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Music

Women underrepresented in the music industry?

Taylor Swift's historical win at this year's Grammys raises questions about whether women in the music industry get the credit they deserve. Why aren't there more female artists claiming sole production credit?

Taylor Swift singt beim Grammy-Gala

Taylor Swift performs at the 58th annual Grammy Awards

Taylor Swift made Grammy history on Tuesday after winning "Album of the Year" for "1989" - the first woman to take home such honors twice in the award's 58-year history.

That it has taken this long for a female artist to receive these top honors seems surprising, considering the number of women dominating the stage and heading top-selling bands in the US. From contemporary artists like Lady Gaga and Rihanna back to Ella Fitzgerald and Dinah Washington, female singers have been gaining recognition at the Grammys throughout their history - just on a much smaller scale than their male counterparts. Of 29 awards given out at the inaugural Grammys in 1958, just four were handed out to women. This year, Angélique Kidjo was recognized for her work as were artists like Beyoncé and Lalah Hathaway.

Although this year's awards have seen far greater numbers of women recognized, an analysis by the digital magazine Fusion found that in 2015, women-only performances comprised just 26 percent of the Top 40. Women claimed sole production credits on less than 5 percent of all albums released in the US. No woman produced a Top 40 song alone in 2015.

Ella Fitzgerald

Ella Fitzgerald was one of the first female artists to win a Grammy

So why the disparity between women seeing success at the awards level but not serving as sole creators?

It may, according to some, be the Catch-22 brought on by a lack of representation: women don't see the possibility to gain recognition for their music so they stop - or don't start - creating it. Making women more visible via bookings and performances may be one way to break that cycle.

Gaining visibility

According to that same analysis in Fusion, women made up only 10 percent of the acts on the music festival circuit - a problem that has been well-known to female electronic musicians and DJs from across Europe for years. That led the Vienna-based composer and DJ Susanne Kirchmayr, stage name Electric Indigo, to create an online network for female artists in the field to promote their work back in 1998. Now with more than 1600 members from 65 countries in its database, the network emphasizes that there isn't a lack of women in the industry but a lack of recognition in a traditionally male-dominated field. By making their contact details more public, the founders hope to put the ball back in promoters' and booking agents' courts.

Berlin-based non-profit Initiative Musik tries to improve the gender balance, albeit with limited success. It provides financial support to the tune of 10,000 to 30,000 Euros for up-and-coming musicians who need assistance realizing projects such as album or video production or tours to promote their work. The funding, handed out on a quarterly basis, is divvied up based on the quality not only of the project from a cultural perspective but also from a business perspective and each project selected comes from a pool of approximately 100 applications. In the latest round, that included just five women artists out of the chosen 28.

"We do have our eye on this," said Michael Wallies, a spokesperson for the organization who also notes that men submit applications in remarkably greater numbers.

"One of our most successful projects is the band Boy, who first received funding to release their debut, an album which has since gone gold. Since then, we've worked with them to support a European tour, then a US tour and now, in putting on several concerts in Brazil. It's not what some might have expected from a women's duo but it's definitely a best case scenario."

"You're a woman, you can't do that"

Still, despite the current imbalance, not everyone is confronted with issues due to their gender. As German rapper Ebow recently told DW's PopXport, she's never faced any problems in the industry.

Die Münchner Rapperin Ebow Bayern Deutschland

German rapper Ebow Photo: Nils Schwarz Pressefoto 2013

"I've often been asked 'You're a woman in hip hop. Have you had any problems?" And my answer is: No. All the guys I know support me. ... I've never heard a hip hopper say, "You're a woman, you can't do that." I think that comes from the 90s or 80s. Sure, there are people who think that, but fortunately I've never met any of those idiots."

Whether that's a sentiment more female musicians will be able to share in the coming years remains to be seen. But for those who are struggling to gain recognition for their work, Taylor Swift had a few words of encouragement in her Grammys speech.

"There are going to be people along the way who try to undercut your success or take credit for your accomplishments or your fame," she said, a clear reference to Kanye West's claim to have made Swift famous.

"But if you just focus on the work and you don't let those people sidetrack you, someday when you get where you're going, you will look around and you will know it was you and the people who love you that put you there. And that will be the greatest feeling in the world."

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