Thursday, April 7, 2016

Male Dominance in Music

There is doubtless a problem with female representation in the music industry.  Of course, I knew this was true of the popular music, but Mr. Huntington’s presentation opened my eyes to injustices in classical and orchestral music as well.
I found our readings interesting; like Marin Alsop, the first female conductor of the BBC Last Night Of Proms said, I’m also surprised that there should be a “first” for women these days. I don’t know much about the orchestral music industry, but it’s shocking that there was never a female conductor of a major American group until the 21st century. I also noted that the women talked about as masters of their instruments, Nicola Benedetti and Tine Thing Helseth who asserted that “sex isn’t what sells classical music” tell a different story when you search them on Google Images. The results are a collection of glamour shots, with the women smiling and holding up their instruments, small reminders that it is their talents the photos are supposed to suggest. If it’s true that sex doesn’t sell classical music, then we would see many more “unattractive” female musicians rising to positions of prominence. It’s also very telling how much the proportion of female musicians in orchestras increased after the institution of blind auditions- Jessica Duchen’s article cites a 25% increase.
I enjoyed our brief lesson regarding the female role in music history, studying mini-biographies on some influential female composers. I even looked up Hildegard of Bingen’s music (and actually somewhat enjoyed it). I think one of the most striking things for me was that a female composer’s success and ability to publish her music depended completely on men. The women who were able to publish their music were encouraged by their fathers, while the women who were not able were discouraged by their fathers. The women truly had no say with regards to their musical careers.
My favorite part was listening to and trying to tell whether the composer/writer of a song was male or female. It was especially fun with the classical examples, where you had to rely on the mood evoked, the key, and the interaction of the instruments. I got the classical test right, but on the pop music question, I was unable to identify which song, the Katy Perry song or the Taylor Swift one,  was written by a woman, though to be fair it was a trick question and they were both male-written. Realizing that even the Taylor Swift songs championed as female songwriting were written by males, I wondered how much the male bias in composition exists even today.
I decided to conduct a bit of an experiment regarding contemporary music, trying to figure out if the field was male-dominated in both artistry and writers. I used the Billboard Hot 100 and took the first 50 songs, categorizing them into performed by male written by male, performed by male written by female, performed by female written by male, and performed by female written by female. If a song didn’t fit these categories, I counted it as “other”. If it was written by a group of mostly males it counted as male-written, and the same with females. 74% of Top 50 songs were performed by a man or mostly male collaborators, and 80% were written by a man or mostly male collaborators. Only one song performed by a male was written by a woman, and only 2 songs were performed by a woman and written by mostly women. A group of 7 songs were written by an equal number of males and females, 4 performed by a both-genders group and 3 performed by women who usually wrote the songs with their male producers. Intrigued by this blatant sexism in popular music, I wanted to see if my music choices were just as male-dominated, so I conducted the same test using 50 songs from my Spotify, on shuffle. Much to my chagrin, 70% of my songs were performed by men and 74% written by men. My selections were more diverse, but only slightly. Drawing from my statistics class, I conducted a chi-squared test of homogeneity to see if the two sample groups were ultimately similar enough for any difference not to be statistically significant. My test calculated a P value of 0.4835, which is much higher than the alpha-value of 0.05 under which the homogeneity of two groups is rejected. My music choices are basically the same as those of the blatantly sexist music industry.
I will admit I have some problematic choices. I know in class, Cole was talking about the song Paranoid by Ty Dolla $ign, which I actually kind of love, albeit ironically (I know it would horrify my mother). I listen to a significant amount of hip hop and rap music. I know that often the content of my music is misogynistic. What surprises me is that I listen to so much more music by males than females. When Mr. Huntington talked about the fact that much music performed by women is written by men, I thought of indie female artists I liked, women I knew wrote their own songs, like Ingrid Michaelson or Regina Spektor. I do like these artists, but now I realize that even with whole albums worth of female written songs in my library, male writing and performance continues to dominate. I have the same musical prejudices as the rest of America.

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