Equalizing the Music Industry

A Conversation Between Swedish Songwriter Linnea Henriksson and Spotify Nordic Managing Director Jenny Hermanson

All music creators, regardless of gender, should be able to enjoy equal conditions in which they can not only succeed, but thrive. Yet in 2017, only 13.5% of the songwriters behind the 50 most played songs in Sweden were women. As for female producers, that number was even smaller – zero. With all of that in mind, Spotify launched Equalizer Project in Sweden in 2017, with the goal of increasing gender equality in the music studio through building networks and creating opportunities for up and coming talent.

“Our goal is a music industry where all people, regardless of gender, enjoy equal conditions in which to succeed,” said Spotify’s Nordic Managing Director, Jenny Hermanson, who helped to create Equalizer Project out of Spotify’s Stockholm headquarters. “We want to inspire the industry and help women become better represented, both on the charts and behind the music.”

Equalizer, which consists of both a podcast and networking program, gives women in music careers a chance to connect with established industry professionals and amplify their voices. The podcast brings hosts and guests together to talk about music creation, production, and more. Past guests have included Tove Lo, Zara Larsson, and Seinabo Sey. This season’s guests include artist and songwriter Sabina Ddumba, rapper Silvana Imam, R&B singer Cherrie, and pop sensations Peg Parnevik and Molly Sandén. The semi-annual networking events invite five aspiring female creators to meet with industry professionals—past professionals have included First Aid KitIcona Pop, Max Martin, and Shellback—and get career advice.

In the conversation below, Spotify’s Hermanson and Linnea Henriksson, a top female Swedish artist, songwriter and producer (and Equalizer podcast host) discuss what the industry can do to support female and minority artists.

Linnea Henriksson, left, talks with Jenny Hermanson about Equalizer Podcast. Photo credit: Alma Vestlund/Studio Emma Svensson

Linnea Henriksson: What are some ways that Spotify supports young people interested in entering the music industry, especially women and other minorities?

Jenny Hermanson: Spotify is working with a lot of different initiatives and partners on this, both globally and on a local level. It all starts with having the right structures in place to make the industry more accessible from the top down. We launched the Equalizer Project in Sweden, which is focusing on inspiring young women to be a part of the music industry. Most songs are written and produced by men. Music fans aren’t simply hearing enough female stories and viewpoints, which is why we’re working to fuel innovation and diversify the industry.

LH: Why did you start the Equalizer Project? What are your goals for the project?

JH: Women are still hugely underrepresented in the music industry. Sure, there are exceptions, but generally you won’t find many female producers, agents or artist managers. And that’s because in the past, women weren’t expected or encouraged to succeed in these positions. What’s more, the vast majority of songwriters and composers are also men. More women are starting to emerge in these fields, but they remain massively outnumbered—in fact, no songs in the Top 50 Global Spotify Chart 2017 were produced by a woman. Hence the need to equalize, and that’s why we initiated Equalizer Project in collaboration with MXM Music and Musikförläggarna (Swedish Music Publishers Association).

JH: So, from your point of view as an artist, are we doing our part? How can we help make entrance into the music industry more accessible? Especially for women, minorities, and people from lower incomes?

LH: First off, equality is a mutual responsibility, because it will make everyone winners. We must look to ourselves, even female artists, to make change. We all need to be more willing to try new stuff. We can’t just talk about being curious about new music makers; we need to actually give them a chance to work and prove themselves. We can’t keep making excuses like “we don’t have the time, we don’t have money,” ”but he’s so good, he worked with blah blah blah…”

A concrete example is during an interview situation. Female songwriters end up focusing their interviews on other stuff rather than talking about their music to a larger extent than male writers. Interview a female artist like you would interview a man, let her be exactly as nerdy about her creation. Ask her about which guitar plugin she couldn’t be without, or whether she writes lyrics and music at the same time, and have the men talk about their lyrics, emotions and relationships, their views on equality and how they handle their private life with their busy schedule. It’s a structural problem that we treat men and women differently. The voice and work of a man is worth more. We must smash our own prejudices based on outdated traditions and structures, and start valuing other things.

JH: It’s so important to establish that anyone – regardless of gender – is able to enjoy equal conditions in which to succeed. We need to clear up the misconception that it’s a man’s world or industry. We need to fuel discussion of the current situation and encourage everyone to question industry norms—who can become a leader and how do they become one? We also need to encourage people to look for talent outside their personal networks and force the music industry to diversify. We also need to pay attention to the number of men and women behind the songs on the charts.

LH: Charts, streams—it’s exciting, I really feel that as a musician and a fan. Charts show trends, but it’s a tool that started out as a fun thing for the listeners and has come to dictate too much in the industry. Labels promote their artists with numbers and the media creates news on “these artists have streamed x amount of times.” The charts are fronted as the most important numbers, and artists work with the songwriters on the charts to get there themselves. There aren’t any efforts to include new writers and producers.

JH: What are the biggest pieces of advice you have for those in the music industry looking to support female artists, musicians, and songwriters?

LH: Support female writers and producers prior to sessions. Help her own her title as an artist. Speak up if you hear someone say something degrading. Exterminate the phrase “girl band,” or the “female drummer” when referring to a band or a drummer that happens to female. Don’t ask musicians IF they write their own music, but HOW they do it. Reward vulnerability and consideration in both men and women and kill the macho culture. Stop laughing at bad jokes, stop making excuses, and understand that this is the future. Because the future is female.

Listen to the Equalizer Podcast on Spotify.