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in-focus

Female artists struggle to make gains in music, study finds


Women are songwriters or producers on only a small portion of the most popular songs released each year -- and have made no significant gains in representation over the past nine years -- even as the industry grows more diverse in other ways.

That's the finding of a report by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, a University of Southern California professor who studies representation in the entertainment industry. Female artists made just 22% of the top 100 songs released each year between 2012 and 2020, and a far smaller percentage of women served as producers and writers, according to the study released Monday, which was funded by Spotify Technology.

The report was timed to coincide with International Women's Day and comes just days before the Grammy Awards, the industry's biggest night of the year. The Grammys have been criticized in the past for failing to nominate or showcase a diverse field. Though the awards have made progress in the past decade, 28% of nominees in five key categories are women this year, the USC report noted.

"It is International Women's Day everywhere, except for women in music, where women's voices remain muted," Smith, who oversees USC's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, said in a statement.

Smith, who used Billboard's year-end chart of the 100 most popular songs as a gauge, found the music industry is more diverse than the population when it comes to race and ethnicity. Artists of color received 59% of the credits on top songs released in 2020, and 47% between 2012 and 2020. Most of that is due to the prominence of Black musicians in R&B and hip-hop, which is the most popular musical genre.

But while people of color have boosted their share of top hits by about 20% over the last nine years, women have made smaller gains -- and in some cases, lost ground. They received production credits on about 2% of the top 100 songs for the past nine years, a number that has remained unchanged. For every woman who got a producing credit, there were 38 men.

Women account for around 13% of songwriting credits, a number that has increased over the years. But 57% of songs measured by the study had no female writers, and less than 1% had only female writers.

"Each song on the popular charts represents an opportunity to include women," Smith wrote in the report, co-authored by Dr. Katherine Pieper, Marc Choueiti, Karla Hernandez and Kevin Yao. "For artists starting work on new music, consider working with women in songwriting and producing roles. While it may seem easier to work with prior collaborators, the process of discovering new partners and opening up the potential for innovation is the path toward greater inclusion."

Published : March 09, 2021

By : Syndication Washington Post, Bloomberg · Lucas Shaw