Given the news story that caught her attention, a talented young woman could have made a completely different choice last week regarding pursuing a career in the music industry.
She may have noticed the news about the female-dominated lineup for the Grammys, the highly anticipated music event held on Sunday night in Los Angeles. This year, the awards show will feature a significant number of female nominees such as Janelle Monáe, SZA, Victoria Monét, and Phoebe Bridgers. It is a fitting end to a successful year for women in music, with many topping the charts and wowing audiences on tour. And the trend continues with Adele announcing surprise concert dates in Germany that will be available for purchase this week.
However, the coverage of recent evidence highlighting the ongoing battle for women to be taken seriously in the music industry presents a stark contrast. Despite deserving recognition, a closer examination of the other nominees for (non-classical) producer of the year at the Grammys reveals that no women have been nominated. This issue was also addressed in a powerful report released by the women and equalities committee last week, which delved into the prevalence of misogyny in the music business. According to the report, the industry continues to be dominated by a “boys’ club” mentality, leading to widespread abuse and harassment. The report deemed this to be an entrenched issue that can only be resolved through immediate action.
The past history of the industry is disheartening, with stories of mistreatment and control prevalent before and after Tina Turner’s escape from Ike. Whether it was controlling husbands or deceitful male managers, the decisions were often made by male producers and record executives.
According to Mike Smith, a former music executive with decades of experience working at major labels and publishers, the marketability of talented women has always been acknowledged. Smith hopes that women are now gaining more control over their careers instead of being controlled by men in the industry.
According to Smith, the statistics offer hope for the future: “Women have more opportunities in the music industry now than ever before, but we still have a long way to go.”
Jo Twist, the chief executive of the BPI, and YolanDa Brown, the chair of the organization, addressed the issue of misogyny described in the report by MPs, stating that it is unacceptable. However, they also expressed some optimism, noting that record companies have made progress in increasing the representation of women in executive roles. They also noted that there are more successful women in the industry as both artists and members of their teams.
The Grammy Awards will provide a fitting finale to a year that saw significant music trends on both sides of the Atlantic. The British Phonographic Industry (BPI) has reported that, for the first time ever, female artists were at the top of the UK singles chart for 31 weeks. In addition, they also had a remarkable seven of the top 10 best-selling singles of the year, accounting for more than half of the overall top 20. What is particularly noteworthy is that nearly half (48.5%) of the songs in the top 10 this year were by female artists, either as solo acts or in collaborations. These figures mark the highest percentage of female-led hits in a single year since the beginning of the 21st century.
Leading the conquering heroines was Miley Cyrus, who had 10 weeks at No 1 with her single Flowers. But up there beside her, also taking the top spot in 2023, were Dua Lipa, Ellie Goulding, Kenya Grace, Raye, Billie Eilish, Doja Cat, Olivia Rodrigo and Taylor Swift. And when put together with Raye, SZA, PinkPantheress and the Cameroonian-American singer Libianca, Cyrus, Swift and Goulding have made more music business history by being jointly responsible for seven of the year’s 10 most popular tracks in the UK – the biggest share in more than 70 years of the Official Singles Chart.
Although there is a growing number of highly esteemed female artists in the industry, this trend is not mirrored at the lowest or highest levels of the business. Female recording studio technicians and session musicians continue to share harrowing experiences of facing obstacles and insults in their work, while the most prominent record labels and music publishing companies are predominantly male-dominated.
The parliamentary committee report discovered that female artists faced extreme challenges due to the excessive focus on their physical appearance. This conclusion was based on evidence gathered during a parliamentary inquiry that began in the previous summer.
The findings indicated that restricted chances for career advancement and consistently lower pay are obstacles, and racial bias prevents many black women from pursuing influential positions in the music industry.
One of the most concerning things discussed was the existence of a “culture of silence” where women are expected to tolerate being near known abusers at industry events. The only other option is to confront the abuser, which could potentially harm their career. The report stated that a lot of the evidence they received had to be kept confidential, including comments about television shows and well-known individuals. This is unfortunate, but it shows how frequently NDAs are used.
Goulding is one of the prominent performers to use her secure position to speak out. Explaining the unpleasant environment that female artists can encounter, she recalled “a slight feeling of discomfort” whenever she walked into a studio to find she was alone with “one or two men”.
According to Smith, the number of women in high-level positions in record companies is still quite low, even though women make up at least half of the music consumer population. In the past, there was a traditional route for advancement in record companies, but it may not have been appealing for a 17-year-old girl to work her way up in an environment dominated by men. It is positive that music schools are now preparing and training women for these positions, as it can be challenging for a young woman to endure the male-dominated atmosphere. This may explain why many women choose to leave the industry altogether.
However, Smith has collaborated with musicians such as PJ Harvey, Elastica, Beth Orton, and Iggy Azalea and remains optimistic. She acknowledges that there is now more agency for female performers and notes that in the realms of dance, DJs, and producers, women are making significant strides and taking on central roles.
The data speaks for itself. There has been a significant increase in popularity on the charts. In the year 2022, only two female artists were able to make it into the top 10 with their songs – Kate Bush’s remake of her 1985 hit “Running Up That Hill” featured on the TV show Stranger Things, and pop singer Cat Burns gained recognition with her song “Go”.
The trend is also evident in the United States. According to a study from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative at the University of Southern California, the percentage of women involved in successful projects last year reached 35%. This marks the highest number of female artists since 2012.
The BPI’s Twist stated that although there is still progress to be made in achieving equal representation for women in the music industry, 2023 has been a fantastic year for female artists in the Official Charts. There is now a wider variety of successful recording artists, supported by their labels. This is a cause for celebration, but we must also remain vigilant and continue our efforts to make this the norm in the music industry.
The unexpected leader in the industry could arguably be none other than Kylie Minogue, who has proven to be a true icon. Just last fall, she made history as the first woman to have a number one album in five consecutive decades. With the success of her 15th studio album, Disco, reaching the top spot on the charts, she can reflect on a remarkable streak that began in 1988 with her debut album, Kylie.