Sexism, Ageism and Lower Pay: Female Musicians Struggle for Equality in Male Dominated Industry

Breanna De Vera

Breanna de Vera is dot.LA's editorial intern. She is currently a senior at the University of Southern California, studying journalism and English literature. She previously reported for the campus publications The Daily Trojan and Annenberg Media.

Sexism, Ageism and Lower Pay: Female Musicians Struggle for Equality in Male Dominated Industry
Photo by Tony Pham on Unsplash

Who run the world?

For Beyonce, the answer is "girls!" But, it doesn't feel like that in the male-dominated music industry where sexism and ageism reign supreme, according to a new report. Despite megastars like Beyonce, Taylor Swift and Madonna, women in the industry still feel it's difficult to climb the ladder of success and that it's causing women artists to quit.


MIDiA Research, in collaboration with digital music company Believe and its subsidiary TuneCore, released "Be the Change: Women Making Music 2021," a report on female creators' experiences in the music industry.

While most female creators surveyed believe transparency and discourse about gender equality have improved, over 80% of the respondents surveyed said it's still harder for female artists to receive recognition than their male counterparts.

"The main challenges are sexual harassment and objectification," said Mark Mulligan, MIDiA's lead music analyst who worked on the report. "Those are two different things, but they're also causally linked… [and they] are amplified or magnified within the music business — so many female artists are presented in a way that male artists are much less so."

MIDiA surveyed 504 respondents — of which are 401 female creators — around the globe. These respondents are all part of the music industry, as singers, songwriters, DJs, artists and producers. They have different degrees of independence as well — some are independent artists, others are their own managers or are signed to labels.

The vast majority of the women surveyed find that the music industry treats women differently. Eight out of 10 women surveyed experienced sexual harassment at some point in their careers.

"The representation of women in music, even at the top of the charts, has not improved in the last decade ... in some cases it has actually gotten worse," said TuneCore Chief Revenue Officer Andreea Gleeson.

Over 90% of women experienced unconscious bias — one singer-songwriter was told another female singer-songwriter on the festival bill was her "serious competition," when there were plenty other artists on the lineup. A female sound technician says she was told she was unable to move up in her career by male counterparts who were no more skilled.

As a result of their experiences in the industry, many women choose to work alone or exclusively with other women. Dominique — a singer-songwriter that participated in a panel presenting the study's findings — said she decided to work alone after being brushed off by male producers.

"You don't feel like your ideas are being taken into account, and you always get shot down," Dominique said. "Regardless of how bad my music may come out, I want to be the only person working on it."

She wound up writing a hit song called "Girls Can't Produce," which went viral on TikTok; the song's title was taken from a snidely sexist comment posted beneath a video she made detailing her aspirations.

These biases and attitudes toward women translate into experiences that make female artists uncomfortable, less confident, and ultimately, more likely to leave the industry, the report found. One anonymous respondent cited in the report said: "Why do women leave music or not go into it? For some, there's 'only so much sh*t you can take.'"

The study was partly inspired by TuneCore's examination of the artists that use its digital music distribution services. The company said it found only 28% of its artists are female. Although that percentage is higher than the 11% of female artists represented in the industry as a whole, TuneCore found it surprising, said Gleeson. Because its artists are pursuing a DIY distribution path by using their platform, they might expect a lower barrier of entry.

The survey asked respondents what urgent changes are necessary to improve the music industry for women. The most popular response was "more equality and opportunity."

"Now that might sound like a fairly self evident thing, but it's also really quite subtle," Mulligan said. "They just want to have the same opportunity to succeed — their male counterparts have the same aspirations, they work in the same industry — but the industry treats them differently."

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Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

Genies Wants To Help Creators Build ‘Avatar Ecosystems’

When avatar startup Genies raised $150 million in April, the company released an unusual message to the public: “Farewell.”

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Christian Hetrick

Christian Hetrick is dot.LA's Entertainment Tech Reporter. He was formerly a business reporter for the Philadelphia Inquirer and reported on New Jersey politics for the Observer and the Press of Atlantic City.

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Why Fisker’s Manufacturing Strategy Is the Largest Experiment In Making Affordable EVs

David Shultz

David Shultz reports on clean technology and electric vehicles, among other industries, for dot.LA. His writing has appeared in The Atlantic, Outside, Nautilus and many other publications.

Fisker
Fisker

I’ve spilled considerable ink on California-based electric vehicle companies like Rivian, Faraday Future, Vinfast, and Tesla. But one company that’s flown under the radar is Fisker. Backed by the charismatic auto industry legend bearing the same name, the company is planning to start delivering its first model, the Fisker Ocean One, at the end of the month.

So what distinguishes Fisker from its myriad competitors? Their path to market. Specifically, Fisker has handed off the manufacturing of its upcoming EVs to partner companies Magna Steyr and Foxconn.

Shirking the responsibility of, you know, actually building your own car, comes with a host of pros and cons. Fisker’s eventual success or failure in the EV space may come down to how it balances and manages each.

From the highest level, outsourcing production lets Fisker do a couple of things. First, it allows them to get to market a bit quicker: building a factory can take years. Second, it reduces the risk and headaches that many other EV makers run into as they get manufacturing online. Magna Steyr, the manufacturer of the Ocean One, is an established company with an excellent track record in the industry, assembling cars for brands like BMW, Mercedes, Jaguar. Previous reports have even revealed that the Ocean One will be built on a modified version of a Magna Steyr electric vehicle platform.

The existing expertise has helped Fisker get to market quicker, and as more and more legacy automakers join the EV space, expedience may pay dividends. Avoiding the high upfront capital expenditure may have also helped the company keep their prices low. I’ve spent many paragraphs complaining about the high price of entry into the EV world. But at $37,499, the Ocean One would be among the most affordable plug-in options on the market–especially in the crossover/small SUV category. If the car is even close to competitive with offerings like the Ioniq 5 or the Kia EV6, that price should look very attractive to budget conscious consumers.

The exact terms of the deal between Fisker and Magna Steyr aren’t public. But Daron Gifford, Leader of Plante Moran’s Mobility Practice, says that assembly plus labor and overhead usually accounts for 15-20% of an automaker’s cost structure. But the price of relying on outside manufacturing is, of course, relinquishing control of how many cars you can make. “As you scale up, you reach a point when there's more of a tendency to want to be in control of your own production,” says Stephanie Brinley, Principal Analyst at S&P Global Mobility. “What you risk–whether you're working with Magna or Foxconn or someone else–is that your ultimate capacity is going to depend on what they're doing.”

Gifford agrees that outsourcing manufacturing might make it difficult or cost prohibitive for Fisker to make changes to its manufacturing processes on the fly. He also points out that the process adds a lot of complexity and operational risk for the company. “It’s going to be a management challenge,” Gifford says. “But the bigger problem on top of the management challenge is the supply chain.” Sourcing the parts from around the world, shipping everything to Magna Steyr’s plant in Graz, Austria, assembling vehicles, and then loading them onto boats to send back to the US is likely both costly and slow for Fisker. “If they sourced everything in Europe, it’s a shorter supply chain, but I suspect they did not,” says Gifford.

Outsourcing to Austria also complicates the picture with regard to the Inflation Reduction Act. Biden’s new infrastructure legislation includes language that requires EVs be assembled in North America to be eligible for the full discount. As such, this would exclude the Ocean One from qualifying. However, last month Magna announced its intent to set up a manufacturing plant on US soil, meaning that future runs of the Ocean may be eligible for the full rebate.

This isn’t to say that Fisker couldn’t add its own manufacturing further down the line once the brand is more established. That option, according to Brinley, is certainly on the table. But as it currently stands the company is already under contract with Foxconn for its second model—the Pear. The vehicle marks theTaiwanese electronics company's first foray into automotive manufacturing. And the agreement is more difficult to assess since all that is known about the Pear is that it will be built in Foxconn’s Ohio factory.

If Fisker’s partnership with manufacturers sees considerable success, other brands may seek to emulate their model. But up to this point–at least in the EV world–no one’s yet decided to outsource production to a third party manufacturer, making Fisker’s example the largest-scale experiment of its kind. Which is why, Brinley says, we may not be able to evaluate the success of the strategy for years to come. “It's not a sprint, it's a marathon,” she says. “I think that if you take a broader view, the winner isn't necessarily decided in the next three years. A brand could stumble at the beginning and still be just fine in a decade. But it's easier to start off with a success than with a stumble.”

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