Members of the country music industry gathered at WME in Nashville on Tuesday evening (Feb. 18), to further discuss a recent study that proved that country fans want to hear more women on radio. CMT commissioned the study by Coleman Insights, which surveyed 1,000 radio listeners ages 25-54, and their findings debunked countless myths – specifically that women don’t want to hear women on country radio.
During an hour-long presentation and panel discussion, the country community shared its frustrations for the lack of female airplay while brainstorming ideas on how to move forward from the issue. Moderated by Change the Conversation co-founder and CMT senior vp of music strategy Leslie Fram, the panel included Sam Milkman, executive vp and senior consultant at Coleman Insights; Dr. Jada E. Watson, adjunct professor at the University of Ottawa; Cody Alan, host and executive producer at CMT Radio; Cris Lacy, senior vp, A&R at Warner Music Nashville; and Mike Molinar, GM at Big Machine Music.
While the study reports that 88% of those surveyed believe women play a large part in the history of country music, it found that about 7 in 10 listeners want more female artists in country music. Additionally, 84% of those surveyed want equal play for female artists. A positive statistic, Watson said more has to be done to make sure the percentage of females played at country radio actually increases.
Watson shared SongData’s stats from their latest country radio airplay study which found that in 2019, 10% of the songs in the top 20 of the Country Airplay chart were by women. She then shared her idea on how to change this statistic with the audience. “If stations were interested, they could double the amount of songs [by females],” she said. “If you play 30 songs a day by women, then add 30 songs this year and then add 30 songs next year. And then add 30 songs the year after. Within a three-year period you could actually achieve gender parity in programming.”
Later, when Fram asked what people can do so at the end of 2020 the results for women will improve, Watson reiterated her point. “You have to make the change to get there,” she told the packed room of industry professionals. “Increase the 10%. 10% means something different to every individual in this discussion and if everybody sat down and took stock of what that meant — how many women are on your rosters, how much time and money do you put behind women, how many women do you play — and think about what 10% means for you and then move that needle that much this year for next year and then move it again.”
Alan, who hosts “CMT Radio Live with Cody Alan,” recently implemented a 50/50 split of airplay parity for female and male artists, which marked a 100% increase in female airplay on its weeknight radio show airing 7p.m.- midnight. “I think women are the future of country radio in every aspect,” he said, while adding that his role is about opening the playlists and increasing the percentage and allowing female voices to be heard.
“We have to remain steadfast,” Lacy said. “To think that the Lizzo record was a three-year old record before anybody really knew it existed is mind-boggling. That’s really important: to make decisions for the long-term … knowing that it’s a long game and we have to play the long game. Managers have to work with labels to play the long game. You have to make the right decisions. You have to be economical. You have a very defined plan and you stick with it for a long time. That’s what it’s going to take. The great thing about the data is we can see things that are incrementally growing. That’s important. As long as we watch that and build upon it, it expands.”
Molinar, meanwhile, reminded the room that it takes a long time for an artist to build a foundation. “Keep encouraging female songwriters and artists,” he added, before asking others in the room to help create change.
Fram urged those in the room to make a plan for 2020 that includes more women in whatever sector they work. “Just imagine if everyone were to come back with a plan at the end of 2020, there will be much different results,” she said.
“Women are fascinating. We have so many stories to tell and it’s heartbreaking that this is a piece that’s missing when we shut them out,” Lacy concluded.