Women in Music – An Inconvenient Truth

Women In Music – An Inconvenient Truth

Now before I begin, I must stress that I am not a feminist. I repeat, NOT a feminist. I have no agenda, no axe to grind, I don’t have trouble in life being a woman, I rather enjoy it and I don’t think that I am treated lesser for being one. I am simply not or never have been, a feminist. Right, now that the pre-amble is out of the way, we can crack on….. …..There are simply not enough women in the music industry. Ouch!

Women in Music

Women in Music

Let me quantify that statement with my own observations as someone on the inside and with some hard truths. The music industry is still, and always has been, a very male dominated place to be. The people behind the scenes that keep this juggernaut moving, the producers, engineers, magazine writers, radio programmers, techs and riggers, labels, pluggers, bookers, you name it, you are more likely to run into a man than you are a woman. That is a fact. Which is absolutely fine, there will always be professions which have a larger head count with a particular gender. But what about the “talent”, the ones on the stage and filling the magazines? That surely should not have any bearing whether you are a woman or a man? Surely? If you take a moment to think about solo artists who are hot at the moment, I would wager 10p that you could name 3 male stars very easily and then require a bit more thought for the females. There is no trick here or smoke and mirrors, there are simply more men in the premium seats than there are women. And this is not a recent thing, it stems back years, dare I say generations.

And in 2015, as an intelligent and increasingly accepting society, we need to ask ourselves why ??? The quick and dirty answer is that female performers are not as popular as male performers, and there is a truth to this and industry figures would back that up. This could be a reason why women are not shown the helm by the major labels as they represent a larger risk to their investment – Basic economics. But seeing as the largest grossing artist of today and the biggest selling artist of the millennium are both women (Taylor Swift and Adele btw), this argument only holds a certain amount of water, it is not a one rule fits all, there must be other reasons. Let us look at the perception of women on the big stage.

Whether it be Jessie J, Beyonce, Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, Swifty there is a running constant.  They are very attractive ladies, most of them strut around the stage dancing and belting out big vocals. They are the poster girls, magazine fronts and lifestyle mag wannabes. But are they being judged on their musical acumen or do they fit the mould that society believes a top female should fill??

Taylor Swift at The Grammys

Taylor Swift at The Grammys

I would certainly say the latter – In that respect I would say that the men certainly have a distinct advantage. Of course you have the pretty boys you also have the rough and ready – Dare I say the more disheveled, the more the allure. We don’t judge the men in the same way, we listen to their songs, we listen to music, we appreciate what our ears are telling us and we admire them for this. They could turn up in a paint splattered pair of jeans, a shirt from Primark and not have shaved for 3 months and we would not care one jot.

Put a female in these shoes and it is a very different playing field.  Most of us would not give a monkeys how much the music got to us, just as long as it is served up to our liking. Jessica Cornish may have written most of the songs on her albums, but unless she is looking flawless in designer outfits, with a team of top stylists behind her, jumping around the stage as Jessie J it really does not matter to us. This is the criteria that she is rated on. This begs a very serious question – Do we perceive and treat male and female musicians differently? Do we revere the men for their musical abilities, but we don’t have the same engagement with women? I hate to say it folks, but is there equality in music?



It is a very contentious topic as the female talent is clearly there. If you scrape through the top layers you will find exceptional female talent such as Laura Marling, Gabriella Aplin, Lorde and a whole raft of others, but they are not at the very pinnacle. They have all the attributes of their male counterparts, but never can jump that final step. What is holding them back…..Or more accurately, why are we not propelling them into the stratosphere? I believe the answer lies within us all. When Sheeran rocked up, every man and his dog reached for an acoustic guitar and a loop pedal. He was one of us, a normal bloke who made it good. He can sell out Wembley 3 times over but everyone with a guitar believes that they could be Ed Sheeran and we like that. We want to have a connection with our male stars, that they came from the hood, or they busked on the underground, or they worked on a building site, we lap that up, it is what we crave, give it to us in droves, we love it.

When Adele arrived, everyone looked on in awe, here was a big girl with big songs, they felt the pain, they were swept away by her voice, but it didn’t spawn a million ballad writers. Because we don’t want our female stars to be one of us, we want them to be superwomen who we dream of being like, but we know we will never be. We want them to be magnificent, untouchable, all conquering and impossible to imitate, if we accept that they are mere flesh and bone like us, their light dims and a part of us dies with it. Succinctly put, male stars inspire, female stars we admire. And that is the way we like it.

But then there is the REALLY inconvenient truth, the thing that never gets spoken and certainly never gets the attention it deserve. The reason why there are not more females in higher echelons is because there are simply not enough of us out there. The numbers do not lie. Of the acts currently registered with PRS, less than 10% of them are solo females. However you look at it this means that they are outnumbered 9 to 1 over males and bands. With odds like this is it any wonder why we don’t have more at the top. Let alone those trying to negotiate the minefield trying to make their way there. The odds of success are simply not in our favour.

There are groups such as the PRS Foundation who are trying the redress this, offering funding to female musicians to help them along their way. And there are many other groups too offering support, promotion and a guiding hand. But these are nothing if the intake is not there. In the same way that 1 in 10 musicians out there doing their thing is a solo female, 7 out of 10 who apply to the X-Factor are as well.

It is very hard to bring about change when the next generation believe that this is where the escalator begins. To start the wheels of change there needs to be seismic shift in the perception of females in the industry. Until there is a greater appreciation of song-writing, instrument playing, managing your own career and carving your own path, moving away from the traditions of stardom that state that you need to be gorgeous bombshell with an 8 octave range, then nothing is ever going to change. But what are the chances of that happening? I think I will hold onto my 10p for now.

By Nina Baker


2 thoughts on “Women in Music – An Inconvenient Truth

  1. Hi Nina, I read your article with great interest and thought back to the industry i worked in for over 40 years (engineering based) and the number of female employees as engineers was a handful largely because very few females study engineering. However I was Head of Environment for a while and that was much more balanced, almost 50:50. My recent experience of music photography at the grass roots level and to the top musicians is that at the more grass roots level I would have said that if anything there are at least as many females as males. As bands I would agree with your observation but have watched some great females leading bands (Molotov Jukebox have an amazing female lead singer). Recently photographed Rae Morris, Paloma Faith, Mia Close, Hattie Briggs and many more. I checked on my web site photographs and on the Gallery page 24 photographs of which 9 were female. Not scientific but an observation.

    In terms of who runs the music business I have less knowledge and I personally only one know one female in running a festival – Jenny Rainford. In the industry I worked in at senior management level it was run by white middle aged men (yep I was one of those) however my daughter has done amazingly well and now almost at Board level. In all my career of recruiting many people over the years never came across any discrimination against recruiting women to senior positions. You can only recruit from those who apply. I suspect the music industry recruitment is similar. I personally am not a supporter of positive discrimination but if that what it takes to break a glass ceiling then it should be done.

    Good to raise these uncomfortable truths, the challenge is how to bring about change? There are so many great female singers musicians I have heard at grass roots level over the last couple of years, as that base increases I feel that in itself may create pressure for success thought the industry.


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