Guest post by Eileen Carey, singer/songwriter
I can still recall the conversation like it was yesterday. I was in my late 20s and just begun my music career when I excitedly shared my newfound status as a musician with a famous Nashville music executive whom I admired. I was crushed when he replied, “Sorry, honey, but you’re too old.”
More than a decade later, I’ve amassed several #1 singles and more airplay and awards than I ever dreamed of. I feel truly blessed with my success, and remain grateful to my family, my friends, and, most important, to my fans, for helping make it happen.
Still, I’m beyond distraught for the continued lukewarm response of the Music Row country radio charts. Breaking through has been far more difficult for me than if I were a male country pop singer. Country music is not alone in failing to embrace the progress of women in music. It’s everywhere—in every aspect of the music industry and throughout our culture.
Need proof? Check out these numbers from Rolling Stone :
“In 2019, 22.5% of the top songs were made by female artists. The numbers dip further in the behind-the-scenes of the industry. In 2019, 14.4% of songwriters were female. The same narrative – if not a worse one – emerges in other parts of the industry: women comprised just 5% of producers in 2019.”
The numbers are sobering. A 2019 report put out by USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism shows that female music professionals identify the same barriers as other professions: objectification, stereotyping, and their status as a statistical minority. The bottom line? The biggest obstacle we face as women in music is the way our industry thinks of us. USC Annenberg professor and expert researcher Dr. Stacy L. Smith sums it up perfectly, “The perception of women is highly stereotypical, sexualized, and without skill. Until those core beliefs are altered, women will continue to face a roadblock as they navigate their careers.”
So how do we change the out-of-date beliefs held by so many folks in the music industry and elsewhere?
If you want something done correctly, you gotta do it yourself. Women gaining equality in the music industry is no different. It’s not going to happen unless we join together to make it happen. There are three ways we can foster equality for female musicians in the industry we all love so much:
- Push for quotas within the music industry.
Although quotas tend to polarize people I’m inspired by how much good could come from them. If institutions within the music industry require that specific numbers of females make up radio airplay playlists, festival lineups, or even executive seats at record labels, we can prove how easy it is to fill these positions with well-deserving women.
Starting in 2014, companies on the Toronto Stock Exchange had to disclose the number of women in senior roles and their plans to improve diversity. After introduction of the so-called “comply or explain” approach, women’s presence on public boards increased considerably. At the time the regulation went into effect, 67% of the 100 largest public companies in Canada had at least one female director. As of May this year, 96% had such representation, with about half of those companies seating three or more women in director roles. (Fortune newsletter)
Lessons can be learned from other industries. The system of “comply or explain” is being used in public boards to require women and diverse members be added to their leadership. The result is that women are being added in Canada and various markets in the U.S. and the state of California—just by requiring that they report their membership by gender and comply with quota rules to be listed. In music as in other industries, some folks will claim that women are given placement based solely on gender. But these naysayers only create another barrier if you allow it.
The inequalities are astounding. In music festivals, for example, festival attendees don’t know who writes songs, but they sure as heck know who is headlining their favorite festival. If organizers of some of the industry’s largest music festivals were required to feature as many women as men, the step towards fostering equality in our industry would be enormous. For example, consider this: the headliners at this year’s Coachella festival were all men. Not a single female artist was presented. Fans and musicians alike need to demand to see their favorite female artists. If we reach out, speak up and vote with our power on ticket sales, festival organizers would listen.
I am drop dead serious when I say that we should encourage festivals with all the tools at our disposal to achieve a 50/50 gender balance by the summer of 2022. Everyone involved in the music industry would benefit—performers and fans alike.
- Actively support organizations that promote equality for women musicians.
I am downright giddy when I see how many organizations have formed solely to address the issue of gender equality in music. Check these out:
- She Is the Music–an independent, global network organization working to increase the number of women working in music – songwriters, engineers, producers, artists and industry professionals.
- Key Change–a movement to represent the under-represented, working together tobreak down the barriers that are silencing talent, and to achieve better gender balance and inclusivity for gender minorities on stage and behind the scenes.
- Women In The Mix–launched in 2019 to ignite industry-wide commitment to solving this severe inequality, The Initiative asks that at least two women are considered in the selection process every time a music producer or engineer is hired. It also asks working producers to agree to take issues of gender diversity within music’s technical fields into account when deciding who to mentor and hire for further development.
- Gender Amplified–is a non-profit organization that aims to celebrate women in music production, raise their visibility and develop a pipeline for girls and young women to get involved behind the scenes as music producers.
Organizations such as these deserve our full support. We should do everything we can to promote them. Remember: when these influential organizations thrive, women in music are sure to thrive as well. Not only should we return the favor by having the back of SITM and similar groups, but we should also create new initiatives that can push for gender equality in music. It’s going to take a myriad of groups and approaches to drive women to the forefront of the music industry. Just as the music requires multiple talents and resources to produce, achieving gender equality throughout requires the same. With more organizations working with and for us, we’ll be better organized far more successful with an equal share of the industry we all support with our talent and skills.
- Accept the personal challenge of making progress happen sooner, rather than later.
Things aren’t going to improve for women in music unless each of us does her part. This means that we all have to take it upon ourselves to push for the change we want to see. We must consistently remind people of what we want, and why,and to demand gender equality from record labels, management companies, radio stations, award programs, music venues, and anywhere else that can help bring about the change we deserve.
It’s ridiculous that women are not yet treated as equals in the field of music. And I’m more than equal to accept the challenge to demand change now!
I call on you to make it a priority to shift the inclusion of women into their rightful place in every scale of the industry. It’s up to all of us, to accept the challenge and to demand, then work for the change we want to happen. I know individual people and companies must commit to change, but If we female musicians (and the fans who support us) unite and amplify our voices, we will absolutely foster the musical gender equality we want much faster than anyone could have imagined.
I’m beyond ready for that to happen.