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Women find happiness in the music industry, but face disparities too

“Every individual person has their own experience,” said Grace Reader (above), a BMA-winning sound engineer. “I’ve been very lucky in that everywhere I work I feel respected. I’m friends with all my bosses.”
“Every individual person has their own experience,” said Grace Reader (above), a BMA-winning sound engineer. “I’ve been very lucky in that everywhere I work I feel respected. I’m friends with all my bosses.”Erin Clark for The Boston Globe

Women working in the American music industry mostly feel satisfied, comfortable, and supported in their jobs, though many of them say they should be farther ahead in their careers. To fix the prominent inequities in the field, they recommend intentionally focusing on increasing diversity.

These are just a few of the findings that are detailed in “Women in the US Music Industry: Obstacles and Opportunities,” a recent study sponsored by Berklee College of Music’s Institute for Creative Entrepreneurship in partnership with Berklee’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment and the nonprofit Women in Music. Data was collected from approximately 2,000 women working in many areas of the music industry, including performance, production, administration, and education.


“We know women are underrepresented in the music industry. Across genres, across roles,” said the study’s lead author, Berklee associate director of institutional research Becky Prior, citing past research. “But we don’t know much about the experiences of women working in the music industry.”

The study’s three authors — Prior, Berklee associate professor of songwriting Erin Barra, and dean of institutional research Sharon Kramer — adapted a survey from a 2015 study conducted by Women in Music Canada. Respondents frequently named mentoring, internships, and networking opportunities as factors that were helpful to their careers, while compensation practices, gender bias, and work-life balance had a negative impact.

“I was fascinated by what I saw in [the results], because a lot of what people talk about when it comes to women in the music industry is this really dismal narrative,” said Barra, a board member of Women in Music who spearheaded the project. In an interview at the school, she related her hope that the data would help people look past those potentially discouraging paradigms.

“Mistreatment in the industry, harassment, abuse, discrimination — and that’s not to say these things aren’t true because they absolutely are. I just think that there’s a lot more to it,” she said. “Having actual data points really helps tell a story. This is what we’re trying to do. This is why it’s important. In a lot of ways we’re giving people information in order to accomplish a task, which is to create a more equitable industry. Now we have some real, hard data to point back to.”


The survey’s findings ring true with local sound engineer Grace Reader, 28. She loves her job, but rarely sees other women doing the same thing. “It’s so much fun. I get to hang out with bands and make them loud,” said Reader, who in December became the first woman to win a Boston Music Award for live sound engineering. She estimated that she works 60 to 80 hours a week at around 200 shows in a year, mainly at Royale, Great Scott, and the Sinclair.

Discussing the Berklee study, she pointed out the vital role that mentors played in her career. “Every individual person [in the industry] has their own experience,” said Reader, who did not participate in the survey. “I’ve been very lucky in that everywhere I work I feel respected. I’m friends with all my bosses.”

On the technological side of music, the gender disparity remains extremely pronounced; Barra, who designed the community-oriented education curriculum Beats By Girlz, surmised that the lack of women might originate in girls being discouraged to pursue technical careers. A recent study by the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative analyzed a set of 400 songs on recent Billboard year-end charts, and found only 2 percent of their producers were female. Also, after Emily Lazar became the first female mastering engineer ever to win a Grammy for best non-classical album earlier this year, she told a New York radio station that it was “thrilling . . . [and] also very disturbing” that it had taken so long to break that particular glass ceiling.


Miranda Serra, 27, had similar feelings when she learned she was probably the first woman to be nominated for a Boston Music Award in the studio producer category. “[It was] kind of disheartening, but simultaneously I felt a little bit of optimism,” Serra, who primarily works at Brighton studio Zippah, said in a phone interview. “The feeling that I had when that happened wasn’t exclusively about inclusivity for women, it was diversity in general. The optimism, I think, came when I realized that this illumination is an opportunity to elevate the conversation around this sort of stuff.”

Barra sees this study as an important step forward in continuing that conversation. “Facts are facts, but there’s a lot of information that goes underneath it,” she said. “I want to know where women are working, I want to know how they feel about their workplaces so we can make tangible efforts to do something. I think listening to and hearing women is important.”

Zoë Madonna can be reached at zoe.madonna@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.