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New Annenberg Study Shows ‘No Meaningful’ Change For Women in Recorded Music

In honor of International Women’s Day, USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has released a study on women in recorded music that leaves little to celebrate.

In honor of International Women’s Day, USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative has released a study on women in recorded music that leaves little to celebrate.

The fourth annual iteration of the “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” report conducted by Dr. Stacy L. Smith and the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative with funding from Spotify reveals that there has been no significant improvements for women in recorded music in the last nine years.

As in previous years, the study includes an assessment of gender and race/ethnicity for artists, songwriters, and producers appearing on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts from 2012 to 2020. The study also provides an update on the percentage of women nominated for a Grammy award in the categories of Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Producer of the Year, and Best New Artist for the past nine years.

According to the study, women were 21.6% of all artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Charts across the past nine years and represented only 20.2% of artists on the chart in 2020. The numbers from 2020 reflect that there has been no meaningful or sustained increase in the percentage of women artists in nearly a decade.


“To create change, folks have to be intentional,” Dr. Smith tells Billboard. “They have to be transparent and they have to hold themselves accountable about what works and what doesn’t work. So until we see companies, artists and the teams around them change their thought processes about [diversity and inclusion] work, we won’t see these numbers change.”

Women who appeared on the chart were most likely to be solo acts (30%) and even fewer appeared as duos (7.1%) or in bands (7.3%). Notably, 45.1% of all women artists were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups, as were 47.3% of artists who were men. While it may seem like the biggest names in popular music are often women, Dr. Smith says the disparity with the charts is the availability heuristic which is a mental shortcut that relies on immediate examples that come to mind.

“If you hear talented artist and you think Adele, Taylor Swift or Beyonce, you are going to overestimate the frequency of that class. You’re going to think women are thriving on the charts when they really hold less than a quarter of the positions on the Hot 100,” says Smith.


As for the prevalence of artists from underrepresented racial or ethnic groups, more than half (59%) of all artists in 2020 were underrepresented, as were 46.7% of all artists in the nine-year sample. Last year capped off a steady increase from 2013, when the percentage of underrepresented artists was 31.2%. Underrepresented artists were most likely to appear on the charts in the genres of R&B/soul (92.1%), hip-hop/rap (87.3%) and pop (36.3%).

“People of color are driving the charts in music,” says Smith. “From 2017 forward, over half of all artists come from an underrepresented racial or ethnic group. Film and television – they didn’t get the memo.”

Representation for women is even more bleak behind the scenes. In 2020, 12.9% of songwriters were women, which is consistent with the 12.6% of women songwriters across 900 songs for the past nine years—a ratio of seven men to every one woman songwriter. The percentage of women of color working as songwriters declined from the peak reached the previous year (14.4% in 2019), but still represents an increase from 2012. The study also shows that the top 11 men songwriters were responsible for writing 22.5% of the songs in the 813-song sample.


For 2020, there were 198 producers credited with 98% being men and 2% women. Across the six-year sample, a total of 1,291 producers were credited. Of these, 97.4% of producers were men and 2.6% were women. That ratio comes out to 38 men for everyone one woman.

A Producer “is a leadership position just like in film, the director is the leader,” says Smith on the lack of female producers. “Leadership is both gendered and racialized in ways that shut out individuals with talent from having access and opportunity.”

Launched in 2019 by the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and the Grammys, the Women in the Mix program asked artists to “consider” at least two women when selecting producers or engineers. Of the 38 Women in the Mix pledge-takers who worked on a song that appeared on the Billboard Hot 100 Year End Chart in 2020, none were credited with a woman producer. Only one person (Ariana Grande) worked with a woman engineer—herself—on a song that made it onto the year-end chart in 2020. While pledge-takers may have worked with women producers and engineers on other songs, they did not do so on the year’s most popular music.


“That’s condemning,” Smith says of the pledge she says “failed” since it did not result in access and opportunity for more women. “Being performative doesn’t have lasting dividends for diversity and inclusion work. If [the music industry] want to take this seriously, they need to do the hard work by being transparent, doing an internal audit and setting goals to creating a pathway to achieve those goals.”

Out of the 33 women credited as a producer across the six years studied, nine were women of color. Only one woman of color was credited as a producer in 2020. Mariah Carey received a producing credit for “All I Want for Christmas is You” — a song first released in 1994. Thus, no woman of color was credited as a producer on a song released in 2020 that made the Hot 100 Year End Chart in the same year.

The study also looked into the Grammy nominations between 2013 and 2021 and found that out of 1,359 individuals nominated for an award 13.4% were women and 86.6% were men. This is a ratio of 6.5 men nominated for every one woman nominee. From 2020 to 2021, the percentage of women Grammy nominees increased significantly and reached a nine-year high as 28.1% of nominees were women. There were nearly four times as many women nominated for a Grammy Award in 2021 in the five major categories evaluated as there were in 2013. Women were most likely to be nominated for the Best New Artist award, followed by Song of the Year. only 1 woman has been nominated for Producer of the Year across the entire sample.


Of the 182 women nominated in the past nine years, 61.5% were white and 38.5% were from underrepresented racial/ethnic groups. In all but one category, women of color were less likely than their white counterparts to be nominated for a Grammy Award.

“There has been some work done at the Recording Academy. There was the task force with Tina Tchen of Time’s Up and I think you are seeing some of the yield of that task force,” says Smith. “I am hopeful that we will see another uptick next in year [in all representation at the Grammys], but it needs to reflect the broader ecosystem of what consumers and audiences want.”