With the “Great Return” of live entertainment in full swing in 2022, the past year was filled with tours that boasted record-setting average grosses, ticket sales and ticket prices. While the top 100 tours on Pollstar’s Worldwide chart brought in a massive $6.28 billion – representing an incredible 13.2% increase over the record-setting $5.5 billion in 2019 – women artists were sorely underrepresented. Women and bands that included women members (such as contemporary worship music collective Maverick City Music and Italian rock band Måneskin) represented only 32 spots on the Top 200 Worldwide Tours, or 16%.
It’s easy to momentarily forget about the gender equality problem in the music business – or at least not realize the scale of the issue – when Taylor Swift is making headlines with arguably the most in-demand tour of 2023. But you can’t argue with the data.
As Noelle Scaggs – founder of nonprofit organization Diversify The Stage, Elektra recording artist and co-lead member of multi-platinum band Fitz & The Tantrums – sums it up: “We have a long way to go before we actually get to where we need to be.”
Men dominated the Top 10 of the 2022 Worldwide Tours chart, and the first woman doesn’t appear until No. 12 with Lady Gaga’s long-awaited “Chromatica Ball Tour,” which grossed nearly $125.9 million. Examining the last 10 years of data based on the Worldwide Tours, the gender balance of the top-grossing tours hasn’t been getting any better. 2022 was one of the worst years of the decade when it comes to representation, just behind 2021 at 13%. 2022 was the first year the chart featured 200 spots rather than 100 and, looking at just the Top 100, women claimed only 14% of the spots last year.
At best, in 2014 women represented 33% of the 100 spots on the chart (when including Cirque du Soleil tours, the Vans Warped Tour and “Walking With Dinosaurs.” Excluding those treks, women accounted for 22 out of the 89 spots on the chart or 24.7%. Katy Perry was the highest ranked woman in 2014 at No. 4 with a gross of $153.3 million.
There were a few years women claimed the top grossing tour, including Taylor Swift in 2015 and Pink in 2019, but overall women were still underrepresented. On average, over the past decade women represented between 18.9% and 23% of the spots on the Top 100, depending whether one counts theatrical shows.
“It’s a systemic issue. … You don’t see as many young girls being encouraged to go into this line of work on the executive side or on the artist side. And then the other part is they don’t see themselves – and that representation hinders that first step,” says Nicole Barsalona, who serves as the president of nonprofit organization Women In Music and director of artist management firm and indie label Everyday Rebellion Entertainment.
Scaggs offers another perspective on the number of women already trying to make it as musicians.
“There’s plenty of us out there,” Scaggs says, pointing to a number of challenges artists face in successfully getting tours launched.
“It comes down to how tours are being brought. … You have to look at] who is dominating the sales on the [album] charts – Is it primarily men? That actually plays into ticket sales. … Who is receiving the support for further developing [talent]?” She adds, “Who is able to be on the road? Who is able to sell tickets? We’re watching venues that would normally be accessible to [up-and coming] artists shut down.”
The lack of representation on the tour charts lines up with the inequality seen on the album charts. The USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative’s fifth annual report, “Inclusion in the Recording Studio?” released in March 2022 found that, in 2021, only 23.3% of artists on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End Chart were women – a percentage that has remained roughly the same during the past decade.
While the causes for the disproportionate number of women in the music industry are up for debate, thankfully folks like Scaggs and Barsalona, along with their respective nonprofit organizations, are working tirelessly to change those statistics. And the more women who take on roles in the industry – from entertainment lawyers to agents – the easier it will be for more women artists to get their careers to the next level.
“We really work to educate, empower and advance women in the music industry,” Barsalona says of WIM. “Our mentorship program and our internship program works with companies to place paid interns in-house to get real world experience. And our ambassador program highlights a diverse group of women from the industry on the executive side.”
The third annual Women In Music Summit is set for Jan. 25-27 via Zoom, featuring guest speakers, workshops and networking, while select chapters of the organization will also host in-person networking events.
Barsalona shared her own experience of how attending a “moms in music” panel at South by Southwest and hearing how women make it work as both executives and mothers inspired her to get back into the industry.
“At WIM we try to give women the tools to follow the career path they aspire to, but also try to show that representation and have that storytelling piece of the journey,” Barsalona says.
Diversify The Stage is helping foster more diverse, inclusive, equitable and accessible concerts, events and touring workforces for historically marginalized and underrepresented communities through education, advocacy, investment and action. The nonprofit is supporting the next generation with its eight-month DTS Apprenticeship Program, which includes a virtual masterclass series, mentorship and summer workforce placements for college-age candidates. Applications for the 2023 program open in February.
“The focus really is [about breaking down] barriers to entry into the live industry. It’s incredibly hard to get into this space,” Scaggs says, noting that the DTS Apprentice Program doesn’t have an eligibility requirement as far as being in college. Applicants just need to be 18. Asked what she’d like to see more from the industry, Scaggs says, “More actionable progress. … You’ve taken the pledge – that’s fantastic, but what are you doing with the resources? Are you being effective in leadership? … Are you doing the work?”
As part of the Latin Recording Academy’s efforts toward achieving gender parity in the industry, for the second consecutive year the Leading Ladies of Entertainment has partnered on the “Leading Ladies Connect TogetHER mentorship program” with nonprofit She Is The Music. The mentees selection period took place in December with applicants to be notified in February.
“While there continues to be a sizeable gender gap in the industry, we continue to make inroads, with initiatives like the Leading Ladies of Entertainment platform, as we shine a light on the necessary work that needs to be done in order to create equity and gender parity,” says Manuel Abud, CEO of The Latin Recording Academy. “We are very proud to see our Leading Ladies of Entertainment franchise continue to grow and thrive in partnership with She Is The Music through this hands-on educational mentorship aimed at closing the gender gap within the music industry and empowering the next generation of female leaders.”
A new organization, EqualizeHer, co-founded by singer/songwriter/producer Linda Perry and philanthropist/activist Alisha Ballard, is also seeking to help give more women a spot on the stage and in the studio.
“16% is still not acceptable,” Ballard said in response to the number of women represented on the 2022 Worldwide Tours chart. “We are missing the voice and talent of so many women in the music industry. The goal of EqualizeHer is to level the playing field in the music industry and to bring equality for women in all aspects of the music industry from the stage, behind the console and in the boardrooms. We have a lot of work to do but feel confident we can change the climate and bring equality for all the women that are missing from the table.”
Tons of amazing women are preparing to kick off tours in 2023 including Swift, SZA, Shania Twain, Carrie Underwood and Lizzo – but it’s still not enough.