USC Annenberg Report: Female Artists, Producers, Songwriters Remain Overlooked, Dismissed

In a new report from Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released Feb. 5, the gender and ethnicity of artists, producers and songwriters that made up the 700 most popular songs on the Billboard 100 year-end charts from 2012-2018 were analyzed.

The report found that of the 1,455 artists credited across the 700-song sample, male artists made up 82.9 percent of artists, while female artists represented 17.1 percent of artists surveyed in 2018 (the female percentage rose slightly from the 16.8 percentage of 2017). However, it is a drastic decline from the past few years, as female artists performed 22.7 percent of songs studied in 2012, 21.9 percent in 2013, 20.9 percent in 2014, 25.1 percent in 2015 and 28.1 percent in 2016.

Across those same 1,455 artists, 56 percent were white, while 44 percent were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. In 2018, the percentage of women of color on the charts was at a seven-year high, with 73 percent of female artists from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups in 2018, which is 23 percent higher than 2017 and 40 percent higher than 2012. The percentage of male artists of color on the charts 2018 increased significantly by 12 percentage points from 2012 (40 percent).

The study also looked at seven years (2013-19) of Grammy nominations in select categories, including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist and Producer of the Year, identifying every individual who earned a nominations in those categories, including the individual members of groups. The study also found that 10.4 percent of Grammy nominees from 2013-2019 were female. 89.6 percent were male. The table notes that the percentage of females nominated in those select categories in 2019 more than doubled from 8 percent in 2018 to 16.4 percent in 2019.

Top 10 Male Songwriters Responsible For 23 Percent Of 700 Most Popular Songs

Male songwriters also outpace female songwriters in the number of song credits. Across the 700 songs studied from 2012 through 2018, Martin Sandberg (Max Martin) was the top male songwriter, with 39 credits. By contrast, Onika Maraj (Nicki Minaj) was the top female songwriter, with 18 credits; it is also worth noting that Minaj is also a top-selling artist, while Martin operates solely as a songwriter. The Top 10 male songwriters were responsible for 23 percent of the 700 most popular songs from 2012-18.

As producers, males outnumber females 47 to 1, across the 400 popular songs studied in 2012, 2015, 2017 and 2018. Across 400 songs, 871 producers, co-producers and vocal producers were credited.

21.7 percent of females are artists, 12.3 percent are songwriters and only 2.1 percent are producers, the study found.

Meanwhile, the study found that 44 percent of artists were people of color across the 700 songs studied from 2012-2018. Only four out of 871 producers in the study were women of color.

Female Songwriters, Producers Report Objectification, Having Abilities Dismissed In The Studio

As part of the study, 75 interviews were conducted with female producers and songwriters in 2018. 47 percent of those interviewed indicated they were songwriters, while 9 percent identified as producers and 44 percent held both roles. The average age of those interviewed was 33. 71 percent identified as white, while 29 percent were from an underrepresented racial/ethnic group. 17 percent of those interviewed worked outside the United States.

When asked what barriers they have faced as a songwriter or producer in music, 40 percent said they had difficulty navigating the industry, including breaking into the industry, making connections and getting into different rooms.

43 percent indicated that their skills were discounted, or taken seriously. They also felt they had to prove their competence to individuals who might work with them. 29 percent of those interviewed said they were demeaned and that others argued, embarrassed them or undermined their input. 16 percent said stereotypes about their gender was used to dismiss their abilities, while 19 percent said that females taking on leadership roles threatened men.

More than one-third (39 percent) of those interviewed stated that had been objectified, hit on, or experienced sexual innuendo while working. 25 percent also pointed to being the lone female or one of few women in environments populated by males. 28 percent reported having their contributions, knowledge or expertise dismissed, while 20 percent noted that drugs, alcohol and the sexualization of women were part of studio culture.

The “Boys Club” Continues

36 percent of those interviewed offered unprompted answers regarding a barrier that is the result of being a statistical minority in the music industry. 29 percent of interviewees stated the music industry was male-dominated, or functioned as a proverbial “boys club.” This group of interviewees also included 12 percent who stated there were few females in songwriting and productions, including few female role models. Four percent indicated that females in the industry were competitive with each other.

Solutions To Female Inclusion

The report offered opportunities to create change in the industry, including some that are already in the works. Suggestions included creating environments where females are welcome, generating opportunities for females to use their talents and skills, ensuring that role models and mentorships were available for females, and committing to consider and hire more women in creative roles.

The report also highlighted work of several organizations that aim to offer these types of opportunities, including She Is The Music, Spotify’s EQL Residency Program, For The Record Collective, and others.


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About the Author

Jessica Nicholson serves as the Managing Editor for MusicRow magazine. Her previous music journalism experience includes work with Country Weekly magazine and Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) magazine. She holds a BBA degree in Music Business and Marketing from Belmont University. She welcomes your feedback at [email protected]

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