New Study Explores Success Rates (Or Lack Thereof) for New Female Country Acts

Cassadee Pope performs during the New Faces of Country Music at CRS 2014 on February 21, 2014 in Nashville
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 Cassadee Pope performs during the New Faces of Country Music at CRS 2014 on Feb. 21, 2014 in Nashville.

A new research study offers some startling statistics about the success rate for both male and female artists in country music, along with a few surprises.

The research was conducted by Devarati Ghosh, a New York-based political economist and Stanford University Ph.D. candidate who has been blogging about country music on the popular site MJs Big Blog for several years under the screen name "Deb G." Extremely knowledgeable about country music, Ghosh says she "fell into blogging about the country music charts due to an intersection of passion for the music and a curiosity about chart outcomes."

The research cited here, all based on Billboard's Country Airplay chart (and the Hot Country Songs chart before that when it reflected only airplay), was commissioned for the most recent meeting of the Nashville-based Change the Conversation group, which is working to bring gender parity to country music.

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Ghosh broke down her findings into three eight-year periods: 1992-1999, when Faith Hill, Shania Twain, Martina McBride, Sara Evans and Lee Ann Womack all debuted; 2000-2007, when Carrie Underwood, Miranda Lambert and Taylor Swift emerged; and 2008 through 2015 (to date), when Cassadee Pope, Jana Kramer, Kacey Musgraves and Kelsea Ballerini were among the new female artists scoring top 20 hits or better.

During the 1992-1999 time frame, major labels introduced 41 new solo female artists and 67 new male artists to radio. (Ghosh also included Big Machine Label Group, Curb Records and DreamWorks Records in this category for all time periods studied.) Of those, 44 percent of the women and 42 percent of the men landed a top 20 hit. From there, 89 percent of the women with a first top 20 single went on to score a second, as did 86 percent of the men.

Things get a bit bleaker from 2000-2007, when the majors introduced 43 new women and 56 new men. In that period, 40 percent of the women and 55 percent of the men landed a top 20 single. Among the new female artists of this period, 53 percent of those with a first hit also had a second (a significant drop from the 1992-1999 period), while 71 percent of the males scored a second hit.

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However, the 2008 through 2015 time frame is where things look really grim. In the period of 2008 until the present, the majors have introduced 31 women and 51 men to country radio, but just 32 percent of the women scored a top 20 single, compared with 57 percent of the men. Seventy-five percent of the new male hit-makers of this time period subsequently scored a second top 20 single. But shockingly, in seven-and-a-half years, not one of the 10 women with a first top 20 hit has landed a second one. (Kramer seems poised to be the first since her "I Got the Boy" is ascending the chart. And while it's not included with these solo act statistics, it's worth noting that female duo Maddie & Tae recently cracked the top 20 with its second hit, "Fly.")

One thing that hasn't changed much -- despite the perception that females are getting fewer opportunities -- is the percentage of new acts introduced in these time periods that are women. That statistic has remained fairly consistent (in the 38-41 percent range for solo acts) through all three periods. But in the most recent time frame, those women have experienced disproportionately lower success at country radio, according to the research.

Ghosh found that from 1992-1999, females represented 38 percent of the new solo acts that the big labels were bringing to country radio, as well as 38 percent of the new solo acts scoring their first top 20 hit and 39 percent of the new solo acts scoring at least two top 20 hits.

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From 2000-2007, females represented 41 percent of the new solo acts being brought to country radio, 35 percent of the new solo acts with a top 20 hit and 29 percent of the new solo acts with at least two hits.

From 2008 through 2015, females again represented 38 percent of the new solo acts, but only 26 percent of them scored their first top 20 hit and, so far, none of the new solo acts have notched a second hit.

As Ghosh writes in a recent blog post, "What we see is that the proportion of solo females being brought to country radio remained pretty steady over the three … blocks, but [their] success rate … has declined significantly. Meanwhile, success rates for men in scoring initial radio success have climbed, while the success rates for solo men in consolidating initial radio success have remained considerably higher."

This article first appeared in Billboard's Country Update -- sign up here.