The gender gap in workplaces is under scrutiny. Women often receive fewer opportunities and lower pay in a lot of jobs. Is this the case in the pop industry too? Lots of songs featuring female vocalists are streaming and topping the charts right now, but how hard did they have to work to get there?
Statistics consistently show that it’s harder for females to make it into the pop industry. Real-life stories from stars like Ariana Grande and Mabel reveal the huge gender gap in pop. But female singers shouldn’t be disheartened, as female empowerment in music is on the rise.
It’s not just female vocalists who face hurdles trying to launch their singing career, but the odds are less in their favour. Hitting it big as a female artist can be hard, but it’s far from impossible. Knowing what you’re up against is the best way to beat sexism and join the surge of female empowerment in pop.
What percentage of musicians are female?
Male to female ratio in music industry
It might seem like you hear female musicians on the radio all the time. But in 2019, the Inclusion in the Recording Studio report revealed the sheer size of the gender gap in music. Female singers only make up 21.7% of artists, and only 12.3% of songwriters are women.
It’s estimated that there are four male singers to every one female singer.
Male vs female musicians
Female singers appear to be doing really well at the moment. Billie Eilish was recently signed to record the new Bond theme tune and Tones & I’s “Dance Monkey” has been in the charts for 32 weeks and counting. However looks can be deceiving.
Women singers seem to have gained precedence in music and feature in mainstream music more than in the past. But statistics on the BBC actually reveal that the number of female singers doing well in music is no different now to what it was 12 years ago.
In 2008, 30 female artists featured on the best-selling songs of the year. In 2018, that figure didn’t go up – it remained the same. But in the same year, male pop singers were three times as successful. 90 male singers featured on the top 100 most popular songs in 2018, leaving female artists in the shadows.
History of sexism in the music industry
The growing #MeToo movement has shone a light on sexism in the music industry. The gender gap may be closing, but there’s a long way to go before female singers are recognised for their talent. Women have a harder time releasing new tracks and sadly, history shows sexism goes deeper than chart ratings.
In a 2014 radio interview with Hot 97, Iggy Azalea opened up about how fans have tried to sexually assault her at her gigs. She revealed that fans take the lyrics of her songs as an invitation to make advances on her.
Her ordeal was made light of by the radio hosts, however. They brushed over the seriousness of her sexual assault claims to instead talk about the “puffiness of her butt.” Watch the interview here.
In 2016, #FreeKesha started circulating on social media. The TiK ToK singer had launched a case against her producer Dr. Luke in 2014, claiming he had physically and mentally abused her. Despite her claims, the court ruled she had to remain in her contract with the producer.
Support from fans and fellow musicians erupted online, but the case is still ongoing today.
Diversity in the music industry | Music consumption by gender
The term “glass ceiling” refers to the barrier to success (which is sometimes invisible) that women face in their careers. It is coined from a theory by Marilyn Loden, a diversity advocate, almost 40 years ago. Modern–day pop is often slammed as having a glass ceiling and a lack of diversity.
Female singers are often faced by the glass ceiling when they try to break into the pop music industry. This isn’t due to competition from male pop singers; it’s down to the overwhelming expectations and pressure that’s put on female pop stars.
Female singers are typically expected to be more eclectic than male artists; they have to incorporate lots of different styles, genres, and ambiences into their music to stay popular and relevant.
That’s not to say that male singers don’t face pressures too, but it’s often more acceptable for artists like Shawn Mendes and Charlie Puth to produce back-to-back hits in the same style than their female counterparts.
Who dominates the music industry?
Pop and R&B singer Mabel argues that getting into pop is much harder for females. Talking to the BBC, she explained: “as women, we get moulded into something that we don’t necessarily want to be, whereas as a boy I think you’re encouraged to just sort of figure it out and do whatever you want to do. I think it’s just about encouraging the younger generations to have fun with it.”
Grammy award winner Dua Lipa has experienced first-hand how hard it can be for female artists to get acknowledged. “For a male artist, people instantly assume they write their own music, but for women, they assume it’s all manufactured,” she said in an interview with GQ. “For a female artist, it takes a lot more to be taken seriously if you’re not sat down at a piano or with a guitar.“
Music demographics by gender
According to Ranker, fans voted Ariana Grande as the biggest female pop star of 2019. Billie Eilish came second, and Camila Cabello came third in the poll.
Ariana Grande may be the biggest pop singer right now according to music fans, but her career hasn’t been easy. The 26-year-old was voted Billboard’s Woman of The Year in 2018, and she used the opportunity to open up about her own experience about gender discrimination in the industry.
Speaking to Billboard, Grande revealed: “It’s just so male-dominated. It’s so easy for them. There are so many unbelievable female artists out there that try so much harder.”
Grande went on to explain how female singers have a harder time breaking into the industry. “I feel like there are certain standards that pop women are held to that men aren’t,” she added. “We have to do the teaser before the single, then do the single, and wait to do the pre-order, and radio has to impact before the video, and we have to do the discount on this day, and all this.”
How bad is the music industry?
Sexism was the hot topic of debate after the 2018 Grammy’s. When only one female artist walked away with an award during the entire event, the #GrammysSoMale thread exploded.
This wasn’t a one-off occurrence; female singers are typically less likely to be recognised with an award in the music industry. At the Grammys, only 10% of the nominees were female between 2013 and 2019. That means 90% of the 899 nominees during that time period were male.
The percentage was even lower than that for women singers nominated for album or single of the year.
When challenged with these statistics, former Recording Academy president Neil Portnow responded: “Women need to step up because I think they would be welcome.”
Shortly after these infamous comments created a firestorm, he stepped down from his role.
Ratio of male to female musicians
Females are more likely to be pop singers than males are. In the past, pop has ranked as the number 1 music genre worldwide. But in recent years, the music industry has seen a shake-up and this could be responsible for the disproportionate ratio of male to female musicians.
Hip-hop became the most popular genre in 2019; a category that includes rap and dance music. This is a male–dominated genre – more male rappers are given the spotlight than female artists, and typically more men listen to rap too. Speaking in 2019, soul-singer John Legend revealed that “95% of popular hip-hop artists are men.”
There are plenty of female rappers out there, but they find it hard to break into the industry. Women are often side-lined in hip-hop polls. When ranking the greatest hip-hop songs, BBC’s Music Poll only named two female rappers in the top 25.
Lizzo & Cardi B
In the past year, more hip-hop females have started to emerge and forge their way onto the music scene. Lizzo and Cardi B have started pathing the way for female rappers in 2020, but there’s still a long way to go to shrink the gender gap.
Percentage of female music producers
The gender gap in music goes beyond the singing side of things. Gender disparity spans the entire industry, and the worst female-to-male disproportion is felt in music production. Of all music producers, only 2.1% are female.
This is a theme that runs throughout the production of music. In 2018, there were only two female Presidents of record labels in the UK.
These figures aren’t conclusive enough to suggest that women aren’t given a fair chance in music production, though. Other factors could play a role in gender disparity in this field, such as the fact that flexible working isn’t possible in major label work positions. This could limit women’s progression in music if they have children or other commitments to juggle alongside their careers.
Female empowerment in the music industry
Female singers shouldn’t be put off forging a career in the music industry. As disheartening as some of the statistics may look, the gender gap is starting to close and females can have a great career in pop.
Female icons like Ariana Grande, Lizzo and Cardi B are pathing the way for women singers in the industry. They promote female empowerment and make it their mission to tear up the rule book.
Last year, Grande released her album Thank U, Next just six months after her previous album, Sweetener. This broke the release schedule may women artists are bound to in an act of defiance from the feminist pop star.
The 2020 Grammys marked a huge milestone for female musicians, too. Billie Elish scooped five awards, including Best New Artist and Song of the Year. Lizzo also won the Pop Solo Performance award at the most recent ceremony.
Frequently Asked Questions
- Do women earn less in the music industry?
A singer’s salary depends heavily on how well their music charts, how many streams they get, and how many tickets they sell. As a singer doesn’t really have an hourly wage, it’s hard to directly compare a female artist’s earnings against a male singer.
But in other areas of the music industry, there’s a huge difference in a female’s earnings against her male counterpart. In 2018, women working at the biggest record labels earnt 33.8% less than men in the same roles. Not only that, but employees in the music business reported an 88% difference in bonuses between the genders, with females coming out worse off.
- Which gender is better at singing?
There are lots of vocal differences between male and female singers. But these differences don’t make one gender better than the other; males and females can be equally as good at singing. How good your voice is depends on your ability, training, and technique, not your gender.
- Is pop the hardest genre to get into?
Pop music is quite female-populated. There are typically more female pop singers than male pop singers, suggesting it’s not the hardest genre for females to get into. Just because there are quite a lot of female pop singers doesn’t mean they had an easy time getting there, though.
Other genres like R & B, Hip Hop and Rap have a much bigger gender disparity – suggesting these are the hardest genres for females to break into.
Do you think female singers have a harder time getting recognition in the music industry? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.