Inclusion Initiative: Little growth for female musical artists over the past decade, but WOC peaked in 2021

SHE, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo and Doja Cat are among the most nominated artists at the Grammy Awards this Sunday. But across the music industry, women artists significantly outnumber men — and have done so for the past decade. Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released their latest “Inclusion in the recording studio?” report and found that the needle has barely moved for female musical artists since 2012. Women made up 23.3% of artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart last year; in 2012, this figure was 22.7%. Across the entire decade and 1,000 songs, only 21.8% of artists on Billboard’s year-end charts were women.

Fortunately, it’s not all bad news. People from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups made up 57.2% of artists on the 2021 Billboard Year-End Chart. Over 10 years, they averaged 47.8% of artists on those charts. “This overall percentage, however, masks an increase over time,” said a press release. “While the percentage of underrepresented artists peaked in 2020 at 59%, 2021 is still 18.8 percentage points higher than the percentage of underrepresented artists in 2012 (38.4%).”

Looking at this data intersectionally, the study found that 55% of female musical artists in 2021 belonged to underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, an admirable increase from 49% in 2020. Still, the industry has still a long way to go if it wants to be a fair place for women of color: For the past decade, women of color have made up just 10% of female artists on the Billboard Year-End Charts.

“Inclusion in the recording studio?” also analyzes the demographics of songwriters and producers on the most popular songs of the decade – and these numbers make the percentage of female musical artists seem downright inspiring in comparison. Women made up 14.4% of songwriters in 2021 and 12.7% since 2012. The latter equates to a ratio of 6.8 male songwriters for every female. The majority of songs on Billboard’s year-end charts from 2012 to 2021 did not feature any female songwriters.

“In 2021, more women of color than white women wrote songs that charted on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart, reversing a decline seen in 2020,” the press release explained. “However, 2021 was still below the 10-year high of 44 women of color seen in 2019.”

On the production side, only 3.9% of producers were women last year. Over the 10 years studied, they held 2.8% of production credits, or a ratio of 35 male producers for each female. Only 10 producers from 2012 to 2021 were women of color, meaning there were 148 male producers for every woman of color.

“For female songwriters and producers, the needle hasn’t moved over the past decade,” said Dr. Smith. “In particular, women of color are virtually excluded from producing the top songs every year. We know there are talented women from all walks of life who don’t have access, opportunity or credit for their work in this field.

She continued, “Industry solutions must do more than offer lip service to create change. They must target the underlying reasons for exclusion and have robust evaluation and accountability measures to ensure they translate into real progress.

The study’s lead author, Karla Hernandez, agreed: “Elevating women in music is crucial because it allows women to advance in their careers and opens doors for young women who aspire to work in this industry. This is especially true for women of color, who are often excluded from prestigious institutions and career recognition. We need to see women’s work highlighted and nominated [for awards], giving them space in writing rooms and studios. By actively working on inclusion, we can bring out a new wave of talent and creativity. »

Read the section “Inclusion in the recording studio? » study in full here.

William N. Fernandez