Déjà vu pervades the study on gender in the music business released Tuesday by USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative: The report — which finds that only one-sixth of the top 100 songs last year were made by female artists, with even glaringly lower percentages in the behind-the-scenes of the industry — is largely unchanged from the inaugural version of the report last year.
Examining music on the Billboard Hot 100 chart from 2012 to 2018, the study shows that, across the seven-year, 700-song sample, female artists, producers and songwriters are rarely to be found. Women songwriters comprised 12.3 percent of their field; women producers only make up 2.1 percent of their field. Of the 1,064 people who received Grammy Award nominations in the premier five categories from 2013 to 2019, 89.6 percent were male and 10.4 percent were female. In a separate section of the report interviewing 75 female songwriters and producers, 43 percent reported feeling their skills were discounted and 39 percent said they’ve experienced stereotyping and sexualization.
“The qualitative portion really illuminates that being female is, in and of itself, a barrier facing women navigating the space,” Stacy Smith, lead author of the report and the founder of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, tells Rolling Stone. “A lot of what we are seeing is just a rinse and repeat of what we saw last year. When you look at songwriting credits, you see almost 25 percent of the 700 most popular songs have 10 male songwriters attached. That means 10 men are setting the agenda for a quarter of the most popular content being distributed lyrically in the music space.”
Smith and Katherine Pieper, a USC researcher and co-author on the report, say the goal of this year’s report was not only to show the skewed numbers in gender composition in music but also illuminate what happens to the few women who do make it into the industry. “Women in the industry described not being valued necessarily for their talents,” Pieper tells Rolling Stone. “They tend to be sexualized and objectified in the studio. They’re often isolated, as the only woman. All these things align to create a lack of opportunity, and we heard from women that these are environments in which things felt anything from ignored and unacknowledged to — in some cases — personally unsafe.”
Is there anything in the way of a fix? The report suggests artists can do the most help: Across the 700 songs, around 7 percent of them were written by a male artist working with at least one female songwriter, but 14 percent were written by a female artist and female songwriter, which indicates that women performing music can do much for their counterparts in the studio. The reports’ authors say they are looking to expand the report to include interviews with managers and A&R executives for next year, to better understand how to foster equality from the root.
As far as next year’s numbers go, Smith says she is interested in seeing results out of the Recording Academy’s recent initiatives toward gender equality at the Grammy Awards and amongst music production in general. “We see change where interventions take place. The Grammys have expanded nominees and taken action-oriented steps toward creating change, so we’re very curious to see those numbers next year,” she says.
One bright spot in this year’s report: Of the small group of female artists on the charts last year, a record 73 percent of them were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. The total percentage of minority artists across all 1,455 artists examined in the scope of the study was 44 percent.