Where are the women on the college radio charts?

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.

6 thoughts on “Where are the women on the college radio charts?

  1. Great article. I am curious how many bands have women in them out of the 350 bands instead of breaking it down per member. I also raise a flag to the industry sexism as a reason seeing as what drives the college radio chart to some extent are the people that promote to it and also the people they promote to. So just a quick count shows me that there are roughly half of the promotion companies have a strong female presence. (While pirate does not at this moment 4 of our first five employees have been female). Also worth noting would be the number of female music directors. While I do not have the number in front of me I will say a large portion of my stations mds are female, I will look this up later this week. So with a good number of the college radio workforce being female it seems as if they would be able to push female artists higher or on the charts if they so desired. Your second point of there not being an initial push of making music seems to be more on point. I think it would be interesting to look at how artists with female members did in relation to male only bands. I find as a promoter my records with a female vocalist do better on average than male only bands. Recent examples include ( not just my records) Tegan and sara, chur ves, (sp) Kate Nash, amanda Palmer, rILO kiley. I like the discussion you have brought up a lot and think it is a very worthy conversation. Well done.

    • Thanks! I will go check my chart and count how many bands had women in them, and I’ll post it here later. I didn’t address the number of female MDs and promoters in this post, but I’m pretty sure that number is higher than 13%. Which is significant, because the point I was trying to make was about how women aren’t equally (or even close) represented in bands as men are.

      As for “industry sexism,” I didn’t mean that I think everyone in the industry is sexist or maliciously biased against women, but I more meant that the odds aren’t in their favor. Unfortunately most of female band members that I counted were just as you mentioned — vocalists, and still outnumbered by groups with male vocalists. Most artists on the charts that are women, notably Thao, Dum Dum Girls, and Tegan and Sara, were already well-established, and that definitely gives them a boost that other women musicians wouldn’t have. I do think the music industry has pretty deep-seated sexism issues, but I think the way that manifests itself most in college radio is through lack of representation. Who gets signed to a label, whose album is promoted more heavily, who is more likely to be taken seriously by an MD — all of those things are microcosms of a bigger issue that isn’t necessarily easily solved by having more female MDs and promoters (even though I absolutely agree that helps).

  2. Interesting also to look at the cover images of CMJ currently on the site. Out of eight issues shown on the front page, only one has any women pictured. I snapped a screengrab in case you want it.

    I was wondering: Does genre factor into this at all? Do the genres in heavy rotation on college radio have better or worse representation than other genres that aren’t so visible on the charts?

    • Apparently the bands that are on the cover images are the ones who reach the highest position on the CMJ charts. (I would like that screengrab, though!) So not only are there few women on the charts, but it’s unlikely that a band with a woman in it will be in the top charting position, it would seem.

      As far as genre goes, my guess would be that since the CMJ charts are heavily focused on traditional indie rock/pop acts, there is probably less diversity there than there would be on, say, the Billboard charts. I would be interested in gathering data so I could make that comparison.

  3. I have been handing the music director duties at my indie/volunteer/community radio station for the past few months, and one thing I can tell you is that it has a lot to do with what bands are being promoted in general. I love female musicians, and personally I tend to gravitate towards them, so it’s notable when I come across a new one in the piles of CDs and MP3s sent to us. What I mean to say is that it’s not all the onus of the MDs and DJs to get women charted, but also on the indie labels to sign them or the promoters to get the word out about unsigned bands.

    • I agree with that 100%. I was the MD for two years at Radio UTD, and our charts were largely male due to what I got sent as well as what DJs preferred to play (we were free format). I don’t attribute responsibility to individuals as much as I do to systematic bias, which is harder to break and also can’t be pinned on any particular person (and it shouldn’t!). I hope that if people are more aware of the issue, they’ll all work a little harder to eradicate it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *