The issue of a gender imbalance in airplay and subsequent chart position of country music artists has been making industry headlines for years. Now, an illuminating new study published in SongData in consultation with WOMAN Nashville presents startling statistics, suggesting that gap is only widening.
The study, conducted by University of Ottawa professor Jada Watson and titled “Gender Representation on Country Format Radio,” looked at weekly airplay data from 2002 through 2018 and found that during that period, women and male-female ensembles (combined) accounted for 13-15% of daily spins. What’s perhaps more shocking, is that in 2018 alone, during a year in which stations were supposedly working to correct this imbalance, the ratio of spins by male to female artists was 9.7:1 with spins for women averaging a mere 4% at its best (midnight-6am) and a shocking 1.7% at its worst (6-10am). Throughout the 24-hour period, Watson finds the ratio of male to female spins is 11:1.
Watson says in the study, first reported by Billboard, that given these statistics, “it would be entirely possible that a station’s listeners could commute to or from work and not hear a single song – let alone a current song – by a woman.”
During this same 17-year period, songs by male artists have been programmed more than those by women consistently, every year, with the gap only widening; in 2002 this happened 76% of the time. In 2018, that number had risen to 90%.
More Spins Needed To Break Into Top 10
This immense inequity doesn’t just affect the culture and the listeners, but has a major impact on the careers and success of the artists. The study shows that the number of spins needed to break into the Top 50, 20 and 10 of the weekly chart has increased over the seventeen years studied, which means it is has become increasingly difficult for women to earn these chart positions. As further proof of this, Watson also states that over the last eight years, an average of only three songs by women have peaked at the No. 1 spot.
“While there is slight improvement in spins for songs by women in the evening and overnight dayparts, these are times of day with the smallest listening audience and fewer opportunities for new and established artists to expand their reach with listeners,” Watson writes.
The professor says the study proves that the issue is threefold: the number of individual female artists that receive airplay has been drastically reduced; the number of songs by women included in radio playlists has fallen dramatically; and the number of spins for songs by women has significantly declined.
So what can be done? Watson offers this insight: “To work toward measurable change, these issues need to be addressed and actions taken through an all-in approach by industry leaders at radio, labels, management and touring agencies, publicists, and professional associations. These entities share a responsibility to reflect on the results presented here, understand that the current practice of gender-based programming wherein men are preferred at alarming rates has serious and long-term consequences for female artists and male-female ensembles, and start taking meaningful action toward inclusion.”
Specifically, the 30-page study offers a bulleted list of directives to the industry, covering everything from radio, labels, industry associations, concert promoters, management and agencies, male artists, businesses and organizations, and audiences and advocates.
Watson concludes, “These solutions are not hard, but they do require significant change. They require industry leaders to make public acknowledgements and commitments, develop action plans and set benchmarks for accountability. The industry’s decisions moving forward should reflect and represent its diverse and growing audience. The future of country music can be one of inclusion and opportunity for all.”