Where Are The Female Producers?

Several studies show they are "underrepresented, overloaded, and underpaid"

Archivado en: Bizarrap  •   Rosalia  •  

In recent years, the role of the music producer has been gaining more visibility than in the past when only singers held the spotlight. From the David Guetta boom to the electronic music and dubstep fever with Skrillex, the crucial task of musical composition has entered the mainstream, creating its own icons. This is also being experienced by Generation Z with Bizarrap, the Argentine producer who has undoubtedly conquered the industry in the era of social media and streaming. A clear example that a producer no longer only produces; they also provide a window to a concept in itself, an identity. A brand of their own.

However, this positive centrality has not been applied to female producers. In fact, if we ask directly, could you mention one or two of them? We don’t blame you; female figures dedicated to music production in the industry – or those who at least have effective representation – are a very small percentage: only 2.8% of contributors in the 800 most relevant songs of the last decade. This is shown by a study from the Inclusion Initiative of the University of Southern California, conducted between 2012 and 2022.

In fact, looking more closely at the same parameters, we see that for every female producer, we have more than 34 male producers. The mentioned study calculated that in this role, 97.2% are men. Of the 232 present in the prestigious Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart, only 3.4% are women. Here, we only find three racialized performers: Beyoncé Knowles («Break My Soul»), Willow Smith («Meet Me At Our Spot»), and Mariah Carey («All I Want for Christmas is You»). The ratio of male producers to female producers from 2014 to 2022 is 131 producers per female producer.

Bizarrap poses with his Record of the Year and Best Urban Song Awards during the 24th Annual Latin Grammy Awards ceremony at the Conference and Exhibition Centre (FIBES) in Sevilla on November 16, 2023. JORGE GUERRERO / AFP

A systemic issue already pointed out on the prestigious magazine by Grammy-winning and Latin Grammy-winning producer and composer Claudia Brant. Because the lack of women also affects other issues, such as their cultural representation. «There is a disconnect when it comes to labels hiring female producers or organizing composition camps for women. It’s always a mix. In most cases, it’s 10 men and one woman. This also affects the language used in a song, so women continue to be objects,» she states.

If we turn to the field of songwriting, it doesn’t improve either. From 2012 to 2022, a total of 5,247 composers received credits for songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart. At the end of the period, 86% of them were men, and 14% were women. These tended to appear more in pop songs (19.5%) and in dance/electronic (19.5%) than in other genres such as hip-hop, rap (6.7%), or country (9.7%). In 2022, 58% of songs in the ranking did not have any female composers in their credits, the same as 57% of songs in the last 11 years.

In 2023, the situation did not improve much: no woman was nominated for producer of the year in the Grammys (in fact, the nominations for female artists in this edition in main categories did not reach 16%) or in the Latin Grammys. Not even in the 2024 edition of the U.S. awards, which will take place on February 4th. Only Linda Perry was nominated in 2019, being the first female producer to do so since 2004.

But Where Are The Women?

Seeing these data, you might wonder, just like us, where the female producers are in the industry. Or what factors or causes contribute to less representation in these technical roles. Well, according to the data, the problem affects female figures in general.

The ‘Women In The Mix’ study, published by the Recording Academy – yes, the one that organizes the Grammys – the University of Arizona, and Berklee College (BerkleeICE), reviews the real situation of women in the industry. And the conclusion is as follows: they are «underrepresented, overloaded with work, and underpaid.»

The report, published in 2019, indicated that women represent only 21.6% of artists (performers), 12.6% of composition roles, and 2.6% of musical production roles. Of the 1,600 interviews, 57% were working multiple jobs; that is, they have two or more jobs. 24% worked beyond an average number of working hours, with a volume between 40 and 50 hours per week, while 28% worked more than 50 hours.

Regarding racialized women, 84% of them said they had faced discrimination at work, and 77% confirmed being treated differently in the industry. They also indicated having a higher level of discomfort in their work environment and receiving less support.

Female Producers: Yes, They Exist

When Rosalía received her Producer of the Year award at the Billboard Women In Music ceremony in 2023, she made it clear that music production was a labor not always recognized but of great importance. «When I started in music, I had no idea what producing was. I learned over time, and now I can’t imagine another way to make my music than by producing it. The producer’s job is a job in the shadows, not very fun,» she said. «I want to dedicate this award to all the women who are going to be producers because I was certainly not the first, and I will not be the last,» she concluded.

WondaGurl and Rosalía at Billboard Women In Music held at YouTube Theater on March 1, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. Christopher Polk/Billboard via Getty Images

And there are numerous professionals breaking these limitations in the music industry, as we have seen, which has a decisive gender bias. From the legendary Björk and Missy Elliot to Grammy-winning figures like Emily Lazar, Trina Shoemaker, or Ann Mincielli, to the groundbreaking Scottish producer SOPHIE, the English Kate Bush, or the Canadian WondaGurl. In urban and Spanish-speaking music, it is a bit more challenging to see names in the media and music platforms, but of course, they exist: from Rosalía herself to the Ecuadorian producer Kuinvi, who has worked with artists like Becky G or Sebastián Yatra and Aitana, to the Argentine Tayhana, who contributed to composing «CUUUUuuuuuute,» one of the anthems of the Motomami.

In 2021, the Recording Academy, as one of the entities seeking solutions to this issue, donated a total of $25,000 to five charitable organizations supporting the growth of women and girls in production and musical engineering. It also proposed directing up to $50,000 more to entities such as Beats By Girlz, Femme It Forward, Girls Make Beats, She Is The Music, and Women’s Audio Mission. However, the factors at play in this asymmetry seem to come from a more structural level, a discrimination and lack of representativity also present in the culture that is transferred to music and its consumption. In this regard, media outlets like Billboard have also analyzed the gaps in the classification of songs by men and women in relevant music charts and streams by gender.

From LOS40, we will continue to support our female producers, shedding light on issues like these, and highlighting the trajectory of new talents