2017 was an incredible year for female artists, but a new study out of the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative shows just how lopsided the industry still is in favor of men. Led by Dr. Stacy L. Smith, Marc Choueiti, and Dr. Katherine Pieper, "Inclusion in the Recording Studio?" paints a troubling picture of the state of popular music by analyzing data from the 600 songs that appeared on Billboard's Year-End Hot 100 chart from 2012 through 2017.
The study found that 2017 had the lowest percentage of female artists across the songs researched since at least 2012. The number climbed to 28.1 percent in 2016, but was down to just 16.8 percent last year. The study also found that across the six years women were songwriters on just 12.3 percent of tracks, and that the ratio of male to female producers was a staggering 49-to-1. That was even worse among women from underrepresented racial and ethnic groups, who made up just two of the 651 producers included in the study.
"I don’t think there are few female producers because women aren’t interested,” Grimes told Rolling Stone in April 2016. “It’s difficult for women to get in. It’s a pretty hostile environment."
While talented female artists like SZA, Cardi B, Nicki Minaj, and Rihanna all made 2017's end of year chart, looking at it does seem to corroborate the USC study. The first woman on the chart is Halsey appearing at No. 7 as a guest on "Closer" by the Chainsmokers, while Cardi is the highest-charting solo woman at No. 24 with "Bodak Yellow." Because they are constantly changing to react to how music is consumed, Billboard charts are not always an ideal barometer for popularity, which Pigeons & Planes explored in October, but the figures are still problematic and illustrative of a clear systemic issue.
"I think the first step to take is really a sober look at the data and how it’s consistent with current thinking about the music industry, who is being signed, who is being promoted. The industry needs to think about the steps towards more inclusive practices from a business perspective and in the recording studio to ensure that talent has every opportunity to be seen and heard and that there are not biases based on gender and racial or ethnic identity," Dr. Smith, founder of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, told Billboard. "What we’re hoping to do is use this data as a basis for a series of qualitative follow up investigations where we actually take a deep dive, we talk to executives, we talk to producers, we talk to songwriters about the impediments or biases that might face different groups with getting into the industry or having career sustainability within the industry."