The music industry has historically been male-dominated, with female artists facing significant barriers to success and recognition. However, recent years have seen a steady increase in the representation of women in the industry, with progress being made across various fields.
Female Artists Take Center Stage
A report by Pitchfork found that the representation of female artists on major festival lineups in the US increased from 19% in 2019 to 21% in 2020. Additionally, the 2021 Grammy Awards saw women receive the majority of awards for the first time ever, with female artists winning 23 of the 41 categories. Moreover, major record labels are signing more female artists, with 20.2% of new artist signings in 2020 being women, up from 12.6% in 2017.
Rostr made a great analysis of the booking for Coachella 2023. This year, 62,2% of the booked acts are male, 28,66% female, 7,93% belong to mixed gender groups and 1,22% are non-binary.
There has been a significant shift in the music industry towards greater representation and recognition of female artists. But we are not there yet.
“I think gender balance is achievable and quite real if you look at the pool of people working at events. The equation does not quite add up in the gender balance when you take the whole number of people working at an event, because much of the manual labor (and you can imagine how big of % of people is that) is done by men because of physical criteria – lifting heavy objects, building stages etc. In many organizations you see women leading the pack and being at high-level positions.” say Ruth Koleva, artist and event organiser of SoAlive Music Conference in Sofia.
Similarly, Vilma Dzienaite, Programme Manager at What’s Next in Music? Explained how the festival tries to book more and more really talented female acts. “Our team is always trying to reach a gender balanced line-up, as much as it’s possible, of course. Talking about our showcase festival What’s Next in Music? – in recent years we were super happy to have booked such powerful upcoming female artists as our own Lithuanians shishi, Rūta MUR, Jausmė, Graži ir Ta Galinga or Monikaze (who has been recently nominated for the MME Award), just to name a few, or to send them to one of the partner festivals abroad. Be sure to check them out, they’re all amazing!”
Are you a talented artist? Applications for What’s Next in Music? 2023 are open until April 5th, 2023. Submit your application here.
Booking artists and ensuring gender equality on line-ups sounds easy in theory, however, as Vilma says, “I wish we wouldn’t need to discuss this issue at all. But we do. I personally would struggle when having to choose a female act over the male one only because of their gender and not their talent, only because a certain percentage has to be reached. I think the talent would have to be the main criteria here. Which doesn’t make things easier at all, as we don’t live in an ideal world. So YES, we definitely should aim for gender balance at festivals. How achievable is it in practice? It’s definitely not an easy task. But we should move towards it step by step.”
The Portuguese artist Constança Quinteiro started singing and songwriting in 2008. In the beginning of 2021, while pregnant, she decided to release her first single. She didn’t wait, took a chance, started her solo career and shared her art with the world. Now, after releasing three singles. Her debut album tells her story and reveals who she is as a person and an artist.
After over a decade in the industry, Constança has seen a change: “I’ve been playing for 12 years now, but only in the last 4/5 I became more aware of the industry, the gender gap and other issues. The number of women and their value and impact in the music business is growing, becoming more visible and difficult to ignore, nevertheless it’s hard to break bad habits, and we still see a lot of men sitting at the table and filling the slots at festivals main stages.”
There is still a long way to go in achieving gender equality in the industry, and more efforts need to be made to address the systemic issues and biases that have historically held women back.
No one needs to be afraid of these changes, after all, it’s not about taking something away from someone, but about creating enrichment through balanced representation of all genders.
– Alina Amuri
The British artist Bailey Tomkinson shared her experience with us: “The video to my single “Astronaut” hit #1 on the iTunes Video charts and really blew up in the national press. The first call I got was from a promoter offering me petrol money to support an all-male band who have a much smaller following and media profile and fewer streams than myself at a venue I’d previously sold out!
But on the flip side, I received some messages from a couple of hugely successful women in the music industry – I mean absolute elite level players – just giving me words of encouragement and advice. I find the notion that when women get to the top and then look behind them to see who else they can pull up alongside them to be hugely inspiring. We need more women in positions where they can eradicate out of date perceptions.”
Sisterhood in Song
Many female artists are choosing to work together to create powerful and meaningful music that celebrates and uplifts women. One example of a successful female collaboration is the song “Rain on Me” by Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande, which was released in 2020. The song was a commercial success, topping charts worldwide and receiving critical acclaim for its message of resilience and strength in the face of adversity.
“WAP” by Cardi B featuring Megan Thee Stallion, which was released in 2020 and became a cultural phenomenon. The song was praised for its unapologetic celebration of female sexuality and empowerment, and it sparked important conversations about women’s agency and the double standards they face in society.
Alina Amuri was born in DR Congo Kinshasa and raised in Switzerland. The singer and multi-instrumentalist has developed her own homemade style between afro / neo soul and trip hop over the last
ten years. She grew up under the influence of Lauryn Hill, Nina Simone and Alicia Keys and brings it with her in her music.
When talking about collaborations with other female artists, her opinion is clear: “I couldn’t be happier to work with a female musician, and creative music co. producer, for my next coming up album. Her name is Meng Tian, and we are currently working intensively on my new Album. (Will be released in September 2023) Working with her made me feel comfortable right away. She is adding some little fine-tuning to my songs. Sharing ideas, and by extension, improving ideas, is one of the significant benefits of collaboration”.
Collaborations are a testimonial of the power and impact of women working together in the music industry, and they play an important role in promoting female representation and empowerment in music.
I really appreciate working with female partners – whether it’s artists or people from the industry. It’s just empowering for both of us. But I wouldn’t decline a male person just because he’s a man. That’s not what equality is about.
– Marie from COSBY
Women Breaking Barriers
Music is a great platform for female artists to build successful businesses and become role models for aspiring female entrepreneurs. Let’s take Rihanna who created her own fashion line, Fenty, and launched her own beauty brand, Fenty Beauty or Beyoncé who has built an empire with various business ventures including her own fashion line, Ivy Park, and a production company, Parkwood Entertainment.
The music industry is far from being closed to women entrepreneurs. As a female event organiser, Ruth Koleva says, “I honestly do not feel that there is more pressure on female event organizers. I have not felt any of that throughout my career, and to be honest, the contrary, I’ve had the pleasure and privilege to work with amazing people who have inspired and supported me in every possible way”.
When talking about the pressure put on female event organizers, Nela Peshovska, Booking Assistant at Password Production says, “I think we’re all coping with the same problems and trying to do our best to even raise the quality of the organization, so everyone can have an even better experience. When organizing an event you’re taking care about the artists, the associates, co-workers and audience and the pressure is the same on everyone. With more experience comes more knowledge, but every event is different, and every organiser is striving to do the best possible in every way”.
Applications for PIN Music Conference are open on gigmit until April 15th on gigmit. Apply here.
Unfair Expectations placed on Female Musicians
The music industry has long been criticized for placing an unfair burden on female artists to not only excel musically, but also meet unrealistic beauty standards. Despite significant progress in recent years, the pressure to conform to these standards persists, leading many to question the industry’s commitment to true gender equality.
“I guess women have taken some big steps to be where they are today. They’ve faced challenges in breaking through the industry’s male-dominated structure, including a lack of representation in key decision-making roles and gender-based discrimination. But I know a lot of female singers who still are under an immense pressure to not only be good musicians, but also look good. Further the underrepresentation of women in playlists or festivals for instance gets better but isn’t equal, yet.” says Marie from the German band COSBY.
Female artists not only have to contend with the pressures of beauty standards and behavior, but also often face more disrespect than their male counterparts.
When asked about this issue, Marie from COSBY adds “I am lucky to have my band which always pulls me up whenever I’m distressed. Sure, there were some situations where I – as a woman – didn’t get the respect male artists get. You often find yourself in situations where you have to prove yourself more than others. That’s really exhausting.”
Alina Amuri shared her experience of being in a recording studio with all men, where her voice was not given as much importance. She added that even if she tried to speak up, she was sometimes labeled as ‘objectionable’ or ‘reprehensible’. The power imbalance in such situations can be exhausting, with female artists having to constantly prove themselves.
Women who want to feel sexy and show themselves should be able to do that without anyone judging. If they don’t want to put makeup on before entering a stage they should do that as well. I’m just sick and tired of people judging women for being too fat, too skinny, too outgoing, too shy, too sexy, too casual, too fucked up, too boring, … Just leave women and their bodies alone!
– Marie from COSBY
The issue can be particularly devastating for young artists that are just starting in the business. Female acts are more likely to receive negative comments related to their appearance, behavior, or personal life, rather than their music on social media.
As Bailey Tomkinson explains it, “I’ve been releasing music since I was 17 years old and had to face some really challenging situations since I was young. There’s been too many times that I’ve trusted the wrong people, they have been misogynistic and made me feel uncomfortable or spoken to me inappropriately.
Women are always sexualised, I’ve experienced this from a young age appearing in press and freaking myself out sometimes by seeing comments that are just not-okay!”
In the same way, Cristina Russo had to face inappropriate and irrelevant comments on her looks as she started making music.
“I faced some obstacles when I was younger. I was introduced to the director of a major, who told me that the photographer was good. In the photos I looked like a model, looking at myself in person, I wasn’t as beautiful as the model in those photographs… I was even a few kilos bigger. This hurt me a lot. […] My manager, at the time, told me: ‘Why didn’t you go on a diet, though?’ This is wrong. I SAY NO to these dirty prejudices. If I’m good, who cares about my sex, my weight, my color”.
Her next release will be called “Pieces of woman”.
I sometimes get the impression that this is a fact, yes. If you look at some of our greatest artists – male and female – I often see women reinventing themselves over and over again while some men always stay the same. If you see it positive you could say that women are just more of artists. Or they just feel the need to do that to stay relevant…
– Marie from COSBY
The music industry is particularly notorious for placing expectations on female artists’ behavior and appearance. Unfortunately, these expectations are not solely perpetuated by men, but also by other women. This is the case for Ruth Koleva, who has personally experienced bullying from fellow women in the industry.
“I believe image has been an essential part for an artist of any identity, but as a woman myself, I can tell you much of the issues I’ve faced in terms of image and confidence have come not from males, but from other females so there’s a lot of work to be done within our own community, building support and safety, working towards better education and against bullying.
On this topic, Girls Out Loud is an organization that supports teenage girls in the world to face challenges generated from the media and celebrity culture such as premature sexualisation, peer pressure and bullying, lack of positive, strong female role models, privacy invasion and misuse of the internet, among others.
Education seems to be the key to this problem, and luckily many initiatives are currently leading the way.
A lot of times we are not unheard or misunderstood because men or others are paternizing or look down on us, but because we don’t believe in ourselves and assume people won’t listen or value who we are and what we have to say.
– Constança Quinteiro
Female Musician Empowerment on the Rise
Initiatives like Keychange are leading the way to help empower female and gender expansive artists. In 2022, over 600+ had signed the Keychange pledge and committed to challenge the imbalance by programming 50% women artists and professionals in their line-ups. Ruth Koleva, the organizer of SoAlive Music Conference, has taken the pledge:
“Our organization has pledged to the Keychange program to have 50% female artists and females working within our company. To be honest, we even have more than that right now. To me, it is important to have female artists in our events not purely based on their gender, but because there are so many amazing female musicians out there that deserve to be seen and heard.”
If you are one of these amazing artists, you can now apply to play at SoAlive Music Conference until April 30th, 2023.
Cristina Russo is a soul artist based in Italy. She has been on gigmit for a few years and got booked to collaborate with Beyond the Music Label through the platform. “ I had the chance to collaborate, through gigmit with Beyond the music Label, in Berlin. An initiative by W. Jewell Sparks, and I hope this is the first of many wonderful initiatives done for women by exceptional women.”
Beyond the Music Label showcases unsigned musical artists from underrepresented groups, specifically seeking female artists in genres such as Pop, Rock, R&B/Soul, Jazz, Spoken Word, and DJ categories. The program includes monthly performances where bands receive critiques to enhance their potential as performers and entrepreneurs.
Among the many outstanding organisations supporting female artists, Women in Music has committed to advancing equality, visibility and opportunities in the musical arts through education, support, empowerment and recognition worldwide.
SheSaid.so is a global community of women and gender-expansive people that act as allies of the music industry.
She Is The Music is a non-profit organization aiming at increasing the number of womn working in music, including songwriters, engineers, producers, artists and industry professionals.
Girls Rock London is an award-winning charity that provides music programming for women, trans and non-binary people to facilitate their participation.
Some festivals are also trying to make a difference, and while opinions vary about female-only festivals, Femme Fest, Loud Women Festival and Burning Woman Festival are allies to female and LGBTQ+ acts.
Women Who Rock connects through the power of music and helps to educate, support and fund women-centric health and music endeavors. They organise annual benefit concerts that aim at supporting Women’s Health, with a 100% female lineup.
While there are certainly challenges and biases that female musicians face, there are also many positive movements and communities that aim to promote gender equality and empower female artists. But the question remains, how long will such initiatives be needed?
I celebrate the day when we will not need those initiatives anymore.
– Marie from COSBY
What are the next steps?
We asked artists and promoters what are their biggest hopes for the music industry. Here are their answers:
“I would certainly include more the expenses that female artists sustain for the management of children on tours or in studio recording sessions: from a flat-rate reimbursement of travel expenses for the children who have to follow, in travel, parents, up to babysitting expenses.” – Cristina Russo
“I’d just want it to be equal and for women to be offered the same opportunities as men and for us to be taken just as seriously. It’s definitely getting better but we’re not there yet.” – Bailey Tomkinson
“ I think we should speak more to the younger generation, women and girls about confidence, image, looks, about education and support. I want women to feel equal confident, but also supported between each other.” – Marie from COSBY
“I’d plead for closing the gender pay gap and for more empathy.” – Vilma Dzienaite
I believe in gender equality, I believe in the meritocracy of skills, and I believe, above all, in the power of women.
– Cristina Russo
Are you aware of any organisation that supports female artists in music? Please share it with us at email@example.com.
Sign up as an Artist or as a Promoter on gigmit here.