For women in popular music, the song is always the same


As Women’s History Month draws to a close, findings from a new research report reveal that for women in music, the past decade has been marked by insignificant change in the recording studio.

The study “Inclusion in the recording studio? is the fifth annual music industry report from Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. The report, funded by Spotify, provides a comprehensive industry update on inclusion on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart. Specifically, the study examines the artists, songwriters, and producers credited on each of the 1,000 songs on this popular chart from 2012 to 2021. The survey also quantitatively analyzes each individual’s gender and race/ethnicity across these three roles. Additionally, the study rates each Grammy nominee who receives recognition in the Recording of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist and Producer of the Year categories for the same time period. .

In 2021, 23.3% of artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart were women. There has been little change over time for female artists – only 21.8% of artists over ten years and 1,000 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts were female. This is far from the percentage of women in the American population (51%).

In contrast to the lack of female artists, artists from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups made up more than half of 2021 artists (57.2%). During the decade under review, people of color made up 47.8% of the more than 1,900 artists listed on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts. However, this overall percentage masks an increase over time. While the percentage of underrepresented artists peaked in 2020 at 59%, 2021 is still 18.8 percentage points higher than the percentage of underrepresented artists in 2012 (38.4%).

“Despite activism and industry advocacy, there has been little change for women on the popular charts since 2012,” Smith said. “While the data shows an increase for women of color, these results indicate there is still work to be done.”

The study also explored the intersection of gender and race/ethnicity for artists. Notably, 55% of all female artists in 2021 belonged to underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, as did 58% of male artists in 2021. For underrepresented women, 2021 reflects a 6 percentage point increase from to 2020 (49%), although still below the high threshold of 73% for women artists of color that occurred in 2018. Overall, 10% of women artists over the 10 years examined were women of color.

Consistent with previous years, the report found that female songwriters and producers remain more numerous. In 2021, 14.4% of songwriters were women. This figure has not changed over time. Women made up only 12.7% of the songwriters assessed over the 10 years studied, a ratio of 6.8 men to 1 woman songwriter. More than half of the songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts from 2012 to 2021 did not include a female songwriter.

In 2021, more women of color than white women wrote songs that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart, reversing a decline seen in 2020. However, 2021 was still below the 10-year high of 44 women of color observed in 2019.

For producers, women held just 3.9% of all production positions in songs on the 2021 Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts. , but did not exceed the 7-year high of 5% in 2019. Overall, of a total of 1,522 production credits in the 10-year sample, were male and 2.8% were women. This is a ratio of 35 men for 1 woman producer. Only 10 producers in the sample spanning the decade were women of color. The ratio of male producers to underrepresented female producers is 148 to 1.

“For female songwriters and producers, the needle hasn’t moved over the past decade,” Smith said. “In particular, women of color are virtually excluded from producing the top songs every year. We know there are talented women from all walks of life who don’t have access, opportunity or credit for their work in this field.

The study also examines a solution that has been attempted to address the lack of female engineers and producers of popular songs. This solution, the Recording Academy’s Women in the Mix pledge, was launched in 2019. In the 2021 year-end 100 songs, there were two female producers and engineers whose work could potentially be attributed to the Women in the Mix commitment. One, Ariana Grande, produced and engineered her own songs alongside two other promise takers. The second, Jenna Andrews, produced a song that included a promise taker. Two other engineers, Heidi Wang and Gena Johnson, each worked with a promise taker in 2021.

So only a handful of women who worked on the most popular songs in 2021 can potentially be attributed to the Women in the Mix pledge. Also, given that a woman produced and engineered her own songs, it’s even clearer that the Women in the Mix commitment didn’t impact the ranks of female producers and engineers on some of the songs. the most profitable in the industry.

“Industry solutions must do more than lip service to create change,” Smith said. “They need to target the underlying reasons for exclusion and have strong evaluation and accountability measures to ensure they translate into real progress.”

The report also updates last year’s analysis of 10 years of Grammy nominations in five categories. 14.2% of all nominees in 2022 in the five categories examined were women. In 2022, the percentage of women nominated has decreased compared to 2021 (28.1%). This decline occurred in 4 categories. As in 2021 and 8 of the previous 10 years, no women were nominated for Producer of the Year.

Overall, 13.6% of all applicants in these 5 categories over the past decade were women. Over the 10 years assessed, women were more likely to be nominated for Best New Artist (44.4%) and Song of the Year (28.8%). In contrast, they made up the lowest percentage of nominees in the Album of the Year (9.7%) and Producer of the Year (1.9%) categories.

In addition, the study examines individual appointments by race/ethnicity for women. Of the 262 women nominated for a Grammy, 44.3% were underrepresented. The majority of white and underrepresented women were nominated only once in the 10 years studied.

“Elevating women in music is crucial because it allows women to advance in their careers and opens doors for young women who aspire to work in this industry,” said Karla Hernandez, lead author of the study. . “This is especially true for women of color, who are often excluded from prestigious institutions and career recognition. We need to see women’s work featured and nominated, giving them space in writing rooms and studios. By actively working for inclusion, we can bring out a new wave of talent and creativity. »

The report also offers solutions for change to increase the number of women as artists, songwriters and producers and support the growth of underrepresented artists.

“To meet a challenge, the industry must first understand it. This is why the efforts of Stacy Smith, Karla Hernandez and the entire team behind the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative are essential,” said Dawn Ostroff, Chief Content and Advertising Officer for Spotify. “These results underscore the need for action. We pledge to continue to support this important research, to uplift women who can, in turn, create opportunity for women, and to make meaningful progress to improve equity in the world of music.

The report is the latest from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and can be viewed online here.


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