Successful and idolized musicians, such as Beyonce, Taylor Swift, and Rihanna create the illusion that women are thriving in music. However, these artists don’t represent the whole picture when it comes to the industry that creates the music we enjoy. Data shows that across the board, the music industry remains predominantly male.
First off, the majority of popular artists are men. The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s recent report on inclusion in popular music found that from 2012 to 2017, only 22% of performers across the world’s top 600 popular songs were female. A total of 899 individuals were nominated for a Grammy Award between 2013 and 2018. 90.7% of those were male and 9.3% were female. The frequent success of male artists signifies a greater preference for men than women in music. Seeing this, record labels and agencies will likely sign more contracts with male artists because they’re statistically proven to win more awards, gain larger followings, and rack greater revenue.
The music industry is far bigger than the artists. Behind the scenes, the gender divide is even greater than what we immediately see on screen. The likelihood of female songwriters getting jobs and opportunities is significantly lower than that of men. Of 2,767 songwriters credited in the study, 87.7% were male and 12.3% were female (USC). Moreover, the hiring rate for female songwriters is strikingly low. 73.8% of female songwriters only worked once in 6 years, 7.9% worked twice, and only 4.3% worked three times. Less than 6% of female songwriters had 6 or more credits across the sampled time frame (USC). If the values and ideas communicated through music are being shaped by men, then perspectives on relationships and experiences that we subconsciously consume are told from male perspectives.
Perhaps the starkest divide lies in music production. Given the executive nature of producers, artists and creative directors may have a cognitive bias towards the leadership that pulls male. This preference is obviously demonstrated through data, where out of the study’s 651 producers, 98% were male and only 2% female. This is a ratio of 49 males to every one female (USC). If men have executive power over the artists that are being promoted and the music they produce, the product that we receive as consumers comes, once again, from the singular male perspective.
Dr. Kate Pieper, the research scientist at USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, states that “when you have a female behind the camera, you have more females on screen, more females in the lead, more racial and ethnic diversity, more women over 40, they are hiring more women behind the camera”. Similar to other popular entertainment industries, hiring female songwriters and producers will only lead to more.
It’s important to understand how artists and executives perceive these positions in production. The perception is largely true of all media industries. The clear gender disparity presented in the data begs the question: how can we change the current situation? First, research who your favorite artists are working with in the recording studio and behind the scenes. Let companies know that it’s crucial to have gender inclusivity in the songwriting process. Hold the artists accountable by posting and tweeting.
Numerous artists from big labels are forging the way for a more inclusive industry. Hayley Kiyoko stands for the queer community through her music and being vocal and shameless self-expression. In a genre where women are often hypersexualized, Rico Nasty boldly carves out a space for women in hip hop through her confident lyrics. She was recently listed as Forbes 30 Under 30 in music. Noname, otherwise known as Fatimah Warner, diversifies the industry through rapping about topics like poverty, inequality, and police brutality. Mitski is a Japanese American indie rock singer-songwriter whom critics have praised for redefining the commonly white cis-male genre.
Music, in particular popular music, holds an immense influence over popular cultural ideals. Showing more support to female artists will signify to the industry that their voices are important and in demand, and that the messages they send through their lyrics are important and deserve to be heard.
Anna Wu is a 19 year-old writer, dumpling chef, and avid listener of self-help podcasts. As an Asian-American college student, she is passionate about creating content that inspires young people to find and discuss diverse narratives on the journey of better understanding themselves. She is currently studying at Mount Holyoke College.