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For women in music, climbing the charts to equality is a slow process

The music industry is preparing to honor the latest Grammy® nominees and winners on February 5. For women in music, though, there’s one additional thing to celebrate this year, according to a new study. 

“Inclusion in the Recording Studio?,” the sixth annual report on the music industry from Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, sponsored by Spotify, provides an in-depth analysis of inclusion on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart. The study examined the gender of artists, songwriters, and producers across 1,100 songs from 2012 to 2022. The investigation also analyzed how often underrepresented women worked across those three roles. Additionally, the study assessed every Grammy® nominee receiving recognition in the categories of Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist, and Producer of the Year for the same time frame as well as the inaugural Songwriter of the Year category.

In 2022, 30% of artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart were women, which was an improvement over 2021’s 23.3% and a significant increase since 2012. Across an 11-year span and 1,100 songs, the overall percentage of female artists was 22.3%. This is a ratio of 3.5 male artists to every 1 female artist.

“There is good news for women artists this year,” said Smith. “But let’s not get ahead of ourselves—there is still much work to be done before we can say that women have equal opportunity in the music industry.”

The growth for women artists overall was not observed for underrepresented artists. Half of all artists in 2022 were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. However, this was a decrease from what the study found in 2021, when 57.2% of artists were underrepresented. Overall, 48.1% of all artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart from 2012 to 2022 were underrepresented.

2022 was also a key year for women of color. Sixty-five percent of all underrepresented artists were underrepresented women. This is an increase from 55% in 2021. The percentage of underrepresented men artists declined from 58% to 45%.

While certain areas of representation have improved, the report shows that women songwriters have consistently seen little to no growth. In 2022, 14% of songwriters were women, roughly equal to 2021. In total, women comprised only 12.8% of the songwriters evaluated from the past 11 years--a ratio of 6.8 men to every 1 woman songwriter.

The study also examined how many songs included a woman songwriter. More than half of songs across 11 years did not credit a woman songwriter, while 43% had one or more women songwriters. In contrast, less than 1 percent of all songs were missing male songwriters. Additionally, the 12 male songwriters who had the most credits across the sample were collectively responsible for crafting nearly 25% of the 1,100 song sample.

In terms of women of color, in 2022, underrepresented women songwriters outnumbered white women. Yet, this is not a metric worth celebrating, as the number of underrepresented women songwriters in 2022 was a decrease compared to what was recorded in 2021. 2019 remains the 11-year high point for women of color, with 44 underrepresented women songwriters appearing in the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart.

Beyond songwriters, the percentage of women producers across 800 songs was evaluated. A mere 3.4% of producers were women in 2022. This was consistent with the percentage of women producers overall—2.8% of more than 1,700 producing credits went to women. Only 5.2% of all the songs evaluated featured a woman producer. When women of color were considered, just 13 of the 50 women producers were women of color, or 26% of all women producers.

One solution aimed at increasing the number of women producers and engineers throughout the industry was also explored: the Recording Academy’s Women in the Mix Pledge. The pledge asked industry members to commit to working with a woman producer or engineer on a song. The study examined the effectiveness of the pledge by evaluating how often pledge-takers worked with a woman producer or engineer on the most popular songs of 2022. The authors removed songs that appeared on the chart in 2021 as well as 2022, and any pledge-taker who produced or engineered their own song. In 2022, only 1 pledge-taker (Nicki Minaj) worked with a woman producer (Malibu Babie) on a song that appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart. No pledge-takers worked with a woman engineer in 2022.

“This industry solution has not proven effective,” Smith said.  “Until women and men artists hire women songwriters and producers the numbers will not move. It’s more than just allowing an artist to credit themselves on a song, it’s about identifying talent and hiring women in these roles. That’s the only way that we will see change occur.”

Also included in the report is the annual analysis of Grammyâ nominations across five categories, with the addition of the Songwriter of the Year category in 2023. In 2023, 15.2% of nominees across these six major categories were women, virtually unchanged from 2022 when it was 14.1%. Across the 11 years evaluated, 13.9% of nominees in the major categories were women while 86% were men.

In 2023, women were most likely to be nominated for Best New Artist (50%) and Song of the Year (33.3%) but represented a fraction of nominees for Record of the Year (15.1%) or Album of the Year (12.2%). In the new Songwriter of the Year category, women filled 60% of the nominee posts, however.

The study examined individual nominations by race/ethnicity for women.  Of the women nominated in the past 11 years, 51.5% were white while 48.5% were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. In 2023, underrepresented women received more nominations in key categories than white women did—61.5% of the women nominated in 2023 were underrepresented compared to 38.5% who were white.

The report also provides solutions for change to increase the number of women as artists, songwriters, and producers and sustain growth for underrepresented artists.

The report is the latest from the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and can be found online here.