Women in the Music Industry


Kristina Wemyss interviews FemSoc and AlbumSoc.

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Image by David Lee

By Kristina Wemyss

Earlier this week, I caught up with FemSoc and AlbumSoc to hear more about their recent focus on women in the music industry. We talked about how a larger structural change is needed to ensure gender equality, but also how we as individuals can discover and support women and non-binary artists. Read on to discover their thoughts...

Kristina (K): Could you tell us about the events that you have been running recently with regards to women in the music industry? Are there plans to run any more in the future?

FemSoc (FS): Our main event was a discussion exploring sexism within the music industry itself and also at a fan level. We covered topics from gender disparity in producers and artists to the #MeToo movement at work, along with festivals and gigs as spaces. FemSoc has an exciting collaboration coming up with a local filmmaker who produced a short documentary on the issues we are covering! Our recent online edition looks at ‘Musicians at York’ and how gender has influenced their experience in the music world.

AlbumSoc (AS): AlbumSoc also plan to continue encouraging our members to consider these issues and explore new non-binary and female artists with our ‘Album of the Weeks’.

K: What do you think needs to be done to ensure that female/non-binary artists get the representation and recognition that they deserve within the music industry?

AS: As a listener, playlists and various social media accounts designated to highlighting up and coming artists are the way to go. When analysing 400 songs deemed popular, the producers are 47 times more likely to be male. Females account for only 12.3% of songwriters for these said songs and the lack of non-binary statistics says something in itself. The whole system needs shifting to a more inclusive and representative standard.

K: How do you think that we can tackle the stereotyping and sexualisation of female artists and encourage an appreciation for their music rather than their sex appeal?

FS: I think we need to find a balance between unwanted sexualisation and self-sexualisation to quite rightly use the patriarchy to their advantage. However, it also shouldn’t be the only option in order to get music out there.

I also think that rather than a question of sexualisation, it’s more a question of pushing gender norms. For example, male artists have faced abuse for pushing the boundaries of ‘masculine’, just as when femininity goes ‘too far’ in self-sexualisation. The social media response to Billie Eilish turning eighteen is an accurate representation of how a woman’s body is perceived through a ‘male gaze’, rather than musical recognition. Regarding non-binary artists, the backlash to Sam Smith coming out reflects the double standard of a desire to keep gender identity out of music, whilst simultaneously sexualising women artists.

Listening to more women and non-binary artists is the starting point for listeners, but there needs to be a structural change in festival recruitment, industry heads, and producers.

K: Do you have any tips for finding new female/non-binary artists and diversifying our own music tastes?

FS: Spotify algorithms are not particularly trustworthy, I’d search for specific playlists or articles. ‘Trans Britain’ is an amazing one that has introduced me to so much new music. Bandcamp is also great for discovering new artists. Buying music doesn’t really exist in the same forms now, so looking at upcoming artists who may have bigger barriers in the industry than more popular artists is a great start. If you do buy physical music, something that I try to do is be diverse in my selection when buying a new vinyl -- both in gender and race of the artist, but also in the genre. e.g. I try not to buy two indie male records in a row.

AS: AlbumSoc and FemSoc also have a big collaborative playlist focused on drawing attention to these artists -- you can find the link in our Instagram bio.

K: In terms of the fans themselves, are venues currently doing enough to offer safe spaces for female/non-binary concert-goers?

FS: No! Groping, spiking, and sexual assault is such a pervasive issue at gigs. Measures currently in place tend to be ‘preventative’ measures for women. Better staff training and stricter attitudes to perpetrators would be the best starting place. It’s also worth analysing whether the artist(s) have a role to play themselves. They may not be directly responsible for the actions of fans, but they are somewhat responsible for encouraging a healthy and inclusive fan culture.

AS: I would say that more should be done to teach us how to react and look after someone who has been spiked too.

K: In a ‘Desert Island Disc’ fashion, if you could only listen to 5 albums by female/ non-binary artists, what would you pick?

-‘Dirty Computer’ - Janelle Monáe
-‘SAWAYAMA’ - Rina Sawayama
-‘Jagged Little Pill’ - Alanis Morrisette
-‘Stranger in the Alps’ - Phoebe Bridgers
-‘Cus I love You’ - Lizzo

-‘Garbage’ - Garbage
-‘GREY area’ - Little Simz
-‘Isolation’ - Kali Uchis
-‘Pure Heroine’ - Lorde

To listen to these artists and more check out our new Spotify playlist: