With the release of lineups, music festival season has come around yet again. It seems as though it creeps up earlier and earlier every year, slowly becoming a year-round occurrence. However, no matter how early our music industry overlords decide to begin marketing, one perennial problem remains: festival lineups are continually unequal.
Women make up fifty percent of our population, and while they may not have hit fifty percent in the music industry, they do make up a significant portion. So why aren’t they represented in lineups? Year after year, women bring home awards and bragging rights for creating some of the best and innovative new music, but out of eight (EIGHT) headliners, Lollapalooza only has one woman to seven male-dominated outfits.
Looking past the headliners, Lolla’s lineup has an equally low rate of female artists. Out of around 170 artists, roughly 42 of the acts are either female, female-fronted, or have at least one woman in the group. (I say roughly because some people don’t like to include the children’s performers in the final headcount.) That’s about 25% (remember, the world population is about 50-50). If you narrow that further to look at women of color, the number decreases substantially.
Lollapalooza isn’t the only one guilty of this discrepancy. Coachella in Indio, California, everybody’s favorite fest to make fun of/secretly want to attend, has 60 female to female-membered artists out of 166 total. That’s about 36%, marginally better than Lolla but still not close to a true population representation. Bonnaroo has 45 out of about 177, back down to around 25%. Governors Ball in New York has 25 out of 67, at a 37% rate of representation on par with the Californians.
Pitchfork, one of the only fests with a solid 50-50, has 21 out of its 42 artists with at least one female in the billing. They’ve been fairly upfront about owning up to gender imbalance, conducting their own research on gender discrepancies in lineups. In a report that Pitchfork published last May, 23 major festivals had an average of about 25% of women on their lineups.
Yet this is not just limited to festival lineups. Representation is an industry-wide problem. In January of last year, the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative released a study of gender and race/ethnicity representation in the pop genre, and the results were dismal, to say the least. From 2012-2017, female artists accounted for 22.4% of the artists and 12.3% of all songwriting credits on the Billboard Hot 100, and only 2% of credited producers.
The same group released a new study a few weeks ago presenting similar results but in the country genre. From 2014-2018, only 16% of the Year-End Billboard Hot country songs were performed by female artists, and only 12% of songs on the country charts were written by women. Even more striking, the average age of top performing male solo artists was 42, and the average age for women in the same caliber was 29. Just like in Hollywood, there is an ageist attitude about women in the music industry.
Indie rock Wunderkind Mitski recently tweeted about this discrepancy.
“So much about “women in indie” but who are the men in indie?” she wrote. “Like actually who are they? I don’t know any personally. They seem to just be paid more than us in obscurity.”
It’s true, to an extent. There has been so much coverage of the talented women in the indie genre, and yet they are overshadowed in pay and credit by their male counterparts.
Spotify, one of the largest commercial streaming services available, may be contributing to this issue.
In a report published last June in The Baffler, a reporter created a new Spotify account to eliminate algorithmic bias and see if there is inherent sexism in Spotify’s system, and the results were unsurprising. Spotify’s most popular playlists were male-dominated. Songs by female artists never hit more than 24% of the total playlist across several top promoted playlists.
It’s not that Spotify is actively trying to sabotage female artists, but they clearly aren’t actively promoting equality either. By preemptively avoiding accusations of bias through creating separate women-of X-genre, they continue to marginalize women. This furthers the sense of separation between the sexes and continues the trend of turning women into their own genre. Rock is a genre, “Women of Rock” is not.
We are doing ourselves a disservice by not listening to women and non-binary people, people of color, queer people, and anyone else whose voice is not predominant in our culture. Music is a form of storytelling, and by ignoring or not seeking out these stories, we lose so much. We lose the opportunity to learn and to widen our understandings through experiences outside of our personal boundaries. We lose the opportunity to find emotional resonance in the voices that aren’t projected above the crowd. But on the most simple level, we lose the opportunity to find new music to love.
Be aware of what you are consuming, and understand that a lineup or a playlist isn’t the full picture of the industry. Seek music outside of what is readily accessible. It’s unfortunate that our current music infrastructure makes it harder to do so, but hopefully in time, with enough people trying, maybe we can reform the system, and female artists can finally get the credit that has been long overdue.