The fact that the struggle of women to achieve parity with men in the industry continues in vain is no surprise. In November, Forbes’ ranking of the highest-earning musicians of 2017 was overwhelmingly male, with high-rolling women such as Taylor Swift, Adele and Beyonce earning less than artists such as Elton John and The Weeknd.
Men also dominate in chart performance, with Ed Sheeran responsible for four of the top six most popular songs in the UK charts in 2017 and an entirely male top 10 - Dua Lipa, who had the best-selling single by a woman last year, appeared in 11th place.
But behind the scenes, the gulf between men and women in the music industry is even wider. As The Telegraph has found, just 17.5 per cent of all writers on Brit Award-nominated songs are women.
Alexandra Lilah Denton, a singer, songwriter and producer who performs as Shura, appeared on the BBC Sound of Poll in 2015 and went on to reach number 13 in the UK album charts with her self-written album. While Denton is one of an already small percentage of British songwriters, she is also one of an even smaller subset of female producers – The Telegraph found that of producers behind Brit Award-nominated songs, just 5 per cent were women.
Denton says that she’s such a rarity in the industry that she’s never even written with another woman: “It’s slightly bizarre,” she tells The Telegraph, “of all the countless conversations you have in this industry about who you should write with, who could elevate your songwriting to that elusive point that will achieve that radio magic, nobody ever suggested that I should write with a woman.”
“That doesn’t mean there aren’t amazing songwriters,” she continues, “Dua Lipa, some of her biggish hits were written by women, but it always feels like you’re the odd one out when you’re a woman.” Dua Lipa’s New Rules, which is up for a 2018 Best Single Brit Award, was written by two women, Caroline Ailin and Emily Warren, with Ian Kirkpatrick. Its video has just passed one billion views on YouTube, making Lipa the youngest female artist on the website to do so.
Bella Podpadec, who writes and performs as part of the all-female indie group Dream Wife, says they faced similar resistance from the industry at the start of their careers. “Writing is really important for us and it’s something we really love, that is precious within our unit,” she says. “But when we were speaking to labels there was a real pull for it to be taken out of our hands, for other writers to be introduced and to de-centralize that power. It was almost like there was an assumption that women couldn’t deliver the songs. It took us a while to realise that things aren’t fair.”
When asked if Dream Wife were questioned about the origin of their songs, Podpadec said it happened “relentlessly”. “It happened just two days ago,” she says, “people are always surprised [that we write our own music]. It’s a very, very common thread.”
Denton also says that pop trends are partially to blame: “When I was signed, there were a lot of women making bedroom-production RnB pop, and that’s what the record labels were signing.”
In January, Neil Portnow, head of the US Recording Academy, caused industry-wide offence when he defended the Grammy Awards’ mis-representation of women by saying that female artists needed to “step up”. “What I think he meant was that women need to show that they’re here,” says Denton. “I know that’s not right, and it shouldn’t be like that, but I think we need to do that: we need to join organisations, we need to get onto judging panels. Because if you have a bunch of middle-aged white men coming up with a list of music they think is good, it’s not going to be very varied.”
The BPI, the organisational body behind the Brit Awards, have been trying to combat the gender imbalance of the awards’ Voting Academy. In 2016, they overhauled the membership to shift the gender balance from 70 per cent male to 30 per cent female to 52 per cent male to 48 per cent female. They also increased BAME representation from 16 per cent in 2016 to 24 per cent.
Vick Bain, CEO of the British Academy of Songwriters, Composers and Authors (BASCA), suggests other measures, including ensuring record labels and music publishers sign equal numbers of men and women.
Popadec, however, has a more practical approach. “It’s quite hard for women to win in these situations,” she says, “you’ve just got to keep doing what you do as hard as you can and not take no for an answer. But it does feel like there are lots of female groups around at the moment. It’s so exciting to be meeting teenage girls at our shows, knowing that they’ve seen women performing on stage, and that’s normality for them.”
Dream Wife are set to play Standon Calling this summer, between July 26th-29th. Full details and tickers are available from standon-calling.com