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Women in Music Production Face ‘Epidemic of Invisibility’

By Clive Young. The Recording Academy has unveiled its Inclusion Initiative with the aim of increasing the number of female producers and engineers across the industry. The move comes in the wake of an extensive USC Annenberg study that found “female producers face an epidemic of invisibility."

Santa Monica, CA (February 27, 2019)—On Feb. 1, the Recording Academy introduced the Producer & Engineer Inclusion Initiative, an effort intended to create more opportunities for female music producers and engineers. Developed by the Recording Academy’s Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion, the move comes on the heels of an extensive statistical analysis released Jan. 25 by the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, which found women’s representation across the music industry lacking, most notably in behind-the-glass production roles, where, it stated, “female producers face an epidemic of invisibility when it comes to working in the top leadership positions.”

USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism: “Men make the music: Study reveals that women’s voices are missing from popular charts.

With this in mind, the Inclusion Initiative asks parties involved in the selection and hiring of producers and engineers to pledge they will only make such decisions after considering at least two female candidates among their pool of potential hires. More than 200 producers, labels, agencies, management companies and other entities had already signed on by the time the initiative was announced, along with high-profile artists including Justin Bieber, Cardi B, Common, Andra Day, Ariana Grande, Lady Gaga, John Legend, Nicki Minaj, Katy Perry, Pink, Post Malone, Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban. Since then, the number of signatories has risen to more than 400.

The 16-member Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion—chaired by Tina Tchen, partner at the law firm Buckley Sandler and previously an assistant to President Barack Obama, executive director of the White House Council on Women and Girls, and chief of staff to former first lady Michelle Obama—was created last May in the wake of multiple controversies that roiled the Recording Academy. At the time, the Recording Academy was under fire for its 2018 Grammy Awards telecast, which was largely devoid of female performers or award winners. Compounding the issue, Neil Portnow, CEO of the Recording Academy, suggested backstage that the absence ultimately meant women needed to “step up”—a comment that he later conceded was a “poor choice of words.”

The Annenberg report, co-written by task force member Dr. Stacy L. Smith with Marc Choueiti and Dr. Katherine Pieper, provides considerable statistical research to back the Recording Academy’s initiative. Inclusion in the Recording Studio? Gender and Race/Ethnicity of Artists, Songwriters & Producers Across 600 Popular Songs from 2012-2017 explores inclusion issues for artists, songwriters and producers of popular music, and shows how Grammy Award nominations overall reflect those problems. Based on data drawn from Billboard’s year-end Hot 100 Songs charts for the six years in question, the research found inequalities in all areas; particularly striking were the numbers when it came to women in music production.

Related: Recording Academy Unveils Inclusion Initiative, Feb. 4, 2019

The report found that the ratio of male to female producers across 300 popular songs, culled from the years 2012, 2015 and 2017, was 49 to 1. The report further estimated that only 2 percent of producers were women, and that only two out of 651 producers were women from “an underrepresented racial/ethnic group.”

For data development, the report team used guidelines from the Recording Academy, opting to include only producer, co-producer or vocal producer credits in its analysis. Individuals who received more than one producing credit on a single song were allotted only one credit per song.

As a result, the report noted, “Across these 300 songs and 651 producers, a full 98 percent were male and only 2 percent were female. The gender ratio of male producers to female producers is 49.1 to 1! No difference was observed over time. Of the 300 songs, a full 95.7 percent, or 287, did not feature a single female producer.

Related: AES Diversity and Inclusion Committee Acts with Intention, by Katie Makal, Oct. 18, 2018

“Of the female producers, only two were underrepresented (i.e., Beyoncé, Ester Dean). In terms of song credits, nine were delineated as producers, one was a co-producer and three were vocal producers. Six of the 13 female producers were also singer-songwriters, reducing the total number of producer-only credits to seven out of 300 songs.” The report also noted that no women were nominated for a Producer of the Year Grammy during the six years examined.

In the wake of the report, the task force’s Producer & Engineer Inclusion Initiative is seen as a first step toward rectifying the situation. In addition to the pledge, it asks producers to take possible gender diversity challenges into account when considering up-and-coming protégés for mentoring. Guidance helps build careers in most fields, but the report advises it may be more crucial for women entering the recording industry, suggesting that “in more technical roles (e.g., producing, mixing, engineering), obstacles may exist for females related to pursing math, science or other STEM fields.” In line with looking to mentors and other forms of education to help bridge that gap, the report also suggests that future music industry inclusion research should track educational programs that train young musicians, executives and engineers, and additionally the pool of talent that emerges from those schools.

In a statement, task force chair Tchen noted, “The music industry is at a crossroads and progress won’t happen on its own. There is no magic bullet to shift a status quo that has existed for centuries, but we see this initiative as an important step. We know that change requires real commitment to intentional hiring and to providing young women with consistent training and mentorship. We aren’t here to tell anyone who to hire, but we have seen repeatedly that the simple act of making sure diverse candidates are always seen and considered makes it more likely that women will get the opportunities they previously have been denied. It’s one step everyone can take that could go a long way to catalyzing important change that is overdue in this industry.”

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