The music industry and the film and television industry certainly have a lot in common. They both rely on the hard work of resilient artists to entertain the masses. Both music and film are mediums that we turn to in difficult times to relax and enjoy ourselves. And both, unfortunately, have a well-documented gender imbalance.
The current pandemic notwithstanding, research carried out by the press association and USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative indicates that top slots in major music festivals just aren’t being filled by women headliners. 40 percent of women songwriters and producers have stated that their colleagues often dismiss or discount their work and skills, and 39 percent have experienced stereotyping and harassment due to their gender. The biggest barrier, it seems, is not that women aren’t talented musicians – they are – it’s that the music industry has a problem with how it perceives women. Until this culture changes, women musicians will continue to face roadblocks as they navigate their careers.
Some would argue that women-led musical groups “just don’t fill seats” or sell tickets the same way men do. And while this argument is given merit in public discourse and opinion, in looking at the numbers, one thing is crystal-clear – when underrepresented folks see themselves represented in media, be it art, film, or music – they show up. The current advent of women artists taking over the billboard charts and breaking streaming records, from hip-hop to pop to folk-rock, shows this – the same way that women-led, directed, and written movies do incredibly well at the box office.
All of this is not to sideline the leaps and bounds that women in music have made over the past few years. While the current pandemic has brought every aspect of live performance to a grinding halt, women musicians have been taking over the local scene. Over the past few years, folks have been calling out Festival lineups, supporting each other, and taking part in well-attended grassroots events at unconventional venues. In the world of mainstream music, artists are bringing attention to diversity issues with hashtags like #GrammysSoMale. Still, the industry as a whole seems to reject change – as recently as last year, the recording academy allegedly fired Academy President Deborah Dugan for her views on gender inequity and unfairness in the AMA nomination process and her concerns surrounding sexual harassment. It’s no doubt discouraging for women musicians to see high-level, successful executives like Dugan be shot down simply for trying to effect positive change in a culture that so badly needs it.
Not only do we need to give women musicians a chance to be heard and seen, we need to dissect the systemic issues that make the music scene, both local or international, so resistant to equitable practices when it comes to gender and diversity. Local organizations like SWIM, Girls Rock and Music NL are a wonderful start, but there’s more work to be done if we want to get women musicians and women-led acts on stage at big-ticket events and in rotation on streaming platforms and radio waves. More women in Newfoundland and Labrador are recording original music than ever before – let’s show them our support.