In music, Now You Know

The Gender Gap: Breaking the Barrier For Women in Music

By Amy Gonzales

When you look up the definition for music, multiple options come to up. For instance, Merriam-Webster defines music as, “the science or art of ordering tones or sounds in succession, in combination and in temporal relationships to produce a composition having unity and continuity.” This could be vocal, instrumental or mechanical sounds that have a rhythm, melody or harmony. Sounds kind of long and technical, doesn’t it? I define music as, “the words, feelings, or actions that cater to my past, present and future.”

That ONE Song

I think everyone has THAT ONE song that no matter what kind of mood they’re in, they completely stop what they are doing and jam out. I could actually make a playlist of songs for each of my moods (I don’t know why I haven’t done this already?). My playlist could range anywhere from DMX to Joy Division to Spice Girls.

Exposure to Music at an Early Age

I started dancing at the age of four and I was fortunate enough to be exposed to a multitude of genres and women artists. These female artists included: Janet Jackson, Madonna, Aretha Franklin, Sade and Paula Abdul. In 8th grade, I had a competition trio dance routine to Aretha Franklin’s “Respect.” I listened to that song so many times I could sing it backwards, but when I listen to the words now in 2018 I think of her message. At times, women are not treated with the r-e-s-p-e-c-t that they D-E-S-E-R-V-E (am I right?) and occasionally this plays into the bigger picture of self-respect and self-esteem.

The BIG Picture

Although artists such as Aretha and Madonna have paved the way for women in music, there are still disparities within the music industry (just as there are with women in STEM). A recent 2017 study at USC showed that only 16% of chart-topping artists over the past six years were women. Another fact that was mind-blowing to me is the gender ratio of male producers to female producers, 49 to 1! Here are a few facts from the 2017 USC study that will make you think twice about the roles of men and women in the music industry.

  1. In 2017, 83.2% of artists were men and only 16.8% were women.
  2. Of 2,767 songwriters credited, 87.7% were male and 12.3% were female.
  3. Out of the study’s 651 producers, 98% were male and only 2% female.

A total of 899 individuals were nominated for a Grammy Award between 2013 and 2018. 90.7% of those were male and 9.3% were female.



Women Make Strides in Music

While those facts seem discouraging, women have come a long way and must continue to overcome barriers such as gender discrimination within the music industry. Here are some positive highlights about the accomplishments women have made in music through the years.

  1. Aretha Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. She also taught herself how to play piano (Smooth Radio).
  2. The only female group to go on tour with The Beatles was The Ronettes.
  3. Until this day, Selena Quintanilla is the only woman to win the most Tejano Music awards (Pulso Pop).
  4. In 2014, Taylor Swift became the first woman to replace herself at Number 1 on the Hot 100 when “Blank Space” dethroned “Shake It Off” (Billboard).
  5. In 1994, Sylvia Rhone was appointed chairman CEO of Elektra Entertainment Group, becoming the first woman and first African-American in the industry to hold the title at a major label.
  6. Etta James was only 22 when she recorded her prominent love anthem “At Last” (Smooth Radio).
  7. Shakira is the female artist with the most wins (33) at the Billboard Latin Music Awards.
  8. According to Forbes, in 2017, Beyoncé was the highest-paid female artist (and second overall, Diddy was first) bringing in a total of $105 million in revenue (get cho money, Bey!)
  9. Capital Fm notes that Ke$ha’s debut single “Tik Tok” sold more copies in the first week than any Beatles single.
  10. Katy Perry has had five number one singles from an individual album. The only other pop artist that has accomplished this is Michael Jackson (Billboard).
  11. Rihanna has racked up 20 top 10 songs faster than any other solo artist, doing it in only six years and four months (CapitalFm).

After looking at both sides of the spectrum, it is important to know that women have accomplished a number of feats in the music industry, but there is still much work that needs to be done. In the age of social media, it is important to band together and uplift women in this industry. Whether it is in music, radio, or entertainment, support female artists or groups at local events, repost about how awesome their songs are and share that SoundCloud link!

What are your thoughts on these statistics? Are there any female artists/bands that have inspired or empowered you? Share your thoughts with us!


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