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Counting the Cost of Discrimination (1/4)

In 2019 influential music researcher Vic Bain published a report on discrimination in the music industry: ‘Counting the Music Industry: The Gender Gap. A study of gender inequality in the UK Music Industry’. The report set out in detail the level of discrimination, why it occurred and what needed to change. It highlighted a number of issues:

  • Female solo songwriters are massively under-represented in music publishing; out of 106 organisations only 15% of women songwriters are signed to publishers.

  • For every woman signed to a record label there are five men.

  • Only a third of people who work for music publishing companies are women.

  • 82% of CEOs of UK music publishing companies are male.

  • In major music companies the statistics showed a pay gap for women ranging from 1% to 39%.

Yet female representation is not about women’s capability or capacity to deliver the same as men. For example, the number of women studying music-related degrees is almost 50/50 gender balanced, 44% on undergraduate and 49% on postgraduate. As Bain says;

“So where are these women? Why are they not becoming professional musicians? Where are these women going? That's the gender gap in the music industry.”

In the UK, Bains’ report attracted considerable attention. Music Week described it as “a wakeup call to the industry”, whilst the Musicians Union stated that they saw the gender gap as “surprisingly large and indicative of widespread discrimination against women in the music industry”. Gee Davy at AIM (Association of Independent Music) stated that “AIM welcomes this new report and applauds Vick’s insightful and data-driven approach”. In addition, since publication, the BBC have referenced the report many times and invited Bains to comment on her work on Woman’s Hour.

Some elements were more defensive with The Performing Rights Society arguing that 17% of their members were now female as compared to 13% in 2011. However, Bains’ riposte to this was to suggest that they might want to look at comparative male and female incomes rather than just membership. Some of the major labels simply said they disagreed with the findings but without providing any evidence as to why.

Since the report’s publication Bain has continued to work both as a researcher and more practically in developing ‘the F-List’, a database for female musicians, designed to help them get discovered for festivals and other performances. Despite this, as Bain comments, the evidence she initially found is still relevant.

“Since I published 'Counting the Music Industry' I have since found lots of data that backs my report. For example, the last data from the ONS, reported on back in 2018, looked at employment by gender and job role. It showed that of the people whose primary employment was as a musician just under 20% of these were female. Which matched my own findings.”

The importance of developing and using systematic research is something that Bain herself argues is crucial.

“Researchers talk about this cloak of invisibility which makes it easy to deny things if there is no factual evidence. I remember back in the noughties I was having conversations with music executives and they would say ‘oh no there’s no problem here’, yet I would be in a room full of men and just me. So, it was easy to dismiss what I was saying because there was no rigorous research and data available. That was something I was hoping to help change with my report.

As Bain shows in her analysis of salary data for the largest UK music companies discrimination is present in many ways.

  • Taking the average figures of all eight companies across the industry, music companies pay their female staff 73p for every £1, that is 27% less than men.

  • 72% of all women and 76% of all men receive bonuses, but women only receive 77p for every £1 a man receives in their bonus, or 23% less than men.

  • Women work in 51% of the bottom quartile jobs but only 36.5% of the top quartile jobs.

  • Although BME and female representation is rising across the industry, that rise decreases with age and seniority as the UK Music diversity report for 2020 shows. Only 28% of those earning over £100,000 were women with only 12.2% being from an ethnic minority background.

Bains’ work has been complemented by similar studies in America from the Annenburg Institute in Southern California. They looked back from 2019 and found that over the preceding seven years only 21.7% of artists were female. Female songwriters were even more under-represented at only 12.3% and female producers as rare as hens’ teeth at just 3%. In addition.

  • A report by the University of Southern California found that the ratio of male to female producers across 400 popular songs was 47:1.

  • In a second report in 2019 by the Annenberg Institute, in the case of songwriters, more than half (57%) of the songs studied did not credit a woman although only three tracks (less than 1%) failed to credit a male songwriter.



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