Female British artists underrepresented on UK radio, survey finds

Fewer than one in five songs in top 100 airplay chart so far this year were by British female acts

British female musicians are dramatically underrepresented on UK radio stations, a study has found.

A survey of the top 100 songs by British acts to feature in the UK airplay chart between 1 January and 15 August this year found that only 19% were by female acts. Male artists accounted for 51%, and mixed-gender collaborations made up 30%.

The inequality was starker still behind the scenes: 80% of British songwriters on the surveyed tracks were male, 19% female and 1% non-binary. Only 3% of producers were female.

Becky Hill, whose 2019 collaboration with the male DJ Sigala was among the most played tracks in the period, said the findings reflected the challenges facing women in the music industry.

“Whether it is about what they look like or what they write about in their songs, or how they conduct their day-to-day lives, it would appear that women need to be more than just talented to be accepted and successful,” she said.

Kamille, real name Camille Purcell, who has co-written for Mabel and co-wrote and co-produced Break Up Song by Little Mix, described the report’s findings as shocking.

“To see that women feature so low across the board in this industry is devastating and something I feel every day working in music,” she said. “This needs to change. We need more support for women. Our voices, creativity and talent need to be heard and seen just as loudly and visibly as our male counterparts.”

The Gender Disparity Data report was compiled by Linda Coogan Byrne, a music industry consultant, and Nadia Khan, of Women in CTRL, which represents women in music and arts industries.

It also assessed the gender disparity in the 20 most played songs by British artists on 31 UK radio stations in the year to 1 June.

Female acts accounted for just 10% of the most played songs by British artists on BBC Radio 1 and on Radio 6 Music during the 12-month period. On BBC Radio 1Xtra the figure was 14.3%, on BBC Asian Network 20%, and on Radio 2 it was 40%.

Becky Hill performing in Birmingham, 28 February 2020.
Becky Hill performing in Birmingham, 28 February 2020. Photograph: Jason Sheldon/REX/Shutterstock

A spokesperson for Radio 1 said the station was “committed to doing more to support and celebrate a diverse range of music across our platforms, from festival slots right through to the playlist, with an average of 45% of playlisted songs featuring female artists”.

A spokesperson for BBC Radio 6 Music said: “The current 6 Music playlist – 17th-23 August – has 14 out of 33 songs featuring female performers. From 27 May 2019 to 31st May 2020, the average percentage of female artists on the 6 Music playlist was 44.3%. There have been a number of weeks in 2020 in which 55% of music on the playlist has been by female artists. The 6 Music Festival in March 2020 also featured 45% female performers and 16% male/female bands.”

In commercial radio, the Bauer Media stations Absolute Radio and Kerrang! and Global Media’s Radio X had no female acts among their top 20 most played songs by British artists. British women accounted for 15% of the top 20 on Kiss FM, 5% on Kiss Fresh, and a sector high of 30% on Bauer’s Magic FM.

A Bauer Media spokeswoman said: “We are committed to working with labels and the wider music industry to improve female representation – particularly within rock and indie, which are both genres that are historically male-dominated. We agree there is more to be done and we will continue to improve the variety of music we play in order to rightfully reflect the audiences that we serve.”

Global’s Capital FM had a 5% female top 20, Capital Xtra 10%, Heart 25% and Smooth Radio 20%. A spokesperson for Global declined to comment.

The report surveyed British domestic artists whose songs are registered on Radiomonitor, the industry-standard airplay monitoring service used by labels, management and PR companies to evaluate the airtime of commercial releases in the UK market.

Hill said that despite the chart success of her collaborations with the likes of Sigala and the Dutch DJs Tiësto and Oliver Heldens, she often felt overshadowed by her male collaborators, and she had fought, mostly unsuccessfully, to appear in the music videos.

“I felt like my voice and songwriting was being used for success, but my name and face were very much treated as secondary to the producer’s fame,” she said. “This impacted overall public knowledge of my artistry, and so still to this day people don’t recognise my name, yet they know my catalogue.”

An equivalent report on Irish radio airplay published by Linda Coogan Byrne with the assistance of Áine Tyrrell in June said many stations had no female acts in their 20 most played songs in the sample period.

Eleanor McEvoy, the chair of the Irish Music Rights Organisation, said gender disparity on radio appeared to be worsening.

“The unconscious bias towards male musicians, songwriters and performers is staggering. Looking at these figures I’m frustrated at the talent that we’re losing, the song that will be missed and the voices that we’re never going to hear,” she said.

BBC research last year found that three times as many male as female pop stars appeared on the biggest singles of 2018, and suggested female acts were losing exposure in an era heavy on collaborations.

• This article was amended on 21 August 2020 because an earlier version said that Women in CTRL produced a report on Irish radio airplay. In fact the report, on gender disparity in top 20 played artists, was by Linda Coogan Byrne with the assistance of Áine Tyrrell.


Laura Snapes

The GuardianTramp

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