A Look at The Gender Inequality Still Existing in the Music Industry 
Wed, April 21, 2021

A Look at The Gender Inequality Still Existing in the Music Industry 

A recent pile-on between women in the country music industry and radio shows over on Twitter highlighted just how much work still needs to be done to make sure that the music industry provides female artists equal seats at the table / Photo by: NejroN via 123RF

 

Most people would say it’s tired to look at the gender inequality issue because it’s been around for so long that its only use is for an effective headache. But the fact that it still remains today is the reason why it should be deemed a headache, and why people should realize that the only cure for this headache is to do something to turn it all around. 

A recent pile-on between women in the country music industry and radio shows over on Twitter highlighted just how much work still needs to be done to make sure that the music industry provides female artists equal seats at the table. 

Musgraves, Ballerini, and Company vs. Radio Shows

The trouble began where most troubles begin in the current day and age: Twitter. In an article by entertainment news website Variety, it all started when 98 KCQ tweeted, “We cannot play two females back to back. Not even Lady Antebellum or Little Big Town against another female. I applaud their courage.” 

Naturally, a tweet like that is going to take some heat. It opened up yet another part of the music industry that seems to eschew women for men, and like many gender disparity issues in other industries, this issue is loaded with a landmine of damned if you do, damned if you don’t statements. 

People may not know it but 98 KCQ has a point that they weren’t able to fully explain clearly, enough that eventually, they just deleted the tweet until MacDonald Broadcasting, their parent company, swooped in for some damage control. “There has never been a rule against playing females back to back… ever!” the statement read, and yet where are the female artists when one tries to listen to the radio for them? 

In an article by entertainment news website Variety, it all started when 98 KCQ tweeted, “We cannot play two females back to back. Not even Lady Antebellum or Little Big Town against another female. I applaud their courage” / Photo by: buzzfuss via 123RF

 

Take Kacey Musgraves, an artist Variety describes -- and the world knows -- as a “country music superstar everywhere except on the radio.” Why do we not hear her on these country radio shows? Or even Taylor Swift, who, for an entire decade enamored the world with albums fully marketed as country?

They are nowhere, it seems, because people who listen to country music rarely consider listening to female artists on the air. So the radio is a meritocracy, but bias still prevails in its audience. Such is the reason why, according to a study by music industry service Mediabase of the top 100 songs of the last decade, there were only two solo women in the chart. The rest of the women, like Lady Antebellum and Kelly Clarkson, were just on the list because they were accompanied by men. 

This issue is not that different from the “Women need to step up” advice that recording academy president of the Grammys, Neil Portnow, gave out, which, in itself, was a maelstrom of controversy. But the supposed airtight defense of the radio shows saying they only play music rated favorably by their audiences is showing a few holes. 

For example, Variety writer Chris William, wrote, “While the labels may release fewer records by women than by men, it still hovers around the 30% point, which doesn’t explain why, in an average week, there’s one woman in the top 10 (and, some weeks, none).”

The Current Roles of Women in the Industry 

Just like in the film industry, people might be hard-pressed to say that true change for female artists comes when more of them work behind-the-scenes as opposed to being used in the front lines to claim “diversity." However, even then, the numbers between the frontline women (i.e. artists, singers, popstars) and the behind-the-scenes women don’t even come close to the overrepresented performances of male artists, especially on award shows. 

As reported by business magazine Forbes, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative found that of the 700 top songs in the Billboard’s Hot 100 chart between 2012 to 2017, only 21.7% were female artists, 12.3% were songwriters, and only 2.1% were producers. On the awards show front, 2013 to 2019 had only 10.4% female nominees, and the rest of the biggest awards -- Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist and Producer of the Year -- were all relegated to male artists. 

The study also interviewed 75 female songwriters and producers and found that 40% of them have shared that their work was underappreciated, and 39% pointed to the still very rampant tendency that people would usually stereotype and sexualize their work in the industry. 

Just like in the film industry, people might be hard-pressed to say that true change for female artists comes when more of them work behind-the-scenes as opposed to being used in the front lines to claim “diversity" / Photo by: buzzfuss via 123RF

 

However, some women in the industry itself aim to help other women. For producer Xylo Aria, it is important for female producers like her to feel recognized and for other women who want to enter music production to be taken seriously. Because of this, she told PSN Europe, a news publication for the pro audio industry: 

“The reason I launched it was because I needed something like this when I started producing. I started off as a singer/songwriter and my experiences with producers were not the best. They were always men -- I don’t want to generalize, people do have good experiences -- but mine always ended up as a weird power struggle. After enough of those, I thought ‘I don’t deserve this, I need to do something about it.’ The only option I could think of was learn to produce.” 

Aria also told PSN Europe that she wants this online educational platform to work for aspiring female producers just as getting help from people in her life worked for her. Through their support, she was able to start releasing her own music. She built confidence through just pushing forward. 

“I wasn’t forever waiting for the right producer to come along and feeling like I didn’t have control over my own project,” Aria passionately says. “Even when I collaborated -- which I still think everyone should do -- I felt a lot more equal. But the process to get there shouldn’t have been that hard. And I knew that there were many other female artists going through the exact same process, but not having the confidence to start because of those hurdles.”