International Women's Day: Criticism of a lack of equality in the music industry

Are women and men equal in the music industry? "There is still a lot of work to be done," warns Amy Macdonald.

On International Women's Day, which is traditionally celebrated on March 8th, attention should be drawn to equality and the emancipation of women. But how far is the music industry on this topic? British singer Amy Macdonald (33, "The Human Demands"), Suzie Kerstgens (49) from the band Klee ("When Heaven falls to earth") and Loi (18), finalist for "The Voice Kids" 2017, do not give the music industry a good report in an interview with the news agency spot on news. "The industry is still lagging completely behind," warns Macdonald, for example.

To what extent are women still disadvantaged in the music industry today?

Loi: A look at the charts or the line-up of festivals is actually enough to see that there is simply still a big imbalance here. I do believe that there are still many prejudices against women within the music industry, even if subconsciously! According to the motto: They are too weak and too emotional for the music business. But I think a lot is changing right now. And I will try to do my part.

Amy Macdonald: Women are still held much higher than men. Women are constantly criticized for their appearance and sometimes it feels like as a woman you have to work extra hard to get into the same place as our male colleagues. Women are constantly asked ridiculous questions about their bodies and pregnancy, and they are judged every day. I have been told by certain radio stations that "we don't actually play female artists" and I should just accept that! There is still a long way to go to equality in the music industry.

Suzie Kerstgens: The gender gap is still noticeable in the music industry, which presents itself as a progressive industry, but unfortunately functions in an ultra-conservative way. Pop music is a mirror of our society. A disproportion of 70:30 continues to dominate radio when it comes to the use of male versus female music. It is similar with festival bookings. We women only have the "exotic bonus".

The music business is a buddy business in which sexist norms are accepted and passed on unconsciously and unprocessed. Role stereotypes still apply. Not much has changed since the beginning of music history. Women are allowed to make music if they look beautiful while doing it. As long as women still let themselves sit on oversized, flower-adorned swings during a big Saturday night TV show to perform their song, this cliché can hardly be broken.

Have you ever experienced disadvantages because you are a woman? How did you deal with it?

Loi: I'm just at the beginning and I'm taking my first steps in the industry. I haven't really noticed anything yet, but there was also the situation in which you just didn't feel really taken seriously and people didn't really listen because they had already formed an opinion about you. Especially when, for example, Major A & Rs (Artists and Repertoire, editorial part of a record company; editor's note) form an opinion about you without knowing you. Then you think to yourself: Would the person judge me that way if I were a type, or what is the reason now? I hope this is rather the exception and I personally don't have any more experience in this direction, but even if … I think I'm quite well prepared because I know exactly what I want!

Macdonald: I've seen it and unfortunately I still experience it and it still feels like there's little we can do. Something has to change at every single level of the industry, and I haven't seen a meaningful change yet.

Kerstgens: I keep coming up against limits that are often subtle and obviously excessive. This includes the belittling of a criticism I formulated as "hysterical feelings" as well as not being heard in a male-dominated debate and the humorous "undressing, undressing" interferences from the predominantly male audience at a festival, which are met with ignorance. Or you react by taking these people out of anonymity and asking them to come on stage to exe a bottle of beer in a competition. So basically making common with them to prove that you are "a whole guy". I have often pretended to be more masculine, more hard-drinking and more buddy than I wanted to, to distract from the fact that I am actually a woman.

How has the role of women in the music industry changed over the years?

Loi: I wasn't there, but I guess it used to be much more male-dominated. Many women are becoming much safer and more self-confident and just generally trust themselves more. There are also more and more female, independent and successful role models who can be used as a guide and who are also a great inspiration for me. It is also much easier today to publish your own music. You are not so dependent on a few – mostly male – decision-makers. Even without a big music label, you can get pretty far today, for example.

Macdonald: I don't think she's changed. Women are still underrepresented in all of the top jobs in the music industry. There are very few women who work in high-profile positions in the music industry. There are very few women working in music production, and it's still pretty unusual to have a female crew on tour.

Kerstgens: Many women were clever enough to throw the so-called cast couch out of hotel rooms instead of the television. We have left the competition behind us and feature each other. There is the Keychange movement and associations like MusicWomen in many federal states that encourage rethinking and create synergies. After the scandal in 2018, GEMA changed its traditional structures and transferred the jury of the music author's award, which was 100 percent male, to a 50:50 situation. There are more and more self-confident artists in the music industry who show their attitude and are role models. More women on stage lead to more women on stage.

What else needs to be done to ensure that women are on an equal footing?

Loi: Maybe it would be a start if labels and co. Strive for something like equality in the artist roster or in live line-ups and that radio stations and everyone who distributes music also pay more attention to it. Then justice in the charts etc. will come naturally. Overall, I think it's important that people listen to each other without prejudice and that everyone is seen.

Macdonald: There is still a lot of work to be done before we can even talk about equality. The industry is still completely behind. Women are still quite underrepresented at all levels. From management to A&R and even on the big stages. It's very unusual to see female artists headlining festivals. I feel like we spent so much time talking about it, but absolutely no time to do anything.

Kerstgens: It's uncomfortable to give up old, cherished thought patterns and habits. But we ourselves also have to learn to break up old structures. We women have to form alliances so that we can become independent from patriarchy in the music industry. We have to put aside the fear of rejection and restrictions. Forming your own networks that support us can be extremely helpful in this regard. The invisible privileges of men in the music business must be overturned by the visibility of women.