The problems women face in the music industry

Mary J. Blige performing in 2015 (Picture: Rex)

Now that Apple have made finding music easier for women, Lauren Laverne has a few suggestions about the problems they can sort out next

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By Lauren Laverne on

Great news for music fans this week. Gallant Apple executive Jimmy Iovine appeared on American television announcing that Apple’s new music service makes it “easier” for women to find music. 

Sitting alongside wannabe music fan Mary J Blige (who despite her inferior lady equipment has somehow – presumably through dumb luck –  ended up selling over 50 million albums and becoming the most successful R&B artist of the past quarter of a century), Iovine explained that “women find it very difficult at times – some women – to find music. And this helps makes it easier with playlists, curated by real people.” I can only imagine how relieved 30-time Grammy nominee Blige was to hear that a sensible solution has been found which may one day allow women to discover music with something approximating the natural ease that men do. (On a side note, isn’t it great to have someone acknowledging the unspoken truth that women aren't real people. It’s about time a captain of industry said that out loud, right?!). 

Our digital Mr Darcy’s innovation will reassure women who want to start listening to music, but simply don’t know how, with their tiny, female ears which (as science has shown) are unable to process sounds as accurately as men’s; and their inferior “hands” which are so often filled up by things like shoes, babies or sexism, making record shopping or searching online for new music impossible for the average lady. Iovine also helpfully explained that one of the reasons women need music is to help them think about men “Girls are sitting around talking about boys. Or complaining about boys, when they have their heart broken, or whatever, and they need music for that, right? It’s hard to find the right music. Not everybody knows a DJ.”

Iovine backtracked on his statements later (Twitter got very upset – haters gonna hate, I guess) but I think we should build on them. It’s a thrill that this problem has been solved at last, particularly for a woman like me, who – through a series of hilarious misunderstandings – finds herself 20 years deep in a career in the music industry. Hot on the heels of this breakthrough, I thought I’d grab a few minutes away from trying to work out how on earth to get this 12” out of its sleeve (any ideas, guys?!?) to scribble down a few other problems women have with music. Perhaps the clever boys at Apple might like to turn their attention to these issues next.

Widespread gender inequality within the music industry

The music industry is structurally unequal. In 2013, national skills academy Creative & Cultural Skills reported that music industry jobs are 67.8 per cent male to 32.2 per cent female. It’s not that women don’t know the ropes – research by the Association of Independent Music shows that they are more likely to have better qualifications than their male colleagues. They just earn less – almost half of women in the music industry earn less than £10,000 a year (compared to 35 per cent of men). And of course they’re less likely to be at the top – only 15 per cent of A.I.M.’s member labels are majority-owned by women.

Inequality in music production

PRS for Music report that their membership of over 95,000 songwriters and composers is only 13 per cent female. In Music Producers Guild, which represents music producers and engineers, less than 4 per cent of registered members are female. Research conducted by the Cultural Leadership Programme found that male leaders in the creative industries outnumbered female leaders by two and a half to one in 2009.

Sexual assault at gigs

This has always been a problem, but is finally part of the wider conversation. Grassroots organisations like @safegigs4women and @girlsagainst are bringing the issue to the fore and debating how to address it. Sadie Dupuis from the band Speedy Ortz (@sad13) is taking direct action – the band recently set up a helpline for fans who experienced harassment or groping at their live shows, aiming to “leverage our privilege as performers to help keep our friends in the crowd safer”.

Misogyny in music industry culture

For more on this, check out the Twitter timeline of Pitchfork critic Jessica Hopper. A few months ago, she invited music-loving women to share their experiences of industry sexism, and was inundated with a flood of responses, which were a piquant combination – simultaneously unsurprising, depressing, enraging and invigorating (to hear women speaking up). From the singer who was told to try another take of a vocal track “naked this time” to the DJ who has been asked “are those your boyfriend’s records?”, so many times she lost count to darker tales of power wielded against women in very ugly ways.

It’s great that women now have the help they so badly need to “find” music. Wouldn’t it be even better if - once they did - the industry that sells it treated them like they were “real people”, too?


Mary J. Blige performing in 2015 (Picture: Rex)
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Lauren Laverne

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