Grrrock and the Ratio Argument

We can do itLast week, prompted by an article published by the Guardian, DrunkenWerewolf stepped up to address an argument that’s been bugging us for a while.

Over the course of a week, the #grrrock hashtag on Twitter grouped together just some of the many talented women producing and performing original music over the summer of 2013. The campaign aims to counteract claims that female musicians are not equally represented in the music business because there are simply less of them. We also hope that #grrrock will act as a resource for those seeking examples of female musicians, and as a retort for those wanting to demonstrate contributing female musicians in the future.

It’s notoriously difficult to get your point across in a mere 140 characters. Likewise it’s important for us to reflect on what #grrrock actually means... Especially if you found the campaign half way through the week and thought we were referring to an underground Spanish zine of the same name. Are there as many active female musicians as there are male? Why not? How do we know for sure? How do we combat stereotypes? The questions are endless, and while #grrrock aims to address them with examples, many of you will want a more direct answer.

As if by magic, hey presto: an article written by yours truly on the argument and its deconstruction. We’ve even put in subheadings so you don’t lose your place. Aren’t we thoughtful?

The Argument

Many believe that the representation of women in the music industry, specifically the representation of female musicians, is disproportionate because fewer women contribute. For the sake of abbreviation, we’ve been referring to this as the ratio argument.

This is then applied to justify unequal statistics. For example, last year Annie Gardiner of The Hysterical Injury completed an art installation that visually demonstrates how many male to female front covers the NME published between the years 1989 and 2008. This shows a gross difference.

annie gardinerSupporters of the ratio argument would claim that the installation simply documents the amount of women to men who achieved notable success in the business between those years. That means for every 100 men making a valid, successful contribution, there were just 5 women.

You can also apply the ratio argument to the aforementioned Guardian article, which criticises major British festivals for their lack of equal representation. In this case, the ratio argument claims that around 20% of active, bookable musicians in Britain are women, because around 20% of festival lineups are comprised of female musicians.

In summary, the ratio argument claims that low representation is proportionate to the amount of female musicians, of which there are relatively few.

The Counter-Argument

The counter-argument, one which DrunkenWerewolf supports, claims that the ratio of men to women is disproportionate because fewer female musicians are supported in the emergent stages.

We’re not denying that for every Patti Smith there are ten Rolling Stones. In terms of profile, if you’re looking for a high calibre musician to fill your headline slot or take the front cover of your national broadsheet, there are going to be many more male choices than there are female. This is because for the past four decades and beyond, male musicians have been prioritised by record labels, the media and music management. Until someone invents a time machine, it’s simply the state of play for 2013. There are more international and national successful male acts than there are female. Directly because of this, the music industry is evidence to suggest an aspiring female musician will struggle to achieve success. Does this dissuade women from even trying? Quite probably.

The wider issue is few even strive to book notable female stars or bands with female members when they’re able.

Take the most extreme case proposed by The Guardian: Reading and Leeds festival booked one act with a female member to play on the mainstage across their three day festival. This act, Hadouken!, are not exclusively female. The remainder of the bill is comprised of seventeen exclusively male acts. The ratio at this year’s event is not just imbalanced; it’s vastly biased towards male musicians.

Does it need to be? Even the most sporadic music listener can name an exclusively female act suitable for the Reading/Leeds bill in 2013. Someone involved in the music industry should easily be able to source nine available female acts from a pool of successful or emergent artists. It’s kind of their job.

reading_leedsTo add to the whole fiasco, there’s a Catch 22. Yes, there are less successful female artists. But more often than not emergent artists become successful because organisations like Festival Republic Presents support them. If female emergent artists aren’t getting picked – which they’re clearly not – they have no chance of breaking the barrier between “up-and-coming” and “established”.

The Evidence

The counter argument relies on whether or not there are as many female to male new and emergent artists active in Britain today.

We’ll admit that we haven’t surveyed the entire music industry to document those currently working in it. We certainly haven’t spoken to everyone attempting to find their feet in the market. As you can imagine, that’s a task close to impossible. However, as an active blog posting at least three recommendations a day, we do have some insight into our local Bristol scene and, outside of that, the wider recording world. Within the realms of taste, there are plenty of women making a valid contribution to the music industry.

The #grrrock hashtag itself is evidence of this. I want to stress, it wasn’t a targeted activity. I didn’t sit down and think, “The majority of DrunkenWerewolf’s posts this week have to be about women”. #Grrrock came to be because I realised a happy accident: the majority of the news, recommendations, reviews and interviews compiled for the week were about emergent artists with at least one female member. In total, and with the addition of a few news pieces about previously supported acts like She Makes War and The Hysterical Injury, we blogged about 33 emergent female musicians between 15th and 20th July.

Some of you may not trust me that #grrrock came about naturally. Take a look at our statistics from a previous week. The amount of emergent acts DrunkenWerewolf was emailed about on Friday 5th July was 1:3 in favour of exclusively male acts. The amount of emergent acts DrunkenWerewolf recommended in our Introducing section between 1st and 5th July supported female musicians 6:4. Ironically and despite PR inclination, our ratio of coverage was actually bias towards female emergent artists by one entry.

Yes, taste governs content. One could argue that DrunkenWerewolf covers a disproportionate amount of female emergent artists because we prefer a female vocal. However it’s just as arguable that PR agencies allow the representation of more male musicians regardless of talent because they’re easier to market and thus more likely to succeed. A substantial chunk of the male acts we were emailed about that week were deemed inappropriate, whereas the majority of the female acts passed the grade. This suggests the bar of talent is raised much higher for women looking for representation.

Probing of the wider scene supports this theory with disturbing results. In 2012 15 unique female acts and 18 unique male acts scored a Number One on the UK chart, close to a draw. However the current Radio One A-list is comprised of 4 female and 11 male entries. Extend that to the A and B-lists and there are still two exclusively male acts to every act with one or more female member. These figures combine to echo our findings above. Like PR, the radio broadcaster is presenting an unequal amount of male to female emergent artists. However a larger proportion of the female emergent artists will succeed, as their standard of work must be higher in order for them to achieve airplay.

Radio One’s bias towards male music isn’t even representative of what the public are listening to. They clearly fail to support female artists in the emergent stages despite commercial demand and public taste. Ironically this means if you’re a female emergent artist with representation, you’re more likely to succeed than a male emergent artist with representation, because you’ve had to substantially prove your ability to get recognised thus far.

The Results

To recap, evidence suggests that more male emergent artists are supported by the music industry despite the likelihood of their success. It’s also implied that female emergent artists must be of a higher standard and more accessible than male emergent artists to gain representation. Because of this those who do find representation have a higher chance of gaining coverage than their male counterparts.

What about the basic amount of women to men playing music in Britain today?

This comes down to semantics. If female emergent artists must be of a certain standard and calibre to gain representation, what about the female musicians who are not represented? Do you really believe that few female acts are subpar; that most female musicians in existence are commercial, accessible and by public account 'good'? There’s always a spectrum of accessibility, and if taste and commercial sales suggest the majority of female acts presented to the public are ‘good’, then there must be female acts out there who are ‘bad’. The issue is they're completely unknown, because unlike copious amount of ‘bad’ male emergent artists, those women do not get corporate backing.

At this point we'd like to stress that we're not suggesting all female musicians without representation are 'bad'. Representation is a choice and in no way dictates the skill of a musician. Likewise, we're not implying all female emergent artists with representation are 'good'. Instead, we're saying that majority of 'bad' female musicians are generally not represented, evidenced by the statistical likelihood of a represented female musician gaining coverage.

HAIMThe Diplomatic Bit

The truth is some people on the emergent scene are finally listening to the tireless call of campaigners. Taste makers and consumers are reacting. The BBC Sound of 2013’s Top Five is comprised entirely of acts with female members. The Blog Sound of 2013’s Top Five is 4:1 in favour of acts with female members. Those involved have categorically not ignored female talent when casting their vote. In fact, for the polls to be bias towards female musicians, we’d wager some voters consciously compiled all-female lists to combat disproportion elsewhere.

Why hasn’t this translated to wider coverage within the media and live circuits? The problem persists because larger corporations like the NME, Festival Republic Presents and Radio One continue to prioritise exclusively male acts. It’s a brick wall that needs to be torn down.

The Solution

In order for this situation to change we must continue to support emerging female artists in equal proportion to emerging male artists. We’re not asking for an overhaul and priority of female musicians. That would be as ludicrous and unfair as prioritising male musicians, wouldn’t it?

However, as natural selection deems male musicians more suitable, those who are able to make life changing decisions for musicians need to consciously address the imbalance. The “I just wasn’t thinking” argument is baloney. Of course you “just weren’t thinking”, that’s the problem. Unless you’re a massive dick, why would you feed the imbalance? Editors, broadcasters, managers, festival organisers and promoters need to sit down and consciously dissect their bill in order to address the issue. Every other sector in Britain is asked to follow the Equality Act. The entertainment industry should not be exempt.

The blame for this misrepresentation is often put on the media. DrunkenWerewolf thinks this is unfair: it’s a global problem, affecting all sides of the board. A&R, PR, management, record labels and even fans are just as if not more responsible for finding and developing female musicians. An extremist would even claim professionals should consciously boycott male musicians once they’ve reach a certain quota, though DrunkenWerewolf doesn’t support any artist being sidelined because of their gender. Funny that.

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10 Responses to “Grrrock and the Ratio Argument”

  1. Phil 'the Tremolo King' Vanderyken 30/09/2013 at 5:56 pm #

    For all the many many things I love about music, to which I’ve dedicated my life, there’s almost as many that I loathe about the music BUSINESS. Probably one of the worst ones is the lack of respect and encouragement for female musicians. I can honestly say that every female musician I’ve ever had the honor of playing with has been every bit as good if not better than their male counterpart. Not to mention, probably even more determined and hard working than many male musicians. It just baffles me that there’s not at least an equal amount of female and male musicians . It cheapens and demeans the entire music industry and almost negates the point of its very existence. Music is supposed to bring us together, not perpetuate the stereotypes and prejudice that plague our society.

  2. related site 14/10/2013 at 2:56 pm #

    General public likes nowadays restrain the entertainment marketplace in a way which wasunattainable prior to the internet and also the virus-like delivery of media, and alsoentire entertainment content. Should you add to that distribution internet and, news, web-sites, from rumor to entire videos. This is a brand new environment. Much of it wonderful, some not.

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