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New Study Shows A Grave Lack Of Gender Diversity In The Music Industry

Jan 26, 2018

Ahead of Sunday night's 60th Grammy Awards ceremony, a new study published by University of Southern California's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative finds that more than 90 percent of Grammy nominees in the past six years have been male. Stacey Smith, co-author of the study — titled Inclusion in the Recording Studio? -- says there is an "epidemic of invisibility" in the music industry, particularly in songwriting and producing.

"When it comes to songwriters, only 12 percent are female, and perhaps most egregiously, only 2 percent of 651 producers were women," Smith says. "And only two of those producers were women of color."

The study wasn't only about the Grammys: Researchers also looked at the 600 most popular songs since 2012. The evidence suggests a heavily male-dominated industry overall — and when you consider that the music industry tends to favor the songwriters with a pedigree for churning out hits, that pool becomes even more shallow.

"There are nine male songwriters that are setting the agenda for popular culture across a fifth of the most popular songs over the last six years," Smith says. "Nine men! I think consumers should know this, and I think there should be concern that such a narrow slice of humanity is responsible for and driving our ideas in music."

Heba Kadry is a mastering engineer based in Brooklyn. She says she doesn't believe the Grammys are the best indication of what's actually going on in the music industry right now, and that some advances in diversity have been made — but that even so, she is a still a minority in her field and faces uphill battles in getting work.

"Any time you're in a room with a bunch of people who are considering hiring you, there is this immediate assumption, like, 'Who do you manage?' or 'Whose girlfriend are you?' ... They don't think of you as potentially a person who knows what they're doing," Kadry says. "And so you feel like you kind of have to prove yourself twice as much as males."

Kadry says that the major labels, the hitmakers, rarely go outside their comfort zones in her experience — but sometimes their hands can be forced.

"They usually go for their rolodex of the same dudes," she says. "I think when the artist has enough clout to be like, 'You know what? No. I want to work with this person,' then can the tides really change."

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. The music industry honors its best this weekend. It's Grammy time. But a new study reveals a persistent gender gap in the industry. USC's Annenberg Inclusion Initiative did the study and found that more than 90 percent of Grammy nominees in recent years have been men.

STACY SMITH: We're really seeing an epidemic of invisibility, particularly in songwriting and producing.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Stacy Smith is one of the heads of the study. And they didn't just look at the Grammys. They also looked at the 600 most popular songs since 2012. Again, the evidence suggests a heavily male-dominated industry.

SMITH: When it comes to songwriters, only 12 percent are female. And perhaps most egregiously, only 2 percent of 651 producers were women, and only two of those producers were women of color.

INSKEEP: And if you make the focus a little narrower and just look at the songwriters who churn out hit after hit after hit, well, the pool becomes even more male.

SMITH: There are nine male songwriters that are setting the agenda for popular culture across a fifth of the most popular songs over the last six years - nine men. I think consumers should know this. And I think there should be concern that such a narrow slice of humanity is responsible for and driving our ideas in music.

MARTIN: Reading a study is one thing, but we also wanted to get the perspective of someone who has felt this disparity firsthand.

HEBA KADRY: I mean, of course, we are a minority. But I think the Grammys are not an indication of what's actually really happening in the music industry and the diversity and how much better it is now.

INSKEEP: Heba Kadry has a job making songs sound great. Her job title is mastering engineer. She works in Brooklyn.

KADRY: Since I first started, you know, there really weren't that many women in studios. But, you know, really, in the last five years or so - maybe five to eight years - like, I'm seeing, like, the trend is switching. And I think it's because, you know, women are kind of fed up, and they're kind of taking matters into their own hands. A lot of them are producing their own records.

MARTIN: That's not to say that she still doesn't face uphill battles in getting work, though.

KADRY: You know, anytime you're in a room with a bunch of people who are considering hiring you, there is this immediate assumption - like, who do you manage, or whose girlfriend are you? Or, you know, they don't think of you as, like, potentially a person who knows what they're doing. And so you feel like you kind of have to prove yourself twice as much as males.

INSKEEP: No matter the talent of women producers or engineers or songwriters, Kadry says major labels - the hit-makers - still go with people with whom they're comfortable.

KADRY: They usually go for their - like, their Rolodex of, like, the same dudes. You know, I think it's when the artist has enough clout to be like, you know what? No, I want to work with this person - then can the tides really change.

MARTIN: Kadry says the facts remain. The industry is still not hiring enough women. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.