Female artists are disproportionately affected by Roe v Wade overturn: 3 ways the music industry can help
“In the same way music companies are stepping up to take care of their employees, we must not forget the artists that are the lifeblood of the entire music business,” writes Vanessa Ogle of Higher Hill Studios, an incubator for historically underrepresented artists.
An open letter from Vanessa Ogle, CEO of Higher Hill Studios
Music is, in many cases, born of adversity, pain, and strife. This past week Americans will be writing some powerful music. When the unimaginable happens, such as guns given back to be carried in the street after horrific mass shootings like that of Uvalde and eliminating the constitutional right for women to have an abortion after almost 50 years…words are not enough, but sometimes words in song can carry us forward.
Despair and disenfranchisement are common sentiments from the women who have lived in a world of dangerous back-alley abortions and find themselves back there again, as well as the uterus-bearing young people who have lost constitutional rights regardless of their pronoun.
This is yet another time in our history where we lash out and refuse to protect the historically disadvantaged. The reported statistics from 29 states show a disproportionately high share of abortions are women of color. In 2019, the abortion rate for Black women was 23.8 per 1,000 women. For Hispanic women, it was 11.7 per 1,000. And for White women, it was 6.6 per 1,000.
“43% of artists do not carry any health insurance at all”
For the music industry, we need to recognize that women artists, songwriters, producers, and engineers will also likely be disproportionately impacted by this ruling. Artists are many times living paycheck to paycheck. The average independent artist, according to the most recent U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, artists make less than $43,000 across their entire revenue pipeline, which for context is slightly lower than the median income across the US. With tight income, this has forced about 43% of artists to not carry any health insurance at all, with 88% citing its cost as the reason to be without insurance.
With artists, whether they be signed or independent, it is important that we as a music business community must uplift female artists and help them feel more safe and secure during this time. From a corporate perspective, much of the music industry has taken swift action. CAA announced it would add a provision to cover expenses for relevant travel for any employee who needed to travel to procure an abortion. Live Nation noted that it will cover travel expenses for employees who need access to “women’s healthcare services” outside their home state as well as bail expenses for employees arrested for protesting peacefully. Sony Music even shared that the company would continue to provide comprehensive care, including reimbursement for travel if required for access to healthcare services, including women’s reproductive healthcare and gender-affirming care.
“In the same way music companies are stepping up to take care of their employees, we must not forget the artists”
In the same way music companies are stepping up to take care of their employees, we must not forget the artists that are the lifeblood of the entire music business. To rally the music industry together around our female artists, I recommend the music industry take three steps to help ease the burden during this time:
1. Labels Should Offer Female Artists Non-Recoupable Advances
Universal Music Group (UMG) had another historic quarter, earning a massive $2.46bn in revenue, a 16.5% YoY at constant currency. Warner Music Group (WMG) posted a similar margin, diving $1.376 billion in revenue this past quarter, up 13.2% year-on-year. This growth comes as Goldman Sachs has updated its music industry growth projections, with its analysts saying that recorded music revenues are going to grow to USD $53.2 billion by 2030, up from $45.7bn in its most recent projection. With such financial success projected to continue into the foreseeable future, labels should take this moment and think about how they can be financially supporting their artists who may be considering relocation to obtain more favorable rights for their health. With that in mind, major labels should offer their female artists non-recoupable advances so that artists can have access to extra capital whether it be for moving expenses or even for additional healthcare coverage during this time. The labels who back their female artists will not only be doing the right thing but continue to build the trust and allyship that enables a record label to remain competitive amongst its competing entities.
2. Digital Streaming Services Should Create More Shelf Space for Female Artists on Official Playlists
Gender disparity continues to exist in music streaming. According to Chartmetic , 80% of all the songs across the Billboard, Spotify, and Apple Music charts were male driven tracks between 2018-2019. Although DSPs like Spotify have launched programs like the EQUAL Global Music Program to even the playing field, streaming platforms collectively need to do more to support women especially as their rights are outrightly attacked. That is why it is time to commit at least 40% of all playlist shelf space to female artists both on major labels and independent musicians. This playlist shelf space will not only help get more royalty monies in the pockets of female artists but will help them build a larger collective fanbase which could be used to drive ticket sales, merchandise sales, and more.
3. Venues Should Book More Female Artists, Supporting Their Most Important Revenue Stream
As many know, touring is the most important revenue stream for artists of all sizes, typically representing 60% or more of an artist’s total earnings. Much like recorded music, there is a disproportionate number of male artists performing compared to that of female artists. For example, a study conducted by female:pressure revealed that only 27% of music festival acts in 2020 and 2021 were female. To help women really navigate this time, festivals should slot more of their space to female artists and traditional concert venues should look to book more female headline and support acts. This support will not only help women navigate this unprecedented time but will help close the gender gap that currently exists within the broader touring ecosystem.