Last month, in an interview about her new album, Alessia Cara spoke to Refinery29 about the state of women in music. "People rarely ever believe that a woman can do it on her own," she said. "It seems like such a dated concept, but it is still so present in the music industry. I’ve seen with my own eyes some amazing and talented female songwriters and artists not get the recognition they deserve because people think they aren’t doing it on their own. Or, if they see a man’s name in the credits, they assume he did most of the work. "
Cara also expressed a desire to work with female producers on her next album. Huge artists from Beyoncé to Taylor Swift to Björk have also spoken out about their credits in production being erased or diminished; its a perception problem that plagues women all the way to the top. Now, they've finally got the ultimate database to make it easier to find women who want to work in music production.
In conjunction with SoundGirls and other organizations, Spotify has launched a tool aimed at addressing the gender gap in music. EQL is a directory of women working behind the scenes in music, from studio engineers to sound designers, that artists, managers, labels, production houses, and anyone in between can search to find working artists in the field for their audio needs. The directory includes gender non-conforming artists as well, with the intention of also lifting up trans and non-binary people.
The launch of the EQL database takes aim at the idea that women aren't getting production jobs because people can't find women to take them by offering up a searchable index of women who are looking for those specific positions. It's a huge step in the direction of erasing the outdated ideas in the music industry around what roles are gender appropriate by giving them a whole rolodex of women who want to produce, engineer, and design audio.
Spotify has also announced the ELQ Advisory Board, comprised of women in sound production to help shape the future of this program. It includes TRAKGIRL (Jhené Aiko, Omarion), Lauren D’Elia (Elley Duhé), Jin Jin (Clean Bandit), Kesha Lee (Migos, Future), and Ali Tamposi (Kelly Clarkson, One Direction).
“SoundGirls already had this global directory of women in audio and production, and we came together to help them make it more beautiful, more useful, and more visible within the industry,” says Kerry Steib, Spotify’s Director of Social Impact in a company blog post. “We know that increasing equity for women in these fields is a complex problem to solve. We have to work with great partners across the industry and come together to create solutions.”
The gender gap in music is massive, as the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative discovered in a report released early in 2017. Analyzing popular songs from 2012 to 2016, the report found that women made up only 2% of producers and only 12.3% of songwriting credits went to women. EQL posits that the numbers are as bleak in live sound and event engineering.
The companies write, in part, on their website: "It is our hope that by amplifying the careers of these women and people, we’ll soon see equal access to encouragement, equipment, and opportunities within the industry as well as equal recognition of these incredible professionals’ work. It’s high time these creators, makers, sound engineers, and techs are brought out from behind-the-scenes and into the spotlight."
Spotify, in particular, has taken heat for the gender inequality among artists that algorithms put into play in when they select music for us. At The Baffler, Liz Pelly examined how algorithms that serve up music for passive listeners create a more masculine listening experience overall, including creating listener patterns that influence human programmers of playlists on the service to promote the work of men over women. But, that same algorithm and the feedback loop it creates exist for YouTube, Amazon, and anywhere else where music fans hit play on a playlist and then sit back to listen.
The company is also facing a lawsuit for gender discrimination in the workplace that favors men over women in compensation and opportunities as reported on by Variety in September. Spotify claims the suit is "without merit."