Days after Martina McBride aired her grievances with Spotify’s lack of female recommendations publicly on Instagram while attempting to make a country music playlist, the singer spoke with Billboard about her experience.
As McBride explains over the phone, she was digging through Sara Evans’ catalog for an upcoming interview with the singer and decided to make a country music playlist. She soon realized that Spotify only recommended male artists for her playlist and McBride began to make a tally. It took 14 refreshes for the music streaming platform to produce one female option: Carrie Underwood’s “Church Bells.”
“When I hit [refresh] the sixth time and it was all male still, my heart started pounding and I was like, ‘What is happening here?’” she tells Billboard from New York. “I thought to myself, ‘This can’t be right.’ It took 14 refreshes until one song by a woman on the whole page came up. I was shocked.”
McBride shared this news with her followers in a series of Instagram stories. She says she didn’t think much of posting what happened and instead it was simply a gut reaction of the emotions she had: complete shock and confusion.
Spotify got wind of her stories and reached out for an in-person meeting. McBride met with Brittany Schaffer, head of artist and label marketing at Spotify in Nashville, and McBride recounts that the streaming company was unaware of the lack of female representation on its recommended songs suggestions.
“I felt from the meeting that it was a lack of awareness that they weren’t even aware that happens when you type in country music and start a playlist. It’s an algorithm, of course,” McBride reasons, but adds that it’s also “a vicious cycle.”
“They’re not the only people that need to be addressed. Country radio doesn’t play a lot of females, as we all know, and then you have the record companies saying they are not signing females because radio isn’t playing females. Then Spotify says because people don’t hear females on the radio, they’re not familiar with their songs so [listeners will] skip a song [by a female] if it comes up,” she explains. “So Spotify, then, sees that information and keeps generating male artists because that’s what people are listening to over and over again, because that’s what they’re familiar with because that’s what they hear on the radio.”
In a statement Billboard received from Spotify, Marian Dicus, global head of artist & label marketing at Spotify, offered her thoughts on the gender imbalance. “We were very disappointed to hear about Martina’s experience on the platform,” Dicus shared with Billboard. “We agree that it’s unacceptable and we’re working to address it. As an industry, we recognize we have a lot of work to do to ensure gender parity and Spotify is working hard to drive change on our own platform and through Spotify campaigns such as Equalizer and EQL.”
McBride herself isn’t sure what can be done but she is certain that if things don’t get resolved soon, half of the population is going to feel there is no place for them in country music.
“If I wasn’t a country music fan and I thought, ‘I’ll check out this country music thing, let’s see what’s going on,’ and I decided to make a playlist and all of these male artists came up with no females, that’s what I would assume country music was: only this one sound and all male,” she says. “That’s what really upset me the most. I felt like we’d been erased. I felt like the entire female gender and voice had been erased. It just broke my heart.”
The singer shared this worry of an entire generation of teenage girls not having a female perspective on her radio station in a heartfelt post on Instagram five days ago. Her caption received an overwhelming amount of comments from passionate country fans. In the post, she shared photos of herself with her own heroes, including Reba McEntire and Loretta Lynn, among others, who helped McBride realize her dream of becoming a country singer.
“If you have no female voice or perspective or view to sing along with, to make you feel like there’s somebody else out there who understands what you’re going through and that speaks to your soul as a female … If you don’t have that at all, that’s heartbreaking to me,” she adds. “I just am having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that that’s the reality for so many young women today. Women in general, they don’t have another woman on the radio singing to them, for them, with them.”
While McBride admits that she doesn’t have all the answers to solve the gender imbalance at country radio, she says one of the first steps is to stop claiming that women don’t want to hear women on the radio. “[That statement] is just wrong,” she says.
“It is a vicious cycle because then you have songwriters who are writing a particular kind of song and they’re not writing for women because they need to make a living. You have record companies who want to make money so they’re not signing women or promoting women because they see a total brick wall when it comes to getting their music heard. It’s self-perpetuating,” she says. “At the end of the day, I keep thinking of that little girl in her bedroom that doesn’t have anybody to look up to or to sing along with and that’s the thing that I think we have to protect … We have a unique perspective on the world and it’s important that it’s not silenced.”
Some of you may have seen my story yesterday about the lack of women being recommended on Spotify. For those of you who didn’t you can check out the link in my bio for details. Just wanted to give you a little update. @spotify reached out to me and we sat down this morning to discuss how we can work together to fix the problem. But I want to say, it’s a much bigger issue than just Spotify. It’s an industry wide issue. Many people shoulder the responsibility within this industry. And I will be speaking my thoughts on that in the coming days. As I said yesterday, a female perspective is so important…and has ALWAYS been important…to the narrative of country music. We have an entire generation of teenage girls that have a limited example of female perspective on their radio station. And as I said in my post, if they aren’t hearing women, who is going to show them that they can also dream big dreams of being onstage and on the radio just like I did when I was a kid looking up to Reba and Patty and Loretta and Dolly and so many others? (Kathy, Suzy, Wynonna, Tanya) Music should be inclusive and it’s up to all artists and industry gatekeepers to come to the table now and work together. Yes it might mean someone taking a chance, taking a risk, doing a little extra. But let’s keep this conversation going. Part of the issue is that the gatekeepers say that listeners, especially women listeners, do not want to hear women artists. I’m not making this up. It’s been said over and over. So I want your help in making a kickass female playlist for Spotify. In my Instagram story I’m going to put an “ask anything” box for you to put in your “requests”. You can also leave them in the comments below. Tell your friends! Let’s make a difference! xo Martina #fairplay