In Music Creation, Women Remain Vastly Underrepresented – Sounderground

The results of a 10-year study have found that women remain underrepresented in many areas of the music creation process and other areas of the industry.

Released today (March 31), this Inclusion In The Recording Studio? study is the fifth annual report on gender equality in music industry from Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, of which Smith is the Founder. Funded by Spotify, this report found that over the past ten years, female representation in the recording studio — and subsequently on the charts and at the Grammys — has not significantly increased.

Explore

See latest videos, charts and news

See latest videos, charts and news

The study was performed by examining the artists, songwriters, and producers credited on each of the 1,000 songs on Sounderground‘s Hot 100 Year End Chart from 2012 to 2021, along with the gender and race/ethnicity of every person in those three roles. In 2021, there were 180 artists on this chart — 76.7% of them were men and 23.3% were women. (No artists identified as gender non-conforming or non-binary in 2021.) Across all ten years, 78.2% of artists were men and 21.8% were women.

Key findings include that in 2021, 23.3% of artists on the Hot 100 Year-End Chart were women. This number has been stagnant for a decade, with women representing 21.8% of artists across ten years and 1,000 songs on this chart. The study notes that these numbers are a “far cry” from the 51% of the U.S. population comprised by women.

The report also determined in 2021, only 14.4% of songwriters were women. This number has also not changed significantly over time, with women making up just 12.7% of the songwriters evaluated across the 10 years studied, resulting in a ratio of 6.8 men to every one woman songwriter. More than half of the songs on the Hot 100 Year-End Charts from 2012 to 2021 did not include any women songwriters.

The study identifies Drake as the top male songwriter over the last decade, with credits on 47 songs. By comparison the top female songwriter, Nicki Minaj, has 19 credits. (Drake is followed on this tally by Max Martin, who has 46 credits, while Minaj is followed by Taylor Swift, who has 16 credits.)

Furthermore, the study found that women were more likely to appear as songwriters on dance/electronic songs, with 20.5% of these songs written by women over ten years and Pop songs, coming in with 19.1% and least likely to work on Hip-Hop/Rap, with women writing just 6.4% of these songs over ten years and R&B/Soul, with women writing 9.4% of these songs.

Female producers fared even worse, with women holding just 3.9% of all producing positions across the songs on the 2021 Hot 100 Year End Chart. This number was down from a seven-year high point of 5% in 2019. From a total of 1,522 producing credits in the 10-year sample, 97.2% were men and 2.8% were women, for a ratio of 35 men to every one woman producer. Only 10 producers across the decade-spanning sample were women of color.

“For women songwriters and producers, the needle has not moved for the last decade,” Dr. Smith says in the report. “In particular, women of color are virtually shut out of producing the most popular songs each year. We know there are talented women from all backgrounds who are not getting access, opportunity, or credit for their work in this arena.”

The study also found a significant gender gap in terms of female representation at the Grammys, with women making 13.6% of nominees across five key categories — record of the year, album of the year, song of the year, best new artist and producer of the year — from 2013-2022. This year, as in 2021 and eight of the previous 10 years surveyed, no women are nominated for producer of the year.

A decade of data from the Grammys found that women were more likely to be nominated for best new artist, which included 44.4% female nominees over ten years, and song of the year, with 28.8% female nominees over ten years. Women comprised the lowest percentage of nominees in album of the year, with 9.7% female nominees over ten years, and producer of the year, with just 1.9% female nominees in this category over ten years.

The study also examined the presence of artists of color across this same ten-year period, finding that artists from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups represented over half of 2021’s artists, with 57.2%. Across the decade studied, people of color represented 47.8% of the more than 1,900 artists on the Hot 100 Year-End Charts. While the percentage of underrepresented artists peaked in 2020 at 59%, 2021 is still 18.8 percentage points higher than 2012’s 38.4% percentage of underrepresented artists.

The study also explored the intersection of artist gender and race/ethnicity, finding that 55% of all women artists in 2021 were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, as were 58% of 2021’s male artists. In 2021, more women of color than white women wrote songs that appeared on the Hot 100 Year-End Chart.

The study also investigates the Recording Academy’s Women in the Mix pledge, which launched in 2019 in an effort to address the lack of women engineers and producers across popular songs. Results of the study demonstrate that this initiative has had little efficacy, with two women producers and engineers releasing work could be potentially attributed to the Women in the Mix pledge in 2021.

One, Ariana Grande, produced and engineered her own songs alongside two other pledge-takers. The second, Jenna Andrews, produced on a song that included a pledge-taker. Two other engineers, Heidi Wang and Gena Johnson, each worked with a pledge-taker in 2021.

“Industry solutions must do more than offer lip service to creating change,” says Dr. Smith. “They must take aim at the underlying reasons for exclusion and have robust evaluation and accountability metrics to ensure that they result in real progress.”