As an artist, songwriter, Belles & Gals contributor, and a co-host of the live stream show Women Crush It Wednesdays (Instagram.com/womencrushitwednesdays, Facebook.com/womencrushit), females in music is a topic I encounter on a daily basis. While I have talked in the past about my side project WCW (see Notes From Nashville #3), I think it’s important to hear from a variety of voices to truly understand what changes should be made within our music community which includes radio, record labels, publishers, singers, songwriters, booking agents, and listeners alike. I did my best to talk to friends, fans, industry influencers, and fellow artists to give us all a better collective idea of what we’re up against, where the solution lies, and what is being done to fix the imbalances that exist.
Nashville recording artist Briana Tyson has tracked a palpable change in the music scene over the years: “Back in the 90s and early 2000s, female powerhouses dominated the scene. Martina, Faith, Trisha, Reba, Shania, the list goes on. Now there are three women on the Top 50 charts. Three. Out of Fifty.”
It’s important to note that the current sentiment around most of the industry in Nashville is that country music has a female majority listening base, and that females don’t want to listen to other females. This is an argument that I take issue with based on the role radio plays as a trendsetter. Gayle Troberman, vice president of iHeartMedia (one of the leading radio conglomerates in the US), said at a panel discussion that “any song can go number one” regardless of artist, lyric, or popularity of the song pre-radio. “If we push something enough to our stations, it will create [virality]”.
That’s not to say that the blame is on radio, though. Greg Almond, music director at WGGC in Bowling Green, KY states his belief that radio “is a reflection of the [music] industry at any given point.”
“I think the key to more females on the radio starts with the top of the industry,” he says. “More female label heads, more female-owned publishing companies that create real opportunities for new female artists and songwriters with different perspectives. I think it’s getting females with record deals songs actually written by more women. Since 2011 every CMA Song of the Year has been written or co-written by a woman. So why are female songwriters not getting more opportunities for demos and album and single cuts?” He believes if this change is made, “the issue of female artists on country radio will correct itself.” (Greg is an awesome dude, by the way, who makes a point to spin independent female artists)
Redneck Records recording artist Jessie G agrees that the problem lies with who holds the influence: “Right now I think country music is in a place where the fans aren’t controlling what’s on the charts. The fans are rarely allowed to request an independent artist on the radio since radio has to play the music already approved for them. Fans also don’t have a say on which songs get put on the major streaming playlists. If you’re an artist with a major record deal, your chances are more likely to get radio adds and on these playlists, which will obviously lead to virality of the song, regardless of what the fans say. So in my opinion, I don’t think women will be represented fairly in country radio until the fans change the system OR the suits decide we get a chance.”
The truth of the matter is, some artists and songs are given precedence over others for reasons other than fan preference. Even where data suggests listeners trend towards certain artists over others, the fact is that the pool of female choices offered over male choices is decidedly more limited. If we’re talking percentages, odds are in the favor of you choosing a male Top 40 song over a female one based on sheer numbers.
Female country band Dixie Jade told me what they do to combat this issue, starting in the writing room: “We try to stay true to who we are when writing music and to take in both male and female perspectives. We don’t want gender to always dictate the victim or the hero.” By encompassing a wider perspective, they hope to capture more audience interest and relation.
While much of the talk around the industry is disheartening, there is positivity in the movement stirring among fellow artists and writers:
“The support and bond between women in music in Nashville is undeniable. A change is happening!” artist Wildee says.
Lockwood Barr, a bluegrass/country artist, agrees: “The sisterhood of female songwriters in Nashville functions on the fact that high tide raises all boats. I’m constantly amazed by the strength and support found in this community. I keep waiting to find out it’s too good to be true.”
This support seems to be the main focus across the board of female artists and writers. Maggie Baugh believes that “coming together with other women and joining each other side by side will help women overcome the challenges.”
Already, we see groups and movements such as Change The Conversation, Song Suffragettes, and Women Crush It Wednesdays striving to give females a voice and use positions of influence to spark a larger awareness of the cause. Krista Angelucci and I created WCW to bring a spotlight to artists who are seemingly constantly overshadowed by their male counterparts.
“Pursuing a passion can be a tough one at times,” Krista says, “but it can be even more tough as a woman in the music industry right now. Those experiences are what brought me to sit down… and brainstorm what we could do about this.”
We hope to provide a mouthpiece to artists and writers who, as Briana Tyson says, “deserve to be heard and seen just as much as male artists. We have depth and stories to share, heartbreaks to tell, lives to touch… we deserve a voice.”
Without that female element, country music is lacking the other half of what makes its stories compelling, real, and believable. Growing up listening to country radio, it’s true, I was taken by the hot male artists who sang about their veneration of the girl they loved- as a listening base, females tend to be romantics. We’re drawn to the Thomas Rhetts and the Luke Bryans that offer us a needed insight into the male perspective. However, the artists that spoke to me the most on a personal level were almost exclusively female. No guy is going to know better than a girl what we girls go through on an emotional level. That kind of identifiability comes only through a woman’s perspective.
While performing during a Women Crush It Wednesdays showcase we had, country music star Gretchen Wilson said “great songs and great voices shine through in the end.” By bonding together, “women in country music are a force to be reckoned with.”
Without this diversity and depth, Briana Tyson echoes my sentiments that it “will continue to be the same 15 songs about trucks and beer over and over again.” There’s only so much fulfilment country music fans can get from that. The reason (and perhaps I’m just putting words in everybody’s mouths) that country music listeners are drawn to country music has, at the end of the day, focused on the stories and lyrical content that sets this genre apart from all others. There’s more to the story, and it can only be told by bringing females back into the spotlight.
To help perpetuate this support, please check out, follow, and support the following artists and movements! They are extremely talented and dedicated to bringing the female voice back to the music industry. You can find them on Instagram: