As we were preparing composer agreements for our first round of releases, we noticed something strange. Of the 17 composers we’ve worked with on these projects, the talent that has created the 38 tracks for our debut 3 albums, despite being from 6 different countries and, despite our Head of Production being female and a composer, none were women.
We’d like to think we’re pretty emancipated when it comes to choosing creative partners, and this strikes us as highly anomalous. As many girls learn musical instruments as boys, the commercial music charts are generally evenly split between male and female artists, so why are female composers so few and far between? Is this an extension of wider imbalances in the creative arts, is there something unique about composing music which deters women from getting involved, or are there structural inequalities in the industry which make it harder for women to establish themselves than it is for their male counterparts?
A little research reveals some striking statistics…
As late as 1970 the top 5 US orchestras still had less than 5% female musicians. It wasn’t until 1980 that any of these orchestras had 10% women members. Even today, many orchestras still have a male to female split of around 70/30. Encouragingly, splits in youth orchestras are now much closer to 50/50, but whether these proportions will survive the transition into the professional arena remains to be seen.
As for composers, the situation is even worse. Of the 112 original scores eligible for last year’s Oscar awards, only 2.7% were composed or co-composed by women! It’s hard to think of another industry or profession where women are so under-represented. In 2014 women comprised only 1% of all composers working on the top 250 grossing films.
Perhaps there’s a historical dimension to this phenomenon. We’d struggle to name many female composers who would appear in your average list of the greatest classical composers of all time for example. But does this alone explain the lack of female engagement with or progression in composition as a career, especially in music for the media?
Clearly there are plenty of notable exceptions to this rather perplexing situation. Rachel Portman, Debbie Wiseman, Laura Karpman, Lesley Barber, Anne Dudley, Laura Rossi, Lisa Gerrard and Deborah Lurie among others, have established themselves as relative stalwarts within the industry, generating fantastic scores for TV, film and video game projects, along with significant award nominations and successes.
Nonetheless, even among the grass roots, the upcoming and the amateur, the burgeoning masses of aspiring composers who ply their trade on Soundcloud and elsewhere, female composers are very plainly in a minority. If somebody figures out why, or knows any great female composers of trailer-music, we’d love to hear!
Today is the closing date for the Music Week ‘Women In Music Awards’. More information here – https://www.nbmevents.uk/womeninmusic/