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Women in Music? The Song Remains the Same, Annenberg Study Shows

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Women in Music? The Song Remains the Same, Annenberg Study Shows

When the inaugural USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report was released last year , its findings — that women were sorely underrepresented in recorded music, to the tune of 17% of artists associated with Billboard’s top 100 songs in 2017 — sent a shudder throughout the industry. A year later and following groundswell from the Time’s Up movement, not much has changed.

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The study conducted by Dr. Stacy L. Smith found that the number of women working as artists remained stagnant at 17%. Of songwriters, women represented 12.3% of the credits affiliated with the test group of 100 songs — over half did not feature a single female writer. Among producers, women numbered only 2 percent, in line with the previous year.

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On a brighter note, representation by people of color was up. Of the female songwriters analyzed, 43% were of racial/ethnic groups other than white and 73% of performers were women of color. Over the last seven years, people of color represented 44% of the over 1,400 artists included in the study. Said Smith: “This seven-year high point reveals that the music industry is including women of color in ways that other forms of entertainment are not.”

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Last year’s #GrammysSoMale hashtag, in response to Recording Academy president Neil Portnow ’s comments that women should “step up” in order to find greater visibility and recognition in the music industry, put an even greater emphasis on parity when it comes to marquee categories like Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Producer of the Year and Best New Artist. The Annenberg study found that roughly 10% of all nominees in these categories were female. Linda Perry ’s nomination for Producer of the Year marks the first time in 14 years that a woman who isn’t a nominated artist is up in the category.

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But off the red carpet and away from the shining lights is an even more pervasive problem among female recording professionals: the discounting of their skills, stereotyping and sexualization and even unsafe work conditions. According to the report, 39% of women interviewed said they “were objectified” in a recording environment and 20% reported the presence of drugs and alcohol.  “What the experiences of women reveal is that the biggest barrier they face is the way the music industry thinks about women,” said Smith in the report. Speaking to Variety , Smith further explains: “Our results suggest … that there’s a real dismissal of women and a discounting of their skills. [Also] potentially problematic, not only in terms of work product but also the sexualized nature can present a hostile work environment.”

In essence, where there are already barriers of entry, the studio environment makes for even trickier terrain for women to navigate. Says Smith:The barriers and impediments need to be knocked out of the way and we need to focus on the actual problem, which is lack of access and opportunity for individuals that happen to not be men.”

And what of the new Recording Academy chief, set to succeed Portnow in July? “It would be fantastic if it was a woman leading the Recording Academy,” says Smith. “I think we need women infiltrating all aspects of the entertainment industry and why not start with that? And while they’re at it, why not add a few more to the board? … What’s really important is to not only put a woman in a CEO type position, but also get more women involved in leadership of all aspects of the industry so that we see decision-makers that look like the world we actually live in.”

The report  can be found online here .

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(Pictured: Bebe Rexha)