Classical music sector’s lack of diversity laid bare by new report

The mainstream music industry isn’t the only place that could up its diversity game: new research from The British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA) reveals major issues in the commissioning of works by female and BAME classical music composers.

The research, conducted by BASCA’s Classical Co-ordinator, Natalie Bleicher, involved analysing data on commissioned works that were submitted to the 2015 British Composer Awards.

Alongside this analysis, BASCA surveyed seven universities and conservatoires and also collected data from Sound and Music on participants at their summer school and applicants to their professional development schemes.

Key findings in regard to ethnicity include:

* 6% of commissioned composers are BAME, compared to 14% amongst the UK population

* Just over half the commissioned composers are based in London, which has a BAME population of 30%

* Applicants to Sound and Music’s professional development schemes were 16% BAME, similar to the profile of the UK population, showing that the low proportion of BAME commissioned composers does not reflect the proportion of those aspiring to professional careers

*In the 50+ range (an age group accounting for 38% of all commissioned works), less than 3% were BAME

Key findings in regard to gender include:

* 21% of commissioned composers are female, compared to 51% of the UK population and 36% of all composition students

* The percentage of women decreases at each level of study – 39% of Bachelor’s degrees are awarded to women, whereas 14% of PhDs are awarded to women

* The gender imbalance for work commissioned by composers in the 20-29 age group was actually higher than in the 50-59 and 60-69 age groups

Commenting on the findings, BASCA CEO Vick Bain (pictured) said: “It is something we have long suspected is an issue. I first conducted equality and diversity research into the music industry back in 2011, when most people were still in denial.

“When Natalie conducted further research in this area in 2013, she found that most commissioners did not have an equality and diversity policy, which was a strong indication that this was not being monitored or taken seriously.”

BASCA has taken steps to encourage more diversity in this year’s British Composer Awards.

In 2013, the winners of all 13 categories at the British Composer Awards were male, and 12 were white. In 2014, five were female and all were white. In 2015, two were female and all were white.

BASCA has adjusted the demographics of the judging panel so that in 2015, 50% were female and a significant percentage were from black or minority ethnic backgrounds.

It also introduced an online entry system so demographic data on the entrants can be gathered, the results of which are published in the research project.

In 2016, for the first time, composers will be able to nominate themselves rather than ask a peer to do it on their behalf.

In most categories the works will be judged anonymously, reducing the possibility of unconscious bias.

Bain is keen for BASCA and the classical music community as a whole, especially in the area of commissioning, to continue pushing the equality and diversity agenda.

She continued: “The conversation is really just starting. We are planning a Diversity in Composition day with BBC Radio 3 in October, focusing on BAME composers and there will be more work with the Association of British Orchestras next year.

“We also need to gather more data in these and other areas –social class is a biggie as it’s intrinsically linked to education and culture, but is much more difficult to uncover. I’d love us to do more work in that area.”

Music Business Worldwide

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