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Gender inequality in the music industry reaches tipping point

The stark gender inequality in Australia’s music industry has been the topic of much discussion for many years, but with the release of a new study from the University of Sydney, and an action plan from music licensing body APRA AMCOS, it seems some substantive change might finally be coming.

The Skipping the Beat report, authored by Associate Professor Rae Cooper, Dr Amanda Coles, and PhD candidate Sally Hanna-Osborne, highlights gender inequality across a broad range of areas within the music industry. The report, released this week, collates data from a variety of publicly available sources, and says women are “chronically disadvantaged” in the music industry, which is valued between $4 and $6 billion.

Women make up just one-fifth of the composers represented by APRA, despite being 45% of Australians with a music degree. APRA has also revealed that women only share in 10% of the royalty pool paid to composers in Australia.

Although there are some hugely prominent female artists in Australia, there are only 11 female artists in the 75 inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame. Between 1993 and 2013, of the 367 musicians featured on triple j’s Hottest 100 only 20 were female.

Music performed by men is also much more likely to be played on Australian radio than music by women. Of the 100 most played songs on Australian commercial radio in 2016, 31 were by women or by an act with a female lead.

Australian music festivals favour male acts in their line-ups. In 2016, women were poorly represented at two of the country’s biggest festivals: Splendour in the Grass had 74% male-only acts and Groovin The Moo had 79% male-only acts.

Women are similarly underrepresented in leadership positions in the industry, holding just 28% of senior and strategic roles in the industry’s major organisations.

In the same week as the Skipping the Beat report’s release, APRA AMCOS has announced a series of initiatives designed to push towards gender parity. The APRA AMCOS announcement isn’t directly connected to the Skipping the Beat report, but its timing is particularly prescient.

APRA AMCOS has pledged to double its female membership applications (female members currently make up 21.7% of the membership) over the next three years.

They’ll also invest in an extensive songwriter/composer mentorship program for female members, and commit to a 40/40/20 measure on all its membership programs. Within the medium term, at least 40% of judges involved in APRA’s awards will be female and a 40% threshold will be applied to the Ambassadors’ programs. 

From next year, the APRA Music Grants to external programs will be allocated to grant applications showing at least 40% female participation, or a commitment to tackling gender disparity.

APRA AMCOS also plans to invest $20,000 into further research into gender in the industry, after commissioning The Australian Women Screen Composers: Career Barriers and Pathways report by RMIT’s Dr Catherine Strong. Strong’s research, released in April, showed female screen composers (who make up 13% of APRA AMCOS’s screen composer membership) are less likely to be making a sustainable career in music.

Jenny Morris, the Chair of APRA’s Board, said, “Our industry has been waving the flag of inclusiveness for years, but the small numbers of women we organically recruit each year tell an entirely different story. If music is to face its complex technological and legal future with talent from all demographics, then it’s time for a little less conversation and a little more action. For APRA AMCOS this means a deliberate recruitment and re-training program to draw female talent we know is out there.”

Featured image: Jenny Morris, Chair of APRA Board, performing on Rockwiz

4 responses to “Gender inequality in the music industry reaches tipping point

  1. This may be a problem in pop music but in the classical area the issue is completely irrelevant. Orchestras now tend to have more women, pay has always been equal. Our leading composers are evenly distributed. Did this happen through positive discrimination? No. It is the closest thing we have to a merit based system. Pop in all its forms used to be Darwinian. The market selected the success or failure of the artist (albeit – certain disk jockeys did have influence). With the breakdown in free to air media and the power of the Web choice and success becomes even more at the whim of the listener/viewer. I agree with Tim. Trying to legislate for popular culture is absurd at its most benign and social engineering at its worst.

  2. Just when you think society couldn’t get anymore dumbed down than what it is you read something like this.

    People listen to or buy a music track because they like it, not because of what gender is singing it.

    The music industry would be better off trying for a quota of people with IQ’s in triple digits.

    1. Ah Tim, really? REALLY? Firstly, people can only decide if they like a song if they HEAR it. When main stream radio stations are playing predominately male music and music festivals have predominately male line ups how are people going to hear the female music to decide whether they like it or not in the first place. Australian content is another example, if there wasn’t the legal requirement to play a certain percentage of Australian content do you think Australian artists would do as well?

      Secondly your comment implies that you believe the current situation is purely because men make better music than women? I have nothing but contempt for your simplistic reaction to a complex situation that intelligent people are trying, rightly, to address.

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