Interview: Sarah McBriar – AVA Festival

by / March 8, 2018

Sarah McBriar, the founder of AVA Festival sat down with us as part of our Women in Music week and AVA Festival London to talk about how the electronic music industry is changing for women, how women can get involved and her work with SheSaidSo; a network of supportive women in the industry.

How did AVA come about? What do you think has made the festival so successful thus far?

AVA was started by a passionate group of people who wanted to see a creative, artist lead festival & conference, that both celebrated the insanely talented local artists, as well as brought in some of the most respected international underground artists. The festival is run with passion at the core, and the want to develop the industry and artists, and this has become a really important part in the success of the festival, as the audience and the artists really feel they are getting something back.

How do you feel being a woman has impacted you career in the music industry? Do you feel that it is a welcoming industry for young women?

I have received a lot of support for entering and being in the music industry. I think the industry has been very welcoming, and I think it has changed a lot over the years, especially with the pressure to book more balanced lineups, this has resulted in a lot more females being placed in front of audiences from an early stage.

I do think however, the reality is, it is a more male dominated industry and therefore there are far more male artists (as I mainly book DJ’s and live electronic producers) to book. The positive is – this is really changing, and we have seen a huge growth in the number of female DJs and electronic producers especially in Ireland. When I started AVA in 2015, there was only a select few in the North, now this is changing. It is difficult being a promoter and trying to book lineups regularly that are both balanced, as well as ensuring you reach the minimal ticket sales you need to get.

A recent study conducted by the BBC revealed that 80% of festival headliners last year were male. What do you think is impacting the disconnect between festival performers and festival goers, as similar studies indicate that 51% of festival attendees are women. 

I don’t think there is a disconnect between festival goers and festival performers, I think there are just more male headliners and hence more selection for promoters to pick from. I think promoters are really trying to book more females. If you look at the electronic music industry, I don’t know the exact figure, but there are definitely more than 80% male DJ’s to pick from, which just naturally leads to more male headliners.

From my perspective, in electronic music, the issue isn’t the disconnect between festival goers and festival performers, the issue is developing more female headliners, so the amount of artists out there with headline status is more balanced.

AVA Festival 2017 – Photo by Aislinn McGinn

Emma Olson, New York based DJ UMFANG said “We are culturally brought up to think that women will always play softer and prettier music and they’re not necessarily as technically talented. I really thought that using synthesisers was harder for me, I thought that programming was harder for me because I’m a woman.” Do you believe that there is a stigma for women who want to get involved in electronic music? Has this effected your career? 

I think there probably is a stigma, there is a perspective that it is a more masculine career, both as an artist and as a festival promoter.  However, we as women should not accept, and yes – challenge it and not let it consume us or put us back, or become negative towards the industry as I believe this will only lead to negative outcomes. We must be positive, strong and continue to inspire many other women and men – to be a part of a really exciting and colourful industry.

I have received a lot of support, and I think the industry is changing. It is incredible how many talented DJs are coming through. Helena Hauff we have booked for AVA 2018 along with many other incredible female DJ’s including, Jayda G, Moxie, Sassy J, Saoirse, Or:la – all of which play incredible sets – that people walk away loving. Or:la’s Boiler Room set at AVA last year was one of THE most talked about and watched sets – this is incredible.

Women are currently dominating the popular music charts in the UK, do you think this trend will inspire a new generation of musicians and producers who are women? 

I hope it does.

Is there anything in particular that AVA festival has done to improve the conditions for women? 

Continue to book more females, continue to develop more through the conference and our partnerships.

How can women get involved and get support to pursue their careers? 

I am part of SheSaid.So which is a female network, and forming these relationships with other incredible women has hugely helped me, in both a professional and a supportive sense. I would recommend this, join groups and continue to form relationships and learn as much as you can. Volunteering in lots of different events and getting stuck in where you can.

I would strongly recommend getting involved in the AVA talks London and AVA Conference.

Who are some of your favourite female musicians? 

The artists that I have booked for AVA Festival this year, Helena Hauff, Jayda G, Moxie, Sassy J, Saoirse, Or:la, Sally C, GIRL, along with FKA Twigs, Eclaire FiFi, and Umfang.

What act of AVA London are you most excited about? 

Dark Sky Live on Friday 16th March, along with Or:la and Saoirse on Saturday 17th March.

How have you encouraged young women to sign up and attend AVA conferences as a safe space for new producers?

Through working with female producers, introducing SheSaid.So network to the Conference, working with Smirnoff this year on a number of workshops and a lot more.

Our AVA London Talks + Tech has a lot of incredible females speaking, as well as playing and I highly recommend getting involved – it is free to attend – all you need to do is sign up!

For more info on AVA Festival, check out their website. For info on next week’s London events click here.

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