Women Artists See Increase in Chart Representation, but ‘Little to No Growth’ in Songwriting and Production: USC Annenberg Study

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Female artists are increasing their presence on popular music charts, but representation behind the scenes is still an uphill battle. The latest findings of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” report show a 7% increase in women artists from last year’s report, but the presence of female songwriters, producers, and engineers is still missing.

Put together by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, the report’s results analyze gender and race/ethnicity for artists, songwriters, and producers appearing on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end charts. The data also evaluates Grammy nominees in the categories of record, album, song, songwriter and producer of the year, as well as best new artist.

“There is good news for women artists this year,” Dr. Smith said in a statement. “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves — there is still much work to be done before we can say that women have equal opportunity in the music industry.”

Indeed, vital roles in the recording studio such as songwriting, production and engineering have achieved little to no growth when it comes to the representation of women. In 2022, 14% of songwriters were female, which was not far from 2021’s tally.

Women comprised only 12.8% of the songwriters evaluated from the past 11 years — a ratio of 6.8 men to every 1 female songwriter. More than half of songs across that time span did not credit a woman songwriter, despite the fact that 43% had one or more female songwriters. Further, the 12 male songwriters who had the most credits across the sample were collectively responsible for helming nearly 25% of the 1,100 song sample.

Meanwhile, the percentage of female producers in 2022 was a mere 3.4%, while the percentage of female production credits tallied 2.8% across a sample of 1,700. The ratio of men to women producers across 800 popular songs was 34 to 1. Only 5.2% of all the songs evaluated featured a woman producer and when women of color were considered, they made up 13 out of 50 producers, or 26% of all women producers.

With each passing year, the industry has attempted to find solutions to address in-studio disparities between female producers and engineers. This year, the study examined the effectiveness of the Recording Academy’s Women in the Mix Pledge, which asked industry members to work with a female producer or engineer on a song. The only successful pledge-taker in 2022 was Nicki Minaj, whose chart-topper “Super Freaky Girl,” recorded in collaboration with rising producer Malibu Babie, appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart. No pledge-takers worked with a woman engineer in 2022.

“This industry solution has not proven effective,” commented Dr. Smith. “Until women and men artists hire women songwriters and producers the numbers will not move. It’s more than just allowing an artist to credit themselves on a song, it’s about identifying talent and hiring women in these roles. That’s the only way that we will see change occur.”

The number of females who appear in the Grammy’s most coveted categories, including the newly-added songwriter of the year category, remained practically unchanged since last year. In 2023, 15.2% of nominees across these six major categories were women, and in 2022, it was 14.1%.

Most strikingly, out of the past 11 years observed, only 13.9% of nominees in the major categories were women, while 86% were men.

On a lighter note, women fared well in the new songwriter of the year category, however, where female songwriters filled 60% of the nominee posts. Racial and ethnic diversity also saw a notable increase in major categories this year, with underrepresented women receiving more nominations in key categories than white women did: 61.5% of the women nominated in 2023 were underrepresented compared to 38.5% who were white. In the past 11 years, 48.5% of Grammy-nominated women were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups while 51.5% were white.

See the full report here.