Spun Out: New Study Examines Drastic Decline In Female Artists On Country Radio

A new study was released Friday (April 26) investigating gender representation of the Top 150 songs on the Mediabase year-end radio reports from 2000-2018, as well as from Mediabase’s weekly airplay charts from 2002-2018. The study, titled Gender Representation On Country Format Radio: A Study of Published Reports from 2000-2018 and conducted by Jada E. Watson in consultation with WOMAN Nashville, analyzes spin data by how men, women and male-female artists are represented by total annual spins. A five-page brief of the report can be downloaded here, while the full report can be downloaded here.

The study looks at datasets taken from charts published by Mediabase; the first includes the Top 150 songs on the year-end country format charts for the Published Panel from 2000-2018 and data capturing song spins (both annual and monthly) for 2,850 records over the 19-year period. The second dataset uses weekly charting activity of Published Panel from 2002-2018 and captures the same data as the first, but also includes weekly ranking positions for the 302,387 records over the 17-year period.

Total annual spins of songs recorded by male artists in the Top 150 songs of the year-end reports increased from 5.8 million in 2000 to 10.3 million in 2018, while spins for women decreased from 2.8 million to 1.1 million over the same time period. The decrease among spins by female artists expanded from a 2:1 radio in 2002, to a 9.7:1 ratio in 2018.

According to the study, which looked at the Top 10 male and female artists by sum total of annual spins from 2000-2018, the top male artist, Kenny Chesney, earned more than 6 million spins, while the top female artist, Carrie Underwood, had just over 3 million spins.

“Unlike the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, where there was a general trend toward decline for all artists over the two-decade study period, these year-end radio reports show an increase in the number of songs by men against a decrease in songs by women. Men consistently have more than 100 of the top 150 songs on the year-end charts, with an average of 114 between 2003 to 2013, increasing to an average of 130 songs between 2014 to 2018,” Watson said in the report.

Male artists are programmed more than women in every year of this study period by an average of 58.6% when looking at all 2,850 songs on the year-end reports. According to the study, men’s worst showings on the year-end chart for the time period are significantly higher than women’s best showings, at each angle of analysis.

According to the findings for the year-end published panel analysis, female country artists, as well as male-female ensembles, were shut out of the Top 10 of the year-end reports in 2003, 2008 and for the last five years of the study period.

The second part of the study analyzed the weekly airplay charts over a time period from 2002-2018, which also show an underrepresentation of women in radio programming. According to the report, over the course of 17 years (883 weeks), male artists spent 749 weeks (85%, the equivalent of 14.4 years) in the No. 1 position, while female artists spent 98 weeks (11%, 1.8 years), and male-female ensembles spent 39 weeks (4%, 0.75 years).

The study found that for all songs on the weekly Country Airplay reports from 2002-2018, 75.5% of the songs were from solo male artists, or groups composed entirely of male performers. Songs recorded by solo female performers and groups composed entirely of female artists make up 19.6%, while songs recorded by mixed male-female ensembles made up 4.9% of the songs studied. Looking at the Top 100 songs of the weekly Country Airplay reports from 2012-2018, men (solo/all-male groups) make up 70.5% of the songs in the Top 100, while solo females and all-female groups make up 24.5%, with 5% coming from male-female ensembles. When looking at the Top 10 of the weekly Country Airplay reports from 2002-2018, 81.4% of songs are from men, while females make up 13.8% and male-female groups make up 4.9% of the total.

A weekly distribution of the Top 10 songs maps a 17-year period with a greater than 50% percentage point gap between men and women. With the exception of 2005, (when women maintained 21.7% of the Top 10 songs) female artists had 15% of the Top 10 songs between 2002 to 2004 and 2006 to 2012. According to the study, 2013 marks a down turning point for female artists, where they drop to 8.4% of the Top 10 songs in 2014, and maintain an 8.8% average over the last five years.

Female artists have their lowest point in 2014 with just 6.3%, where male-female groups have more Top 10 songs (7.9%). Male artists maintain a 17-year average of 82%, with highs of 90.2% in 2003 and 2016 and 92.1% in 2018. These results show a significant disparity between male and female artists in the Top 10 of the chart. In this context, women are not allotted enough space on radio playlists to move their songs up the chart and into the Top 10.

Over the course of the 19-year period of the year-end chart analysis, this study reveals that male artists are given more annual spins, with an increase by 42.9% over this period from 5.8 million total spins in 2000 to 10.3 million in 2018 (when looking at the Published Panel). Women have 2.8 million at the start of this period (just under half the total annual spins of male artists), but then decline to an annual average of 1.1 million over the majority of this study period (15 years). While they maintain 1.1 million spins annually, the drastic increase in spins for male artists means that women occupy a smaller percentage of the year-end charts in each of these 15 years.

Spins for male artists increase through and following all industry changes: ratings slumps, increase and decrease of commercial loads, and consolidation of stations. Women are disadvantaged in this culture and suffer through each of these moments of change in the industry, and are gradually eliminated from radio culture to a point of 11.3% of the overall year-end charts and 9.2% of the annual spins in 2018.

“When songs by male artists receive 9.7 times more spins than those by female artists (as in 2018), we have a significant cultural problem,” Watson says, noting this hasn’t always been the case. She cites a 1997 Billboard Magazine article from the late Chet Flippo, which outlines the slow rise of female artists throughout the genre’s history, through the ’90s. Watson points to the mid-’90s as a pivotal moment “in both the tone and number of female artists in country music,” Watson says.

The report says data taken from Hot Country Songs charts compiled in the 1990s (which at the time measured only country radio airplay) shows that between 1996 and 2000, female artists maintained an average of 30% of the overall chart, with a high of 34.1% in 1999. They also earned more No. 1 songs during the period, earning 40% of the chart-topping songs in 1996, and increasing to 52.4% in 1998 (a year female country artists earned more No. 1 songs than male country artists).

“In a world in which these popularity charts and statistics impact how labels sign, produce and promote artists, programming decisions play a vital role in the broader cultural space of the genre,” Watson says. “The results of this study point to significant gender imbalance in the genre, and renders visible the impact of the gender-based programming that has governed the industry for decades. Indeed, these discriminatory practices are not new to country music. They date to the early days of radio programming when female artists had to abide by rules regarding their public conduct, image, and sexuality and were not programmed back-to-back because of a lack of female hits. By the late 1990s, this practice of ‘spreading them out’ developed into a gender-based formula in which women were programmed at 13-15% of radio playlists. These issues do not just persist today–they are significantly worse now than in the late 1990s. They are systemic to the industry and so ingrained in the culture that those in positions of power do not see the sexism and discrimination in their actions.”

Recommendations:

The study laid out steps for several sectors of the country music industry in how to help alleviate the long-standing problem:

• Radio: spin more women, more frequently.
• Labels: sign and promote women with the same commitment, intensity and resources as male artists.
• Industry associations (CMA, ACM, CRS): set a standard for inclusion and representation throughout your mandate: update eligibility requirements for awards and honors to exclude ingrained bias and work with participating sponsors to develop diverse programming.
• Promoters and Presenters: create and book diverse and inclusive tours, festivals, and experiences.
• Management and Agencies: take the lead from Stacy L. Smith and her recommendations for the film industry: work with your artists to develop inclusion riders–demand diversity and inclusivity in the studio, on tour, and festivals.
• Male artists: play an active part in this discussion and with the inclusion rider. Demand that your female colleagues have equal opportunity on radio, tours, festivals, and more.
• Audiences and Advocates: hold the above businesses accountable for their choices and offerings.

“These solutions are not hard, but they do require significant change,” Watson summarizes in the report. “They require public commitments, action plans and benchmarks for accountability. The decisions driving the industry should reflect and represent its diverse and growing audience. The future of country music can be one of inclusion and opportunity for all.”

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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 jnicholson@musicrow.com.

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