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New Research Highlights Growing Gender Gap in Pop Music

New research from the BBC is putting the spotlight on the gender gap in the pop music. Musicians’ Union (MU) National Organiser for Scotland & Northern Ireland Caroline Sewell spoke to BBC Radio Scotland about the challenges women in pop face.

"We see more men in elevated positions in the music industry. Whether that's in a record label or boardroom, or whether that's on a festival bill" - Caroline Sewell, MU National Organiser

Only 30 female acts were credited in the Official Chart Company’s 100 most popular songs of 2018, compared to 91 men or all-male groups, according to a new study by the BBC.

Perhaps most surprisingly of all, the study shows that the number of women in the UK charts hasn’t changed in ten years while the number of men has risen sharply.

MU Scotland’s Caroline spoke to BBC Radio Scotland about what this means in practice, and how we can overcome this gender gap, alongside Dundee-based musician Be Charlotte.

Collaboration culture

“What these figures show is that we’ve got more people in the charts. That’s mainly due to the collaboration culture which we’re seeing now. But what we’re seeing is that this has just increased the number of men,” says Caroline.

While artists may be collaborating more, the study shows that this trend is dominated by artists of both genders collaborating with a group of DJs / producers / hitmakers who are mostly men.

“Even with movements like #MeToo and this increased awareness we seem to be getting, actually, we don’t seem to be getting any progress,” she adds.

It’s an industry-wide issue

“We see more men in music. We see more men in elevated positions in the music industry. Whether that’s in a record label or boardroom, or whether that’s on a festival bill. We see far more male names and hear more male voices… Women’s voices are not being heard,” suggests Caroline.

“In the songwriting world there isn’t many females either, and again in the producing world there is hardly any female producers. It starts from there for me,” says Be Charlotte.

The gender gap isn’t confined to genres such as pop or hip hop either. As Caroline points out, it’s something we see in the trad world too.

Extra pressures on women

“There’s this weird view in the industry that when a woman reaches a certain age that they are then past it for performing which is crazy because then there’s a view that men can be rock stars until their 70s,” says Be Charlotte.

“There’s definitely a view that there’s a sort of a limited time period where you can be the most successful pop star women can be, and then after that you’re not of use anymore,” she adds.

“Another thing to bring in here is the differences in work-life pressures for women, who often tend to be primary care givers for their families and in their home lives as well,” says Caroline.

What can we do about it?

While the BBC figures don’t really come as a surprise, there is no excuse for complacency. And there are a number of things we can do right now to change the situation.

Potential solutions include quotas for festivals and radio, mentoring schemes, correcting the gender imbalance in festival line-ups, and support local initiatives to boost representation in music.

While quotas are not ideal, and not a solution, they can help focus attention on an issue and affect immediate change by opening up opportunities to a wider pool of talent.

Mentoring schemes for women also play a part, and the MU is delighted to be announcing a scheme for women members in the next few weeks.

As well as our own mentoring scheme, we are proud to support the Keychange initiative led by PRS Foundation. Keychange aims for 50:50 representation on festival line-ups by 2020. Grassroots initiatives like Scottish Women Inventing Music (SWIM) and also pushing for change.

If you’re facing discrimination at work – the MU is here to offer you support and guidance. Read more about what we can do for you, and resources for further help.

Published: 21/02/2019

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