Sitting comfortably in 2020, it almost feels archaic to begin a discussion surrounding gender disparity in the music industry. Yet here we are. The sheer extremes of gender inequality in the realm of music making is, and has, been blatantly obvious for generations and unfortunately will continue to be. But what are we, as both an industry and general listeners, doing to tackle it?

It’s easy to see the likes of Beyonce, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift winning award after award and assume that there is nothing wrong – these women are huge and appear to dominate a lot of sales! How can there be an issue? While the success of these women may grab the headlines, the vast majority of awards go to men. And perhaps we don’t quite notice the stark disparity when we see charts like the Billboard’s year-end Hot 100.

A study was led by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, later releasing a report titled “Inclusion in the Recording Studio, which aimed to study the gender and race of the music industry’s core professions. To do this, the researchers looked at the top 700 songs on the Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 chart, between the years 2012 and 2018.

The study found that, over the past six years, the representation of music (pop, primarily) has been getting lower, rather than rising as we would hope and expect. In the analysis of the 700 songs, the study found that of 1,239 performing artists, only 22.4% of them were women. The numbers continue to drop however when we look at those behind the scenes and we find that of the 2,767 songwriters credited on those songs, just 12.3% of them were women. Moreover, female producers proved to be even rarer, with a staggering 2% in a subset of 300 songs across the same period.

It has, of course, been obvious for generations that a woman’s place in the music industry is one of great difficulty. Their ability to contribute is stunted as they are shut out of the process before they can even begin, and for this the listener has no choice. We cannot imagine that the listener only wants to listen to male artists, it is simply the choice they are given.

It’s difficult to try and imagine a solution to something that we, quite often, feel there is no solution for. The problems of gender disparity in the music industry feel so deeply rooted that the task feels of mammoth proportions. Listening to more female artists is, of course, the first and easiest step to make, but the inherent issues prevent female artists, producers and songwriters from making there way to popular mediums for the public to listen to.

We have a long way to go to close the gender gap in the music industry, especially the pop music industry, so I ask you – what do you think we can do to close it, and what ratio of male:female music do you listen to? I’d be interested to find out!

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