Gender Diversity in the Music Industry: Why Do We Think Music Production is a Man’s Job?

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by Karigan Wright

With a rather progressive society pushing to acknowledge women in their career field, it’s generally assumed that women are thriving in the music industry. While women artists succeed in the industry, we mustn't forget about the woman producers, songwriters, and publicists.  

Women are highly underrepresented in the music industry, but not because women aren’t interested in the field. The music industry is essentially a boys club, keeping women as far away as possible. But why does the industry prefer men for the job? Why aren’t women being hired? What can be done to include more women in the music industry? And what do recent studies tell us about the trend of men in the industry?

A study conducted by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative displayed startling statistics, including: out of the 651 producers in the study, 98% of producers were men and only 2% were women. In addition, out of the 899 individuals nominated for a Grammy from 2013-2018, 90.7% were men, and 9.3% were women. Furthermore, the percentage of women across three jobs is as follows; 22.4% are artists, 12.3% are songwriters, and 2% are producers. Even worse, only 2 out of 651 producers are women from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group.

Melinda Newman’s article written for Billboard attempts to explain the lack of women involved in producing, songwriting, and publicizing. Newman argues that “women are offered less opportunity, have to work harder to get ahead, have few role models, and face gender bias,” when it comes to working in music engineering and production. It’s not that there aren’t women producers, songwriters, or publicists, it’s that these women are being doubted and ignored, their talents overlooked because of their gender. However, the stigmatization of women in the music industry is far deeper; others suggesting that this stigma goes back to women not being welcome in STEM fields period.

It’s not that this discrimination is all in women’s heads though. Alex Hope, an Australian songwriter said, "There have definitely been times you'll [suggest] an idea and the artist will pass over it and the guy in the room will say the same idea and they'll say, 'I love it,' and you're like, 'Oh, my Lord. You can't really show any signs of not knowing what you're doing. You are at the helm."

Heba Kadry, a mastering engineer says “Any time you’re in a room with a bunch of people who are considering hiring you, there is this immediate assumption, like, ‘Who do you manage?’ or ‘Whose girlfriend are you?’ … They don’t think of you as potentially a person who knows what they’re doing, And so you feel like you kind of have to prove yourself twice as much as males.” Kadry goes onto say that many major labels stick to the male producers they’re already familiar with, not giving women any opportunities to prove themselves.

Although these experiences and statistics may appear to be of grim nature, there are things being done to put an end to the blatant sexism. Karrie Keyes (Pearl Jam’s sound engineer) and Michelle Sabolchick Pettinato (Front of House Engineer for several musicians) started SoundGirls, a group sponsored by The California Women’s Music Festival, a non-profit organization. The mission statement of this group is “To inspire and empower the next generation of women in audio. Our mission is to create a supportive community for women in audio and music production, providing the tools, knowledge, and support to further their careers.” These women are actively working to encourage women to go into audio and music production, despite the sexism and discrimination currently keeping women out.

While it will likely take years upon years for the music industry to have gender diversity, music listeners such as those reading this article can help cut this time down. Part of the solution to the lack of gender diversity in the music industry is to recognize women who are already working in the industry. You can do your part by supporting and recognizing women who have broken through gender barriers and are already in the industry. Check out Alex Hope, Sophie Xeon  Ebony Oshunrinde, and Trakgirl to start, and don’t stop there.

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