USC Annenberg Study: No Country For Female Artists

Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative issued a research brief examining the inclusion among male and female artists in country music. The brief investigates the age and gender of artists across the Year-End Billboard Hot Country charts from 2014-2018. Songwriter gender for 200 songs was evaluated. Additionally nominations for the past five years of ACM Awards nominees were assessed in four categories.

The study found that 16% of artists across 500 top country songs from 2014 to 2018 were female. Among top performers, male artists had roughly twice as many credits as top female artists did across the sample.

Not one of the top-performing women was over the age of 40, while all but one of country’s top-performing men had reached or exceeded that age.

The study states: Women are not only disadvantaged in the country market, but their age illuminates a sell by date that their male counterparts do not experience. Looking at the 101 unique or individual artists on the charts, the mean age sample wide was 37 for males and 34 for females. Thus, career longevity is much shorter for female than male artists—a pattern also found across other entertainment platforms.

Women represented 12% of songwriters across the two years studied – one positive finding emerging from this report is that female artists were more likely to work with female songwriters than male artists were across that period. Finally, only 15% of ACM nominees in four major categories from 2015 to 2019 were female – in several years, not one woman was nominated in the Entertainer and Songwriter of the Year categories.

“While the results of this study might not be surprising, they illuminate the fact that gender and age play a role in restricting the careers of female country music artists,” Smith says. “Women—especially women over 40—are noticeably absent as top performers on the charts evaluated in this genre.”

Universal Music Group Nashville (UMGN), part of Universal Music Group, a founding partner of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, continues its commitment to furthering diversity and inclusion in country music by examining its own data on recruitment, signing and promotion of new male and female talent.

Cindy Mabe, President of UMGN, said, “Country music has always been defined by storytelling that reflects the lives of everyday peoples’ joys and struggles. The current state of country music only provides the perspective of 50% of the population. We clearly have a problem. Our job is to amplify our artists’ voices and help them introduce their stories and connect to their audience. This has gotten increasingly harder and limiting over the last few years, especially for women and it has dramatically affected the perspective, reach and depth of our country music genre. Taking a reflective, disciplined look into our own actions can only help inform and influence our decisions going forward so that all of our artists’ voices are heard.”

Additionally, in line with the solutions presented in the brief, several groups have made commitments to work with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative in the following ways: YouTube Music has committed to working with the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to examine the digital popularity of country artists by gender. By doing this work, YouTube can demonstrate the role of artist gender in audience preferences within this genre. Women Nation, Live Nation’s division focused on advancing women in the live music business, has committed to examining audience demographics for country music festivals and concerts. This will provide new insights into how audiences seek out performers in country music and whether any differences exist by gender. Ali Harnell, President and Chief Strategy Officer, will oversee this effort for Women Nation.

“The work that the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is doing is critical to identifying where the problem is. I’m eager to be a part of the solution to create equity for female artists, particularly in the country genre,” said Harnell.

Earlier this year, the Academy of Country Music initiated a Diversity & Inclusiveness Task Force – which has already met – to set specific goals with regard to evaluating voting criteria and Awards processes, increasing diversity in all Academy decision-making spaces, such as Committees, and increasing representation on the ACM Awards telecast, and more.

“The ACM Awards reflect the current state of the country music industry, and our nationally-televised show amplifies that reflection. The Academy exists to grow and strengthen the genre, and a diverse and inclusive organization and industry will inevitably further those objectives. We are all in this together,” said Pete Fisher, CEO of the Academy.

Committing to these analyses signals an openness by these companies to being key leaders for inclusion in country music. According to Dr. Smith, “The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is calling on other labels and industry partners—especially those in radio—to undertake similar analyses in their own businesses. With a rigorous investigation of what data tell us about audience preferences and behaviors, it is possible to confront antiquated beliefs about what consumers want to create an environment where great music by male and female artists thrives.”

Read the full report here.


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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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