The USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism has published its third annual report on the music industry, focusing on diversity and inclusion. It’s based on analysing the gender and race/ethnicity of artists, songwriters and producers involved in tracks that make Billboard’s end-of-year Hot 100 charts. The verdict is clear: “Popular music is still missing female voices”. But there has been some progress too.

The report tracks the data from 2012 to 2019. “Across all eight years examined, 21.7% of artists were female — roughly 1 in 5. After hitting a six-year low in 2017 (16.8%), the percentage rebounded in 2019 to 22.5%,” explained USC Annenberg’s summary of the report. “In contrast to the findings on female performers, artists from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups represented more than half of 2019’s artists (56.1%). During all years included in the study, people of color represent 45.4% of the more than 1,600 artists.”

Other stats: 14.4% of the songwriters tracked in 2019 were women, slightly up from the 12.5% average over the eight years. 56.4% of songs examined credited no female songwriters at all, while less than 1% featured only female writers. As for production, the percentage of women in 2019 working on the songs tracked was 2.6%. “The music industry has virtually erased female producers, particularly women of colour, from the popular charts,” said Professor Stacy L. Smith, who led the study.

Another example of progress comes with analysis of Grammy Awards nominees. Over the past eight years, on average 11.7% of nominees were women, including a nadir of 6.4% in 2017. For the 2020 awards, however, the proportion has risen to 20.5%, although that’s still a long way from parity. At least the organisation behind the awards recently appointed the first woman to hold its position of president and CEO, tasked with energetically tackling some of these issu… Oh. Oh dear.

Anyway, the latest USC Annenberg study, which Spotify funded, will hopefully fuel debate and further progress in the year to come. Yesterday saw another example of the latter, by the way. Country music-television network CMT announced that as of this week, it has moved to a 50/50 male/female airplay ratio on its channels. “Time is really up in 2020! All the talk around what can be done to support females in country music needs to transform into action, once and for all,” said SVP of music and talent Leslie Fram. Country media (radio, mainly, but also TV, as well as streaming recommendation algorithms) has been under the microscope for a lack of representation of women for some time.

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