BENJI
The HOLLYWOODLAND Magazine
9 min readDec 30, 2022

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Exposing the Music Industry: Lack of DEI & Representation

by: BENJI

introduction

The lack of diversity, equity, inclusion, and representation in the music industry is unexplainable. For years I was under the impression that the industry was ever changing and increasingly promoting DEI. After investigating multiple academic studies and popular references, such as artist documentaries and interviews, it has become increasingly clear that little progress has been made.

inclusion in the recording studio

Karla Hernandez, Dr. Stacy L. Smith, and Dr. Katherine Pieper from the University of Southern California Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative conducted a study called “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” to analyze all artists, songwriters, and producers credited across 1,000 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart from 2012 to 2021. Their analysis was geared toward identifying gender, racial, and ethnic inequality within the music industry in an attempt to modify its current trends. The study includes the statistics listed below correlating to an imbalanced representation.

  • artists + gender inequality in the music industry: Across the ten years evaluated, 78.2% of artists were male-identifying, 21.8% were female-identifying, and 0% were gender non-conforming or identified as non-binary.
  • artists + racial inequality in the music industry: 52.2% or 1,032 artists were white, and 47.8% or 947 artists were underrepresented; a ratio of 1.1 white artists to each underrepresented artist.
  • songwriters + gender inequality in the music industry: 4,796 songwriters were credited across the ten year period. Female-identifying songwriters comprised only 12.7% of this population during the years studied, with a ratio of 6.8 male-identifying songwriters to every female-identifying songwriter. Again, 0% of songwriters were gender non-conforming or identified as non-binary. Out of the 1,000 songs evaluated, 57% of songs on the charts had female-identifying individuals completely absent from songwriting credits.
  • producers + gender inequality in the music industry: Overall, across 1,523 producing credits in the 7-year sample provided by the study, 97.2% were male-identifying producers, and 2.8% were female-identifying producers. This is a ratio of 35.2 male-identifying producers to every female-identifying producer. Again, 0% of producers were gender non-conforming or identified as non-binary. The ratio of male-identifying producers to underrepresented female-identifying producers is 148.1 to 1.

LGBTQ+ representation in music

“You would hope that people who claim to be progressive in entertainment could just take it upon themselves to just do better,” says songwriter Justin Tranter.

Queer artists are constantly fighting for their spotlight while corporations continue to make money off the concept of “pride.” From an outside perspective, those who aren’t queer, are solely perceiving the lgbtq+ representation in the music industry from top queer artists. What’s missing is everything behind the scenes (producers, engineers, promoters, booking agents, etc.).

Tiffany R. Warren, Sony Music’s executive VP and Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, voices how, “Representation on the executive level has actually been very prolific in recent years,” however, she adds that more can still be done, especially regarding the environment surrounding executives who may not yet be out. “We have a responsibility to create the culture where people feel comfortable, or better yet, have the choice to decide they want to come out.”

Warren has worked in diversity and inclusion for almost two decades (including serving as a current board member at GLAAD) and says that if a music group’s corporate culture is not conditioned to handle having a diverse workforce, then adding more employees doesn’t solve the issue. “We’ve come into an era of active accountability,” she says, “what’s really important is if a company decides that’s what they want to do, that’s great, but they need to make sure the culture is ready for whatever goals need to be set. Those data points can be part of the strategy, but not the whole strategy.”

The sudden backing and support of labels that takes place only during Pride Month — an action commonly referred to online as “rainbow washing” — a problem that needs to discontinue.

Representation is important, not only for artists and those working in the music industry but also for fans. Having queer artists gives those exploring their sexual orientation a platform to feel related to and not feel alone.

gender inequality in the workplace

In partnership with the Recording Academy, Berklee’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship and The Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts at Arizona State University organized a survey to investigate the socio-economic landscape of female-identifying individuals and gender-expansive (agender, gender fluid, genderqueer, non-binary) people working in the music industry across the United States. The survey explores demographic characteristics, employment experiences, and career challenges in the industry for female-identifying individuals and people with marginalized gender identities.

From 2018–2019, over 1,600 respondents represented a spectrum of ages, races, ethnicities, and experience levels in the industry. 84% of participants across all racial identities reported facing discrimination at some point in their professional careers. 77% felt they had been treated differently because of their gender identity or gender expression, and 56% believed their gender identity or gender expression had affected their employment in the industry. 47% of respondents, regardless of racial identity, felt they should be further ahead in their careers. Over half of female-identifying employees of color felt they should be further along in their careers. This group of individuals expressed the highest level of discomfort in the workplace. They also reported less workplace support.

91% of respondents said that their primary occupation was in the music industry, and 90% held a secondary music-related job. Despite working many hours and multiple jobs, over 1 in 3 women make less than $40,000 annually. Financial stability in the current economy is nearly impossible for those making $40,000 or less yearly.

To promote gender equality and representation in the industry, the Recording Academy created the “Women in the Mix Pledge” in 2019. The pledge asks that at least two female-identifying artists, songwriters, or producers are considered in the hiring process for any music project.

“Everyone is a shiny new toy for like two years. Female artists have reinvented themselves 20 times more than male artists. They have to, or else you’re out of a job. Constantly having to reinvent, constantly finding new facets of yourself that people find to be shiny.” This is how Taylor Swift communicates her views on gender inequality in the music industry in her most recent Netflix documentary, Miss Americana. The documentary shares the struggles of being an underrepresented artist even while being one of the most successful musicians of all time. Although initially forming her career through country music, the singer has broken into folk, pop, rock, indie, R&B, alternative, and other unfamiliar genres to maintain audiences’ engagement.

the “MIRA Survey of Musicians”

The Music Industry Research Association (MIRA) and Princeton University Survey Research Center, in partnership with MusiCares, conducted the “MIRA Survey of Musicians” and collected responses from 1,227 musicians in the United States between April 12th and June 2nd of, 2018. MIRA is a nonprofit organization that endorses and facilitates social science examination on pressing issues impacting the music industry. This report summarizes initial discoveries from the MIRA Musician Survey related to musicians’ career opportunities and challenges, experience with race and gender discrimination and sexual harassment, substance abuse, and mental health. The objective of the MIRA Musician Survey was to identify a group of individuals who earn a living as musicians and interview them. Multiple results from the survey flag concerns about the lives and careers of many working musicians. These concerns include but are not limited to high rates of discrimination and sexual harassment, increased reports of mental health issues, and far more incidences of substance abuse than the general U.S. adult population.

  • musicians + sexual harassment and gender identity discrimination: 62% of female-identifying musicians reported that they had been discriminated against because of their sex, and 67% reported that they had been the victim of sexual harassment; corresponding figures for female-identifying individuals in the United States are 28% and 42%, respectively.
  • musicians + racial discrimination: 63% of underrepresented musicians said they encountered racial discrimination, compared to 36% of underrepresented self-employed workers nationwide.
  • musicians + mental health: More than half of the musicians that took the survey reported feeling depressed, down or hopeless at least several days in the last two weeks, compared to less than a quarter of the general adult population. Musicians were also more likely than the general population to report hardship sleeping, insufficient energy, trouble concentrating, and feeling poorly about themselves. 11.8% of musicians reported having suicidal thoughts or participating in self-harm at least several days in the last two weeks, compared to 3.4% of the general population.

substance abuse triggered by poor mental health

A 2019 study published by the Swedish digital distribution platform Record Union found that 73 percent of independent musicians have combated stress, anxiety, or depression within their professional careers.

The incidence of substance abuse is generally higher among musicians than among the general public. According to national data, approximately 50% of individuals that battle mental illness will also encounter substance abuse or dependency during their lifetime. These problems have resulted in shocking outcomes in the past few years, especially within the music industry.

Independent musicians often deal with financial instability, loneliness, being constantly surrounded by drugs and alcohol, poor sleeping and eating habits, the inability to access quality health insurance and care, and so on.

Compared to the general U.S. adult population, musicians are five times more likely to have used cocaine in the last month, 6.5 times more likely to have used ecstasy, 13.5 times more likely to have used LSD, 2.8 times more likely to have used heroin or opium, and 3.5 times more likely to have used meth. Musicians are about twice as likely to consume alcohol frequently (four or more times per week) than the population: 31% versus 16%.

“Right-brained people — like artists, who can more easily tap into their feelings — tend to dominate the side of the brain that creates more negative emotions. We might even say there’s a predisposition for [that],” expresses Dr. Chayim Newman, a Toronto-based clinical psychologist whose private practices concentrate on musicians and touring artists. He claims that “creatives in the industry today suffer more because their routines are so destabilized.” Musicians such as Prince, Mac Miller, Amy Winehouse, Juice WRLD, Whitney Houston, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, Chris Cornell, and Avicii, among many others, were not able to receive help before it was too late.

resources for musicians

Backline is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that connects music industry professionals and their families with mental health and wellness resources. The platform serves as a central hub for resources like MusiCares (founded in 1993 to help artists pay for living expenses) and Silence the Shame (dedicated to eliminating mental health stigma, reducing health disparities, and improving rates of suicide among vulnerable populations) to coexist.

Backline’s services are entirely free of charge. The organization’s case managers will converse with anyone who submits a form on its website, then pair individuals with the appropriate resources — a therapist, support group, etc. Backline’s clinical director, Zack Borer, a licensed therapist and musician, shares, “It [the music industry] is not just sex, drugs, and rock & roll anymore. It’s how sex, drugs, and rock & roll can have a long-term impact.”

There is a vital necessity for destigmatizing mental health. Artists are starting to become comfortable opening up about their mental health battles to their fans, though many continue to fake a smile for the cameras and will not reach out for help until it is too late. Record labels have the funding to look after their artists and should be required to provide mental health support systems.

conclusion

While resources are being made available to underrepresented artists across the United States to create a more level playing field, we still have a long way to go. Continued efforts must be made to ensure that talent is not defined or limited by an artist’s race, gender, sexuality, etc. Inequality has created problems with lasting impacts. Unless drastic measures are taken, there will be little room for change and improvement.

additional resources

National Suicide and Crisis Lifeline 988 Chat online

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (Options for Deaf and Hard of Hearing)

For TTY Users: Use your preferred relay service or dial 711 then 988 Chat online

Alcoholics Anonymous

Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline (800) 422–4453

Crisis Text Line Text HOME to 741741

Nacional de Prevención del Suicidio (888) 628–9454

Narcotics Anonymous

National Domestic Violence Hotline (800) 799–7233

National Grad Crisis Line (877) 472–3457

National Sexual Assault Hotline (800) 656–4673

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline (800) 662–4357

sources

Hernandez, Karla. “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” Inclusion in the Recording Studio? Gender and Race/Ethnicity of Artists, Songwriters & Producers across 1,000 Popular Songs from 2012–2021, USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, Mar. 2022, https://assets.uscannenberg.org/docs/aii-inclusion-recording-studio-20220331.pdf.

Wilson, Lana, director. Miss Americana, Netflix/Tremolo Productions, 31 Jan. 2020, Accessed 10 Dec. 2022.

(MIRA), Music Industry Research Association. “MIRA Survey of Musicians April-June 2018 .” Princeton University, The Trustees of Princeton University, 19 June 2018, https://psrc.princeton.edu/news/mira-survey-musicians-april-june-2018.

Barra, Erin. “Women in the Mix Study.” Women in the Mix Study | Berklee College of Music, The Recording Academy, 2019, https://naras.a.bigcontent.io/v1/static/witm_study_2.

Frehsee, Nicole. “‘We Can’t Have All Our Artists Die’: How the Music Industry Is Fighting the Mental-Health Crisis.” Rolling Stone, Rolling Stone, 14 Feb. 2020, https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/we-cant-have-all-our-artists-die-how-the-music-industry-is-fighting-the-mental-health-crisis-939171/.

Daw, Stephen. “LGBTQ Representation within the Music Industry: ‘It’s Still Not Nearly Enough’.” Billboard, 9 Dec. 2021, https://www.billboard.com/music/music-news/lgbtq-representation-music-industry-1235007091/.

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BENJI
The HOLLYWOODLAND Magazine

Founder, CEO, & Recording Artist at HOLLYWOODLAND Music Group, LLC Founder + Editor in Chief of The HOLLYWOODLAND Magazine