Face the music; women are silenced by industry giants

Zoe Stratos | Staff Columnist


As music’s biggest night came to an end on Sunday, conversations of Grammy winners and other controversies within the Recording Academy sparked up once again — including that of women’s representation in the music industry.

Prior to the Grammys ceremony, controversy within the Academy hid behind the curtains as first female Recording Academy president Deborah Dugan suddenly was put on administrative leave ten days before the ceremony; she was appointed to the position in August 2019 due to the resignation of Neil Portnow.

Portnow’s resignation was not a quiet one, either. Shortly after a male-dominated Grammys two years ago, with females being awarded only 17 of 86 awards, Portnow was confronted about the gender imbalance by Variety.com, and his response was less than desirable.

“It has to begin with … women who have the creativity in their hearts and souls, who want to be musicians, who want to be engineers, producers, and want to be part of the industry on the executive level,” said Portnow. “… [They need] to step up because I think they would be welcome.”

Following this statement, American musician Vanessa Carlton put out a petition calling for Portnow’s resignation. In the letter, she addressed important concerns with his wording and attempts at backpedaling. As a music industry giant, Portnow had an opportunity in that moment to acknowledge women’s accomplishments in music; but rather, whether it was intentional or not, labeled it as a “boy’s” club that is welcome to those women worthy enough to be in it.

Also contained within the letter were statistics pertaining to women’s representation in the Grammys, specifically. In a study done by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, they found that between 2013 and 2018 90% of Grammy nominees were men; and there were over 800 nominees.

With all of that said, representation in the Grammys has improved significantly since Portnow’s words, with 31 women last year and women this year taking home the prestigious award. Most importantly, young popstar Billie Eilish swept the top four categories: best new artist, album, record and song of the year.

Now fast forwarding back to Dugan: another possible victim of the lack of female representation in the music industry. Dugan’s dismissal came shortly after she sent out a detailed memo concerning practices and voting irregularities in the Academy, and that she herself had been paid less than her predecessor — the leave being a way to save face within the Academy and stifle the woman trying to create change.

The Academy, however, claims the leave is due to Dugan’s hostile leading style — especially toward her inherited assistant, Claudine Little. On top of this, Dugan’s stand-in Harvey Mason Jr. claimed Dugan was giving out misinformation, but I digress.

Now taking it to a more general music view, women are still severely underrepresented under all categories of music production —despite the “progress” made in the Grammys this past Sunday.

In February of 2019 USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released a study surrounding discrimination in music, specifically looking at the ratios of gender and race across 700 popular songs from 2012 to 2018.

Under the category of “artists,” the study found a total of 1,455 artists credited somehow with the 700 popular songs in 2018. They came to find that men represented 82.9% of artists on the year end charts, while women only represented 17.1%. Under the category of “songwriters,” the study included 3,330 songwriters over the seven year period. Once all of the data was gathered, 87.7% consisted of men while the other 12.3% were women.

However, the study, and the overall problem, does not end with lack of representation in general, but goes as far as to list statistics from a study of 75 female songwriters and producers experiencing other types of harrassment or discrimination.

In the recording studio, 39% of them reported to be objectified, 25% were the only woman in the room, and 28% were dismissed from the room.

The problem of gender discrimination within the workplace is prevalent across all occupations. A highly covered occupation, such as the music industry, must begin to make change. From Dugan’s compromised position, to female artists jipped of deserved titles, to females in the industry hurt and ignored by male counterparts —the solution must come from the industry’s men.

Organizations like the Academy need to set inclusion standards and support women’s music, sort of like they finally did on Sunday. A plethora of women nominees, winners, performers and even host led to an inclusive night, much deserved.