Sonic Truth: Music's Gender Problem

Mike has asked:

Why is the music industry so male-dominated?

Dear Mike,

Let’s start with some good ol’ verifiable facts. As of this year:

+ no solo women have ever won the Triple J Hottest 100 since it was established in 1989
+ only three have won the UK’s Mercury Prize in its 22-year history
+ around 1 in 10 audio engineers are women, and no woman has ever won a Grammy for producing a non-classical record.
industry gender pay gaps are substantial, remain in place and in some areas are increasing.

Also, take the Billboard Power 100 for 2015; index of the industry’s most powerful and influential. Twelve spots out of the total 100 feature women — often they are featured as part of a duo with a bloke. So while Taylor Swift, Adele, Nicki Minaj and Rihanna are all marquee names in music, the reality is that it’s men producing the records, pulling the industry strings and landing the kudos when they put their own tunes out there.

The past couple of months has seen black metal musician Myrkur forced off social media due to death threats and Dirty Projectors’ Amber Coffman revealing she’d been sexually harassed by a prominent publicist. Anyone can spend some quality time with Google and find myriad similar tales from now and in the past. Lots has been written on this so I’ll leave it to one side for now.

For my part, one of the ways I think the music industry can help here is by fixing a certain mindset. My theory is that women working in music earn less respect because of sexist biases about expertise. Expertise is highly valued in the music industry, whether it be as a great manager, talented audio engineer or a sick guitarist able to shred G# diminished sweep arpeggios at 220 BPM.

 

Socially, we still reinforce ideas that men are more pragmatic, technical and decisive while women are emotional and vulnerable. But research on the brain has debunked this idea. If this bias can be banished from the music industry, we’re encouraging more women to succeed in roles that they would be great in, but haven’t always been given the opportunity.

Not many of us, even those involved in the music industry, have any influence on something like who lands in the Billboard Top 100. But all of us love music, and we can be more conscious in the way that we express that love. Women musicians and producers rarely get called geniuses, but lots of them are. If they achieve great things in the music industry, it’s an achievement usually described with the prefix “female”. Just laziness.

Music culture is archetypal. We can name heroes in all parts of the music world, but our handful of heroines have been confined in a small corner of it. The more inclusive we make the myths, in the way we talk and speak, the faster we can move towards an equal playing field.

Cheers,
Alex

If you’d like an answer to any of life’s great mysteries, get at Alex on advice@lifeisnoise.com.