In the male-dominated music industry, women have been getting the short straw in the draw for decades. Even in 2019, the numbers show women artists aren’t getting their due.
The Recording Industry Association of America’s (RIAA) annual year-end music industry revenue report stated that revenues from record sales in the United States reached $9.8 billion USD in 2018, marking a 12 percent jump from 2017. And yet even as the music industry continues to grow, recent studies show that women artists are still not reaping the benefits, a fact that holds true in both the United States and overseas. Last year, Los Angeles pop band Haim fired their agent after learning they were being paid one-tenth of what a male artist playing at the same music festival in 2017 received. These type of stories where women are short-changed and unappreciated are commonplace in the industry, but over the last couple of years, more artists are speaking out about music’s sexist practices.
In honor of Rosie the Riveter Day, we asked 10 female artists to give us their honest takes on the state of women’s role in music, and how they think the industry can combat sexism.
Ari Lennox, Singer
“Music Industry, it can be a beautiful place but it can also be a shady, sexist place. I do feel like there is so much competition placed on a lot of us women, a lot of us R&B singers and definitely female rappers. It would just be dope if we can all keep killing it, to the point where that competition can be eliminated. And also men can understand how they play a factor in that. Stop the comparisons and we can all just thrive and there can be multiple female rappers without it being weird or taboo.
I would say the number one thing that needs to be fixed is jealousy. We all need to work on ourselves and stop being insecure; like work on our own shit and start loving people and appreciating people and collaborating, we’re all going to get to the top. It’s very possible. So I would say, just being more positive with each other. More R&B needs to happen, more real hip-hop needs to happen and the only way that’s going to happen is the shade stops.”
Doja Cat, Rapper
“I would love to see more women making beats and producing music for themselves. They can do it for other people but I love to do what I do and I love making beats. And being, you know, ‘cause a lot of guys produce and I like to dress up in cute, frilly stuff and be a girl. But also produced, I think it’s f*cking cool. I just want to see more [women] make beats. And it’s not that hard, it could look intimidating but once you get into it; you can do the bare minimum and make something really cool.
There’s a lot of talented women who don’t look a certain way and they don’t get enough recognition because of it. I don’t get it, how every female artist or almost everyone is so beautiful. Some of them are talented, decently talented, but there are people that went to school for shit, want to sing competitively and want to sing from their tummy. But they don’t get enough push or love.”
Malibu Mitch, Rapper
“Guys need to stop trying to dictate our whole career and our life and how we should be and how we talk, act, walk, speak. [Laughs] I think that has a lot to do with it. I be in the studio with guys and they would try and write a verse for me. I be like, ‘How on God’s green earth can you write a verse for a woman,’ you know? I think that’s one of the things, letting us do us and just as much as [men] get to do when they enter the industry.
And they don’t get critiqued or criticized on their ideas. I think I get critiqued and criticized a lot because I am a woman. It has nothing to do with anything, majority of the time I’m always talking some factual shit but it just get thrown out the window because I am a woman. I think it’s getting better now because guys don’t want to get violated on Instagram for saying some womanizing shit.
Like before, if female [artists] wrote their stuff, it was kind of like, ‘Are you sure they wrote it? Are you positive?’ But now it’s so many females coming out that are writing their stuff. A couple of us coming out got more guys than these guys that are coming out. So I love it. I think it’s changing now because so many women are getting let in. Music-wise, if we want to write ourselves, let us write ourselves. We don’t have to talk about just the generic things all the time about giving head, sleeping with somebody, rapping about our pussies, there’s more to us than that. I never understood that, women are the one who buy records yet it’s guys who dictate what we want to hear.”
Paloma Mami, Singer / Songwriter
“I’m a woman in the Latin music industry so I feel like, especially in the Latin industry, it’s definitely less advanced. Like in the American [music] industry, it’s way more women, and way more range of different types and styles of women but the Latin industry you can literally name the girls compared to the amount of guys. It’s crazy, the difference.
I feel like the Latin [music industry], maybe some girls haven’t tried or dared to come out and show they talent or maybe it’s the fact that they don’t get as accepted. I feel like Latin music, reggaeton and everything, it’s always been men singing it. So I feel like it’s harder for people to accept a women singing. Like they don’t take you serious, or they want to take you out on a date instead of trying to work with you. [The Latin music industry] needs to have people come out more and try different styles and not just be scared to be in the industry because it’s male dominated. Be brave.”
Ioanna Gika, Singer
“I have a female-majority team: my agent, manager, label head, publicist in the US, publicist in the UK, and the person who mastered my album. I am grateful for all. And I am grateful for the men I work with, too. I collaborate with both men and women, and I like to keep it balanced. But sometimes I am reminded of how far the music industry needs to go in terms of inclusivity. I recently met an industry person and he told me he was overseeing an artist’s recording process. I asked who was producing the album.
He named eight men. ‘No females?’ I asked. He responded with, ‘There are no female producers.’ I had to kindly point out that I had just finished executive producing my own album, and that my friend and collaborator, whom I was on my way to meet, is also a producer. Until people realize that statements like ‘There are no female producers’ are not true, moments like that sum up the state of being a woman in the music industry.
Invite women into the room, and realize that a width of perspectives not only provides a balanced environment, but can lead to excellence.”
Natalie Bergman, Singer for Wild Belle
“I feel very empowered right now, by the women in this industry especially. I think it’s a really cool time. Women coming together and uplifting each other in a way that I haven’t seen before. The forces of love are at play. I never had girlfriends growing up. Girls used to bark at me on the basketball team. It wasn’t until recently that I found my crew. I started a production company with my girl, Danke, called Rude Girl Productions. We just shot our third video for the new Wild Belle record. The more in control of your vision the better, even if that means taking money out of your retirement fund to pay for the tools to make your art.
It’s important to find your people and stick with them. I’ve been lucky enough to get to work with some of my favorite artists, and although I’ve had my fair share of getting kicked out of studios, I’ve had the great fortune of working with men who respect my vision, and put up with my gibberish. I’ve never felt like I’ve had to compromise. I partly thank my brother for that. He grew up in the jazz scene and turned me on to a lot of heavy hitters who have looked out for me over the years. They really have my back. It’s a man’s world – but without men I wouldn’t have a career in writing love songs. They’re my muse, quite frankly.”
Jillian Hervey, Singer / Dancer for Lion Babe
“My current point of view is free. Women are changing the landscape for our society in general, and that is also being reflected in our industry. The old ways are dying out. I truly feel freer though because as an independent artist, I can create my music and art on my own terms, which I think is the most progressive way to be. People are responding to authenticity.
I would love to see more women in production, mixers, engineers. So many of those jobs are male concentrated, and women in those roles would help even out the field more. The more examples people have of women in those roles, the less intimidating it will feel, when people find out what their role is in making music.
There are always ways that any industry can improve. You can still tell the difference when a female artist is being shaped by opinions and influences from their male bosses, to when they are creating their own narrative. The difference in the amount of pressure that is put on women to look, act and be, versus that same pressure on men is paramount. Artists shouldn’t be forced to only make one kind of sound, or have one kind of image. That isn’t natural and women are first to take the heat if they want to evolve in someway.”
Dana Dentata, Rapper
“The power dynamic with men has been imbalanced for so long and women more and more are making space for themselves to be heard and valued. The industry’s social construct encourages and sometimes demands women to be agreeable and malleable, otherwise, you risk being labelled a bitch or ghosted. It’s a constant battle.
The combination of ego and sex will always be an issue. It’s not even so much about a woman’s desirability as it is about the man in power’s ego and innate need for ownership. It can be very confusing to determine someone’s intentions and also make you crazy paranoid. Without boundaries you will be taken advantage of. Even in creative partnerships, a lot of times there isn’t any space made for equal contribution or control and just getting your own idea across can be hard. Björk wrote an open letter about sexism in the industry (that you should read) where she said that she would have to convince her own collaborators that her idea was theirs in order for it to be executed. Even Björk, what the fuck.
Establishing boundaries for yourself [is important]. This starts by being honest with yourself about what makes you comfortable. Talk through experiences with people you trust and use those experiences as lessons. Be an ally for other women, whether that means creating a conversation or showing your support. Stay true to your vision and always fight for what you want. Don’t forget how capable you are of doing something yourself, and gather as much knowledge as possible on the things you want to accomplish. I also think men could do things to be better allies, but it’s not Men’s Day.”
“I think a lot of women experience things differently to other women in the music industry. Generally I feel a positive shift of more women in music not taking any shit and standing up for themselves. Even when it comes to our work, being ambitious, self sufficient and really just killing it and now, gratefully, being recognized for it.
I personally think girls hating on girls is still happening, not supporting one another due to whatever reason. There’s a negative aspect of competition which needs to stop, because another person’s success is not your failure.”
Abby Jasmine, Rapper / Influencer
“Currently, I feel like women are at the forefront of the hip-hop industry, there are so many women artists right now doing a lot. Not even in hip-hop, women in general are killing it. I almost hear more about female rappers right now than I do male rappers
One issue is the stigma that female rappers need cosigns from male rappers that are higher up in the industry in order to be great. Women should start cosigning each other.
We need to continue uplifting and empowering each other. There’s a lot of pride in [rap] from women, and I feel like there could be more collaboration.”