Women are still missing in the music industry
Updated: Jan 29
I remember having this discussion years ago at a music conference where I was the moderator on a women's panel. We agreed that the numbers are slightly better this year compared to last, but the message is the same: "women are still missing" in popular music in 2020.
In its third update of the now annual study, titled "Inclusion in the Recording Studio?," the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative looked at the Hot 100 Year-End Billboard charts and the 2020 Grammy nominations to see how women fared on the gender parity scale, comparing this year's numbers to last year's study, as well as their full data range from 2012-2019.
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In the January 2020 version of the study, the Initiative concluded that "women are still missing in the music industry," with women representing less than one-third of all performers and 12.5 per cent of songwriters across 800 songs, with women accounting for 2.6 per cent of producers across 500 songs.
But there were minor improvements toward gender parity in the study: the percentage of women artists in the 800-song sample increased over 2019 after a two-year low, jumping to 22.5 per cent from 2018's 17.1. (The biggest year in the study's record was 2016, with 28.1 per cent, while the lowest was 2017, at 16.8.) This year's study also showed that the ratio of men to women producers is 37 to one for 2019, while it was 47 to one in 2018.
This year, like last year, artists of colour were well represented, with 56.1 per cent of the artists coming from "underrepresented racial/ethnic groups" — Drake being the top performer, with 37 counted songs. But the study also concluded that "women of colour are invisible as producers," as only eight out of 1,093 producing credits went to women of colour.
While the study showed that the gender gap at the Grammys continues, this year's numbers hit an eight-year high for women nominees (20.5 per cent in 2020), with women most likely to be nominated in the best new artist and song of the year categories. Categories like producer of the year, where only one woman has been nominated in the last eight years (Linda Perry, in 2019), and record or album of the year, where less than 10 per cent of nominees are women, continue not to improve significantly.
These shifts are small, collective action takes place when multiple companies, in multiple positions of gatekeeping, take action. Slowly we are starting to see change.
Since that conference I attended (two years later) , the numbers a
re slightly higher but the Grammys are facing more scrutiny: In January of this year Deborah Dugan, former Grammys CEO, alleged this week that she was ousted from the Recording Academy after reporting sexual harassment and pay disparities, among other complaints, in the Grammys' nominations process. Dugan was placed on administrative leave last week, after six months as CEO.
If we highlight these gender differences, it could help inform ongoing public debates about the lack of female representation and resulting pay gap in the music industry, an influential gig economy that is an important trendsetter for the new labor market and beyond.