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Annual US diversity in music report concludes “for women in music, there is little to celebrate when it comes to industry change”

By | Published on Tuesday 9 March 2021

Recording studio

The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University Of Southern California yesterday published its fourth annual report investigating gender and ethnic diversity in the US music charts, concluding that “for women in music, there is little to celebrate when it comes to industry change”.

The annual report – published to coincide with International Women’s Day, of course – looks at the artists, songwriters and producers behind the tracks in Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 charts, as well as the nominee lists for the headline categories at the Grammy Awards.

When it comes to the artists behind the hits, there is generally decent ethnic diversity across the charts. However, of all the performers appearing on the year-end Hot 100s, less than a quarter are women. And the gender diversity stats get worse once you focus on songwriters and producers.

The project crunches the figures for year-end charts from the last nine years. Across that time, 21.6% of the performers appearing are women. In 2020 it was 20.2%, showing that little has changed over the last decade. Female artists are also much more likely to appear as solo acts rather than as part of duos or bands, further hindering total gender diversity.

When it comes to songwriters working on the songs in the year-end charts, only 12.9% were women in 2020, which again is pretty much in line with the 12.6% figure for the decade. 65% of the songs on the 2020 chart didn’t involved any female songwriters at all. Across the nine years, 57.3% were entirely written by men.

As for producers, women held only 2% of all the producing positions on the tracks in the 2020 Hot 100. Researchers also scrutinised 600 tracks from the last nine years and found that women represented 2.6% of producers on those songs, which equates to 33 producing credits.

Nine of those went to women of colour. Which means the ratio of male producers to women of colour producers is 180 to 1.

“Women producers – and particularly women of colour – are virtually erased from the music industry”, says Stacy L Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, commenting on the latest figures. “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”.

The report also references the Women In The Mix initiative launched by the US Recording Academy, which encourages artists, labels and others in the industry to pledge that “at least two women will be considered in the selection process every time a music producer or engineer is hired”. This initiative seems to be having no effect when it comes to the hits, the new report concludes.

An executive summary notes: “Only four women producers were credited on the 2020 Billboard Hot 100 year end chart – none of whom worked with one of the 38 pledge-takers who had a song on the chart. Moreover, Ariana Grande was the sole pledge-taker to work with a woman engineer – herself – of those who appeared on the chart”.

Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean the Women In The Mix initiative hasn’t been successful elsewhere in the industry, but the stats show the scheme isn’t having any impact at all on the biggest tracks. “While women producers and engineers may have worked on less popular songs as a result of this initiative”, the executive summary says, “the pledges and support did not influence the percentage of women producers on the year end chart”.

Contrasting the Recording Academy’s Women In The Mix scheme with a similar programme adopted by the movie industry, the executive summary states: “In contrast to the 4% Challenge surrounding women film directors, the Women In The Mix pledge has not had a meaningful impact on popular songs and producers. Solutions like the Women In The Mix pledge require pledge-takers who are intentional and accountable, and an industry that is committed to making change – something that clearly has not happened in this case”.

The conclusion of the actual report then says: “The advocacy around women in music has continued, but women represented less than one-third of artists, clocked in at 12.6% of songwriters, and were fewer than 3% of all producers on the popular charts between 2012 and 2020”.

“These percentages have changed little over time”, it goes on, “and do not reflect the audience for popular music nor are they in line with the percentage of girls and women studying in music education programmes. The music industry must examine how its decision-making, practices, and beliefs perpetuate the underrepresentation of women artists, songwriters, and producers”.

It adds: “Women of colour comprised half of all women artists on the charts in 2020, but were a much smaller contingent of songwriters, and nearly invisible as producers. As the music industry continues to grapple with racial equity, supporting women of colour across the industry must be a priority. Moreover, as the chorus of voices championing women’s work in music continues to grow, emphasising the inclusion of women of colour must be part of this effort”.

You can download the full report here.