Aoife McDonagh

First Published April 2018

HOW COWGIRLS AND HEROES ARE MADE

Aoife McDonagh

At last year’s Cowboys & Heroes Festival in Drumcoura City in Leitrim, Aoife McDonagh was crowned the winner of the festival’s Search For A Country Star competition. Ever since then, we’ve been trying to schedule an interview, but for one reason or another – all on my side, I’m afraid – we had to keep putting it off to another day. But we stayed in regular contact, and last week, at last, we managed to nail down a time and a day, and we ‘made it happen’, as the saying goes! There’s another saying about things being well worth the wait, and in Aoife’s case this is accurate to the nth degree! As soon as I first heard her debut single, Go Down Swingin’, I had a feeling that I was going to enjoy chatting with the Sligo woman. Anybody who could come out with a first song that catchy – and, on today’s Irish country music scene,that unique – could only be pretty cool in real-life, too. As soon as we finally said hello, I knew I was right.

Aoife, as well as being a beautiful, beautiful singer, which is clearly why she won last year’s competition, is one of those people who it’s probably impossible not to ‘click’ with straight away. You meet, you start to chat, and the most lovely and genuine warmth, sense of fun, and down-to-earthness radiates from her personality. I could have chatted to Aoife all day long. And, I could listen to her sing all day long, too. And these are just two of the reasons why Aoife should become a household name as far as Irish country music is concerned in the coming years.

But for right now, it’s all about the present, and Aoife has just released her debut single. Go Down Swingin’, is a wonderfully old-style country-swing tune, and to be honest, I’ve loved it from within about the first few seconds of the first time I heard it. This is my kinda country. I knew it wasn’t an original, but it also wasn’t a song I could honestly recall hearing before, either. So, slightly puzzled as to how this one might have slipped by me, I began by asking Aoife how she came to choose this particular track as her debut single…

“Well, I entered into this competition in the Cowboys & Heroes Festival over in Drumcoura city, there in Leitrim. And it was actually a lad I started singing with, called Liam Gilmartin, who’s from here in Sligo – and he played with Ray Lynam back in the day, and he was a member of Jargon with Charlie McGettigan, too – so it was Liam who said it to me about the competition. Now, I’ve been goin’ to that festival for twenty years, since I was a child, when my father used to bring me over there. But there wasn’t a hope in hell that I was gonna go up on stage and go singin’, not a hope in hell! [laughs]. Cos’ I only started singing last year [2017], so I was way, way, way too shy and too nervous. But anyway, Liam said to me, ‘Look, if you don’t try this, you’ll never know [how it might have went], and if you don’t go and do it, you’ll never have the courage to get up in front of a big crowd like that.’ So he said, ‘Just go over without any expectations, just go for yourself.’ So that’s what I did. I just did it for myself.” 

 

Aoife continued, “You had to enter the competition by sending them in a little video, so we recorded one down in Liam’s kitchen! [laughs]. I sang the song, ‘Someone Is Looking For Someone Like You’, and sent it in, never thinking I’d hear anything from them. But I got picked! And what happened was, there was twelve of us picked and we went up to Drumcoura City and we sang on the stage [at last year’s Cowboys & Heroes festival], and I absolutely loved it! I enjoyed every minute of it. It was the Ryan Turner Band who was backing me, and they’re great. They just made me feel really relaxed and everything. So that was fine, really enjoyed it, and thought to myself it was going to be the first and last time that I’d ever get on a big stage like that, do ya know! [laughs]. So I said I’d better give it socks! [laughs]. So I did, I thoroughly enjoyed it. But I couldn’t believe it when I heard my name coming out through the speakers to come back the next day! So panic stations then, sure I had nothing to wear! [laughs]. I had to get someone to mind the children as well, because I hadn’t sorted that either, because I never thought that I’d need to be there the second day. Anyway, went back over the next day, and I think I relished it even more that time, I really was thanking my lucky stars. I was like, wow, how lucky am I to be getting on this stage a second time! This is it now, enjoy it! So you can imagine my absolute shock when they announced the winner and it was my name. I was actually in conversation with somebody – I’m a bit of a talker, ya know [laughs] – and I was chatting away to someone and when my name came out through the speakers, I didn’t even hear it because I was chatting! And the lady I was talking to, she says, ‘That’s your name, that’s your name! You won it!’ And I thought, won what? I thought she was talking about a raffle or something! [laughs] I was like, what’s goin’ on?! But then the next thing I realised was they were all calling me up on the stage. Still to this day I’m pinching myself asking did that actually happen?! It was a dream come true.”

 

And part of Aoife’s prize was to actually record a single, and a video to go with it…

“To do a single, ya know…I mean, I’m a mum of three, a stay-at-home mum, I never thought I’d ever be able to do anything like this. I thought it would cost too much money, where would I get the time, and this and that. So I wanted to pick something special. I didn’t want to do something that was done before. I didn’t want to pick a song that people were very familiar with. I wanted something completely fresh, and completely new. So how I actually found the song in the end was, my aunty – and unfortunately she only just passed away a month ago, my poor aunty, she was like my best friend – Carmel, it was her and my father who got me into music, especially the American country, and Carmel was forever buying me cds. You know those five-cd compilations, ‘101 Great Country Songs’ or whatever, with all these songs you’ve never heard of in your life, like! So I was listening to all this music trying to figure out what would I release as the single, and I found this song, ‘Go Down Swingin’. It’s from a band called Wild Roses, an all-female American country band, with five members in it. They formed in 1988, which was the year I was born, so I thought that was a good omen anyway [laughs]. They were only together though for three years, but they released three albums one year after the other, then they broke up. And what I also found out when I started researching them, was that Lisa McHugh’s song, ‘I’m A Little Bit Lonely’, that was there song as well. And, it’s actually from the same album as my song, ‘Go Down Swingin.’ And it was actually Wayne Thorose, over at Ballyrose Studios, when I was recording my single, that informed me of that. Because Lisa had recorded ‘I’m A Little Bit Lonely’ there with him. And when I brought him over my song, Wayne was like, ‘Jesus, I’ve heard that song before.’ And he was trying to think where he heard it, and that’s where it was. So that was kind of interesting!” 

 

When it came to making the final decision on exactly which song it was going to be, though, Aoife called in some experts for their advice….

“So there was two or three songs I had it narrowed down to before I chose that one, and I was playing them all here at home listening to them. But here’s what really made me pick that one. My two little girls here – they’re eight and four, Caoimhe and Cora – they absolutely loved that song! And they kept asking me to put it on, ‘Will ya put on THAT song, Mammy, will ya?!’ And they were singing’ it themselves goin’ out the door to school in the morning. So I thought well that shows it’s catchy, and it’s fun! So I said right, that’s the winner!” 

 

But Aoife did have some concerns (unwarranted, in my opinion) about her choice…

“But I was afraid now, being honest, that the song, because it’s not your typical Irish jive, I was afraid that it wouldn’t go down too well. It is good and catchy, and fast and lively and everything. But I was afraid that it wouldn’t go down well because it’s not a typical Irish jive. But sure look, I love it, the kids love it, I said let’s go and do it! It’s something different! And I’m getting great feedback from it so far, so I hope everyone does like it! [laughs].” 

 

At this point, I realised that Aoife had answered about half of the questions I had prepared in her very first answer! When I pointed this out, she just laughed and apologised.

“Sorry! I’ll tell ya, that’s me, I’m a total talker! When I start telling a story, I tell every little detail! [laughs].” 

 

Part of her prize was to record a single, and that’s just been released in the last few week’s too, the brilliantly western-swing styled, ‘Go Down Swingin.’ Personally, I love this song and I hope country radio recognises how good it is. And let me tell you, Aoife is every bit as great to chat to as she is a pleasure to listen to when she sings. When it comes to talent and personality Aoife is already top of the charts.

So how did she finally start to gig following that Cowboys & Heroes victory last year…

“Well first of all, I was working full-time as a beautician here in Ballymoate, my local town, working in a pharmacy downstairs and managed the salon that was upstairs. So I was basically between the two, but I was the only one working in the salon so it was tough going. But after I had my second daughter, I was thinking it was just far too busy at work. And it really doesn’t pay either when you have childcare for the two of them. And I wanted to be at home with them anyway. So I gave up the job and was being a stay-at-home mum here, and I honestly had no ‘plan’, I just wanted to get out of that job at the time. I knew there was something else for me out there, but I didn’t what. So I always sang in the choir in the local church, and I was always involved in pantomimes in the town as well. But I never actually went out gigging in pubs or anything, because I just thought I’d never be able to do that, to be honest! So, what happened was a lady asked me to sing at her aunty’s month’s mine, and I asked her, ‘Do you mean the choir?’ But she said, ‘No, I want you.’ She said I like your voice, I think you’re great. So I thought to myself then, Jesus, maybe I could do this. She was actually the first person who ever asked me to do it like that. So I started to dip my toe into it a little bit, having a look around to see what was out there [someone to sing with].”

Aoife continued, “My sister-in-law told me about this thing she’d seen on Facebook, the Sligo Musicians’ Notice Board. I’d never heard of it, but sure we went onto it anyway! [laughs]. So she said why don’t we put up an ad saying I wanted to do a bit of country music singing, but that I was just starting out and I’d love to meet somebody who’d accompany me on guitar or piano. So that’s what I did, and Liam Gilmartin answered the cal! Now Liam was Ray Lynam’s lead-guitarist for years in the 80s, and do you remember that band, Jargon? With Charlie McGettigan? Well he was in that with Charlie, that was Charlie’s first band. And The Cotton Mill Boys, did you ever hear of them? Well Liam was the guitar player with them as well. So there was a few things that Liam had done that were kinda jaw-dropping. And I was thinking, ya know, I’m not worthy of this fella! [laughs]. So I rang him and I told him I was literally just starting off, I hadn’t done ANYTHING! But he said that didn’t matter. Now Sligo, unfortunately, is very bad for venues when it comes to country music. There’s nowhere really to play it. There’s one or two places in the town, and that’s where we go, but that’s it. It’s very sad.”

 

As is so often the case in life, timing is everything. And so it proved with Aoife and Liam….

“So as it happened, Liam was dying to get back into doing a bit of country again, so he said come on down to me and we’ll do something. So we started doing a two-piece acoustic set-up, and got a few gigs in our local pub and things like that. That was going very well, so we decided we wanted to do something more, to make it a fuller sound. Liam knew a guy called Michael Coggins, and he plays the steel-guitar and also the mandolin and electric guitar. He came along with us as well, so now there’s the three of us! We use a drum and bass for a backing-track, and the boys play ‘live’, and we’re out now every weekend! I can’t believe that I’m so lucky to have met those two. And we love it!”

As well as recording a single, another part of Aoife’s prize from last year was to record a video to go along with it. And that’s happening this coming Sunday, too, back where it all began, at Cowboys & Heroes….

“That’s right. Well there were a few different times I was going to do it, and a few different places I was going to do it, but then I was talking to Simon over at Cowboys & Heroes and he said well why don’t you do it here? Where it all started off in the first place. And actually do it around the time of the festival. Because the song is called ‘Go Down Swingin’, and it’s about dancing and singing, you have to kind of tie all that into it. I didn’t just want a video of me…out in a field! [laughs]. Or beside a river, ya know! [laughs]. That’s not the way I wanted it. I want something good and lively, something that’s going to be….that’s going to be entertaining to watch, yeah. I feel very passionate about this video, I’ll be very hands-on with it. I think it’s because it’s my debut and people don’t know who I am and have never heard of me. So I’m like, right, this has to be right, it has to be perfect. So I’m going to singing at Cowboys & Heroes this year anyway, on the Sunday in the afternoon, so we’ll get some footage there. And maybe, maybe I might be making another appearance again later in the evening, too. We’ll see how it goes! But fair play to Simon for suggesting that we do it there. I would never even have thought of imposing in any way like that. So hopefully it all works out.” 

So one year one, and with Go Down Swingin’ finally landing punches on the country charts, is Aoife looking forward to being back on the Cowboys & Heroes stage?

 

“I can’t wait! Now, I am nervous, I will say that. last year I was only doing it for myself, it was like an experiment! [laughs]. I never thought what might come out of it. Last year it all happened so quick, and I had no time to think about it. Whereas this year now, there’s plenty of time to think about it, and I’m like, ‘Oh God!!!’ [laughs]. If I’m thrown in the deep-end I’m better off, I much prefer that. If I think about something too much it worries me. But look, I know I’ve done it before, so I’m sure it will be fine. And Stuart Moyles** is on the same day and I’m so happy about that because Stuart is a friend of ours and he’s been so, so good helping me with any questions I’ve had and stuff like that. So I’m looking forward to having Stuart in the same building at the same time! [laughs].” 

ENDS

 

Linda Coogan Byrne

First Published July 2020

IRISH RADIO HAS FAILED IRISH FEMALE ARTISTS

Linda Coogan Byrne

Hasn’t it been brilliant seeing Irish artists such as Gavin James, Hozier, Picture This, Dermot Kennedy, and Niall Horan becoming the huge acts they have over the last few years? And make no mistake about it, for their talent, the work hours they put in, and the miles they clock up in making it happen, they deserve every accolade, plaudit, and hit that comes their way. No question about it. I’ll tell you what, though, HERE IS a question for you, and it’s one that LINDA COOGAN BYRNE has decided to ask out loud…what about Ireland’s female artists…where are they? Why aren’t they breaking through to the same degree? Why, actually, are they barely even being heard on Irish radio?

If music is just something that you tune in and out to during your day or every now and then, then perhaps you might be forgiven for falling for the rather lazy assumption that if Irish female artists were ‘good enough’, or ‘as good as’ their male peers, then they’d be getting the same amount of airplay. And in turn, there’d be as many – if not more – breaking through in the same spectacular fashion as the gents mentioned in my opening. But, if music is the world in which you live, and is what you live for, and is at the centre of how you live, then this question will have bothered you in the same way it’s bothered Linda for a long time. Too long now. Way too long to not finally look deeper.

When you know Ireland has fantastically talented female artists like Megan O’ Neill, like RuthAnne, like Emma Langford, like Luan Parle, like Una Healy, like Soulé, like Kehli, like Hannah Kathleen and so many more…but you hardly ever even hear them on Irish radio, then you know that something is definitely not right. And when Linda decided to look deeper, by compiling her recently released report on Gender Disparity on Irish radio, an ugly truth was revealed. And there’s no other way to say – nor should there be – than that Irish radio has failed Irish female artists. Over the course of a full year, from June 2019 to June of this year, only RTE Radio 1 achieved a 50-50 gender balance in terms of their Top 20 most played Irish artists over that time. Many stations had as little as 5% Irish female artists in their Top 20. And that is definitely NOT an accurate reflection of the number of amazing female artists we have on this island, nor of the music they’re creating.

I had the pleasure of sitting down with Linda to talk about her report last week. As the founder of Good Seed PR, and someone who has experienced every area of the music business – from having played in bands herself, to working for and with major record labels – what, I wondered, was the tipping-point for her to actually chase down these figures, put things into black and white, and say to Irish radio…LOOK! Linda had mentioned in a recent interview elsewhere on this same topic that while compiling the data there were actually moments where she became really angry, and even cried. Were there, I wondered, similar moments along the way to finally making the decision to put this report together?

“Yeah, totally. I mean, first of all, during Covid I had time to actually finish the report, because I had started it last year. That’s why it’s from June of last year to now. I’ve worked in the industry for over fifteen years, professionally as an industry person, but I was in bands since I was seventeen years of age. So I’ve been in the industry for a long time, as both a musician and an artist as well. And just seeing the disparity and inequality that women constantly have to face…You know, the likes of walking into a recording studio, and there’ll be two lads beside ya. I’d walk in with a guitar and even whoever is producing, or is on the desk as an engineer, would be like, ‘Oh right, go on, let us see ya play, go on take it out there.’ And I’m like, would you say that to a dude? Would you say that to a guy? It’s about always having to constantly validate ourselves because we’re women! It’s ridiculous. Or wearing a tee-shirt, a Rolling Stones tee-shirt, or a Ramones tee-shirt, and someone’s goin’ around to ya goin’ can ya name a song? Ya know! [laughs]. And I’m sure any woman that hears me say this will be like, ‘Yeah, totally.’ It’s this gender bias that women have no idea about music and that it’s all about men. And unfortunately, it’s because the industry hasn’t supported us. It’s not because women aren’t making  music. It’s the fact that females creating music aren’t being given the same platform and opportunities as male acts to be broken. And it’s neglect. It’s inequality on a national level in Ireland. It has devastating effects on women who are creating music and on those who aspire to create it. Because the message that they’re sending, and have been sending for more than a decade, is that they [female artists] don’t matter. What they’re creating doesn’t matter, because they won’t be heard. You have the likes of the UK who have broken their own domestic acts, I mean, Jesus, just to name a few there’s Amy Winehouse, Mabel, Rita Ora, Jessie Ware, Paloma Faith, Dua Lipa…the list goes on! But in Ireland, in the last ten years, who can name a breakthrough Irish commercial act that has gone outside of Ireland? I mean, anyone can name Picture This, Gavin James, Dermot Kennedy. They roll off the tongue. And that’s just in the last few months. There’s no women. The Cranberries were 1989, The Corrs were 1990. B*Witched were probably the last pop commercial act from Ireland. That’s shocking to see that that’s the last era of Irish female acts that were adequately represented. Why did that stop? That’s the question we need to ask.” 

It’s a very broad question in so many ways, something I acknowledged to Linda as I put it to her, but in her own opinion and based on her own many years of experience in the music business and dealing with radio…why does she think this gender gap has come to exist across Irish radio? And to exist in so big a way at that…

“That’s a good question, and it’s one that keeps coming up. A lot of people go with the argument that commercial radio plays what’s commercial and what’s on Spotify, and what’s trending. And while that’s all well and good for the likes of Doja Cat who trends on Tik-Tok and then everyone starts playing her. The likes of Gavin James, the likes of Picture This…and I have to keep going back to the lads because this is about male and female in Irish radio, it’s Irish artists only…but they were being played on the radio before they broke. It wasn’t the fact that radio suddenly started playing them when they got this big record deal. They were supported, record labels saw the support they got, and then they took a chance on signing these artists. Women aren’t getting the same chances. So why are radio doing that? I don’t know. I have to question how play-lists are put together. Some say it’s an algorithm based system whereby they chose what’s on-trend, they look to Spotify and see who’s trending. But if you do that, then the likes of RuthAnne [Cunningham], who’s brought out the Women In Harmony single [a cover of Dreams by the Cranberries], but prior to her even doing that collaboration, she has over three billion – THREE BILLION – streams collectively on Spotify for artists that she’s written for. And herself, she has millions of streams on her own merit, on her own music that she’s released as an individual artist. So if it was a case where the argument is, ‘Oh radio are following trends’…, that’s not true. Because there are female artists that are mentioned in the report that have got more streams than some of the artists that have been broken in Irish radio that are male. So it’s really about why the system is in place in Irish radio where they can add a female to a play-list and add a male to a play-list, and yet the females are getting totally thrown aside and not being appointed the heavy rotation play-lists that men are. They [female artists] are being put on overnight play-lists that nobody listens to because it’s in the middle of the night! It really needs to be properly looked at and inspected. Because to be honest, it’s not only a blatant disregard of female creatives, it’s an infringement on basic human rights. If you’re given a broadcasting licence in Ireland, there are standards that come with that, stipulations where there has to be equality all around. It’s legislation. So if they’re neglecting that…! It’s a discriminatory practise if they’re directly impacting how an artist can make money and earn a living, and that’s what they’re doing. It’s 100% radio licences who are being given the privilege, via the government, and they’re taking that privilege and they’re rejecting female artists. And that is a big issue.” 

Something I’m sure Linda has probably thought about often is what would she do right now, if she was in a position of influence within a radio station, to go about redressing this horrific imbalance?

“I’d look for an opt-in solution. RTE Radio 1, our national station, they have gender balance. I rang Martina McGlynn and Aidan Butler, who are senior producers and who are on the play-list committee – because it’s a play-list committee that’s on Radio 1 – and I asked them why did they think they have come up trumps in this, because they have, they’re 50-50. And their answer was because it’s mindful. They go in every week, they sit down, they look at the submissions, and they say right, we have to make sure that there’s a non-gender bias here. Some weeks it might be six women over four men or whatever. But generally, from their annual perspective, they have got it right. She said you can’t always have every week five and five, or 50-50, but they mindfully are always aware to try and enact gender balance. She said it’s as simple as that. Women and men deserve equal opportunities. So what I say to radio, and what I have said to radio, because I’ve issued an email to every single radio station, to every single head-of-music in each station, and I’ve welcomed them to open up the conversation. I’ve said that myself and Áine [singer/songwriter Áine Tyrrell who co-compiled the report with Linda] are here to discuss it, to accept and acknowledge that they have let down the women of Ireland – because they have, this is a fact, it’s not an opinion – and how they can go about changing that and enforcing change. And how do they do that? They get together as a team, the programme directors, the marketing team…because everyone goes, oh it’s marketing because men are easier to market than women, which is absolute tripe! Some of the biggest artists in the world of music are female artists; Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Billie Elish…they’re all some of the biggest artists ever, in history! So this whole thing of people don’t like women being heard on the radio, or female voices, ya know, it just has to stop. Radio needs to sit down and look at the facts. And stop feeling so personally attacked that someone has stated the obvious. And this is what we’re seeing coming back. Even on these ridiculous Twitter attacks where DJs are feeling like they’re being targeted. We’re not targeting DJs. This is not a personal attack. This is not an opinion based report. It’s a factual data report, which outlines the gender disparity that’s in radio. It’s as simple as that. I have DJs that I’ve worked with for years going, ‘Oh Linda, I feel like you’ve fed me to the wolves.’ And I’m going to them, well if you feel that, how do you think female artists have been feeling for over a decade in Ireland?! So again, they have to put their ego aside, because this isn’t about them. It’s about gender equality. It’s about the likes of FM104 giving 100% male acts, 100%! Most stations are 95% [male] to 5% [female]. Like…5%? I mean, I can’t even…! When I was putting this report together, I had to keep checking, because I was thinking, am I seeing this right? Is this actually true?! [laughs]. But these figures can’t be pushed away. It can’t be the case where it’s like, oh it’s just another woman voicing her opinion. It’s not an opinion. It’s a fact. And we’re not going to be hushed away this time. I’ve noticed that other types of reports, and research pieces have been done – especially through colleges, and women studying women, womens’ equality and all that – and it’s fallen on deaf ears. For whatever reason, I don’t know. But this time it’s not falling on deaf ears. The article itself has reached just over sixteen million views worldwide, it’s been shared by every national publication in Ireland. There’s going to be more international publications published over the next few weeks because I’ve literally been doing back-to-back interviews since the 24th of June. We have solidarity in the UK, we have solidarity coming in from the US. There’s other people getting in touch going, oh my God, this is a human rights issue. So radio stations cannot ignore this anymore. They’ve turned their back on a generation of Irish women that have been told their music is not good enough, and that their voice is not important, and is not up to the standard of their male counterparts. And that is not true.” 

We talk a lot about the importance of mental health these days, which, of course, is just as it should be. But in terms of the impact that this treatment has surely had on Irish female artists over the years, and the loss to Irish musical culture (through the loss of the music itself, but also through the denial of opportunities for those artists to grow), what kind of damage does Linda think may have been done?

“Irreparable damage. Irreparable on the psyche, on the levels of confidence a woman can have within herself and in her own voice, in who she is as a person with a view, a perspective, a story to tell. We’re all weaving stories in terms of our own narratives in life, as songwriters, as composers. I’ll go back to Ruth Anne. Ruth Anne has written for John Legend, for Niall Horan, for Brittany Spears, Bebe Rexa, JoJo…the list goes on. She is a brilliant storyteller. She has reached billions of people through her songwriting with men singing her songs, and other women singing her songs at an international level. But when it comes to her own country, telling her stories…And by the way, Irish radio has no problem playing Niall Horan. And RuthAnne has written songs for One Direction as well. I have so much respect for the women of Ireland, honest to God, because I can’t imagine the mental weight that they’ve had to carry for a generation of songwriters, and music creators, and musicians, and session musicians, and women in bands and fronting bands. Because they’re looking at their male peers thrive, being told yes, yes, you’re great, this is brilliant. And they’re being told to look sexy. Lose a bit of weight. Maybe if you get more followers…Men aren’t being told any of that! Lewis Capaldi is one of the biggest male artists in the world! And I love Lewis, but nobody ever told him to look sexy, ya know? Dermot Kennedy was never told to look sexy. There’s a lot of sexism as well involved. And we have to look at it from a broader perspective as well, because most of the heads of music in radio stations are men. OK, this is a fact. So men have to address the issue of gender imbalance and gender inequality. For whatever reason it is, and I don’t know why they’re choosing not to play women, but it has to be addressed, and it has to be addressed now. Because we’re not going away. We’re going to keep speaking. And we’re not shouting. This isn’t women shouting. It’s not opinions. We’re voicing facts at this stage.” 

If it seems to be mostly men who also compile play-lists, does the fact in itself point towards a large part of this problem? Or does it point towards an even deeper problem still in Irish radio?

“I mean…you said it, not me! [laughs]. At the moment, I’m being harassed, there’s Facebook groups after being created, hate groups, ‘ya sexist feminist’, all of this absolute tripe. On the Nialler9 Facebook group, one of the women put up the report, and the horrific comments that started coming in. Horrific. And I’ve said to the ladies, because we’re all in this together, do not go onto that page. You’re all better than that and you do not deserve to be reading the comments that men are putting on the page. And I just want to address another thing. I don’t know why Nialler is allowing that type of commentary to happen on a page that should be a safe space. I think that needs to be moderated in a better capacity than just letting people have free reign to tear women down. I love Dermot Kennedy’s music. Hozier is an incredible activist, let alone a musician. He’s a brilliant man. I travelled to Amsterdam last year to see Dermot Kennedy because I couldn’t get a ticket to go to his show here. And I want to be able to travel to another country because I can’t get a ticket to see an Irish woman playing here as well. All of those men deserve to be where they are. But there should be some balance. RuthAnne deserves to be where Hozier is. Soule deserves it. All of these other amazing female artists, Kehli, Hannah Kathleen, there’s loads of these artists emerging who are creating brilliant pop music. It’s really well produced and the quality standard is there. I just don’t know why the predominantly male play-listers aren’t deciding to play them. I think they need to take a long, hard look at themselves to see what they’re doing to the creative women of Ireland and why they’re doing it. They need to have a good answer for that, because the facts are there. The data is there. And they should respectfully respond.”

I wondered if perhaps play-lists themselves – the fact that they exist, why they exist, what their presence in the industry in turn allows to exist – are a part of the problem? Are they a part of what has damaged the way some people value music, and therefore, its creators?

“That’s a very good question. That goes to a deeper level of opinion, and again, I don’t want to go too far away from this report on this occasion. Because it’s a factual report, it’s a data report. So I’m just mindful that we don’t go off the terrain of factual data versus opinion too much. This report isn’t based on one argument over another, it’s just about the findings and how we can get people to react. I can’t answer the question of play-lists. Only people within broadcasting can. The likes of the B.A.I. [Broadcasting Authority of Ireland], it’s even on their site that they will endeavour to ensure that viewers and listeners in Ireland will have access to a diverse range of services, programming, and perspectives that meets their needs and reflects their diversity. And that it will actively encourage and support Irish broadcasters in realising this objective. So it is within the objective of radio play-lists all across the world to reach an equal level of diversity. And it’s not happening in Ireland. So in terms of looking deeper into the play-lists, I don’t even think it’s play-lists that are the issue. It’s the people behind the play-lists. That’s where the issue lies. Irish artists are being broken, but it’s male Irish artists. Certain stations will have a remit, which is basically the genre relating to a station and the commercial viability of that and how it will pan out. So there’s pop music, there’s rock music, Radio Nova, for example, is predominantly guitar led rock music, it’s a specialist station, that’s what it is when you go there. 98FM is a commercial station, you’ll mostly hear pop music and R’n’B, commercial mainstream. FM104, the same. Spin, the same. RTE Radio 1 is adult contemporary, folk music crossing over mainstream acoustic. You’re not going to hear a mad, up-tempo pop song on Radio 1 because it’s not their remit. So there are remits to different radio stations, and that’s standard within the whole entire industry. I don’t think that’s the issue. The issue is the people that the artists that are played across every genre, are predominantly male. So for every Hudson Taylor, there’s an Emma Langford. There are all these counterparts on the female side who are just as good as their male equivalent. So why is it a case that it’s predominantly male?” 

So with regard to the report, what does Linda want to see happen next, as in right now?

“I want to see radio stations respond. I’m issuing a report tomorrow about the response from Irish male artists, and their initial reaction. And they had no idea it was this bad. In an ideal world, I want radio stations to firstly get back to me, because only five have got back to me so far. The rest are ignoring me. So I want them to actually respond. I want them to engage and open a conversation. I want them to not look at this as a direct attack, it isn’t. It’s a question. Women are entitled to ask a question without being seen as being shrill, without being seen as being argumentative, without being seen as,’oh she’s on one!’ Ya know. This thing that I’m getting on Twitter, and there’s some female DJs that are on the defensive as well, going oh why are you attacking me? But I’m not. I just asked a question. You can see that they are intimidated by the companies that they work for, because they’re on eggshells at the moment in the radio industry. And I have to say, one major station got back to me and said that they’re gonna work on it, and that’s 2FM. And it’s amazing that they have because they are one of the trending stations when it comes to breaking Irish music. They have amazing champions of Irish music like Tara Stewart, Tracy Clifford, Eoghan McDerrmott. They got back to me like a flash and said, ‘we’re definitely going to look into this, thank you for highlighting it. We’ll try to do better.’ That’s what I want the other station to do. I want them to follow Radio 1’s influence, that they mindfully go into a play-list meeting. This isn’t a hard thing we’re asking them to do. Let’s split this down the line. We’ll appoint play-lists to women, and we’ll appoint play-lists to men. That’s what I want to see happen. It shouldn’t take six months to happen. They can do this in the next few weeks.” 

Looking at the music business and the impact of Covid 19, I asked Linda how she sees the industry returning from the trauma of the last few months? How far away are we from the old ‘normal’, or, what does she believe a new ‘normal’ for the industry will look like?

“I think the way people perform is gonna change. I think with the likes of ‘net gigs, different online platforms that will show artists playing from their home or from a home studio direct to their fans, I think that’s gonna be huge. I think people need to stop putting up their performances for free. I love the likes of IG TV which is great, it’s raw, and putting a song or two out there, that’s fine, no problem. But for actual gigs, people need to realise that the likes of this pandemic can happen again. There could be a second wave of this one as well. If you keep up with the actual science side of it – not just the news – they are saying that it might get worse. So we mightn’t even be at the worst stage of Covid yet. We have to embrace change. And we have to embrace the digital era of music, and the digital era is having the likes of these huge online platforms that are now catering for artists to perform and to stream ‘live’ gigs. And to pay for it. To be honest, a fiver to see your favourite artist versus eighty-eight euro to see them in the 3Arena, I know it’s not the same buzz or whatever, but if there’s an alternative there to engage with someone you love listening to, why not engage? People need to stop putting up free gigs because it’s reducing the value of their own creative work, their portfolio. They need to think right, this could be a long-term thing, so they have to still be able to monetise what they’re creating because it’s a profession that they’re in, it’s a business that they’re in. I feel that as the music industry expands, it’s going to become more digitised and we’ll see a lot of new, different platforms emerging.” 

 
 

~ You can view Linda’s full report into Gender Disparity on Irish radio by visiting her website, www.lindacooganbyrne.com. You can also follow Linda on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. 

 
 

ENDS