Illustration of women holding a large megaphone out of which musical notes emanate.

'Women in the Mix'

By

Emily Balli

A new study from Arizona State University, in collaboration with the Recording Academy and Berklee College of Music Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship, is illuminating the experiences of women in the music industry to inspire a more inclusive and equitable environment.

Women in the Mix” presents the results from a survey of more than 1,600 women and gender-expansive people in the music industry across the U.S., representing a variety of ages, races and ethnicities. The survey expands on Barra-Jean’s baseline research conducted from 2018–19, and explores demographic characteristics, employment experiences, career challenges, job satisfaction and pathways for women and people with marginalized gender identities.

The study was authored by ASU faculty members Erin Barra-Jean, Mako Fitts Ward and Lisa M. Anderson, along with Alaysia M. Brown, a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri. Barra-Jean served as the primary investigator on the study, which is a continuation of research she was a part of when she was a faculty member at Berklee College of Music. After reading the Women in Music Canada study in 2015, she said she was determined to conduct similar research in the U.S., where women face comparable challenges in the music industry.

“There’s some significant quantitative research about women’s roles as writers, producers and artists in the music industry that illustrates a pretty stark reality in terms of representation, as well as reporting from corporate entities,” said Barra-Jean, program director and assistant professor in ASU’s School of Music, Dance and Theatre

“You can also just look at pretty much any music festival lineup, read any album credits, walk into any studio or check out any given corporate C-Suite to notice the distinct lack of women and gender expansive identities represented. This study centers the experiences of those people who are working hard to be here and asks them what they need in order to succeed and continue. My hope is that people will take them for their word and that those of us who have the ability to be impactful act accordingly."

The team said they weren't surprised by the survey outcomes; the results confirmed what they knew to be true anecdotally and from existing research on how women and gender-expansive people experience their workplaces.

Some of the key findings from the study include:

  • Fifty-seven percent of respondents had two or more jobs, 24% were working between 40–51 hours per week and an additional 28% were working over 50 hours per week.

  • Thirty-six percent of respondents were making less than $40,000 per year, and almost half of them felt they should be further along in their careers.

  • Eighty-four percent of respondents had faced discrimination equally across all racial identities, 77% felt they had been treated differently in the music industry because of their gender and over 56% believed their gender had affected their employment in the industry.

  • Gender-expansive people were less satisfied than respondents who identified as women by a 16% margin. They were twice as likely to make less than $40,000 per year and felt less comfortable in their workplace by a margin of almost 18%.

  • Ninety-three percent of respondents felt mentoring had contributed to their career. These respondents were more likely to feel they were where they should be in their careers and satisfied with their jobs.

  • Roughly 1 out of every 2 respondents said they chose not to have children or had fewer children than they wanted because of their careers.

  • Seventy-eight percent of respondents reported feeling satisfied, with over 80% in career categories that seem to face the most obstacles, such as freelancers and music creators and performers. 

In addition to sharing their career experiences, over 1,000 respondents provided recommendations for combatting disadvantages, accelerating progress and making the music industry more inclusive. Based on the data collected, ASU, the Recording Academy and Berklee College of Music Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship put forth recommendations for the music industry, including recruitment pledges, paid internship opportunities, grants, mentorship initiatives, soft skills development, additional paid days off and supporting advocacy groups and initiatives. 

“What sets this study apart is that it is truly use-inspired, designed to provide music advocacy organizations, recording companies, trade press and others to use the data to inform the development of actionable strategies to address intersectional gender-based disparities,” said Ward, an assistant professor in the School of Social Transformation. “I’m hopeful that this partnership between ASU and the Recording Academy will expand to leverage the innovative research talent of the university to support the Recording Academy in advancing inclusive excellence in music.”

The Recording Academy has also launched a series of funding and programming initiatives to support existing women’s advocacy organizations, including a $50,000 donation to five organizations that support the progress of women and girls in music: Beats By Girlz, Femme It Forward, Girls Make Beats, She Is The Music and Women's Audio Mission.

Barra-Jean is hopeful that this study will encourage researchers in other countries to explore the experiences of women in the music industry on a global scale.