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The Problem of Gender Inequality in the Music Industry

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With recent viral feminist movements such as #metoo and #imwithher, it is evident that gender inequality is an issue world-wide that is trying to be addressed. In regard to the general music industry, and in particular indie/alternative pop artists, female musicians are no exception. Although their success is impressive and empowering, the stories shared by alternative/indie artists such as Jorja Smith, Camp Cope, and All of Our Exes live in Texas, highlight how female musicians face a multitude of gender issues in their profession, as well has how they as female musicians are standing up for feminism and attempting to provide strategies to improve inclusion and representation.

Furthermore, in recent years, University of Sydney academic Rae Cooper has explored issues of gender inequality in different aspects of the music industry in her 2018 report Skipping a Beat. She concentrates on the Australian Music industry, exploring how gender inequality is evident in a multitude of positions. Cooper reveals shocking statistic that shows a lack of female in technological positions with “women occupying only 5 per cent of record producers and sound engineer positions”. To support her claim that women face issues of inequality and are under-represented in the music industry, Cooper analyses, although noted a lack of, the data available to her. The data ranged from musician’s airplay, charts, as well as statistics of gender roles in relation to powerful decision- making and senior roles in the music industry. All statistics covered in the report seem to be in favour of male musicians. Although awareness and the proper collection of statistics is important to support claims about gender inequality, specifically in regard to the more prominent presence of male artists in radio play, festival line ups, and award nominations, it is important to note that the reason this issue is so hard to address is due to its very complex nature. Cooper highlights this in her report, suggesting that it “cannot be explained by simplistic arguments of ‘listeners prefer men over women’ and ‘men just make better music than women’.

Instead, explanations lie in entrenched industry structures, norms and behaviours which disadvantage and discriminate against women”. Building on this, Cooper highlights that the lack of female representation in senior roles, roles which hold great amounts of power in decision making, is what ultimately creates more barriers and less opportunities for female musicians. She believes that this ‘pyramid like’ gender structure in the industry is mutually reinforcing of women’s inequality. The lack of women’s representation in senior positions means decisions about the industry are largely made in the absence of women, and thus women’s voices are not heard. Lack of air play translates to lack of sales, streaming and awards, and less chance of female music artists being signed. This observation is important as it addresses a tangible issue which needs to, and can, be changed. Furthermore, Cooper’s recognition of the underlying barriers to gender equality has allowed her to make educated recommendations that if eventually implemented would not necessarily fix gender inequality issues but be a positive step in the right direction. Improvements suggested by Cooper include:

  • Increasing women’s representation in decision-making structures
  • Addressing gender bias in the Australian music industry by prioritising inclusivity and representation as a core industry value
  • Using gender equality criteria in deciding public funding outcomes
  • Establishing a well-resourced independent gender equality industry advocacy body.

The report and recommendations have been recognised by the Australian Government Workplace and Gender Equality Agency. Elaborating on one of Cooper’s recommendations, there are already some organisations trying to promote “inclusivity and representation as core industry value”. Organisations such as LISTEN Australia are attempting to improve inclusion and representation by organising community discussions bi-annual conferences, but most importantly they present live music events in attempt to “foster change, using a feminist perspective to promote the visibility and experiences of women, gender non-conforming and LGBTQIA, people of colour, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, people with disabilities and other marginalised folk in Australian music”.

LISTEN encourages all those who feel passionate about music and equality to be part of their growing organisation, and aims to “spark conversation, initiate change, and celebrate equal participation in the music industry”. They advertise their values to be “Equality, Intersectionality, Fairness, Justice, Education, Inquiry, Innovation, Interconnection, Inclusion, Honesty, Respect and Compassion” which is reflected in their media posts, and their organisation of events to help promote and encourage all musicians, mostly those who face barriers of discrimination and inequality. Starting organisations such as this is just one strategy to improve inclusivity in the music industry. It is important that the music industry promotes gender equality in job roles. In a general sense, females are greatly under-represented and under-paid in job roles. Although stations such as Triple J, Double J and Unearthed revealed that their workplace has almost even divide between genders, statistics reveal “if you’re working as a songwriter, an artist manager, an indie label manager or on the board of a peak music body – you’re more likely to be a man than a woman”. This is further evidence and support for Cooper’s claims that senior roles are mostly in favour of males.

Furthermore, in regards to pay, institutions such as Australasian Performing Right Association (APRA) “license organisations to play, perform, copy, record or make available our members’ music” and most importantly they pay royalties to the musicians. Statistics reveal that APRA has one of largest gender divides with only 1 in 5 musician members being women. Due to APRA’s large member base of over 85, 000 members, Triple J has interpreted that this statistics is an “accurate reflect of the large gender gap between song writers in Australia”. These statistics only reinforce Cooper’s claims and highlight the importance to change workplace criteria in order to improve gender ratios in the workplace. Gender equality is a complex issue that affects all society, therefore society needs to be aware of the underlying barriers that need to be addressed in order to initiate change. Cooper highlights this and suggests that the underlying barriers are due to deep-rooted societal values that need to be changed.

The media plays an important role in raising awareness and pushing for change about gender inequality issues. News and media is a very accessible way to educate society on current issues. By providing society with enough information on a specific issue, in this case gender inequality in the music industry, it allows people to self-reflect on their values and how they may can contribute to positive change. ABC news article such as Australian music has always been a bloke’s world, it’s time to celebrate the women provide information to the public about the complexity of gender inequality in the music industry, as well as positively celebrate female musicians. The article begins by quoting Jill Soloway, a film director, writer and producer that has “examined the gender disparity in film making”. She reveals that in order to achieve gender impartiality in the film industry “we would need the next 100 years of almost every single movie to be produced, written and directed by women”. The comparison between the music industry and film industry allows the reader to connect the two entertainment industries and understand that gender inequality is an issue affecting not just one of them. Additionally, the article also reinforces the same issues raised by Cooper. It suggests “men hold the monopoly of the world’s wealth and so the market (arts or any industry) is dominated by men, their interests, needs and stories”, which is the same point Cooper is trying to make referring back to her “pyramid like” gender structure. Through more news and media platforms promoting and educating these issues, society can become more aware and educated which can foster a change in mindset and values about gender-related issues.

Once society is aware of such issues, then they can become involved and intiate change. The news media is just one way to educate the public on issues, but social media platforms provide a universal and common platform for society to stand up and push for positive progress. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat allows celebrities to share their own experiences with their fans and the broader public, about gender inequality in their own day-to-day lives as females. Movements such as #metoo and #imwithher are a form of activism, now labelled hashtag activism. The “Me Too” movement has allowed celebrities, female and male, to come forward and share their stories of abuse and sexual harassment in their workplace. Although the movement was not gender specific, the overwhelming response from women all over the world revealed many issues about gender inequality and sexism. Many female musicians broke their silence and took part in this movement including Lady Gaga, Sherly Crow, and Bjork. The movement led to many court cases, where many male celebrities had to go on trial, and eventually helped to provide justice for women who had been previously abused but were too afraid to speak out. This movement is one form of progress in the music industry that has given a voice to, and allowed a small sense of justice, for the women involved.

The Me Too movement has allowed many female musicians to step forward and fight for change. Alternative band All of Our Exes Live in Texas opened up about their experiences with sexual harassment in their workplace, and expressed how Me Too has made a difference in their lives. All of Our Exes Live in Texas is an ARIA-winning all-girl alternative band formed in 2013. Since they formed they have performed with stars such as Kesha, Midnight Oil, Passenger and the Backstreet Boys. All four members of the group opened up about encountering “sexual assaults and uninvited touching, as well as crude comments and being judged solely on their looks rather than their music… from teachers, fellow musicians, sound engineers, industry professionals and even fans”. They even revealed the sexist attitude of fellow musicians, claiming that members of a male band made crude comments such as “saying they were going to sit in the front rows of our shows so they could look up our skirts”. Although these incidents are unpleasant and unfortunately very common, the band believes movements like Me Too have “helped highlight a wide range of issues”. It has started discussions and conversations that need to be had with members of the music industry that were not aware of the regular, some may say ingrained, sexism. Although there is still an urgent need for change in order for women to have the respect and equality they deserve, since the movement started the band believes they have seen, although slow, a growing number of female acts in festival line-ups and women working in the general music industry. It is important to encourage more females musicians to take a stand and contribute to positive change as it will have “a trickle-down effect on young women and young girls… as they stand at the front of the show and absorb the idea that they too can do this”. In regard to female artists under the genre of indie/alternative, few have spoken out about how they have encountered gender inequality and sexism in their work environment, specifically paying notice to the imbalance of male to female acts in music festival line-ups (which was also mention in Coopers report).

Two popular festivals that fall more specifically under the genre of alternative/indie pop are the Falls Festival and the Laneway Festival. The upcoming Laneway is considered one of the more diverse festivals, with 38% of acts being solo female artists in 2016, compared to Festivals such as Listen Out with only 9% female acts in 2016. This statistic is frightening, as 38% is considered a large ratio compared to some festivals with little or no female acts, which further reinforces Coopers measurement of female success in festivals. In Laneway 2019, they are expecting an array of talented musicians from all around the world, including female acts such as Jorja Smith (making her Australia debut) and Camp Cope (who have performed at Falls Festival before), as well as Courtney Barnett as one of the headlining acts. Although these female musicians are working hard and gaining success, they are still overshadowed by the majority of the acts being male. Moreover, both Jorja Smith and Camp Cope have their own experience with gender inequality in the music industry. Jorja Smith is an indie artist who has been admired for her recent song with feminist undertones, but her fame was established by none other than her male colleagues. Jorja Smith is an up and coming superstar, recently being “nominated for three titles by national award bodies”. She has been described as “immensely talented and confrontational, who uses her talents for good social causes like gender equality”, following the release of her empowering single Beautiful Little Fools. Prompted by the damsel Daisy from F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic The Great Gatsby, Smith uses her music to call out unrealistic beauty standards and to empower her fellow women. Although Jorja Smith’s success is inspiring as a female artist, and provides a glimmer of hope for aspiring female musicians, she would not be where she is today if it were not for the male musicians whom helped her make her start. Smith owes her current success to male artists and producers such as Preditah and Drake, who allowed Smith to feature on their tracks. Only after these collaborations was she able to make a solo career of her own. Jorja Smith’s origins and journey to fame reinforce how male- dominant the music industry is.

Furthermore, her choice to release songs with feminist undertones highlights her awareness of gender inequality issues in general. Camp Cope, another all-female band playing in the upcoming Laneway festival, also have strong opinions when it comes to gender inequality in the music industry. The indie band has become “world-beating feminist torch bearers building their brand of propulsive, plaintive indie-folk-pop on the back of an uncompromising message promoting gender equality in a male-dominated music scene”. Last year the band made a public criticism of the lack of females in the line-up at the Falls Festival, altering their lyrics to say “it’s another man saying we can’t fill up a tent, it’s another f*cking festival booking only nine women”. Moreover, the band has gained more attention over the years for their fearless ability to stand up to gender inequality and sexism. The topics about which they feel most passionate range from “a lack of opportunity for female artists, harassment to groping at concerts, and dangerous mosh pit behaviour”. They have also gained respect for the occasions they paused mid-performance in order to ensure that all of their audience is enjoying their concert, free from harassment, by singling out those who they can see are misbehaving. In addition, they launched their own industry-wide campaign ‘It Takes One’ that encourages not only other bands, but also their fans, to not tolerate sexism and harassment during music concerts and festivals. They also partnered with the Laneway Festival to introduce a phone hotline for “festival-goers to report inappropriate activity”. It is campaigns and hotlines like these that will only enhance the festival/concert experience. These are just two strategies from one band that have improved inclusion and representation in the music industry. Furthermore, their strong female presence and protest for change through their actions is empowering to not only other female musicians, but their female fans and fellow aspiring artists.

In conclusion, gender inequality, as examined by Cooper in her 2018 report Skipping a Beat, is a very prominent problem in the music industry. The complexity of gender inequality ingrained in the history of society means that the problem is hard to address. Cooper, along with many other academics and musicians, have made comment to the issue being linked to a hierarchical problem, with mostly men in senior roles with huge amounts of decision making power thus impeding the opportunities for female musicians. This gender imbalance can also be seen in the lack of female acts in festival line-ups. Furthermore, there are many issues of sexism and harassment in the music industry, highlighted by female musicians stepping forward and speaking out as part of the Me-Too movement. Movements such as these have allowed women to fight for change, as well as educate and include the public. Cooper provides several recommendations to help improve equality, including making “inclusivity and representation as core industry value”. Organisations such as LISTEN has encouraged and promoted musicians of all gender and ethnicity to promote inclusion and representation. It is important that artists and organisations continue to raise awareness and get involved, providing strategies to improve inclusion and representation for female musicians, which will in turn, as All of Our Exes Lives in Texas said, have “a trickle-down effect on young women and young girls… as they stand at the front of the show and absorb the idea that they too can do this”.

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