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.
I had a strange realization a few days ago. Ok, maybe it wasn’t a strange “ah ha!” moment, but it was one that made more sense now that I am now older, wiser, hipper, (ha!) and have plenty of knowledge (and experience) regarding gender and music.
In case you don’t know, I had my own all-female rock and roll band in high school. We were just like the Runaways, the Y2K version anyway, and tore it up as best we could mingling our teenage angst with the mold in my mom’s basement. Plus, I am sure the fumes from our artfully spray-painted cinder block walls helped to fuel our hormonal creativity.
This band was my dream band, and since it’s end, I have never been able to quite match the fun and friendship we had. Even though it didn’t end the best note, (musical pun) I have plenty of fond memories, and isn’t that really all you can ask for?
Anyways, back to my realization. Even though were were an all-female band, we mostly covered songs by male artists/bands. We belted out the best of Def Leppard, Aerosmith, Black Sabbath, Tom Petty, and Bryan Adams. However we did rock out to a few tunes such as “Hit Me With Your Best Shot” by Pat Benatar, “Cherry Bomb” by the Runaways, “Manic Monday” by the Bangles, and “Papa Don’t Preach” (Kelly Osbourne style) by Madonna.
My “ohh” moment came a few days ago. I was listening to some of our old tracks, and I realized that when we covered certain man-band songs, we changed the gendered pronouns. Now, that doesn’t seem like a big deal on the surface right? Since we were an all-girl band, it made sense to change the pronouns that all-male bands used.
But now I realize, it was more than that.
We weren’t just switching them because we were a “chic band,” but we were changing them to maintain a heterosexual song script. The “voice” of the song in this case was the gendered narrative, not necessarily the physical voice of the singer(s). We didn’t do this for every song of course, only the ones about relationships and/or sexual scenarios. If we didn’t change the “shes” and “hers” in the song, (sometimes “baby” and “darlin'” too) the song’s meaning changed. What is the result of this switch? The underlying heteronormativity of the song remained intact. What’s that you say? It’s a term that means that the “default” or “assumed” sexual orientation is heterosexual, and it is made to appear normal, natural, and desired. Leaving the pronouns the way they were would have signaled a different sexual story (to some of these highly sexual songs) and that disrupts the status quo, if you will.