A New Music Industry Study We Need More Women in Music

Last Updated on April 9, 2022 by Lil Ginge

A new study from the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative finds that when it comes to gender parity, women in the music industry are lagging behind men. This is true when it comes to the number of artists, but it is even more pronounced among songwriters, producers, and engineers. Apparently, the Recording Academy’s efforts to expand opportunities for women aren’t working. At least not enough. Not yet.

A woman musician writing a song at her piano keyboard.
Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

The Annenberg Study on Women in Music

The Annenberg study was funded by Spotify. And it was conducted by examining artists, producers, and songwriters who received credits on songs that made the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart since 2012. Over the last ten years, the study found that women made up 21.8% of the artists represented. But even worse, women made up only 12.7% of songwriters over that span and only 2.8% of producers.

The Recording Academy introduced an initiative called Women in the Mix in 2019 in an attempt to improve parity for women in both producing and engineering. But apparently, it has not worked.  The Academy asked participating record labels, artists, and managers to consider at least two women when hiring for these types of roles. But, there seems to be no measurable improvement. Only four of the 476 people who took the Women in the Mix pledge actually worked with a female producer on one of these songs. That’s a rather pathetic efficacy rate.

One notable pair of exceptions are The Weeknd and Max Martin. They both participated in the Women in the Mix initiative and hired Ariana Grande to produce and engineer the “Save Your Tears” remix. But, this exception comes with a caveat: Grande also sang on the track. Would the duo have ever asked Grande to produce and engineer the tune if she weren’t on it herself? It seems highly unlikely.

Inclusivity in the Music Industry

According to the USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative’s founder, Stacy Smith, “Industry solutions must do more than offer lip service to creating change. They must take aim at the underlying reasons for exclusion and have robust evaluation and accountability metrics to ensure that they result in real progress.” Of course, she’s right. Words not followed by action are hollow and rather meaningless.

On the bright side, there has been some improvement when it comes to overall inclusivity. Last year, 57% of artists in the music industry were people of color. Only 38.4% were black in 2012. Plus, half of women artists in 2021 were women of color. There is even a faster-growing segment of women of color songwriters than white women. But, only one woman of color had a producing credit in 2021. That’s a rather sad statistic.

Women and the Grammy Awards

The percentage of women nominated for major Grammy categories fell for the first time since 2019. These categories include:

  • Song of the Year
  • Record of the Year
  • Album of the Year
  • Best New Artist
  • Producer of the Year

In 2022, 14.2% of these nominees were women. In 2021, the number was much higher at 28%. Of course, both are well below half of the nominees, despite the fact that roughly half the population of the United States happens to be female.

When it comes to the inclusion of women, Best New Artist has been the Best category. 55% of the nominees have been women since 2013. On the other hand, Producer of the Year has been a gross 98% male. The only woman nominee in this category was Linda Perry. Perry, of course, is the former lead singer of 4 Non Blondes. Her production credits include classic tunes like “Get the Party Started” by Pink, “The Real Thing” by Gwen Stefani, and “Beautiful” by Christina Aguilera.

Why Is The Music Industry So Bad for Inclusivity of Women?

One might criticize the study’s method of focusing on top tracks and the most prestigious Grammy Awards. But the method makes some sense because these are the songs promoted most by the industry. Therefore, the artists behind them get the most resources and clout. And any study is likely going to fall short in some regard. There is no perfect methodology here.

But why does the music industry have so much trouble with gender parity? Part of the problem here is a toxic industry environment for women. For example, women tend to be stereotyped or sexualized, and they are accordingly dismissed as serious players. This is especially true when their sex appeal can’t be commercialized, like with producers, pure songwriters, and engineers, the way it can be for glamorous performers. 

In 2018, former Recording Academy CEO Neil Portnow infamously said women had to “step up” to gain more representation and inclusion in the Grammy Awards. He was roundly criticized for this ridiculous statement. Instead, it’s time for the Recording Academy and the broader industry to step up and include many more women as musicians, songwriters, producers, and engineers.

If you liked this article on women in music, make sure to check out my recent article called “What Genre Is Jewel?“.

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