Over the last 18 months while hosting Freeness, I had noticed something. We receive a lot of e-mail, and I'm grateful for all of it, as they all communicate enthusiasm and love for amazing music, made by improvising.
But from recording labels and agents, I felt there was a worrying trend: they were promoting great music, but predominantly—and in some cases, only—made by men or male-identifying artists.
I tried talking about this on Twitter, but my words were misinterpreted or misrepresented. I was not and am not saying that Freeness struggles with finding female-identifying artists, or that we don't play music from female-identifying artists. A casual glance at the playlists shows that we very much do. Along with Rebecca Gaskell; Gabriel Francis, and most recently Tej Adeleye, we have ensured that each show has a good balance in terms of gender.
I realised that the only way to present what I meant was to analyse the emails I received, and find out if the bias I thought I was seeing was there.
Recording agents and labels are predominantly promoting male-dominant and male-only artists.
definitions and limits
I took the e-mails sent by recording labels and agents to the Freeness inbox over a period of 577 days (24th Sept. 2019-23rd Apr. 2021), and extracted gender information about the artists those e-mails were about. I only examined those correspondents who had sent five or more emails in that period. Duplicated information (through multiple e-mails) was discarded; I also did not examine e-mails about compilations. For each artist and group, I searched the web to ascertain the gender of the artist or group members. I define dominance in a group as a gender split of 2:1.
Because of the language of my initial hypothesis I may have committed an act of erasure by splitting groups into "male" and "non-male" categories. I realise that this shows a lack of granularity, and want to apologise for that lack. More work is needed to properly show the distinct levels of proportion for women, trans, non-binary and gender-fluid artists.
You can examine the data here. 100 artists were examined from the e-mails, which were sent by eight correspondents over the 577 days.
There were 87 male-dominant bands (MIDB) and 13 female/trans/non-binary/gender-fluid dominant bands (NMIDB). Of those 87 groups, 60 were male-only. There were just four female/trans/non-binary/gender-fluid-only groups.
I calculated two averages: the mean, which is the central value of the set; and the median which is the middle value of the set. In this case, the median is more useful than the mean, because the data is heavily skewed. The median correspondent will never send information about a female/trans/non-binary/gender-fluid-dominant group. Three out of the eight correspondents show this absolute bias. The other five correspondents indicate a heavy bias against female/trans/non-binary/gender-fluid-dominant groups and artists.
I calculated the standard deviation and the variance, mainly for completeness. These values show the relative spread of the data set. When compared with each other, we can see whether data sets are different from each other. In the spreadsheet, I've expressed the difference as a ratio, and they each indicate a heavy bias against female/trans/non-binary/gender-fluid-dominant groups and artists. Because of the inequality of the variances, there is no need to do another statistical test.
The data shows either a heavy or absolute bias in the correspondence the Freeness inbox receives from labels and agents. This bias favours male-only groups/artists and male-dominant groups/artists. I would really like to work on and discuss why this is so, and what we can do to help labels and agents promote more work by female/trans/non-binary/gender-fluid groups and artists. I have every faith that this is not happening on purpose in most cases.
But this isn't good. It's not good at all.