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Women In The Music Industry : Emerging into the Spotlight

Women In The Music Industry : Emerging into the Spotlight

Don’t be fooled by the success of big names like Billie Eilish, Beyoncé and Taylor Swift. Women in the music industry do not make up the majority. There is a drastic difference in both the representation and the portrayal of women in the music industry, compared to their male counterparts.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme was #ChooseToChallenge, as from challenge comes change. In the spirit of this, Identity Music hosted a social media women’s week, dedicated to celebrating some of the amazing female talent we are fortunate enough to work with. Now, we want to raise awareness against the bias that lies within the industry. 

Before we continue, we should stress that we have no doubts about there being amazing male talents within the music industry. At no point does tackling such an important issue call that into question. Here at Identity Music, we work with a variety of artists across all demographics. We believe that talent and creativity are all that matter and that every musician should be afforded the same opportunities.

That is why we have elected to explore inequality within the music industry, as it often flies under the radar. 

We believe firmly that there is no innate difference in the creative output and potential between men and women. Study after study has reiterated that there is no biological difference between their musical talents and creativity. Instead, inequality lies in a social context, in many ways, we as consumers and musicians do not realise. 

Simply put, women in the music industry start on the back foot. They are afforded fewer opportunities and they are held to different standards than men. 

But, The Charts Are Full Of Women?

Take a closer look. Whilst it seems this way at first, when you check it out you will realise that is not actually the case. 

First, Let’s Look At The US.

This week, the University of Southern California published its most recent report “Inclusion in the recording studio?”. This report examined the gender of creators spanning the last 9 years from 2012 to 2020. It assessed the creators behind the top 100 songs of each year, studying a total of 900 songs.

The report found that between the years of 2012 and 2020 only 21.6% of the artists in the US singles charts were women. This is a comparison of 3.6 men to every 1 woman in the chart.

And it wasn’t just the female acts that the report found were underrepresented. Their research into roles behind the scenes showed that women fared even worse. Only 12.6% of the lead songwriters across the nine years were women and of the 900 songs studied 57.3% did not feature a single woman songwriter. 

More than that, only a mere 2.6% of the producers of these songs were women. These findings led the head of the study to declare the music industry has “virtually erased female producers”.

Women In The Music Industry
And Now, The UK.

In 2018, just 30 female acts were credited on the best-selling 100 songs of the year. This is compared to the 91 male acts credited to the same top 100. This brings the split to 24.8% women and 75.2% male, not too dissimilar from the 21.7% women in the US charts.

But aren’t things getting better?

When you look at the number of males and females in the top 100 UK songs in 2018 compared to 2008 you see that the gender gap in the music industry has grown. Whilst both years have 30 female acts associated with the top 100 songs, in 2008 there were 59 men. This means that whilst there has been no change in the number of female acts, the males have grown by more than 50%.

There has always been a gender imbalance in music. All you need to do is take a look at the biggest stars of the last century and you can clearly see that.

Now, as collaborations are growing in popularity, many women are being left behind. This is because modern collaborations tend to work on a cross-genre basis. The charts are dominated by dance and rap music, both of which are male-dominated genres. The majority of DJs and rappers are men, Of course, there are the standouts like Cardi B, but that’s a shattered glass ceiling, not the norm.

In the US, the number of women in the charts fell in 2020 compared to 2019, from 22.5% to 20.2%, a drop of 2.3%. This brings the 9 year average out to 21.6%, with 2020 being the third lowest year of the last nine years, only beating 2017’s 16.8% and 2018’s 17.1%.

However, female recognition in the industry awards is growing slowly, but steadily. The Grammy nominations are higher than ever before with 20.5% of top 5 nominations going to women in 2020, compared to 8% in 2018 and 7.9% in 2013.  

Women In The Music Industry
Why Don’t Women Make Different Music?

A Northwestern University study examining 571 genres from a social standpoint found that there are individual “female” and “male” music sounds. During the study listeners would assign genres to male and female artists. Almost all of the 571 genres were assigned to male acts, while less than half were assigned to female, suggesting that women create music in fewer musical styles. 

Rock, electronic, rap, techno and reggae are most associated with men, whilst pop, R&B, vocal jazz and soul are more commonly associated with females.

What this ultimately means is that women are pigeonholed into certain genres, whilst men are working in a different context, with the freedom to explore all of the music styles. Stereotypical music styles are then used to define artists and their prospective success. Leading record labels to work in a way that re-enforces the socially accepted genre and gender combinations by adhering to these opinions whilst signing artists. By doing this, the industry creates a culture that prevents non-conforming artists from succeeding and the music industry continues to perpetuate these limitations

In order to be successful, women are limited in the music they can produce. 

Want to know more about Women in Guitar-Based Music? FindMyGuitar has published some shocking research on the number of women ( or non-binary ) individuals that have a signature guitar to their name. Read it here

Is There A Demand For More Women In The Music Industry?

The same study also assessed record labels, to see if they follow these gender-limitations on genre. They selected a sample of 4,873 record labels in the US and reviewed their artist rosters. In doing so they found that 4,256 record labels, or 87.3% of the total surveyed are signing male artists. By comparison only 1,563, or 32.1%, have ever produced music for female acts. That is less than one-third.

This does not mean that record labels themselves are sexist, nor does it mean that their employees or management are. What it means is that the historic gender inequality within the music industry has created a systemic problem. Now, music is dominated by male artists and certain genres are effectively exclusively for men. In order to create successful artists and earn revenue, labels continue to follow these molds and to sign these artists.

With so many males dominating the charts, there is an age old myth that there isn’t enough demand for women-lead music. However, when listeners were asked about it in a study by Country Music TV in 2020, 27% of listeners said they would listen to more radio if female artists were featured more. On the opposite side, only 11% of them elected to say they would listen less. This does indicate that listeners would be more inclined to listen to female artists if they were given the choice. 

So More Women Need To Be Signed?

This is a chicken-and-egg situation. Institutions within the music industry would argue they are responding to the market demand and what the consumer/ listener wants. And this is true. They are responding to the music that performs well in the charts and that music is continuing to perform well.

But this is a systemic imbalance that was created many years ago. There is no way to allow the market to actively listen to more women, without the market having more access to these acts. And, there is no way for these acts to break through further without the market indicating that they want more women acts.

There isn’t a lack of want for women and there isn’t a lack of talent in women. We have a music industry which has become antiquated and needs to move forward, together, to create better balance. The trouble is, the content that is being put forward by the gatekeepers of the industry is continuing to succeed. So these gatekeepers can’t see a compelling reason to break out of the tried and tested formulas and enact a revolution.

Women In Music: Leading The Charge For Change

Of course, we believe it is crucial that we do acknowledge the ongoing changes within the music industry. There has been a lot of positive progress in recent years, and there are a number of organisations who are fighting continuously to make the music industry a fairer place.

One of these organisations that we believe deserve a big shout out is Women In Music (WIM)

WIM is a non-profit organisation who works tirelessly to advance awareness and improve the equality, opportunities and diversity of women in the music industry. They do this through education, support and recognition, all intended to empower women and build a safer environment for them to flourish in. WIM now has more than 100 volunteers working daily to provide continuous support.

This year, for International Women’s Day, they put together a playlist called “shatter the glass” dedicated to celebrating female musicians around the globe. Check it out here: Women In Music: Shatter the Glass | Spotify Playlist

How Do Women In The Industry Feel?

According to a 2019 study, 84% of women felt they had been treated differently to their male counterparts due to their gender. A further 68% of music professionals said that they believe gender had affected their employment.

We Sat Down With Jess Hannam, Artist Representative at Identity Music to ask her about her experience within the industry.
Do You Think Men and Women Are Equal In The Music Industry?

“I think that when it comes to the music industry, it has always been an inherently male dominated space. Women within the industry have to work harder to make a name for themselves. 

Throughout all sectors of the music industry, women are still frequently met with misogyny and condescension. In my own experience, I have been witness to many of these incidents. I have seen women in rock bands receive demeaning comments such as,“wow, you play guitar really well for a girl”. As well as female sound engineers spoken down to and patronised despite doing the same job as a male and doing it just as well. It seems to be almost an ingrained issue that women have to accept and fight as part of their journey.”

Do You Think Things Have Improved In Recent Years?

“Don’t get me wrong, I do think that the industry has made strides in levelling the playing field for Men and Women. The rise of more independent, genre based labels has opened the doors to a wide range of artists. Now more women have the facilities to accomplish excellence in the music business.

However, it is still not 100% fair and equal. Taking live music for example. If you look at a festival like Reading, you can clearly see that the majority of the line-up is continuously and consistently male dominated. Especially the headline acts.

I just think that companies need to be more aware of the divide between genders. Especially in this day and age… Also, women rock bands are awesome, so they are the ones who are really missing out!”

How Do You Think The Industry Needs To Move Forward?

“While the industry has come a long way in opening its doors over the years, there is still room to improve the gender equality gap. I believe a big problem that still exists is the over-sexualisation of female artists, which is still an issue in 2021. Thankfully though we have some amazing women stepping out who are owning their bodies and their sexualities, using that to liberate themselves from the sex object pigeonholes women are usually forced into. 

Working with Identity Music, I have an opportunity to level the playing field and work with more ambitious female artists. The best part about working with the Identity Music team is that we search for talent and passion, no matter what the demographics. It is great to be able to work with both male and female artists and help them achieve their goals within the industry. Being in this role has helped me to discover more incredible female talent throughout the industry and I am proud to be able to connect with them and work alongside them.

What is really amazing about women in the industry is that we have made our way into it, against the odds, through our own accomplishments and hard work. Together, we are making small changes and will change the industry one step at a time.”

Women In The Music Industry
Jess Hannam – Artist Rep at Identity Music
How Can I Help?

The importance of the gatekeepers in the music industry should not be understated. For many years Record Labels, Radio Stations and Playlist Channels have played a critical role in deciding what music is successful or not.

Right now, our charts are still reeling from the label executives and the radio stations of several decades ago. The decisions they made then have sculpted the commercial music of today and created boundaries that are hard to break free from.

In recent years, more distributors and music bloggers have entered the music scene, providing wider reach and open access to the music market.

Distributors like Identity Music don’t work in the same way as record labels do. We invest in artists in very different ways. Some distributors just take your money and leave you to it, for us, we work closely with our artists, give them access to the biggest platforms in the world and offer promotion opportunities. But we do not incur the same risks through heavy financial investment as record labels do. Without these risks, we can focus on talent and potential, rather than finding artists who fit the mould.

We get artists’ music online, but from there, the emphasis is on audiences to help. As a listener, you can decide who you listen to. If you want to change the landscape of music, you need to actively look for new talent, be that male or female. Don’t just follow the gatekeepers’ leads. More than just helping to balance the gender inequality, this helps give power to artists and enable independent and niche artists to build a successful music career. Women in the music industry

Search for local artists, look for playlists that align with your music interests and share artists you like to help them find new audiences.

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