Women in Music Technology

This blog was first written for Yorkshire Sound Women as Who Counts In The Music Industry

Last autumn I published a piece of research called Counting the Music Industry: the gender gap in music.

This was an audit of the artist and writer rosters of over 300 of the UK’s record labels and music publishing companies, to ascertain what percentage of women were signed to them. I found that just over 14% of those currently signed to 106 music publishers and just under 20% of those signed to 219 record labels are.* These statistics are indicative of continuing widespread discrimination against women.

In my report I attempted to unpack that discrimination by analysing 12 barriers that exist for girls and women wishing to start and sustain a career in music. These barriers are: the historical context, the motherhood penalty, unsociable hours, the gender pay gap, female singers, technophobia, sexism, harassment, gendered careers, unconscious bias, lack of role models, confidence and the gender of music.

I also looked at the entry routes into music at various stages of education. There has been increasing participation by girls and women in music education at all levels, to near equality, often gaining better grades than their male counterparts. This means the talented pool of young women are out there.

However, the one area where girls are not keeping up with the boys is in music technology. According to the Higher Education Statistics Authority’s figures on Music Students by Subject Area and Gender 2013-2018 only 13.31% of the 10,865 students studying music technology related degrees (including engineering, producing, audio etc) are female.

And it is not just engineering focused degrees where technology is important; the technological learning curve has become increasingly relevant for all musicians as modern music of all genres relies less on instrumentation and more on digital technologies.

Mavis Bayton, author of the influential 1998 book Frock Rock, Women Performing Popular Musicwrites how young women are socialised to not consider technology and this lack of familiarity can alienate women from the technical aspects of music.

She writes: “Young women do not often consider a career in sound technology, whereas boys think in terms of careers both as musicians and as producers (Tobler and Grundy 1982). The main route into production was traditionally via engineering and most girls have not considered that as a career choice. Thus, when at some stage a young woman does decide to try and get a job in a studio she will be hampered if she lacks everyday technical skills which most young men have.”

The result is that the Music Producers Guild stated in 2017 only 6% of its membership was female. And the Annenberg Initiative ‘Inclusion in the Recording Studio’ report published in 2018 found that only 2% of the top 300 Billboard producers were female and also observed that barriers existed for women across the STEM subjects which included technical roles in music studios (e.g., producing, mixing, engineering).

I conclude the report by recommending opportunities for further research and a range of practical recommendations for government, education and the music industry to implement, improve and ultimately close the gender gap in music. In particular, I highlight the need for educational institutions to teach technology competence to all female music students, at all stages.

I also recommend that every music company in the music industry support one initiative addressing the gender imbalance per year. That should include Yorkshire Sound Women Network and the brilliant work it does in ensuring young women have access to technology training and skills development. By bucking the trend and delivering dozens of workshops throughout Yorkshire they have proven that girls are interested in technology…it’s perhaps the male-centred educational and professional studios that put them off, not the science behind them. Educational curriculum developers take note!

*In looking at the music industry’s data, I have had to use my judgement as to an artist’s gender. Classification was based upon photographs and names, which are uniquely gendered, and in most cases during this research, people were easily identifiable. There may be those who identify as a gender other than that which I have assumed but I believe any errors introduced in this way are relatively small and would not impact the findings of this research. The data received from the Higher Education Statistics Authority (HESA) included numbers of those who identify as ‘other’ and totalled 0.04% of the total numbers of students over five years.

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