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New Research Shows Extent of Gender Inequity in the Music Industry

The first UK Musicians’ Census has found that there are still disparities for women when its comes to safe workplaces and financial equity 

 

Delivered by Help Musicians and the Musicians’ Union (MU), the first UK Musicians’ Census is a long-term project that will run every three to five years to measure changes in the music sector over time, respond to musicians’ needs, and to improve the future of the industry.

The latest Women Musicians Insight Report, is the fifth in a series of Insight Reports which each share findings on key Census themes, such as LGBTQ+ musicians and mental well being. 

All musicians aged 16 and over “who earn or intend to earn money” from music were invited to respond to the survey. Walnut Unlimited, a market research agency, was appointed to develop the survey, manage the data collection, and run the initial analysis of the data. 

In total, the Census gathered 5,867 musicians’ responses from across the UK — of this figure, the March 2024 Women Musicians Insight Report shows data related to 2,526 musicians (43%) who identified as women.

More than two thirds (69%) of all women respondents were across the 25 to 54 age groups. There is a higher representation of younger women — with 47% of those aged 16 to 55 — however, women’s representation drops significantly after the age of 54. 

Women report age discrimination (30%) at significantly higher rates than men (21%); more women claim primary caring responsibilities than musicians of all other genders, and are more likely to report caring responsibilities as a career barrier in music. 

Conversely, women musicians have higher levels of both general and music education — with 14% more women having a music degree and 15% having a postgraduate music qualification. 

 

Musicians demographics

Musician demographics chart (source: Women Musicians Insight Report)

 

The Census also revealed that 88% of women report their career had been restricted in at least one way. While this is prevalent in other gender groups, the significant disparities for women included the cost of training and difficulty with finding childcare.

Further, 17% of musicians reported being in debt, rising to 30% amongst those with a mental health condition, and to 28% for Black/​Black British musicians.

Experiencing or witnessing discrimination was reported by 87% of women musicians, compared to 65% of men. These challenges are heightened for women musicians from the Global Majority and for disabled women.

Additionally, 51% of women reported experiencing gender discrimination, compared to 6% of men. Sexual harassment disproportionately impacts women in music, with 32% of women reporting being sexually harassed while working as a musician, compared to 5% of men. 

In all, 11% of women state they have reported sexual harassment they have experienced or witnessed in music; in other sectors, 62% of those who report work-related abuse or harassment as a career barrier, are women.

Women’s certainty about their future in music was similar to musicians overall, with women just slightly less likely than others to say they would still be working as a musician after both one year (91% vs 93%) and five years (83% vs 84%).

Regarding salary, women experience a small overall gender pay gap with an average annual income from music of £19,850 compared to £21,750 for men; the gap is widest after women earn £34,001 per year. 

Of all respondents, 152 musicians (3%) reported earning £70,000 or more from music each year — 79% of these are men, and 19% are women. 

Of the 79% of women who are performing musicians (compared to 80% overall), 11% of women reported being a producer, 3% reported being a DJ, and 2% of women reported being studio/mastering engineers and live sound engineers.

Women respondents to the Census were more likely to work in classical and musical theater than any other genre. The largest gender gap is in UK rap — 8% of women report being in this genre, compared to 16% of musicians of all other genders.

 

The data across all Census reports were collected via a 15-minute online voluntary survey held between January and March 2023. 

“The Musicians’ Census 2023 not only offers unique insight into the make-up of the musicians’ community across the UK but also paints a picture of the distinctive set of challenges musicians face to sustain a career in music,” said Help Musicians’ chief executive, Sarah Woods on their website

To reach more musicians, the project partnered with 20 representatives from across the music industry. This stakeholder group helped shape and share the survey to their respective communities, and provide feedback on the results — helping make the Census as inclusive as possible. 

Participating organizations included the Arts Council England, Association for Electronic Music, Association of British Orchestras, Attitude is Everything, Black Lives in Music, Drake Music Org, Drake Music Scotland, English Folk Dance and Song Society, and Featured Artists Coalition.

More partners included the Ivors Academy, Music Managers Forum, PiPA, PPL, PRS Foundation, Punch Records, Royal Society of Musicians of Great Britain, Safe In Sound in NI, She Said So, The F List, The Independent Society of Musicians, and UK Music. 

Responses from these communities further revealed that women’s representation was higher among those of the Global Majority than among white respondents — 54% of Asian respondents were women, as were 49% of Black respondents. Women comprised 43% of respondents from white ethnicities.

 

Musicians demographic - respondents from the Global Majority

Musician demographics — respondents from the Global Majority

 

Overall, women’s longevity in music matches that of musicians of all other genders. However, there are 30% of musicians of all other genders with over 30 years of experience, compared to just 20% of women. 

This statistic reflects the age profile in the Census sample, where women tend to be younger and as such have not worked in music for as long. 

According to the survey, multiple barriers are causing women to leave the music industry, and more research is needed on this to alleviate them. 

Further, 47% of women from the Global Majority reported experiencing racism, and 38% reported witnessing others experiencing racism, compared to 21% of white women. 

 

type of discrimination

 

To conclude, the report suggests that sector-wide efforts are needed to “move the dial for women in music.”

These include removing structural barriers to careers as musicians for women; preventing and acting on discrimination; improving equity amongst different groups of women in music; and facilitating women’s work as musicians in all music genres and roles — ensuring that no music is off limits due to gender. 

The Help Musicians charity has formed new genre-based programs for women and gender expansive musicians to champion and invest in women’s creative and career development. 

In light of the Census data on workplace and sexual harassment, the charity has redesigned its Bullying and Harassment service for musicians to ensure adequate recognition for sexual harassment, and to make the workplace safer. 

The Help Musicians’ sister charity, Music Minds Matter is also working to create safe spaces for women to develop peer support and access mental health provision. 

Additionally, to create gender equity and better workplace measures, Musicians’ Union (MU) are continuing to lobby on issues including childcare, maternity pay, carers, and gender pay gaps.

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