I’ve been a college radio music director for about two years now (representing Radio UTD, the student-run radio station for the University of Texas at Dallas), and while I love my job and a lot of the people I work with and have met, I don’t think it’s that controversial to say that the music industry has a woman problem. As a subset of that community, college radio reflects (and possibly magnifies) this problem, and the clearest way I could think of to communicate that was through the college radio charts.
The CMJ Top 200 is sort of the apex of college radio charting– it shows what approximately 300 college radio stations are playing the most of each week. I took a look at the Top 200 charts for a period of six weeks, from issues 1284 to 1289, and counted each member of every band to compare the gender. Out of over 350 bands (including solo musicians), there were 1060 band members. Out of those 1060 band members, 139 of them are women, which is roughly 13%. Kind of low when women are 51% of the population, right? But wait! It gets more sad.
Out of 139 women musicians, 9 of them are women of color. So 6% of the women on the CMJ charts are not white women, which means that in total women of color make up less than 1% of the CMJ charts.
Outside of singer-songwriters and solo musicians, gender parity is not really all that common for bands on the CMJ charts. There are a few bands that are solely female (including Tegan and Sara, Dum Dum Girls, and Boy), and sightly more groups that have an equal number of men and women (including Dirty Projectors, Veronica Falls, and Blue Hawaii), but the ratio is still really low (a little more than one woman for every nine men). There were 230 groups that had more than one man in them, but only 17 groups with more than one woman, and out of those 17 groups none had more than one woman of color. It was hard to stop myself from rolling my eyes after looking at dozens of bands that had 4-5 dudes and no women. (For the record, I didn’t actually stop myself from rolling my eyes.)
I can’t really say that I’m particularly surprised with the results, but it’s clearly a sign that there is something wrong here. Part of it is probably industry sexism, but another part is the fact that men are encouraged to perform more, whereas women are encouraged to validate the performers. The gender dynamics between band/ fan of band are pretty tellingly skewed. Another probable reason is the way women musicians are covered — including breathless music reviews written by someone who’s just so darn impressed that women can make music, music reviews written by someone who is impressed that a woman musician is talented and beautiful (The old “and as a bonus, she’s easy on the eyes!”), and music reviews written by someone who thinks that “female” is a genre description.
The best thing that can be done about the lack of women on the college radio charts is to give female musicians a little boost (from both college radio music directors and just general band supporters), and if you’re starting a band, consider adding more ladies to the mix. Booking agents can start looking to specifically get more women involved in shows, and music writers can start covering women musicians fairly (without hinting at tokenism or unnecessarily sexualizing them). All of these things go doubly for women of color.
We can do better, right? I don’t think that’s too much to ask.