A new study by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative finds that over the last six years, women have been vastly underrepresented in popular music. The study analyzed 600 songs from the Billboard Hot 100 released between 2012 and 2017 and found only 22 percent of those songs were by female artists. Even fewer songs – 12 percent – had female songwriting credits. But the greatest culprit of the gender gap, the findings suggest, is in the recording studio.
In the group, male producers outnumber female producers 49 to one – a striking disparity that, unlike songwriters and artists, has remained unchanged over time, the study finds. For pop songs that can include dozens of featured producers, nearly all (96 percent) do not have a single female credit. When there was a female producer listed, roughly half the time the producer was also the performing artist (a la Beyonce), thus further diminishing the number of producer-only females.
For analyzing producers, the Annenberg study looked at producers of the top 100 songs of 2012, 2015 and 2017 for a total of 300 songs and 651 credited producers. The authors explained that the time gaps were used to show the infrequency of female producers. “Given the anecdotal reports surrounding the infrequency of female producers in the music industry, three years provided sufficient evidence to illuminate the extent and seriousness of the problem,” the authors wrote.
One factor that could ameliorate the gender disparity in the studio is female performing artists. The report found that female artists worked with female songwriters more than male artists worked with female songwriters. Of all the females in the music industry studied, female solo performers were the most strongly represented in terms of chart hits with the top three charting female performers (Rihanna, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift) accounting for roughly the same number of chart hits at the top three male performers (Drake, Justin Bieber, Chris Brown) over the same time period.
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The study shows that top female artists are more likely than top male performers to have writing credits. The nine most prominent female songwriters were almost all notable performers as well. For example, Minaj, Rihanna and Swift had 15, 13 and 11 credits, respectively, for songwriting. Among male performers, only Drake had similarly high levels of songwriting credits.
“For women crafting lyrics for others to perform, female artists are important allies, but not a panacea to creating more chances for female songwriters to thrive,” the study said.