Do you recognise the woman on Germany’s 100 Deutsche Mark bill? It’s Clara Schumann, one of the few known female composers and pianists of classical music. Few women in the 19th century made it to fame in music-related professions. While Clara Schumann was not as known for her own compositions during her lifetime, her recent bicentennial birthday provided an opportunity for many organisations – like the German Opera Berlin – to take pause and reflect. Where are women in today’s music industry?
Last week’s revelation of the 2020 Grammy nominees had good news: five of the eight Album of the Year nominees are women. Moreover, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga could all move-up the List of Female Artists With the Most Grammys (Billboard).
Surely, today’s global music industry is largely welcoming women artists at the top? Not so fast …
The Business Case
Today’s leadership in the music industry broadly agrees that increasing diversity in the sector’s workforce remains key: the profitable music business must ensure that it attracts and retains the best talent.
Diversity of professionals in the industry is also likely to translate to a more diverse music portfolio. For example, a 2019 study led by a team at Northwestern University in the U.S. found that there is a typical “female sound” and “male sound.” For instance, songs by men were found to be more danceable than songs by women. Women’s songs also tended to be more acoustic than men’s songs. Using data from more than 6000 male and 2000 female solo artists, the authors of the study built an algorithm that was able to randomly pick a song and accurately tell in more than 90% of cases, whether it was created by a male or female artist.
The global music business remains profitable. The International Federation of the Phonographic Industry Global Music Report 2019 reported total revenues of $19.1 billion in 2018. There were 255 million users of paid streaming services at the end of 2018 accounting for 37% of total recorded music revenue.
In a recently released report “Counting the Music Industry: The Gender Gap”, Vick Bain examines gender equality in the UK’s music industry. Bain suggests that substantial investments by the global record industry (more than one third of their global revenues, or $5.8 billion) mostly support male artists in Arts & Repertoire and marketing each year.
According to Bain’s 2019 report which is based on analysis of more than 100 music publishers and 200 labels, just 14.18% of the 12,040 writers represented by U.K. publishers are women, while female artists make up almost 20% of the rosters of acts signed to labels.
The UK-based findings also resonate with the 2019 “Inclusion in the Recording Studio” report by the University of Southern California which found that the ratio of male to female producers across 400 popular songs is 47:1. Studying the gender and race of the industry’s core professions, the research examined the 700 top songs on Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 chart between 2012 and 2018.
When it comes to songwriters, more than half (57%) of the songs studied did not credit a woman. Meanwhile, only three tracks (less than 1%) did not credit a male songwriter.
Some may wonder, whether women’s low representation as credited songwriters is possibly a reflection of women’s interest in studying music-related fields? At first glance, gender parity in music education is being achieved. In many countries, the female to male student body in music-related academics is almost 50:50.
Yet, like in other industries, job segregation is also persistent in the music world. This goes beyond women pursuing music genres that have been labeled as “more feminine”. In modern orchestras, some instruments (such as bowed strings and woodwinds) remain dominated by women, while men continue to dominate others (such as percussions).
Overall, women’s high representation among enrolled students does not translate to equal shares of women and men in the music industry’s workforce, particularly not in leadership roles.
Some progress is being made: a decade ago, there were only a few examples of female conductors – among them Australian Simone Young (then general music director of the Hamburg State Opera) and American Marin Alsop (then head of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra). Since then, there has been a significant increase in the number of top classical music positions held by women globally (Female conductors are finally rising through the orchestral ranks).
Yet, the fact remains that women as conductors remain a rarity worldwide, including in Europe. Take, for example, Germany: of 130 orchestras, only three were led by women in November 2017 according to BR-Klassik Bayrischer Rundfunk.
Similarly, if you turned on the radio in Australia in 2018, you were more likely to hear songs performed by men than women. Only 21% of the top 100 most-played tracks on Australian radio stations in 2018 were by solo female acts or all-female groups; however, 27% of songs were by acts with men and women, or featuring a female vocalist (By the numbers 2019: The gender gap in Australian music revealed).
“When orchestras and bands comprised of women and men play together, it all appears very harmonious. Yet, underneath the surface, not all is great.”
The Gender Pay Gap
Prof. Dr. Christa Brüstle, who is one of a few music professors with the explicit mandate to conduct gender research at a public university in Europe, points to significant gender power imbalances in the music business. Old-boys networks persist and result in fewer career opportunities for women as supported by recently documented gender-pay gaps in the music industry.
Music Business Worldwide – enabled by U.K. legislation requiring companies to disclose any gender pay gaps since 2017- revealed that the 2018 average gender pay gap across all three major music label companies was 29.6% – with 29.1% at Universal, 20.9% at Sony, and 38.7% at Warner. While this was an improvement from the previous year, results cemented an urgency for action by industry leaders to address pay gaps as well as the difference in bonuses paid out to both genders.
Australia reports similar gender pay gap findings. APRA Amcos (a music rights organisation representing over 100,000 members who are songwriters, composers and music publishers) has been monitoring the gender pay gap since 2015. The results: female APRA member made on average 88 cents compared to every dollar made by male members in 2018, up from 69 cents in 2015 (By the numbers 2019: The gender gap in Australian music revealed).
In the music industry, the #MeToo movement has not experienced the same level of scrutiny as in Hollywood where the #MeToo movement has had perhaps the most impact.
Yet, in the U.S., a 2018 survey of musicians by the Music Industry Research Association (MIRA) revealed that women make up about one third of musicians and report experiencing high rates of discrimination and sexual harassment: seventy-two percent of female musicians report that they have been discriminated against because of their sex, and 67% report that they have been the victim of sexual harassment (corresponding figures for U.S. women more generally are 28% and 42%, respectively).
Famous tenor Plácido Domingo became the latest high-profile example of the complexities of the #MeToo era. He was accused by eight singers and a dancer for allegedly having used his position of power to try pressure them into sexual relationships. This has divided the world of opera: some institutions cancelled performances of one of the most beloved tenors, while others maintained performance schedules.
The popular 62nd Grammy Awards are right around the corner and will take place on January 26, 2020. On this occasion, leadership in the industry – both women and men – may want to highlight the opportunities and challenges for gender equality in the business. When women lack support to remain and advance in the industry, it is not just a personal loss for them. The industry and its consumers miss out on a pool of creativity. Will there be renewed commitment to tackle structural issues to promote gender diversity and inclusion at the 2020 Grammy Awards?
Like in other industries, more transparent hiring and promotion mechanisms may be critical to promote women’s leadership. Targeted mentoring and sponsorship programs can also go a long way. More numbers of women in decision-making would also contribute to reducing gender pay gaps and sexual harassment at the workplace. Grievance mechanisms administered by third party organisations have also proven to be more effective.
Key stakeholders – including professionals and investors in the industry as well as the millions of consumers of music globally – will listen carefully. The world’s youth, who often look to the music industry for role models, will also stay tuned.