Music and records have been played a massive role in the emotional release of people. Listening and absorbing these pieces have created connections and a community in which individuals feel understood. Our music goes through so many different processes before it even gets to us. The music industry has so many moving pieces. When it comes down to it, the most influential albums we have today are here because of the music industry because of that process. Although this industry brings an unbelievable amount of happiness to people of all genders, races, and backgrounds, it heavily disregards women’s influential presence. 

I know I go to music when my emotions become too much, and listening specifically to female artists helps me even more. I hear what I need to hear from their perspective, and I feel more connected than I do with some of my favourite male artists. I sometimes find that the narratives I listen to are enhanced by not just the lyricism and vocal but the production and vibe that it provides itself. I find that the music connects more. However, when that connection is deeply rooted within me on a personal level, finding out that most of this music is produced and engineered by men is a tough pill to swallow. Not because I dislike that it is, but rather because that lack of female presence in that side of the industry becomes more and more apparent.

When we think of artists who have pushed the boundaries, our thoughts go to the Beatles, Jay Z, Prince, and so many other male artists. However, we negate the fact that even though these people are still influencing the music we produce today, we deny that artists such as Madonna, Stevie Nicks, Ella Fitzgerald, Dolly Parton and Lauryn Hill are some of the female artists that have pushed the boundaries of what has been considered the “norm” of music. All of these women have changed the industry and made it into what it is today. 

This industry takes pride in having female artists that push boundaries in surprising ways but shy away from women when it comes to the non-visual aspects of production and composition. Historically speaking, women have often not been credited for the work they have done. Whether this is in the production stage or the actual singer and artist. It brings women down for having the same feelings as men, delves into their personal lives most unusually whilst ridiculing their every move. 

The Influence of Women Within the Industry

When first attempting to construct the history of women within this industry, I denied the fact that the music industry didn’t begin in the 1920s with the production of swing music. I was thinking about artists who sat in a recording studio and produced and sang in a designated area for recording. I thought of vinyl and cassettes being sold. However, I didn’t consider that the music industry isn’t this new. The beginning of music can be traced as far back as human civilization.

We consider classical music to be from Chopin, Mozart, etc., not considering that women were also involved in the composition of classical music of the 12th century. Hildegard of Bingen is known as a visionary mystic and composer, a talented one at that. She would write poems and hymns and place them alongside musical settings that she composed herself. Her compositions continue to influence music today. She expressed her voice in one of the most extraordinary ways and was recognized by many major figures throughout history. Her work has and is continuing to influence what is known as the New Age of music

Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin. Each of these women has played massive roles in soul and jazz. What we consider to be today’s RnB industry wouldn’t be as great as it is without them. Yet, we forget to credit their influence on our everyday lives. Songwriters like Dolly Parton and Carole King are a few of the songwriters we can thank for our favourite pieces. Yet in comparison to other songwriters, we don’t see them at the forefront of the conversation. This is one of the many issues in the music industry. Artists like Prince we credit for their production and musicality and paving the way for many artists, but female singers and songwriters are not credited for their influence.

Lack of Female Engineers and Producers

One of the many issues regarding the music industry is that although there are these prominent female artists behind the scenes, there are not many women leading or participating in the industry’s production and engineering elements. Women artists are listened to, and their art is appreciated, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that men dominate production and engineering. No woman has ever won an award for production at the Grammys. I think that speaks a lot to how distanced women are from certain elements in the industry.

Awards and recognition are harder to achieve when you’re a woman and in production. Amazingly, we see more women now jumping at being able to produce and engineer their music. Music isn’t just the lyrics or the voice. The amount of effort that goes into a song in the way it’s meant to come from the production and engineering of a song, not just the lyrical elements. I mean would any of The Weeknd’s, Arctic Monkey’s, or Travis Scott’s songs draw you in if it wasn’t for production? 

A lot of the time, it comes down to the education of these women. BBC reported that in 2012, for every 1 woman in school for engineering and production, there were 10 males. This means that they are barely even given the resources to be permitted into the industry. As stated earlier, they are distanced from elements in the industry. Why is it that this part is so extremely male-dominated? It plays into how constantly women in the industry are told how to behave and what to do. This industry doesn’t take into account that women want to be involved and actually desire these roles.

It’s not that female producers and engineers don’t exist. They do. Women in the music industry have been in the game for years and have worked with some of the most notable names.  Rather than push away from the possibility of being in this field, women should be actively included. It’s not as if they can’t do the job as well, or they aren’t able to in any way. They can. They just aren’t given the time of day to do that job and receive the credit for it.

Ridicule and Social Media

Ridicule in the workplace and school environment is not uncommon for women. Oftentimes, women feel the need to be silent when it comes to this ridicule. However, within the music industry, and with women having such a large platform, that ridicule comes in massive amounts. Their work involves the eyes of millions of people. Each watching their moves and words. Dissecting them in a very dangerous manner.

If we’re going to speak on the ridicule of women, let’s start with Britney Spears. This woman went through an insane amount of ridicule by delving into her personal life. From her relationships, her clothing, her children, no line was drawn to prevent attacks to her name. It was almost “popular” to mock her. After Britney Spears’s new documentary, many are question why exactly we were so quick to ridicule her. Plain and simple, it’s because she was a woman, who was having an incredibly successful career. We are so used to ridiculing and watching every move of a woman, that the minute she does something we don’t necessarily agree with or like, she becomes a bucket that we pour hate into.

Taylor Swift is one of the many people who recently I have come to terms with the fact that I “didn’t like her” because others told me not to. She is ridiculed for the type of music she makes, the music videos she creates, her lyrics, the men in her life. Taylor Swift has been in a 4-year long relationship as of writing this and is still subject to distasteful jokes towards her dating life. She’s allowed to do tour movies by Netflix on one hand and in another is made fun of by that same company. She hated being embarrassed at an award show, for dating too many guys, for writing about her experiences with said men. Had this been a male singer like Drake or Harry Styles, this ridicule would not have come about; in fact, they would be congratulating them on being “open” and “singing from experience.”

Ariana Grande for licking a donut and jumping too quickly into an engagement, Miley Cyrus for pushing away from the persona of “Miley Stewart”, Cardi B for being “trashy”, and so many others. And this is just speaking on how these women are in their personal life, never mind the actual ridicule of their music. Men, in general, can speak on anything about a woman within their songs. It can get to a point where these songs are extremely degrading. Take the song “WAP” for example. Why was there a massive reaction to the release of this song, yet the songs men sing that can be considered far more “raunchy” are barely even sprinkled by criticism in comparison?

Women have been a massive part of the building in this industry, they have continually pushed the boundaries and set standards higher and higher. We as a collective need to be pushing women towards a position in which they don’t feel as if they have to censor their thoughts and emotions in their art. We are all listeners who actively take part and are invited to listening to these individuals’ experiences. The least we can do is respect that these emotions are valid.

Not just that, but placing women into positions in which they have the ability to do something that would be considered a “man’s job” by society’s standards. There are so many aspects to the process that happens when music is made. Many I am not even aware of. However, pushing these boundaries and freeing women from the ridicule they face, pushing them towards positions they would excel at and honouring the women who paved the way for music today is a must for the industry to progress.

The music industry itself praises itself for the connections it builds. If we want to have a conversation about connection, then how about we start with connecting on some semblance, with female artists. These women, try to put their art, their souls into these pieces, yet continuously they are boxed up by the industry. Their work has shaped music and what it is today, yet when it comes time for their justice, for their piece to be as loud as they want it to be, they are silenced. I try my hardest to understand why we do this, yet I can never come up with something other than the internalized misogyny that the industry has created. Furthermore, the music industry should never be discussed in the way that it should be. A business that places women at a disadvantage. One that ridicules the centuries’ worth of work that women have done to ensure that this art can be broadcasted in its purest form. Allow that form to thrive and help these new narratives and stories to be told. Whether through lyricism, or production, they deserve to be heard.

About the Author

Hello!! I’m a first year Psychology major at UAlberta. I love putting my voice out there and being able to advocate or open up a dialogue about anything I’m passionate about. I’m so excited to create and work on new pieces that (I hope!!) you will all enjoy. Some of my hobbies are creating new Spotify albums and Pinterest boards while watching any docu series I can get my hands on.