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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.

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Billboard – The First All-Female Top Five Ever!

For the first time ever, women hold the top five spots on Billboard Top 200 Chart!

Wow, it took long enough. It’s 2010 and we are now just getting the first female top five on Billboard? Even still, it is a great success! Women hold the top five spots for the week ending January 3, 2010.

The women who hold the top five spots on billboard  are:

  1. Susan Boyle -“I Dreamed A Dream”
  2. Lady Gaga -“The Fame”
  3. Alicia Keys -“The Element Of Freedom”
  4. Mary J. Blige -“Stronger with Each Tear” 
  5. Taylor Swift -“Fearless”

First, this is just awesome overall. Plus,  the fact that they are all strong, talented women, with I think equally powerful album titles is icing the cake. The last time women held this many spots on Billboard’s Top 200 was four, in 1990 with:

  1. Bonnie Raitt -“Nick Of Time”
  2. Sinead O’Connor -“I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got”
  3. Janet Jackson -“Rhythm Nation: 1814”
  4. Paula Abdul -“Forever Your Girl”

If you remember, the early 90s was the time of Riot Grrrl, where many women and girls rebelled (not the first time though) against discrimination and devaluation in the music industry. The early 90s also saw a surge of women leading sales and singles. Even still, it was radio station policy not to play female artists “back to back” on the air. This was one of the reasons why Sarah Mclachlan started Lilith Fair in the first place. Yet, while “women in music” gets expose in waves, every few years it gets “trendy”, women/female artists still only make up a small percentage of artists in the music industry, and even less who chart singles/albums. Sure, a few get lots of exposure, but it’s mostly skin. Women are everywhere in music videos….as eye candy, not as active music makers.

So, I applaud this success of these five women, who all come from different genres, yet, come together in the charts to dominate the top five spots for January 3, 2010. I like all of them, and think all of them deserve all the praise that they get. I am just saddened that it took this long, and that even with this, women still get don’t get the R-E-S-P-E-C-T (ala Aretha) that they deserve as musicians.

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