Women Are ‘Missing, Muted, Written Off’ in the Recording Studio, Annenberg Inclusion Initiative Study Finds

Close-up photos of Reel to Reel recording units donated by Lionel Betancourt to the Texas Conjunto Music Hall of Fame and Museum on January 2, 2014 in San Benito, Texas.  (AP Photo/Valley Morning Star, Jesse Mendoza)

It’s Grammy week and International Women’s Day, which means it’s also time to reveal the latest findings of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” report. Authored by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and funded by Spotify, the fourth edition of the study doesn’t bode especially well for women in music, but underrepresented racial and ethnic groups did see marked improvement in representation between the years of 2012 and 2020.

The report’s results are tallied by assessing gender and race/ethnicity for artists, songwriters, and producers appearing on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end charts. It also encompasses Grammy nominations in the categories of record, album, song and producer of the year, as well as best new artist.

Said Smith: “It is International Women’s Day everywhere, except for women in music, where women’s voices remain muted. While women of color comprised almost half of all women artists in the nine years examined, there is more work needed to reach inclusion in this business.”

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Among the highlights: women represented 20.2% of all artists on the Hot 100 chart in 2020, with almost a third appearing as solo acts as opposed to duos (7.1%) or bands (7.3%).

For female songwriters, only 12.9% were women, consistent with the 12.6% of women songwriters across 900 songs for the past nine years. That equals a ratio of seven men to every one woman songwriter. In a wider swath, 57.3% of songs did not feature any women songwriters, since 2012. In 2020, it was 65% of songs that did not feature any women songwriters.

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Courtesy of Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

Producers continue to be the most challenged of the female music-makers studied, holding only 2% of production credits from songs on the Hot 100 in 2020. “Women producers — and particularly women of color — are virtually erased from the music industry,” Dr. Smith said. “Only 5% of the songs in our sample spanning nine years of popular music had a woman producer. Harnessing the opportunity to showcase women’s talent and their creative contributions is essential if the record business wants to reach equality.”

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Women fared better in the Grammys five popular categories, representing 28.1% of all 2021 nominees, a steady increase year-over-year — and over a nine-year average of 13.4%.

Tracking women of color, they comprised 38.5% of all nominees since 2012 but were less likely than white women to be nominated for a Grammy award.

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On a more positive note, underrepresented racial/ethnic groups represented 59% of all artists in 2020, a rise from the 46.7% of all artists in the nine-year sample.Further, 45.1% of all women artists were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, as were 47.3% of artists who were men.

“The work that Dr. Stacy Smith and her team have done with the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has been instrumental in broadening the conversations around gender equity issues,” said Dawn Ostroff, Spotify’s chief content and advertising officer. “While there is still more work to be done in this area, we are proud to support creating change within the music industry.”

See the full report and more infographics here.