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.
Accuracy and oppression? Where in the world is she going with this? Well, I shall tell you.
I recently read an article on NPR.org about a new rap anthology that is being released. The article “Why The Errors In ‘The Anthology Of Rap’ Matter” by Jacob Ganz was interesting, but I felt it failed to mention a few key issues which I think are extremely important. Though the article’s topic isn’t specifically about women in music, there is a connection here between oppressed groups and their representation (or misrepresentation) by those who would catalog them. This anthology of rap book and it’s shortcomings I feel are very similar to the misrepresentations, purposeful discounting of experience, and just sloppy journalism many Riot Grrrls experienced in the early 1990s.
So, let me explain.
This is an anthology of rap lyrics. Awesome. Problem: lyrics are wrong! And some people think “Oh well, our bad. No big deal.” Say what?
Would you have such a nonchalant attitude if this was a Beatles anthology of song lyrics? I highly doubt it. If this book was titled “Classic Rock Anthology,” there would be hordes of unpaid, starving, and paisley clad interns making sure every comma and contraction was painstakingly correct. And then, they would bring in a new batch of interns, and check it all over again.
Marginalized groups have always had a difficult time having their voices heard and heard in a way, shape, and form that they choose. Rap music is no exception. Often those in privileged positions in society will try to “speak” for these groups, showing their “expertise” on their issues and problems. This usually ends up being patronizing and yet another way for the actual people in these groups to be silenced. Ya know, the man trying to tell other people about their own history and culture and what not.