I am optimistic as we celebrate International Women’s Day Sunday because I believe 2020 is the year we will finally see change for women in country music. In 2014, CMT senior vice president Leslie Fram, music executive Tracy Gershon and I co-founded Change the Conversation to fight for gender equality in country music, where female artists have received an average of 10% of all radio airplay over the last decade, according to Toronto professor Jada Watson. This means you can drive your daughter to school and back without ever hearing a female voice on country radio.
Although the pop landscape is flush with female superstars — Beyonce, Taylor Swift, Katy Perry, Adele, Lizzo, Billie Eilish, Rihanna, Cardi B, Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez, Demi Lovato, Lady Gaga, Kelly Clarkson, Miley Cyrus, and so on — most people would be hard-pressed to name five current country female artists. What are we telling our daughters? That their voices and experiences don’t matter?
At the point when ladies don't hear female voices, their confidence, dreams and desire are lessened. Mainstream society is significant in forming how we see ourselves and a lady's job in the public arena. To exacerbate the situation, there are an excessive number of music that are generalizing ladies, whose job is again and again delineated uniquely as the pretty little thing in the front seat. It's the ideal opportunity for ladies to recapture their position behind the wheel.
Of course, the inequity isn’t just at country radio. In September, when country singer Martina McBride created a playlist on Spotify called country music, she had to hit refresh 14 times before Spotify gave her a one song recorded by a woman.
Last year, Change the Conversation partnered with Country Radio Broadcasters to quietly hold several informal, off-the-record town hall meetings attended by male and female industry decision makers, ranging from label chiefs and artist managers to radio executives, digital streaming platform leaders and others. We’ve been pleased with everyone’s honesty and desire to see change without blaming the problem on others. Their responses have been thoughtful and we have made substantial progress.
Recently, we held two more meetings in which we worked with the leaders to prompt action in all facets of the industry. We asked them to work with their company to pledge to improve the situation for females in their area. While we’ve been fighting for change for more than five years, most people now admit that a problem exists and are eager to see change happen. That wasn’t the case when we started.
The first bold action taken was by Leslie Fram and CMT with the recently launched Equal Play plan, which includes having half of the music videos played feature female artists and a 50 percent female playlist on CMT Radio Live. CMT also commissioned research that proved listenership would improve if country radio would play more women, disputing the outdated myth that women don’t want to listen to other women.
Another move that will bring change is Spotify’s appointment of Rachel Whitney as its head of editorial for Nashville. Spotify has been in the hot seat since McBride’s revelation, and great things are expected from Whitney, who joins Brittany Schaffer in co-heading the Nashville office.
Perhaps the best news yet—and a good omen?—is that the Dixie Chicks on Wednesday released their first news music in 14 years with the single “Gaslighter.” If anyone can usher in a new era, it’s this power trio.