One of the biggest talking points in the British media over the past few years has been how well young female artists are doing in music charts and sales. Women like Lily Allen and Amy Winehouse are most certainly on top when it comes to making clever and popular music, and Fiona Sturges writes about this in today’s Independent.
Sturges questions whether these incredibly successful women artists, who are topping the charts and enjoying a new level of success on their own terms, point to a new equality in the music business. She doesn’t think so, and argues that if we look behind the success of these women, we find a different story. Beyond writing and performing music, there are myriad employees that reply on the music industry to keep them afloat – agents, managers, record label employees, PRs, radio station employees, music magazine writers … and most of them are men.
Sturges, an established music journalist, says that:
‘In my 13 years writing about music I have found myself overwhelmingly outnumbered by men in both print and at music events, from gigs and showcases to music conferences. Although the male-female ratio has improved among music writers in recent years, the most cursory glance at almost any music publication… reveals that male writers still significantly outnumber female ones. The implication seems to be that the serious business of rock and pop appreciation is still a male obsession even though the female audience [for music] very clearly illustrates otherwise.’
According to Sturges, the gender divide in music, that she has experienced first-hand, becomes more apparent in the realm of live music – despite audiences being broadly divided between men and women, backstage is apparently almost exclusively a male domain. When considering this, I can’t help but think about ‘the mommy track,’ which I mentioned in a post about women in the US mililtary here on Zelda Lily earlier this week – the fact that balancing paid employment with a family life can be problematic, and often career-destroying for women.
The issue of family life is something that continually raises its head when it comes to women in the workplace. In an ideal world, the issue of balancing work with childcare would be just as applicable to men as it is women. But women still take on more parental responsibility and, according to Sturges’ article, evidence suggests that the music industry makes it especially difficult for women to maintain their careers and raise their family.
With the exception of EMI, which has a female president, the top jobs at major record labels are generally held by men. A survey published last year, cited in Sturges’ article, revealed that 66% of people working in the record industry are male. Clearly, even with women on top in the music charts and outwardly promoting an industry that is supposedly progressive and creative, a glass ceiling still exists in the music world.
Whether it is battling with assumptions made about the female gender, or dealing with the challenges of maintaining a career and a family, it would seem that the majority of women don’t have it easy in the music business. With the bountiful recent media coverage of high-flying women like Winehouse and Allen, it’s not hard to draw the conclusion that women are expected to be fronting performers, and that the industry as a whole fails to recognise female talent behind the scenes.
Whilst we certainly can say that women fronting great music is a good thing in that it can give confidence to women and girls considering going into music the drive to forge themselves a career, I can’t help but wonder whether the positivity these women are supposed to represent is merely symbolic. Clearly, behind each of these women is a whole host of male co-writers, producers and other bods…
What do you guys think? Is the success of women like Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen a victory for females in music and a stride towards equality, or is it merely a drop in the ocean in an industry still very much dominated by men?