Women making music: The COVID impact
Photo: Cedrik Mosquera
The last 12 months have been marked mostly by the coronavirus pandemic, which has pushed much of life to the digital world. 70% of independent artists overall spent much of the time over lockdowns creating more music, many taking more autonomy over their own marketing and production. Going online has opened up opportunities for creation and collaboration free from the same restrictive dynamics and challenges in the traditional practices of the industry – a factor felt strongly by female creators.
The pandemic went beyond a purely digital transition, however. It also forced a reprioritisation both in terms of business strategy and society as a whole, offering opportunity for change and innovation. A summer of BLM protests pushed society and industries equally to consider diversity and equity in policy and practice, ushering another step forward from the progress of the #metoo movement.
Not all was positive. Many artists pointed to the progress of BLM and #metoo being largely in words, and not as often in action. While conversations have opened up and it is now freely acceptable to discuss discrimination and harassment, hiring practices, pay, and unconscious biases have not necessarily improved to the same extent. Moreover, throughout the pandemic women’s jobs have been more at risk than men’s, and work from home alongside school closures has forced many women to take on the mantle of primary carer – in a huge step back for career parity.
Yet for others, working from home has sparked new creativity and workflows. One of the most prominent issues faced by women in music is sexual harassment, perpetuated by a male-dominated industry described often as a ‘boys club’. Many interviewees and respondents in our recent global study of female creators in music said that working online has made them feel safer when meeting men, and the rise of online networks have boosted the options for collaboration and creation – even if it has not yet been beneficial to monetisation or live performance opportunities. In fact, in a PRS for Music press release today it was revealed that the number of women registering as professional songwriters and composers in the UK was up 12.3% year-on-year in 2020. Working online is not always an entirely positive solution – more than three quarters of the women surveyed had experienced abusive or negative behaviour related to their gender online – but for many, it has opened new doors and created safer working spaces.
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The progression of women in the music industry is largely parallel to the tale of independent artists as a whole. The current structure of the music industry largely favours traditional rights ownership and label agreements, but no longer suits the streaming-first digital world. As new tools, collaborative spaces, accessible online training and distribution networks enable independent artists to find their footing in a democratised creative landscape, so too are women – as well as every other disenfranchised group – able to move forward into the open frontier and build a better industry. While many issues persist, change doesn’t happen overnight – and early signs of new progress are showing.
MIDiA recently fielded a global survey on the experiences of 400 female creators in the music industry, asking them to tell their own stories as the foundation of our upcoming report in conjunction with TuneCore and Believe for Women’s History Month.
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