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Men Still Dominate the Music Industry, Report Finds

The third annual USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reports, men still greatly outnumber women in the upper reaches of the music industry, particularly behind the glass.

Los Angeles, CA (January 22, 2020)—Lizzo and Billie Eilish may have the most nominations between them—14, combined—going into this year’s Grammy Awards, but as the third annual USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative reports, men still greatly outnumber women in the upper reaches of the music industry.

“Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” was authored by Professor Stacy L. Smith and was funded by Spotify. The study considers the gender and race/ethnicity of artists and content creators across 800 popular songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts from 2012 through 2019. It also evaluates gender for eight years of Grammy nominations in the top categories—Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Producer of the Year and Best New Artist. And it comes to a stark conclusion: More women are being included in the music industry, but they have a long way to go before achieving parity with their male counterparts.

Women in Music Production Face ‘Epidemic of Invisibility’

Last year saw women artists credited for 22.5% of the top songs, an improvement over the previous year and well above 2017’s low of 16.8%. Yet averaged over the study’s eight years, 2019 only moved the needle to 21.7%, or roughly one in five.

“Women are still missing from popular music,” according to Professor Smith. “Yet we do see that the music industry values women of color and their contributions. In 2019, over half of the female artists on the popular charts were women of color. This is in stark contrast to what we see in the film industry.” (Professor Smith also conducts demographic research into the movie industry.)

According to the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, more than half of the studied artists in 2019 (56.1%) were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. Averaged over the entire study period, people of color account for nearly half, or 45.4%, of more than 1,600 artists, the report finds.

Below the line, to use movie parlance, the disparity is even worse. The number of women songwriters ticked up very slightly in 2019, to 14.4%, from 2018’s figure of 11.6%, yet it remains at just 12.5% over the eight-year period. Worse still, the percentage of women working as producers across a five-year sub-sample from the Billboard chart was just 2.6%, a gender ratio of nearly 37 males to one female. Eight women of color were included in that five-year sample, a ratio of all male producers to underrepresented female producers of 133 to one.

Notwithstanding the current events concerning the ouster of Recording Academy CEO Deborah Dugan, barely two weeks before the Grammy Awards, the report credits the work of the organization’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion with improving committee composition and membership over the past year. Still, while 2020 represents an eight-year high for female Grammy nominations, women have accounted for fewer than 10% of the nominees for Record of the Year or Album of the Year during the study. Over the eight-year period, only one woman—Linda Perry, in 2018—has ever been nominated for Producer of the Year, Non-Classical, and hers was reportedly the first nomination for a woman on her own in 15 years.

Professor Smith and her collaborators single out several organizations for endeavoring to increase the percentage of women working throughout the industry: She Is The Music, for working to increase the representation of women throughout the business with songwriting camps, mentorship programs, and external outreach; the Spotify EQL Residency program, which places emerging female engineers in recording studios to gain experience alongside industry mentorship; and Women’s Audio Mission, which trains the next generation of music producers and recording engineers.

The report concludes, “Given music’s influence on culture, and the rapidly changing nature of the business, this study demonstrates where there has been progress over the last several years and how far there is to go. As individuals and companies continue to produce the soundtrack to our daily lives, it is imperative that women’s voices, talents, and perspectives be included in those songs.”

USC Annenberg •

Full Report •