Does country radio in the US have a diversity problem? The debate has already been rumbling for a while, but a new research study puts some numbers to the lack of women on mainstream country radio – as reflected by Billboard’s official Country Airplay Chart between January 2018 and July 2019.
“This study’s findings are not surprising: they illustrate significant gender imbalance on Billboard’s Country Airplay charts,” explained SongData, which conducted the research with its partner, campaigning group Woman Nashville. “As with previous studies of country radio… male artists have more songs on the Airplay chart than female artists, they have more chart-topping songs than female artists, and there are more individual men than women overall.”
The report also looks further back, tracking a 9% decline between 2012 and 2018 in the number of songs by women appearing in the chart, and a 12.9% decline in country-radio ratings between 2012 and 2019. “One cannot help but question the possibility of a positive correlation between the declining format ratings and declining presence of women on country radio,” is the warning, with the fear of a “broader crisis of homogeneity within country music culture” also included in the analysis.
Music Ally usually focuses more on digital music services rather than radio, so what’s our angle? Well, this could be an opportunity for music-streaming services to dodge that homogeneity in their flagship playlists, and find out if that gives them a fresh sound that tempts more country-radio listeners over to streaming – a key strategic aim for the streaming services, who’ve all been upping their efforts on the ground in Nashville in the last year.
How do their playlists compare to radio though? The SongData study found that over the last year and a half, there were an average of 10 songs by women in each week’s Country Airplay chart (out of 60 tracks, so 16.7%), although the majority of songs by women peaked outside the top 20. Let’s compare that to the three biggest music-streaming services.
At the time of writing, there are 51 audio tracks in Spotify’s flagship ‘Hot Country‘ playlist: 12 of them are entirely by women (solo or groups) and two were by mixed duos or groups. 14 out of 51 then, or 27.5%. Four of those tracks were in the playlist’s first 20 songs. On Apple Music, meanwhile, its flagship ‘The A-List: Country‘ playlist contains 67 tracks at the time of writing: 16 are entirely by women, and another four by duos or mixed groups. That’s 20 out of 67, or 29.9%, including eight of the first 20 tracks. And on Amazon Music, the ‘Country Hits‘ playlist has 50 tracks: 10 are by women, and eight by duos or mixed groups. That’s 18 out of 50, or 36%, including half of the top 20.
This is a snap analysis of one week’s playlist lineups, so it’s not a rigorous comparative study. But the indication is that the flagship country playlists of Spotify, Apple Music and Amazon Music ARE making a noticeable effort to feature more women than the playlists at the radio stations whose data contributes to Billboard’s airplay chart. That’s interesting, and encouraging. The next question is whether this policy is having an impact in terms of any migration from radio to streaming for country fans…