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The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has been holding the music industry’s feet to the flames over diversity for some time now. Its latest report analyses Billboard’s Hot 100 Year-End Chart in the US to see how diverse the artists, songwriters and producers featured in it were, comparing that data to previous years going back to 2021.

The conclusion is stark: “For women in music, the last decade has been one of insignificant change in the recording studio.” Specifically, 23.3% of artists on the 2021 year-end chart were women, compared to an average of 21.8% across the last decade. Meanwhile, 14.4% of credited songwriters in the chart were women (decade average: 12.7%) and 3.9% of the producers were women (decade average: 2.8%).

“For women songwriters and producers, the needle has not moved for the last decade,” said Stacy L. Smith, the initiative’s founder. “In particular, women of color are virtually shut out of producing the most popular songs each year. We know there are talented women from all backgrounds who are not getting access, opportunity, or credit for their work in this arena.”

The study also has an unimpressed verdict on the US Recording Academy’s ‘Women in the Mix’ pledge, which launched in 2019, suggesting that “only a handful of women who worked across the most popular songs in 2021” appear to have benefited. “Industry solutions must do more than offer lip service to creating change,” said Smith. “They must take aim at the underlying reasons for exclusion and have robust evaluation and accountability metrics to ensure that they result in real progress.”

(The Recording Academy has been working with Arizona State University and Berklee College of Music on its own ‘Women in the Mix’ study of gender diversity in the US industry, with the first report published in March. There is seemingly little love lost between the two initiatives, although from a wider industry perspective, it may be good to have multiple projects exploring these challenges.)

The USC Annenberg study also explores racial and ethnic diversity on the US Hot 200 chart, noting that artists of colour were 57.2% of the 2021 year-end rankings, up from the decade average of 47.8% (but, as the study points out, up from just 38.4% in 2012 in a bigger “over-time increase”). There is plenty more analysis in the study, which is an important insight into the progress being made, and the work still to be done.

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