Gender imbalance in country music has been an ongoing conversation lately that Spotify found itself at the center of last month when Martina McBride called the company out for its lack of diversity in playlisting.
While the country singer vocalized her horror over having to refresh the digital service platform 14 times until a female country artist was suggested for her playlist, Spotify looked to bring the issue of gender parity front and center Wednesday in Nashville with an event spotlighting the issue. There, company executives admitted they are well aware of the algorithm issue and are looking internally at ways to fix it. While no solutions were brought forth on how to immediately solve this disparity during the discussion, the digital service provider began a dialog with the Nashville community in hopes to find an answer.
“We’re looking at how we might be a part of the solution, particularly when it comes to parity with women in music,” said Brittany Schaffer, Spotify's head of artist & label marketing, Nashville, ahead of the panel discussion.
Marian Dicus, global head of artist & label marketing at Spotify, further explained that when McBride was creating her country music playlist, the recommendations were not culled from Spotify’s editorial playlists, but from the massive user-generated playlists. While Spotify curates 3,000 editorial playlists itself, users generate more than 3 billion playlists of their own. Since women account for only 14% of the country releases in 2019, this disparity is apparent throughout the songs country fans listen to and, as a result, the playlists they’re creating.
“We do not think that this disparity in our recommendations is acceptable, whether they come from user playlists or own editorial playlists,” Dicus said. “But I do think that this highlights one of the many challenges we all face as we work together to increase the representation of women and country music and music more broadly.”
Spotify programed nearly 35% of women or mix-gender groups to perform at Spotify House during its showcase at CMA Fest 2019. During the panel, Schaffer said the company hopes to increase that number in the future. “We're not satisfied with 35% by any means, but we are working where we can to make sure that we give artists as much an opportunity as they need to build a fan base,” Schaffer said.
And, while Spotify aims to increase the women who play its country showcases the company is also working hard to address the lack of representation in its playlisting. McBride’s social posts shed light on the issue and in part helped to inspire the day’s discussion.
“I was absolutely appalled when we learned that that was Martina’s experience. It is unacceptable on every single level. It did really shed a light on something that we must address at Spotify and we must also address altogether as an industry,” Dawn Ostroff, chief content officer at Spotify, said during the panel discussion while seated alongside Schaffer, country artist Cassadee Pope and moderator Dustee Jenkins, head of global communications and public relations at Spotify.
“A lot of talk has already transpired. We still need to do more to be able to highlight female artists, we need to do more to make sure that female artists are being recognized and being played on our platform and that is a responsibility that we've already accepted and that we are working on,” she continued.
While Pope praised Spotify for allowing her to track where her fans stream her music to book tours, she also shared her difficulties in being an independent female artist. “It’s expensive,” she said. “I’m an independent artist and going to country radio is insanely expensive. Yes, 14% of the releases in country music is by women and that’s not a lot at all, but it’s also really hard to release music when it’s hard to get signed.”
The 35-minute panel discussion detailed the lack of females in executive positions in the music industry as one of the problems that trickles down to the lack of representation at country radio and streaming services, with Pope asserting “it’s an industry problem.”
“There’s room for all of us,” Ostroff said of the misconception that there are limited spots for females at the top of the charts and in executive positions. “I truly believe women seeing other women accomplish those feats, and women being able to have a woman show them the way is imperative…. We certainly take responsibility. We’re looking at our algorithms and how many female artists there are and how can we better support them. We’re talking internally about different ideas of how we can help somehow accomplish parity in some way. The 35% number is not acceptable to us. We have to make sure there is a way to benchmark to see that there is some change, some success. I encourage everybody to take this on.”