Ashley Smith-Hammond

How are women really faring in the music industry?

International Women’s Day on March 8th was a global celebration of female achievement and a call for gender equality across the board. But how are things looking for women on the ground?

Starting with the music industry, Culture Republic is taking a closer look at the reality of working life for women across the arts.

A recent evaluation of the PRS Foundation’s Women Make Music scheme confirmed what many have long suspected: gender inequality still exists in the music industry.

The research revealed that almost 80% of respondents reported experiencing sexism. It also identified a distinct lack of female role models – particularly in classical music and academia.

A push for change

PRS first setup Women Make Music after recognising back in 2011 that just 16% of the commissions they were funding involved female music creators. Since its launch the fund has helped 157 female musicians, with the women who took part earning an average of £3,600 extra.

Vanessa Reed, CEO of the foundation, commented on its future: “Based on everything we’ve learnt from this evaluation, there’s no doubt that our Women Make Music fund is still needed in the short term.”

She added that its success in the longer term “will be determined by how soon it becomes redundant”.

A platform for talent

Discussions of diversity inevitably move towards quotas at some point. But the music industry is calling for a platform for women for very real talent, not a token appearance of women without merit.

Sound and Music, a UK-wide development organisation for new music, is among the voices calling for real representation of female talent. But to achieve this means change at all levels.

The organisation noted that of every stage of development from high school onwards, the gap between male and female applications to development programmes widened. Its own various professional artist development programmes see just 25% of applications coming from women.

Writing in the Guardian, Susanna Eastburn, the chief executive of Sound and Music, outlined the problem with this drop in numbers: “If it’s agreed that talent is not more prevalent in one gender than another, then this falling away of women is a terrible waste and loss of unique musical voices.”

Sowing the seeds to long-term change

For the music industry there is still work to do when it comes to providing an equally accessible stage for men and women. But the reward will be great with a plethora of new talent and of course the potential to engage new audiences who see themselves reflected in women on stage and behind the scenes.

In fact, balancing the numbers of men and women in music should become a self-perpetuating solution once the wheels are put in motion. By encouraging more women to enter the music industry, the generations to follow will have more inspiration and role models to look up to, thus increasing their own interest in pursuing a career in music.

It’s a simple change in perspective to push for inclusion, but one that could lead to some fantastic improvements in audience figures and engagement with the sector as a whole.



Main image credit:  'Law performing at TYCI's 2014 International Women's Day' by Lis Ferla (CC BY 2.0)