Sunday, April 17, 2016

What's Wrong with This Picture? How'd We Get Here?

Out of the 127 total artists on Billboard's Power 100 List for 2015, 15 of the acts were female. (Never mind that Lana Del Rey made the cover of the magazine the very week the list was published.)

PRS for Music found out that out of 95,000 composers and songwriters, just 13% were born female.  

Less than 5% of established engineers and producers in the music industry are women.
When it comes to people in said profession making at least $30,000 per year, 22% of men in the field get to bring home that kind of bacon...but only 6% of women do.

And according to Creative & Cultural Skills, men have 68% of all the jobs in the music industry, women the remaining 32%. 

All the jobs...and that, of course, includes Del Rey and other recording artists. 

Seems as if, since the 20th Century came to an end, the percentage of women placing their tunes on Billboard's various US music charts has dwindled...even with Taylor Swift, Beyonce Knowles, Carrie Underwood, Iggy Azalea, and some other big names joining Del Rey at the top. 

It's not just in rock or country or hip-hop/R&B [with hip-hop/R&B having a long history of being more paternalistic than the other aforementioned forms of music...which, in part, might be understandable when you consider the great lengths America's biggest social-and-cultural leaders (and leaders of other kinds) have gone to ever since the early 17th Century to treat African-American males as less than human beings, let alone as adults, in addition to denying any manhood in African-American males]. 

That's another can of worms in itself.

Anyway, I've noticed how the percentage of female performers competing in the World Championship Old-Time Piano Playing Contest and Festival (this year's event takes place in Oxford, MS, next month) has been evaporating since the current century got under way. (In 1999, seven female contestants went at it, at a time when the Holiday Inn Select in Decatur, IL, was the contest site; the next year, six did.) Thus far this year, only one woman- first-time Regular Division contestant Anita Malhotra, from Gatineau, QC, Canada- has pledged to go after the Big Money. 

Last year, the final Illinois (East Peoria) OTPP iteration saw five female pianists- four in the Junior Division- step up to the challenge. And the Reg Division would've been a fraternity for the second straight year if contest coordinator Faye Ballard hadn't signed up to join JDs Nina Freeman, Megan Jobe, Mia Yara, and Amberlyn Aimone.

Besides being in a ragtime club here in the Omaha/Council Bluffs/Bellevue area, I'm in the local chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society. When I joined the River City Theatre Organ Society in late 1984 (and subsequently got involved in ATOS, too), several women were concertizing all over at least the United States on Mighty Wurlitzers and on competing brands of theater pipe organs. 

Since then, only Donna Parker and Patti Simon Zollman are still out there
...having outlasted equally-outstanding organists like Melissa Ambrose and Candi Carley-Roth. [In addition, death robbed the world of Edna Sellers (in 1989) and her daughter, Barbara Sellers Matranga (who passed away in 2014). And those deaths sandwiched that of Rosa Rio (in 2010).] 

Been thinking about all of this for the last few days, and I've got just one question about all this:

"What in the world happened to put more women and girls on music's sidelines?"  

Even with YouTube, Vimeo, and other video-oriented sites right here on the Web, the playing field (no pun intended) is still lopsided. 

One of the factors skewing the whole situation came into prominence in the early 1980s. 

That's right: Music videos.

Eventually, things got to the point where, if you wanted to sign a recording contract (especially if you were born with a vagina), you had to be some kind of attractive before given the chance to have something to say. 

TV shows like American Idol haven't helped, either. On that now-deceased series, the judges found room for NFL-sized (and enormously-talented) Ruben Studdard, the show's 2003 champ. 

Two years later, Missy, Mandy, and Erin Maynard tried out for the show...but Simon Cowell labeled the threesome as "too fat!"

Result: In today's music industry, there's no room for the Cass Elliots and Spanky McFarlands anymore. (Remember what happened to Carnie Wilson? Remember how she was treated, especially by video directors?)

Last year, Pitchfork senior editor Jessica Hopper put out a Twitter call that went like this: 

The responses came by the hundreds.

I read every last one of them.

You talk about infuriating!     

More often than not, this is what greets you if you're female and want to become a musician and/or vocalist. More often than not, some you-know-whats are going to tell you that you just don't belong...regardless of what you've got to say.  

If you've ever been the parent of a daughter, what was your reaction when she told you that she wanted to play a musical instrument...especially one usually associated with boys? 

If you're a music teacher at an elementary school (or at a middle school or a high school), if you've discouraged any female students from taking up the axes of their dreams (especially the instruments usually associated with male students), then you're part of the problem. 

Admit it. Don't kid yourself.

If you've ever said or written "Girl bands suck" or "Chick bands suck," you're- let's face it- part of the problem.

It's long been time to encourage people who want to sing and/or play...regardless of gender. We need to hear as many voices as possible, and we need to take their efforts seriously.

Roughly half the people in this world are female...and music, among other activities, loses when women (and other marginalized people) aren't allowed to be heard. 

After all, good is good.

You can find Hopper's Twitter call at And you're invited to visit, where Gabby authored a fine post, "Editor's Essay: Women in the Music Industry," where I got some of the info found on the post you've been reading.

No comments:

Post a Comment