A new report shows women continue to be shut out across key sectors of the contemporary Australian music scene.

Women are disproportionately underrepresented across the Australian music industry, according to a new study from the University of Sydney’s Women, Work and Leadership Research Group. The Skipping a Beat report, authored by Associate Professor Rae Cooper, Dr Amanda Coles, and PhD candidate Sally Hanna-Osborne, found that gender-based inequality is reflected most clearly by which artists gain prominence, and who occupies decision-making positions in the industry.

“Whether it be radio playlists, festival line-ups, industry awards, [or] major industry boards, male artists and voices overwhelmingly dominate the Australian music industry”, said lead author Professor Cooper.

Unsurprisingly, the report found that men dominate labour markets and occupations in the Australian music industry, with women representing only a third of all employed musicians. Women also represent only one-fifth of songwriters and composers registered with the Australasian Performing Rights Association, despite comprising 45 percent of Australians with a music qualification, with half of those studying music.

“When we look at the gender breakdown for more technical roles such as sound engineering and music production, the gap becomes even wider”, said Cooper. “Women in the music industry are not only confronted with the ‘glass ceiling’, but also ‘glass walls’, where women congregate in occupations and sectors where the majority of employees are women”.

The authors found that women musicians receive significantly fewer industry awards than their male peers. For example, of the 367 musicians featured on Triple J’s Hottest 100, an annual countdown of Australia’s most popular songs as voted by listeners, only 20 were women. The ARIA Hall of Fame has a similar gender disparity, with a total of 11 women among the 75 inductees.

The report also found that “women are chronically under-represented in key positions in the music industry”. Analysing the four peak industry bodies in music publishing, the report found that men held 83 percent of board positions in the industry.

“Representation at the board level matters”, said Cooper. “These are the bodies making key strategic decisions that affect the whole industry and without a seat at the table, the interests of women might not be considered in the decision-making process”.

The leading body representing the interests of the recorded music sector, the Australian Recording Industry Association, currently has no women on its board, with only two women board directors in its history.

The report makes a number of recommendations for achieving gender parity, with Cooper emphasising that it is crucial the industry take steps to increase women’s representation at the board level.

“We know from international research that organisations and industries with gender diversity at the senior leadership level perform better not only in terms of connecting with their customers but with business innovation”, said Cooper. “It makes good business sense for the Australian music industry to increase gender diversity in key decision making roles”.

The authors also suggest that gender equality criteria should be considered when public funding discussions take place. They cited the success of Screen NSW, which in 2016 introduced the requirement that all drama series must employ women in key creative positions in order to receive development or production funding. Within one funding cycle, the proportion of women directors increased from 22 percent to 56 percent, the proportion of women writers increased from 26 percent to 53 percent, and the proportion of women producers increased from 40 percent to 64 percent.

“Public funding by its very nature should be used in the public interest”, said Dr Coles. “Funding bodies have the power to create a stronger, more dynamic music industry by introducing gender equality criteria. Inclusive, representative music industries are the foundation of a rich and diverse music landscape. The Australian music industry must catch up to the changes happening across the creative industries more generally”.


Full report