CHICAGO, ILLINOIS — Females are grossly underrepresented in the music industry, according to a study posted on the website of Northwestern University (NU) on Monday.
The researchers compiled data from 6,164 male and 2,083 female solo artists who commercially released 177,856 and 54,942 songs, respectively, between 1960 and 2000. They analyzed four factors, namely sonic features, genre, record label affiliation and collaboration network, to identify the gender of an artist without taking vocal pitch into consideration.
The researchers found that the sonic features are significantly different for men and women, meaning that there is a typical “female sound” and “male sound.” For instance, songs by men are more danceable than songs by women, while women’s songs tend to be more acoustic than men’s songs.
They examined 571 fine-grained genres provided by listeners via social tagging. Genres such as rock, electronic, rap, techno and reggae are more commonly associated with men while pop, vocal, R&B, vocal jazz and soul are attributed to female artists, according to the findings. Listeners assigned nearly all 571 fine-grained genres at least once to male artists, but less than half of the genres to female artists, indicating that women are known to create in fewer musical styles.
Although the percentage of females in the industry increased from 20 percent to 25 percent, men release more songs than women, the study found. And out of the nearly 5,000 record labels in the study’s data set, only one third have ever signed at least one female artist.
Female artists have, on average, fewer collaborators and are more frequently on the periphery of the collaboration network, the study found, which highlighted structural barriers female artists faced throughout the advancement of their careers.
Highlighting these gender differences could help inform ongoing public debates about the lack of female representation and resulting pay gap in the music industry, an influential gig economy that is an important trendsetter for the new labor market and beyond, said lead author Agnes Horvat, assistant professor in the department of communication studies at NU.
Music is closely observed by the world’s youth and often provides them with role models. Changes in this industry could set high-visibility examples and facilitate transformation in the area, Horvat said.