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MEN MAKE THE MUSIC: Study Reveals That Women’s Voices Are Missing From Popular Charts

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LOS ANGELES – Diversity may be the word out of 2018 Grammy Awards, but a new study demonstrates that the back-patting and celebrating may be premature. Women in particular are still not equally represented in the ranks of popular artists—or as Grammy nominees in select categories. They are often missing from the songwriting and producing process.

The report, entitled “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” is the first from Professor Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to investigate the music industry. The report examines gender and race/ethnicity of artists and content creators across 600 popular songs on the Billboard Hot 100 year-end charts from 2012 to 2017. The study also evaluates gender and race/ethnicity for six years of Grammy nominations for Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Producer of the Year and Best New Artist.

Stacy L. Smith

Only 22.4% of all performers across the 600 most popular songs from 2012 to 2017 were female. Moreover, 2017 was a six-year low with females comprising just 16.8% of popular artists on the top charts. Across all years, women are more likely to receive credit as solo artists and rarely appear in duos or bands.

The voices of women are missing from popular music,” Professor Smith said. “This is another example of what we see across the ecosystem of entertainment: women are pushed to the margins or excluded from the creative process.

Female songwriters and producers are even more egregiously outnumbered. Just 12.3% of songwriters of the 600 most popular songs of the last six years were women, while only 2% of producers across 300 songs were female. For producers, this translates into a gender ratio of 49 males to every one female.

Women are rarely credited as the creative force behind popular music,” said Smith. “The lack of female songwriters and producers means that the epidemic of invisibility we have cataloged for women in key creative roles in film and television extends to music. These agenda-setting songs are like so many other forms of entertainment—reflective of a largely male perspective.”

The study also explores the percentage of artists from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups working as artists. Here, the music industry reaches proportional representation with the U.S. population, as 42% of artists were from underrepresented groups across six years and 600 popular songs. Among female songwriters, 40.2% were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. Where diversity lags is among female producers, where just 2 underrepresented women in the last six years produced popular songs.

Female Singers Dominate Most Country Categories. Here Country singer Maren Morris performs. Photo credit: Andrew Lipovsky

Females were more likely to write or perform in the pop genre than their male counterparts—a finding that the authors point to as indicative of the relationship between female songwriters and female artists. The majority of songs with a female artist were penned by another woman. However, 65% of those songs were written by the artist herself—only 35.2% of female-performed songs were written by or with a non-performing female writer. “Female and male artists both have opportunities to advocate for their female songwriting colleagues,” said Smith. “Becoming more inclusive means that everyone takes steps and makes different choices to bring new voices and different perspectives to the table.”

While most songwriters were credited only once across the sample, there is a notable disparity between top-performing males and females. The investigation catalogues the individual writers working on popular music, finding that the top nine male writers penned between 13 and 36 songs, while the top nine females crafted between 6 and 15. These nine male writers with the largest number of credits are responsible for roughly 20% of the 600 popular songs sampled.

After a year in which women forcibly took hold of some of our most crucial cultural conversations, music is yet another arena where a handful of men are driving popular discourse,” Smith said. “Expanding the occupational ranks and influence of women behind the scenes in entertainment is imperative to giving women equal voice in the public sphere.

The report also examines six years of Grammy nominations in five categories. Less than 10% of all nominees were female. Not one woman has been nominated for Producer of the Year since 2013. Women were most likely to be nominated for Song of the Year or Best New Artist. Fewer than 10% of nominees for Record or Album of the Year were female. Roughly a third (31%) of the female nominees at the previous six Grammy’s were women from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups.

Our goal is to work with industry members and companies to continue to explore this topic, leveraging the theoretical and empirical knowledge of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative to address exclusion and create large-scale systemic change,” said Leah Fischman, Annenberg Inclusion Initiative Board Chair.

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About USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative

Launched over 10 years ago by Founder/Director Dr. Stacy L. Smith, the Initiative is globally recognized for its valuable and sought after research-based solutions to advance equality in entertainment. Dr. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative examine gender, race/ethnicity, LGBT status, disability, and age on screen and gender and race/ethnicity behind the camera in cinematic and television content as well as barriers and opportunities facing women and people of color in the entertainment industry. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative also conducts economic analyses related to diversity and the financial performance of films. In 2015, LA Weekly named Dr. Smith the #1 Most Influential Person in Los Angeles, and she has spoken on research at multiple high-profile engagements ranging from the TED Women stage to the United Nations. Dr. Smith and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative have been featured in The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, The Atlantic, Newsweek, The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and NPR, among others. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s most recent research reports include the Comprehensive Annenberg Report on Diversity (CARD), multiple landmark studies with Sundance Institute and Women in Film Los Angeles and studies on inclusion on screen and behind the camera across 900 top-grossing films conducted at USC Annenberg. The Annenberg Inclusion Initiative is generously supported by The Annenberg Foundation, The Harnisch Foundation, Sony Pictures Entertainment, EPiX, Humana, LUNAFEST, The Jacquelyn and Gregory Zehner Foundation, and other individuals. To learn more, visit http://annenberg.usc.edu/aii or follow on Twitter @Inclusionists or on Facebook.

About the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism Located in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism is a national leader in education and scholarship in the fields of communication, journalism, public diplomacy and public relations. With an enrollment of more than 2,200 students, USC Annenberg offers doctoral, graduate and undergraduate degree programs, as well as continuing development programs for working professionals, across a broad scope of academic inquiry. The school’s comprehensive curriculum emphasizes the core skills of leadership, innovation, service and entrepreneurship and draws upon the resources of a networked university in a global urban environment.