Agenda: Can Scotland lead the way in tackling music’s invisible problem?

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Jayne Stynes
Jayne Stynes

By Jayne Stynes

THE music industry has a problem, and it's a big one. Here's the thing, though – you're almost certainly unaware of it. When it comes to representing women, the industry that I've been part of for more than a decade is failing at a level that is, frankly, rather jaw-dropping.

"Hold on a second", you're probably thinking. "Just look at the charts right now – there are loads of female artists!"

And that's true. You have Kate Bush, experiencing a Stranger Things-inspired revival, along with the likes of Beyonce, Little Simz, Dua Lipa and Lizzo all charting high. Dig a little deeper, though, and it's a different story.

The problem exists behind the scenes. Let me throw some statistics at you – recent analysis of the Top 100 UK Airplay Chart uncovered that only three per cent of music producers here are female. In the US, that figure stands at two per cent.

To put this into further perspective, in engineering, where women are also underrepresented, 16.5% of the workforce is female; and in nursing, which attracts fewer men, around 11% of the workforce are male.

Academic research has highlighted startling barriers for women looking to carve their way behind-the-scenes in the music industry, from explicit sexism, to more subtle forms of exclusion, such as gendered stereotyping, gatekeeping, and limited access to opportunities. What this shows us is that even for the few who do decide to pursue a career in this area, further challenges await.

Here's the good news, though. There's a movement to change things, and it's particularly notable in Scotland. In fact, the country has a real chance to become the benchmark for what a gender-inclusive music industry looks like.

Vibrant networks like Scottish Women Inventing Music, Hen Hoose and Fase Audio are connecting women and non-binary people together, sharing skills, building confidence and facilitating spaces for creative, dynamic music communities. Scotland has songwriter/producer talent in abundance; such as Lauren Maybury of the internationally-acclaimed band Chvrches, ascending popstar Nina Nesbitt and the iconoclastic producer/DJ sensation TAAHLIAH.

Strong training pathways exist here, and robust infrastructures and collaborations are helping identify untapped female talent. At an educational level, we're starting to notice signs of real change. At the University of the West of Scotland, where I work, a third of our MA Music producer cohort is female – the highest number ever. Women are beginning to view behind-the-scenes roles in the Scottish music industry not only as attainable, but desirable.

Elsewhere in the UK, people are starting to take notice of the steps being taken here – and that's exciting. Having said that, the problem of gender-representation in music has long been invisible to the general public. The solution should not be. The Scottish music industry must shout about the steps being taken here. The louder we are, and the more resources we devote to tackling the problem, the more Scotland can continue to charge forward.

Jayne Stynes is a lecturer in Commercial Music at the University of the West of Scotland. She was previously General Manager of UK trade body the Music Managers Forum, and artist manager at Eleven Management, working with the likes of Blur, The Clash and Gorillaz.

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