Female Musicians and News (Un)Coverage

So when do female artists get news coverage?

That is a question I have been pondering over the past month. I use a news feed reader to syndicate various current  music magazines and websites such a Rolling Stone, Spin, Pitchfork, Exclaim, NPR Music, BBC Music, Blender, Vibe, Venus, as well as, a few smaller ones, and a local Seattle, WA source or two (75 total feeds, 37 different sources.) I then filter out the women in music news for Jukebox Heroines. But, as I have noticed when I scan the headlines, female artists seem to get press for things that have nothing to do with their musicianship. Shocker! Wanting to actually see how poorly music outlets cover female musicians, I decided to do an informal survey.

So, from December 1, 2010 (midnight) to January 7, 2011 (midnight), I cataloged the women in music headlines from my feed reader. “Women in music” articles where articles that mentioned a female artist, an all-female band, musical group with at least one female member, or something specific relating to women in music, such as gender imbalances, women on the top charts, ect, in the article headline. But what I wanted more specifically to find out is when they are covered, are they talked about as musicians in terms of their musicianship, or other things not related to their profession?

Musicianship here will be defined as: Information about touring, music creation, chart success, new music/albums,  music videos, concert footage, personal interviews, collaborations, and/or events. These are the things you expect to read about a musician in a music magazine.

I noted how many article headlines mentioned female artists or bands. Once I had this data, I looked for patterns in news coverage. The patterns fellow into the following categories:

Musicianship, Appearance/Sexuality, Babies!, Relationships, Emotions, and Miscellaneous Non-Music Related Activities

Here are the numbers:

  • Total news feeds – 75 (37 different sources)
  • Total music articles in my feed – 5,318
  • Total “women in music” articles –358
  • Total articles on musicianship –224
  • Total articles not on musicianship –134
  • Total days of the study – 38
  • Average “women in music” news article per day – 9.4
  • Average “women in music” article relating to musicianship – 5.9
  • Average “women in music” article per source per day – .25
  • Average musicianship article per source per day – .16

News about female artists accounted for 6.7% of all music articles in the feeds. News that was actually about female artists’ musicianship was 4.2%.

I then broke down the articles that did not have to do with musicianship into the following categories. The number of articles per category are listed below.

  • Appearance/Sexuality – 19
  • Babies! – 6*
  • Relationships – 28
  • Emotions – 5
  • Health/Death – 21**
  • Misc. Non-Music Related Activities – 55

So, to sum. Women were 6.7% of all total music articles from Dec. 1-Jan.7. and 4.2% of all articles actually about their musicianship.

Out of those articles that mentioned women, 62.6% actually discussed news that was about the artist as a musician and not other endeavors personal or professional. The other 37.4% did not mention the artists’ musicianship.

Female artists who were not covered as artists were talked about in relation to their relationship/marital status 20.9% of the time, pregnancy/children 4.5%, their looks 14.2%, their feelings/emotional outbursts 3.7%, Health or Death 15.7%, and general non-music related activities such as social or political actions, legal issues, finances, gossip  41.0% of the time.

* Six articles in this category were about Mariah Carey’s twins.
** Two news topics (Aretha Franklin’s cancer and the death of Teena Marie) accounted for all of the Health category.

Music sources reported on women in music an average of less than 1 article per day over research period.

Examples of news relating to musicianship:

Examples of news NOT relating to musicianship:

*** For a complete list of articles used, please see notes below.

Refreshingly, if you were a female musician, two-thirds of the time you would be reported on as a musician. But the other third, everything else as on the table. So basically, if you would like to improve your press as a female artist, have a baby, breakup with someone, or do something that has nothing to do with your music, like opening a gym or getting sued.

Why is this important to research?

  • Women’s exposure in mainstream music outlets is severely lacking
  • Women’s representations in mainstream music outlets is stereotypical and off-topic

It’s hard enough getting any press as a female musician. You get the token “women in music” issues of Rolling Stone or Revolver, but even then, that press coverage is miniscule in compared to your male counter parts, and often makes references to how “hot” you are. The less you dress, the better the press. Then, add on top of that our culture’s fascination with female entertainer’s sex lives, ovaries, and general non-professional life, you can see how these numbers make sense. Why would we focus on and take seriously their creative, active, work lives? They’re dating someone or gaining weight!

We don’t expect female musicians to actually be intelligent, independent, and empowered art makers, but either manufactured for top dollar, or at the very least, eye-candy distractions. There is a long history of female musicians not being taken seriously as artists in the industry, and while some women have been able to break the sonic glass ceiling, they still contend with stereotype, sexism, and general devaluation of their talents. It’s the hazards of being a musician while female.

Considerations for future research:

I may repeat this study at a later time, with much more rigor dedicated to cataloging the articles. Also, a longer period of time for research may yield more accurate results, and possibly, a better understanding of exactly how women are represented and misrepresented in music outlets. I imagine it will yield similar results, if not more of an emphasis on non-music related activities.

It would also be beneficial to note similar representations among male musicians/bands, in terms of personal relationships, babies, appearances, ect, but I suspect news articles of this nature for men are few and far between considering our culture’s preoccupation with women as sex objects, traditional femininity, and celebrity excess.

Hence, yet again, another reason for this blog and Jukebox Heroines. Giving female artists credit, respect, and exposure in the boys club.

I welcome your thoughts and comments on my mini-study either in the findings or methods. If anyone would like to repeat the study, or has similar topic findings, please let me know. Below, you can see my research caveats and notes.

Research caveats:

Now, there is a bit of a margin of error to this study for several reasons.

1) Simple human error. I could have missed some artists/bands that were female simply because I missed them while scanning the hundreds of articles day, or I just didn’t know that the artist/band was female or had female members due to not being familiar with them.

2) Duplicates. Some news feeds duplicated their news stories either by distributing them to two different topic feeds, or running the same news piece twice with a different title.

3) News Story Recycling. This informal study does not take into account the same news story, ie, Aretha Franklin’s hospital visit, being recycled by every other music magazine/blog once one news source breaks it. Her story, as well as Teena Marie’s death accounted for all of the Health news articles. While this doesn’t necessarily matter for the parameters of my study, (I was interested in the number of women in music news stories, not necessarily which stories) it is interesting to note that a bulk of the women in music news that were reported was the exact same story on each news outlet. Not necessarily a bad thing. However, it’s like they aren’t putting any effort into looking for fresh, new music news on female artists. Oh! Rolling Stone mentioned so and so, let’s mention so and so. I may not have the budget to scour for new female artists in the ways I would like, but I am sure some of these major outlets do!

4) Missing Sources. There may be some music magazine/blog/source outlets that I may be missing. If you know of a really great and prolific source, please let me know for future reference!

For a list of women in music articles noted in this study, please see go here. For my complete music feed, go here.

Feed Sources: !Exclaim, SPIN, All About The Music, Alternative Press Magazine, Sound Opinions on Demand, BBC Music, Billboard, Blender, Bitch Magazine, BUST Magazine, CBC Music News, Country Weekly Magazine, Decibel Magazine, Dusted Magazine, Femalemusician’s Blog, FILTER Magazine, KEXP, Girl Germs, Glide Magazine, Grrrl Sounds, Jezebel, Madalyn’s Blog, Music Connection, NPR Music, SupPop, NME, Paste, Pitchfork, Revolver, ROCKHER, Rolling Stone, Studio 360, The Seattle Times: Music & nightlife, Tom Tom Magazine, Venus Zine, & Vibe.

Post photo via j/k_lolz.

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Posted on January 17, 2011, in Pick Guards - Music Analysis and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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