Georgia Hardy: Women and Non-Binary Folk in Live Music
Updated: Feb 28, 2021
This series is an extension from our Instagram, with full Q&A's instead of the shorter Instagram bios. Here you can read the full in-depth interviews with music venue programmer & events promotor Georgia Hardy, & go direct to their provided donation link to show your support:
I’m a music venue programmer and events promoter. For the last two years I’ve worked for VICE, running the diary for their music venues The Old Blue Last and Sebright Arms. I also run my own promotions company Spilt Milk, which specialises in upcoming guitar bands, and through I've booked the likes of Cherry Glazerr, Pip Blom, Porridge Radio, Sinead O’Brien and Nuha Ruby Ra, and have worked with DIY Magazine to book their ‘Hello’ event series.
I’m very much on the discovery end of the music industry, which I love. Alongside this, I co-run Route, a Community Interest Company that encourages young people from marginalised backgrounds to pursue a career in the music industry by sharing advice and guidance. I grew up in Luton, a working-class ex-industrial town outside of London. By the time I was old enough to go out, most of the music venues had shut down but there was one alternative nightclub left called Edge. I would go there sometimes three times a week, and eventually became friends with the owner. I’m also a drummer, and he was really supportive of young bands. He would let my band use the club to rehearse, shoot music videos, practise DJing, and eventually he let me put on a night for me and my friends to play. At that time I didn’t know what promoting was – when you’re young, you kind of just think that gigs happen and don’t realise that there’s a whole industry behind it! I was also meant to be going off to uni around this time but decided to take a year out, where I worked in a service station, played in bands and put on a few more events. By the time I went to university, I definitely never wanted to work in a service station again, so I was ready to work hard and wasn’t bothered about having a traditional fresher’s lifestyle. I moved to Hackney even though it was over an hour’s commute from my university because I wanted to be close to the venues that I loved. An internship came up at LNZRT (who own The Shacklewell Arms, MOTH Club and The Waiting Room), which I landed, and they taught me everything I know about promoting and running venues and encouraged me to set up Spilt Milk.
There have been some real cringe moments as a woman working in music, like not being allowed into sound check because the security thought I was a band member’s girlfriend. Another classic is DJing and people come over and talk to my boyfriend thinking he's the DJ. There have also been plenty of times where I’ve been standing with a guy while promoting a show and the band will come up to him instinctively thinking he’s the promoter. Most of the time, people are really embarrassed when they realise they’ve made a mistake, so I know it’s not from a bad place, but it shows that we haven’t yet internalised the idea of women having authority. Despite this, I don’t think being a woman has held back my career so far. If anything, these misdemeanours make me more determined to be successful. Though maybe I’ll change my mind on that one when I’m going for a managerial position!
A bad moment was being out for dinner as the only woman in the group. It was during the #MeToo movement and one of the men, who is a pretty big figure in my industry’s circle, started spouting off that “next we won’t be able to put a hand on a woman’s knee at a Christmas party”. I’ve always been able to stand up for myself, but was pretty disappointed that none of the other men at the table said anything. They just looked pretty awkward about it. I think a lot of people are scared to stand up to people in positions of power, but at the end of the day they’re literally just another human being. If someone says anything racist, ableist, sexist or classist to another person in your presence, you should stick up for them no matter who the perpetrator is.
I’ve felt a bigger sense of imposterdom in the music industry because of my background rather than my gender. The music industry is an extremely classist place. Unpaid internships and badly-paid insecure work early on in your career makes it really hard for people from working class or even lower middle class backgrounds to consider a career in the arts. Only about 6% of the UK population is privately educated, so why do I know so many of them in my workplace? It’s much easier to get ahead when your parents are able to financially support you when things go wrong, or open you up to connections in an industry fuelled by nepotism. My family still don’t actually know or understand what I do, but many of my industry peers have parents who are in the creative industry themselves. You’d think that the independent music world would be better at addressing issues of inequality, but actually it’s worse. There are now women of colour holding high positions at some major companies but at the big independent record labels, music venues, booking agencies and publishers (of the indie world) they’re nowhere to be seen. Most independent businesses only employ a small number of people and so employ those they can easily relate to. To have started those companies in the first place, they are usually pretty well-off, well connected, and able to take the risks that running a creative business brings, so the independent music scene has ended up a very homogenous place. I think the internet has done a lot of good in equipping people to challenge these structures within the industry. The success of NTS Radio and projects like Saffron have shown that those who are marginalised by the industry can do the work themselves, and often do it better.
I lost all of my work when the first lockdown hit. I managed to get some freelance jobs when restrictions started to lift but that fell through when the second lockdown happened, so my main income has gone again and I’ve fallen through the cracks in the government’s financial support schemes. It’s been pretty rubbish but I’ve been kept really busy with Route and in terms of promoting, I’m just trying to ride it out. I want to do bigger and better things when we do get back to normal.
I work with a big network of female promoters, booking agents, managers and sound engineers, so the gender-balance isn’t too bad, but all of them (including myself) are white. I don’t believe that there aren’t any women of colour into guitar music that would want to become agents or promoters, so we should question why we don’t know any. There’s a sense of solidarity between women in the industry and community networks like Girls Against and Ladies/music/pub have become invaluable to women who are trying to build their careers in music. I think we should use these spaces to address other imbalances, such as class, race and disability. If we favour one issue above the other then we replace one power imbalance with another, so I think it’s important to talk about how discriminations interlink and affect one another. You're going to have a much better chance at success is you're a white, straight, able-bodied woman from an affluent background, so I don't see it as much of a success story when these types of women are appointed to top jobs because it's still such a safe bet. We can do much better than that. Being a woman probably does make me more aware of the diversity of line ups but I don’t really like the idea of tokenism, so I wouldn’t put a woman on a bill if I didn’t think they were great just to meet a quota. No one wants to feel like they’re there to tick boxes. I think the biggest problem among bookers at a grassroots level is laziness – It’s much easier for promoters and agents to stick with what they know instead of searching for acts that don't fit their idea of what a rock band looks like. As for big festival bills... those guys have no excuse!
To donate to and support Georgia, make a contribution to the community interest company, The Route https://theroute.co/About!!
Interview conducted by Georgia Donnelly