Frocks rock: Gender inequality rife in the music industry: new research

Not since calling Australia her “island home” has Christine Anu found a place in its music industry.

Unable to fit neatly into a pop music genre since branching into soul, Anu, 47, has found that being a woman has huge disadvantages. She says that after “a woman gets to a certain age, it becomes too hard”.

“Nowadays, it is really hard to get a record deal because I don’t really fit into a particular genre,” she said.

“Australian rock offers a longer career for males.”

Anu’s experience is backed by new research led by Associate Professor Rae Cooper from the University of Sydney Business School.

The new study, “Skipping a beat: Assessing the state of gender equality in the Australian music industry” describes a music scene in which male voices dominate radio playlists, festival line-ups, industry awards, peak bodies and major industry boards.

Dr Cooper, Associate Professor in Work and Organisational Studies and study co-authors Dr Amanda Coles and Sally Hanna-Osborne, identified chronic gender inequality in the $4 billion to $6 billion music industry.  

“In terms of gender inequality, this is one of the starkest examples I’ve come across in my research,” Dr Cooper said.  

“The industry need to recognise it has a problem and that women’s voices really are white noise.”

Women represent only one fifth of songwriters and composers registered with the Australasian Performing Rights Association, despite making up 45 per cent of qualified musicians and half of those studying music.

Female artists also earn far less than their male counterparts.

They also get less airplay on radio and are consistently outnumbered on Triple J’s annual countdown of the 100 most popular songs and albums.

The study also found that women are significantly less likely to be honoured in music industry awards including the ARIAs, J and AIR awards.

“Women hold only 28 per cent of senior and strategic roles in key industry organisations,” the study says.

“There are no women on the boards of ARIA or AIR and women are under-represented on the boards of all other national music industry peak bodies.”

Vicki Gordon, a former ARIA board member from 2002 to 2004 who is now a music producer and industry lobbyist for gender equity, said most of the women she knew in the music industry had a “horror story about discrimination at the mixing desk”.

“When I was manager for one particular male band,” she said, “I was constantly referred to as their ‘mother’ by male industry practitioners and exposed to pornography and sexist behaviour, both on the road and backstage, which denigrates women. Sexist behaviour just undermines the value and important role women play in the music industry.”

Ms Gordon said the University of Sydney research was long overdue.

“I’m particularly concerned about the lack of women on our peak industry boards and also in technical areas,” she said.

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