The Lack of Women in the Music Industry

Is enough being done to even out gender imbalance in music?

Mylène Besançon
Thrive Global


Courtesy of Pexels

There’s no doubt that women have made significant strides in making their presence felt in many facets of life. From winning the war on gaining the right to vote, to breaking down various socio-economical barriers, women have been scaling the heights that were once considered to be only worthy of men.

But with all the achievements made — we now have ladies being leaders of countries, women heading up major corporations, and some even featuring prominently on the Forbes wealthy list — there is still evidence of gender inequality and sexism in a number of areas. One that has come up for scrutiny in recent times is the music industry, and the numbers speak for themselves.

Just ahead of International Women’s Day this year, a PRS Foundation report conducted in the United Kingdom found that 78% of women interviewed had experienced some form of sexism in the music industry. In addition to that it found that only 16% of UK songwriters and composers are female, on top of the fact that men dominated every other role in the music business.

Still in the UK, a survey conducted by a music taskforce last year found that women accounted for more than 50% of entry level roles, but only 30% were good enough for senior executive positions. What’s more, there were assertions that men were more likely to be sought out/head hunted for top positions when compared to women.

The problem is not confined to the UK or Europe, and it’s not just about positions. The United States and Australia are among countries that also show evidence of gender inequality. Billboard’s annual Power 100 ranking for 2016 had a grand total of 13 women on the list. Plus, as pointed out in a 2010 article published by the Nashville Scene, there were less than 5% of women taking up technical roles such as producing and engineering in music.

In Australia, the script reads pretty much the same. A recently released study titled Skipping a beat: Assessing the state of gender equality in the Australian music industry, indicated that women made up only 20% of songwriters and composers registered with the Australian Performing Rights Association (and no female board members either). Yet, women accounted for 50% of all musicians studying music and 45% of people classified as qualified musicians. On top of that, women musicians received significantly less airplay on radio stations and earned less than their male peers in similar roles.

I could quote more figures and cite studies and statements made by authority figures on the topic, but I’m pretty sure you get the message by now: there is a disparity between men and women in the music industry on a number of levels and it ought not to be so. The truth is it’s a male-dominated industry and, until there is a change, women will continue to be sexualized, maligned, and under-represented where the music business is concerned.

I will point out that the same thing holds true in plenty of other industries. This I know firsthand due to the fact that I am a marketer and businesswoman as well. In fact, since entering into the business world and deciding to launch a music company, I have received reminders on how widespread sexism and misogyny are from both sides of the aisle.

Cases in point:

1. Receiving hate mail

I received my first real hate mail via private inbox in early 2017 this year and it was from a man who felt he had some God-given right to ‘put me in my place,’ so to speak. Laced with misogynistic references, it was one of the most horrific messages I had ever received. The basis of it was to put me down as a woman making strides in the music business by trying to belittle my ambitions for wanting to make a difference.

The message also had disgusting elements of graphically describing how women like me should be handled sexually. Of course, I was initially devastated. I was a young woman receiving a message from a person whose sole intention was seemingly to scare me. But my feelings of despair were not just because such crassness was directed at me, it was also because I knew there were many other women in the world getting messages like that or even worse from so-called men who felt it was their duty to put women in a box.

I finally dealt with it as of December 2019, so it no longer affects me. How? I received some advice to simply let it be, embrace me, get back to having fun, and just move on. This is what I have been doing! Most importantly, I have learned that my emotions are valid and honest. I am certainly not an expert in resolving situations like this. However, I hope my follow-up article “What’s happening with diversity in the music industry?” can bring moral support to the ones experiencing a similar situation too.

2. Dealing with almost all-male investors and business partners

The process of launching a startup and seeking potential investors opened my eyes to the startling fact that the top end of the entrepreneurial world is vastly dominated by men.

In the Silicon Valley community, for example, almost all the VC firms are owned and operated by affluent males. This was somewhat intimidating, especially when coupled with the reality that dozens of women have accused several investors of being sexual predators.

Both these facts put me on edge as a female founder. However, I must say that my experience has been a largely positive one despite dealing with 99% men, both in business and music.

I do hope the gender imbalance gets fixed but it’s worth acknowledging that there are actually some decent professional men who simply do their job in an unproblematic way.

3. Sharing public opinion as a woman

I sometimes participate on public online forums and I have come across a few trolls and misogynists. I have learned that that is par for the course across social media, so I know how to handle them whenever they act up. With that said, I like that women are free to join the forums I am on, which I think helps to promote inclusiveness.

The lack of women in the music industry and the sidelining of many, who are trying to make strides, by historically-patriarchal establishments continues to be a problem in the world. It gets even more glaringly lopsided and ugly when race is factored into the mix. But I’m heartened that change is on the way. For instance, Festival Republic in Leeds, UK just launched the ReBalance project. It’s an initiative that is intended to get more women on music festival lineups. ReBalance came about after mounting backlash about there being very few women performers at major festivals and a lack of opportunities for women in general. The Huffington Post reported last year that of 12 major festivals attended, the lineups were made up of only 12% females, despite the crowds being close to half and half between the sexes.

Another positive is the Australasian Performing Right Association Limited (APRA), in July, rolling out sweeping changes to help tackle gender inequality in the music industry Down Under. The new measures include a strict 40% participation rule for females in music programs, event performances, and judging panels.

These announcements are a step in the right direction and much appreciated, although much more needs to be done to alleviate the high level of sexism in the business that many women still have to put up with. It’s one thing to read about misogyny, it’s another to experience it firsthand.



Mylène Besançon
Thrive Global

Busy with family, business and sweet things in life. 📚 🎉 💍 ❤️ ✈️ 🏘️ 🇨🇦 🇺🇸 🇫🇷 Co-founder and