozens and dozens of other women waiting in the wings who deserve significantly more airplay and exposure here.

Non white artists definitely seem to statistically struggle more here too, so it’s particularly hard for non white female artists. I don’t for a minute think there is a racial element to how music is programmed here, but I do think there is a subliminal mindset that makes the white Irish male a safer bet for a medium which is notoriously safe in Ireland.

Being a white male who works in radio myself, I have seen radio up close and I also understand many of its mechanisms. I can understand why stations that are self-sufficient have to play safe in a competitive market, and I do understand that most stations are a lot more free in off peak times too.

Significant strides have been made in getting more women on air behind the mic, and there are great examples of good artists getting lots of play, such as Stephanie Rainey and Soule, to name but two. But surely lots more women making great music here deserve lots more airplay?

Erica Cody.Photo: Anthony Woods
Erica Cody.Photo: Anthony Woods

My own taste in music is fairly specific and lots of my own favourite Irish women operate in soul, jazz and hip-hop. Some of these music genres are very accessible, some are not, and most don’t fit in easily to the acoustic white male vibe currently so popular here. But Denise Chaila is probably the most significant voice in music here right now. Zali, Erica Cody, Tolu Makay, Sorcha Richardson, Molly Sterling, Loah, Pillow Queens, Meghan Murray, Farah Elle, Orla Gartland, Lila Vargen, NC Grey and others make music that is accessible enough for more plays outside the off peak slots, but this is just the tip of the iceberg.

I don’t think percentages are the answer either. I’ve always argued that we should not treat music based here as a percentage (it will just mean more Westlife on air) and i think it’s the same with women. I just feel that we need to talk about it more and maybe get progress this way.

It’s not gonna change overnight, and I know I can even do more myself. But I’ve always tried to push the music I like in ways that I can, and it just so happens that lots of it is made by Irish women. I know people will grow to love this music as much as I do, so hopefully we will hear more of it on radio.

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