UPDATED: After three weeks of harsh criticism about the low female representation at the 2018 Grammy Awards and Recording Academy chief Neil Portnow’s ill-chosen post-show comments that women need to “step up” in order to advance in the music industry, the Academy this week issued two letters on the matter to its members — one that is public-facing, another behind the paywall of its website. While Portnow has issued two statements attempting to walk back his “step up” comment, his words have acted as a flashpoint for a multitude of gender-related issues, ranging from the comparatively low number of female nominees and artists performing at the Grammys this year to the longstanding challenges women face in the music industry.
The unusual move of presenting two perspectives on the same problems — one public, the other internal and ostensibly available only to members — suggests some disagreement within the Academy’s upper management about strategy and course of action. In the public letter, the Academy cites statistics demonstrating that in many cases its female representation is above that of the industry average, but concedes that “it’s not enough to reflect the community,” the letter reads. “We must be leaders in moving our industry toward greater inclusion and representation. Women are 50% of our world. We need their voice and presence at every level. ”
Yet the second, paywall-protected letter, which was obtained by Variety, is more candid. Dated Feb. 14 and signed by The Executive Committee on behalf of the Board of Trustees [of] The Recording Academy, the 800-word letter begins by saying “The Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees is attuned to the calls to action that have resonated ever since the 60th GRAMMY Awards. We recognize the impact of the unfortunate choice of words from our President/CEO, Neil Portnow, in a post-GRAMMY interview. In the many letters and statements that we and our Board have received from some of our most respected artists, as well as prominent female and male music business executives, the message is clear: Our Academy and our industry must do a better job honoring and demonstrating our commitment to cultural, gender and genre diversity, in all aspects of our work.”
The letter then goes on to enumerate many of the senior positions held by women and its commitment to its community. It then addresses the formation of a task force for “female advancement” that Portnow announced earlier this month in response to critical letters, one of which called for his resignation, from industry executives.
“The GRAMMY Awards have always been a positive and negative flashpoint and will likely continue to be because of the ever-changing nature of our world,” the letter reads in part. “We welcome proposals from our members to make changes, and we debate all worthy ideas at an annual meeting dedicated solely to this purpose. Likewise, we have worked hard to ensure that our eligibility requirements reflect changing distribution methods. The advent of online voting and the ability to offer audio streams of nominated titles has been designed to make the voting experience convenient, while not compromising security…. We look to our industry partners to provide opportunities for music creators to maintain their professional careers. We embrace the idea that with the help and support of dedicated artists and professionals, we will undertake a fresh, honest appraisal of the role of women in all aspects of our Academy and the industry at large, with the hope of inspiring positive change.
“Our Board of Trustees is committed to creating a comprehensive task force that will take a deep look at these issues and make material recommendations on how we can all do better,” it continues. “We are pleased that our task force announcement has been well received, with many people offering to participate in work that will yield tangible results. As we continue to take the appropriate time needed to ensure that this action is well-conceived and properly developed, we ask you to remember what this is about: improving our community and creating opportunity for all. …
“Please be assured that the Executive Committee and our Board of Trustees holds all the Academy’s leadership to the highest standards,” the letter concludes. “We respect and deeply appreciate the opinions of the artists and industry leaders who have spoken up since the GRAMMY Awards.”
The first letter takes a more methodical approach in its attempt to dispute some of the demographic assertions put forward in the executives’ letter, using the same USC Annenberg music-industry study that those letters cite. Key excerpts from the letter, which was obtained by Variety, follow:
“Since the 60th GRAMMY Awards, there’s been a national conversation about gender bias at the Recording Academy and, more importantly, in the music community. Much of that conversation centered on a poor choice of words and a recent USC Annenberg study, which revealed a vast disparity between the number of male and female GRAMMY nominees.
“The Recording Academy Board takes gender parity and inclusion very seriously. We are establishing a task force to review every aspect of what we do to ensure that our commitment to diversity is reflected in our organization and community. In developing a scope, budget, and timeline for the task force, we’ve spent several days reflecting on ourselves and analyzing the Annenberg study.
“When we read the headlines, ‘only 9% of GRAMMY nominees are women,’ we were troubled. Could we really be that far behind the rest of the industry?
“Going back six years, the study looks at only 5 of our 84 categories: Best New Artist, Record Of The Year, Song Of The Year, Album Of The Year, and Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical. In establishing current levels of representation across the music industry, the study states that only 22% of performers are women; 12% of songwriters are women; and 2% of producers are women. Aggregating the total number of performers, songwriters, and producers, we see that women comprise 12% of the total music creator population.* These figures are necessary for meaningful analysis.”
The letter then goes on to cite figures from the Annenberg study:
- Across all 84 categories, 17% of GRAMMY nominees are female (compared to 12% industry index).**
- 36% of Best New Artist nominees are women (compared to 22% industry index).***
- 21% of Song Of The Year nominees are women (compared to 12% industry index).***
- 0% of Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical nominees are women (compared to 2% industry index).***
- 8% of Record Of The Year and 6% of Album Of The Year nominees are women.***
“This is largely because most nominees in these categories are producers and engineers, who are almost exclusively male,” it notes (with further clarifications below).
The letter then examines the makeup of the Academy’s membership, which numbers in the thousands. While the letter says its data is incomplete because demographic information is not required for membership, it does note that based on the figures it has:
- 21% of our voting membership are women (compared to 12% industry index).****
- 11% of our Producers & Engineers Wing members are women (compared to 2% industry index).****
“What does all this mean?,” the letter continues. “ It means that the gender composition of our membership and nominations reflect that of the music community, according to the study. But it’s not enough to reflect the community. We must be leaders in moving our industry toward greater inclusion and representation. Women are 50% of our world. We need their voice and presence at every level.
The letter, which is signed by The Recording Academy, concludes: “In the coming weeks, we will share more details about the task force. In the meantime, we encourage you to read the USC Annenberg research in full, as a few bullet points cannot do justice to a 30-plus-page study. Part of music’s power is its ability to raise awareness around important cultural issues and effect change. It is in this spirit that we move forward.”
*The USC Annenberg study collects data across six years and 600 popular songs to calculate gender indexes for performers and songwriters, and across three years and 300 popular songs to calculate gender indexes for producers. To calculate a total industry average across all three creator segments (performers, songwriters, and producers), we analyzed figures from the three years in which complete data sets were available (2012, 2015, 2017). **Based on proprietary Recording Academy data compiled over the same six-year period analyzed in the study. ***Based on USC Annenberg study. ****Membership numbers as of 2018.