Women grossly underrepresented in the music industry

Written by on July 18, 2020

Men release more songs than women, are signed to record labels more frequently and are aligned with more collaborators to produce music, according to the study. The study authors analyzed four factors (sonic features, genre, record label affiliation and collaboration network) to identify the gender of an artist without taking vocal pitch into consideration.

“This study gives us a chance to reflect on challenges faced by female musicians,” said lead author Agnes Horvat, assistant professor in the department of communication studies at Northwestern. “Ideally, someday we’ll define a ‘female way’ of producing music that could help women advance better in this industry and support a broader range of talent in the global music scene.” musicHorvat and her collaborators 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. Using the data, they built an algorithm that was able to randomly pick a song and tell with astonishing accuracy (more than 90% of cases) whether it was created by a male or female artist. 

Although the percentage of females in the industry increased from 20% to 25%, men released more songs than women throughout the 40-year time period, even after controlling for the imbalance in representation, the study found. 

The paper was presented in June at the 13th International Association for the Advancement of Artificial Intelligence (AAAI) Conference on Web and Social Media (ICWSM 2019) in Germany and appeared in the proceedings. Horvat’s collaborator, Yixue Wang, presented the findings. 

“I was very excited to present such broad-scale findings because most previous work provides only small-scale evidence about gender inequalities in the music industry,” said Wang, a graduate student in the technology and social behavior program at Northwestern. “This inequality represents an unsolved problem, and tackling the problem is key to promoting artistic innovation.” 

Pulling from a unique mash-up of crowdsourced, curated and algorithmically augmented data from The Echo Nest (a music intelligence platform now owned by Spotify) and leading music metadata crowdsourcing platform MusicBrainz, Horvat and Wang identified the gender of an artist by analyzing four factors:


Written by Kristin Samuelson

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