Where The Riot Grrrls At?

18 April 2016

Take this pink ribbon off my eyes

I’m exposed and it’s no big surprise

Don’t you know exactly where I stand

This world is forcing me to hold your hand

In 1996, neo ska band No Doubt released their breakthrough single ‘Just A Girl’. The song was blasted through radios all around Australia, finishing at number 22 on the ARIA charts for that year. It’s not hard to imagine why this particularly catchy tune was such a hit with teenage girls preoccupied with ’90s grunge and existential angst. Punk rock music introduced adolescent girls to second-wave feminism and encouraged them to disrupt the patriarchal discourse that was perpetuated by the male-dominated music industry. A new ‘riot grrrl’ subculture of music and rebellion was giving girls new ways to express themselves.

Back in 1996, increasing numbers of women were entering into the music industry. Madonna was expressing her gender in new and unconventional ways. Japanese all-girl bands like Shonen Knife were gaining larger followings in Australia and in the US. Toni Braxton was singing about getting her private parts touched and the Spice Girls were telling you what they really really wanted.

In 1996, out of the top ten songs on the ARIA charts, four of them were by solo female artists or all-female bands. Another two were by bands with one or more female members. Overall, in 1996, the ARIA’s top ten saw a pretty even split of male/female artists. Proof that women were breaking ground in both the music industry and on radio.

Fast forward to 2016 and it feels like we’ve gone backwards. Seven of the songs in the top ten of the ARIA charts last year were by male artists or all-male bands.

In the majority of workforces and industries, women are still struggling to establish themselves as equal to men. It’s not hard to imagine why, when a hundred years ago, middle class women were not expected to work or earn money at all. Today, those hundreds of years of denying women access to the workforce has resulted in an (approximate) 18 per cent pay gap between women and men. In the music industry however, the pay gap is more like 19.5 per cent.

But are women actually less likely to succeed in the music industry than men? The answer is yes, probably. The statistics say so at least. Only one in three Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) nominations are for female artists and only one in five artists registered with the Australian Performing Right Association (APRA) in Australia are women. Even in music festivals, women on average barely make up a third of the line-up.

But that’s hardly surprising when the boardrooms are so male dominated. ARIA’s CEO is male and its public board is made up entirely of men. As of May last year, APRA, a copyright collective of Australian composers, musicians and music publishers, had twelve male members and only one female member on their public board.

The Hottest 100 is a yearly competition held by Triple J where the public votes for the best songs of that year. It was while live tweeting and listening to this competition this Australia Day that I really became concerned for the diminishing status of women in the music industry. Never has a woman, in the 23-year history of the Hottest 100, won first place. This year saw no solo female artist get a spot in even the top ten.

But this isn’t because the general public doesn’t like music by women. It’s because solo female artists and all-female bands made up 16 per cent of all Triple J plays in 2015 compared to 61 per cent for male artists and all-male bands. It’s easy to conclude that male artists are getting more votes because they’re getting far more airtime on Triple J.

“Guess I’m not the only girl to lose her confidence in music after leaving school,” remarked one friend after viewing these statistics.

You can’t really deny that the music industry is a boy’s club. Young women trying to break into the industry are often put in compromising positions, relying on older men in positions of power with record labels to help them produce and release their music. This can be seen even recently, with Ke$ha’s lawsuit to get out of her contract with Sony after accusations of mental and physical abuse against her Sony-contracted record producer Dr Luke.

In order to succeed in the music industry women need airtime from radio stations. They need their listeners to buy their music and tickets to their shows. They need their fans to speak out in support of them when they aren’t being treated (or paid) the way they deserve.

So let’s gather up some ’90s angst and passion and get behind some great female musicians.


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