The music industry favors the XY chromosome

Thursday, December 10, 2015 - 11:28am

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Over Thanksgiving break I devoured Carrie Brownstein’s “Hunger Makes Me A Modern Girl” in one sitting. I loved it, I couldn’t get enough. Here was this ultra-cool nice Jewish girl from Redmond, Wash., writing about her experience in one of biggest all-female bands of the ’90s. Despite all of her great insights, funny anecdotes and interesting tidbits about Sleater-Kinney, her most profound idea was also her most underdeveloped one. In one page and one page only, Carrie Brownstein indirectly slammed the music industry for its biggest problem: Women.

Brownstein writes, “Why are you in an all-female band? Why do you not have a bass player? What does it feel like to be a woman in a band? I realized that those questions — that talked about the experience — had become part of the experience itself ... There is the music itself, then there is the ongoing dialogue about how it feels. The two seem to be intertwined and also inescapable. To this day, because I know no other way of being or feeling, I don’t know what it’s like to be a woman in a band — I have nothing else to compare it to. But I will say that I doubt in the history of rock journalism and writing any man has been asked, ‘Why are you in an all-male band?’ ”

Thinking about Carrie Brownstein’s poignant reminder that women are just playing around in the male-dominated music industry and thinking about Sleater-Kinney as a band, I took it upon myself to literally count the number of all-female bands listed on Wikipedia. I thought this would be a daunting task because, wow, bands are popular, and wow, bands are created every day, but you know what? It took me not even five minutes to figure out that a total of 277 all-female bands were listed on Wikipedia; out of that seemingly large pool of all-female bands, a large population would only recognize maybe 15 of them. Cut to all-male bands, and no one even bothers to create a Wikipedia page for them; the number is far too large.

This problem boils down to the fact that the music industry is heavily dominated by men. Every major record label is run by a man, 75 percent of bands that play music festivals are men and 86.8 percent of Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees are men. This is not to say that women don’t stand a chance in the music industry because they do. Female artists like Beyoncé, Adele, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry make headlines all the time. In fact, Katy Perry is the highest earning musician of 2015 and is tied with Michael Jackson for having the most number one singles off of one album. However, it’s worth noting that these female artists that find success in the industry are solo artists. These solo artists, more often than not, will be solo pop artists. They will dance around on stage in scantily clad outfits, and they will be chased by the paparazzi day and night. What female band has found as much success as the Beatles, Coldplay or Arctic Monkeys? The answer is no female band has, but is that to say that no female band ever will?

The phrase “Male band” in fact, seems redundant because most people associate a band with being all-male. I have a habit of making bold statements, so to back this statement up I decided to enlist twenty of my nearest and dearest friends in a little poll. The question asked was, “When you hear the word 'band' what gender do you associate it with?” Much to my surprise (this is sarcasm), 19 out of 20 of my survey victims said “male.” Some even went so far as to elaborate on their one-word responses.

Julia Immerman, my dear sister and a mere junior at Hathaway Brown School for girls, responded with “Boys. All Boys.” Not only does she associate bands with boys but she associates bands with all boys.

Unfortunately, Immerman was not alone in her response. Christine Espinosa, an LSA freshman and alumna of the same all-girls school aforementioned, went so far as to say, “I only listen to male bands.” When I asked why, Chrissy said, “I don’t know of that many female bands and Paramore sucks. I also like talking about hot men.”

This sentiment was echoed when I asked Victoria Race, a current freshman at the College of Wooster and fellow music writer/lover, what gender she ascribed to bands. Clearly she said male, but she noted that “most of the music I listen to is all guys anyway so (insert emoji of the girl with her hand out in a sassy way).” When Victoria noted that most of the concerts we attend together feature male performers, she reflected with “Oh well, guys are hotter anyway.”

To shake things up, I asked a non-Millennial male what his take on the whole band situation is. When I asked my bank account (my dad) what gender he associates bands with, he replied “male — but I know that is a problem answer.” Good response, Dad. That indeed is a problem answer.

Additionally, of the female bands that do exist, no one seems to know about them. For example, Sleater-Kinney is one of the most prevalent female bands out there, yet only one person in my study knew them. Granted, my small study doesn’t represent the entire population of the world, but for a decently sized population of college coeds to respond to the question of “Do you know what Sleater-Kinney is?” with “No, is that someone’s finsta?” illustrates a much larger problem than whether or not this one band is known by many Millenials.

Hopefully my tangent has proved to you that there is a dilemma here. A vast majority of the population thinks bands are a guy thing. To make matters worse, we can conclude from my highly regarded study that people like male bands because they are hotter than female bands. If the music industry continues in the direction it’s heading, then the answer doesn’t look promising. Currently, concert producers book one all-female band for every seven all-male bands booked. This ratio is abominable considering music festivals are one of the most helpful tools in propelling a band’s career. If a small percentage of those bands are female, then how do we expect for women in music to ever be given the same opportunity for success as men are given? Are all-female bands really not as desirable as all-male bands, or is it just that there aren’t many all-female bands out there? If that’s the case, then the gender disparity in the music industry goes deeper than a few all-female bands not getting booked for music festivals. Perhaps the problem is that the more attention male bands get, the more impossible it becomes for female bands to exist.