How the Music Industry Can Do Better for Female Songwriters and Producers (Guest Column)

How the Music Industry Can Do

March is International Women’s Month, in which we recognize women everywhere and the advancements that have been made for female rights and representation. However, equity and balance in gender representation has a ways to go in both music and society at large.

Mariah Carey, who has a songwriting credit on multiple No. 1 records, was only just admitted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame, even though her eligibility began nearly 10 years ago, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

In the music industry, women made up only 12.3% of the songwriters responsible for writing the 700 songs on Billboard’s Hot 100 year-end charts between 2012 and 2018. That percentage is in stark contrast to the 2018 MIRA and MusiCares report which included the statistic that one-third of all musicians identify as female.

The lack of representation and opportunity for women music creators isn’t limited to songwriters, and it gets even worse when looking at music producers.

When USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative analyzed the gender breakdown for music producers who worked on the top 400 popular songs from 2012, 2015, 2017, and 2018, it found a men-to-women producer ratio of 47:1. That translates to only 2.1% of those producers identifying as female, showing a clear lack of distribution of opportunities for women in popular music production. In addition, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative also found that for the 2018 Hot 100 chart, there was not one woman in a duo or band who appeared on the list.

In the eye of the public, it may appear that there are plenty of successful women artists. They are frequently in the news, and it’s almost impossible to listen to the radio or a streaming service’s playlist without hearing a female vocalist. However, a key factor in this skewed perspective is that pop music is the most popular genre for women. And yet, when looking at pop charts, specifically Billboard’s 2019 year-end Hot 100, 82% of those pop songs had at least one male performer. This means that only 18 of 100 songs on that list were performed only by women, with 7 of those 18 songs performed by Billie Eilish or Ariana Grande. Adding further to the fact that women’s most popular genre is drastically dominated by men: 23% of the 700 most popular songs from 2012 to 2018 were written by the same 10 male songwriters.

Together as an industry we must be more active in fighting the lack of representation. The opportunity is there, we just need consistent encouragement behind this opportunity in order to bring positive change for us all. It’s the start of a new decade, and it must be the start of a more gender-balanced music industry.

How We Can Better Advocate for Women Songwriters and Producers:

  • Data of the Songwriter: At Songtrust, we represent more than 300,000 songwriters around the world. We will conduct an annual survey of our songwriters and share our findings across the industry to distribute their perspective on how positive change for representation can be accelerated. If we don’t measure where we are, we can’t improve.
  • Balance of Opportunities: If 10 men can write 23% of the top hits across seven years, so can 10 women. By 2030, industry-wide A&R at majors and indies can commit to gender balance in their performing artists, songwriters and producers.
  • Actively Support Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging Programs: This is a call upon industry organizations to launch and/or provide more vocal and consistent support for initiatives such as She Is the Music, Keychange, Women In The Mix, and Women’s Audio Mission.
  • Music Festival Lineup Equality: The casual music fan doesn’t always see who is writing which part of a song, but what they do see is who is headlining music festivals. While the fate of the Coachella 2020 festival is still uncertain, it remains the world’s largest music festival — and this year’s headliners are all men. This is another area where we need to improve, and it’s especially important given the example that the optics set. I would like to bring more attention to Keychange and its initiative to encourage festivals and music organizations to achieve a 50:50 gender balance by 2022, as it would be a remarkable goal to achieve.
  • Become A Champion For Intersectionality: Despite efforts to parse out gender, race, class, and identity as separate topics, they are all connected and are not discreet concepts. This movement is about establishing equal opportunity for all within music, and beyond music. While we’re tackling representation in music, we need to tackle it at its core, and that means addressing the inequalities for all.

We see time and time again the emergence of musical talent from all ages, backgrounds, and gender identities. Improved advocacy and representation for women comes down to the distribution of opportunity. According to Billboard, of the 439 songwriters inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame since 1970, only 31 are women, which translates to just 7% of inductees. Looking at today’s music industry, where 40,000 new songs are uploaded to Spotify every day and new age acts are breaking the rules of contemporary music, there are many opportunities to work with and champion women songwriters and producers.

By creating a more diversified body of songwriters, we’ll experience new kinds of music that we would have never heard if we kept limiting songwriting opportunities to the same group of people. This is also how we can begin to create change with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees. Only 69 of the 888 Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductees are women according to Longreads — that accounts for just 7.7%.

The music industry has the opportunity to reset itself and become a champion industry for gender balance, and representation. It’s just a matter of if we want to be leaders in social change as we historically have been, or sit back and hope someone else does it first. But that’s never been our style.

Molly Neuman joined Songtrust in 2017 and was named president last fall. Previously, she was head of music at Kickstarter; interim president and vice president of the American Association of Independent Music (A2IM); and held senior roles at Rhapsody International and eMusic. She got her start in music as the drummer for the influential punk group Bratmobile.