The field of music is a heavily male-dominated industry in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada. Many employed in the music business are unsurprised with the imbalance yet uncertain about what’s causing it. They are certain, however, about some measures that might help change that in Canadian symphonies.

Numbers in the music industry

The U.S. Bureau of Labor states that only 32 per cent of the workforce currently working in the field of music in 2018 are women.

Meanwhile, in the United Kingdom, Marion Leonard, author of Gender in Music Industry: Rock, Discourses and Girl Power and senior lecturer at the University of Liverpool, cites a 2016 UK music diversity survey which found that 45.3 per cent of women were in the music industry.

Though Statistics Canada does not have this information available, Alberta Registered Music Teachers’ Association’s president Marlaine Osgood and former president Beth Olver both agree that the same issues one sees in American music industry are present in Canada.

Kick drumThe bass drum keeping time as Devetizis plays a complex piece. Photo by Hailey Payne.

Osgood feels that the U.S. Bureau of Labor’s finding is “disappointing considering the number of girls who receive training in music and have an innate musical skill.”

She adds that this statistic is “not surprising,” especially considering “professional musicians in pop culture fields and the top solo performers in any genre of music.”

Olver points out that a breakdown of the 32 per cent would give a more complete picture of where woman stand within different roles.

“That statistic certainly does not reflect people who teach music in private home studios. In that segment men are a very small minority,” Olver says.

Age as a factor

Leonard agrees with Olver that a more detailed look at women in the industry beyond the statistics would be beneficial. When looking at age specifically, gender representation is largely unequal.

The amount of women ages 45 to 64 in the music industry is lower at 32.7 per cent according to the 2016 UK music diversity survey. People in this age demographic are commonly in leadership positions. Due to the decrease of women at these age points, an absence in female candidates getting the opportunity to lead is indicated. 

Nevertheless, Sean Buckley, a female percussionist working in Calgary’s orchestra scene, believes that the American Bureau of Labor statistic does not reflect her own experience in the industry.

“Many musicians I personally perform with are women, and I went to school with at least as many women as men,” Buckley says. “But graduates of music programs [or] orchestras do not represent the entire music industry, obviously.”

Conflict in the workplace

It is Olver and Osgood’s belief that the industry begins to become male-dominated at the post-secondary level.  Olver feels one reason for this might be that music’s “‘work hours’ likely conflict with family obligations.” In addition, many positions within the music industry are often associated with travel that keep women away from their families.“Some of the stories just leave you in awe of the grit these amazing women needed … to just get through school, let alone break into the business.” – Sean Buckley

Time commitments are not the only reason for the smaller number of women. The working environment can also deter women from staying in the music industry.

“I suspect that female musicians are subject to the kind of sexual harassment and general lack of respect for women’s abilities that women in acting and political careers are speaking out about in the #MeToo Movement.” Osgood says.

Close up tambourineDevetizis demonstrates a technique on the tambourine. Photo by Hailey Payne.

As a member of a Facebook group for female percussionists around the world, Buckley has heard about many of the member’s struggles regarding their gender.

“Some of the stories just leave you in awe of the grit these amazing women needed, in the generation or two before me particularly, to just get through school, let alone break into the business,” Buckley recounts.

The conflicts between balancing a family and being a respected female musician are struggles many women encounter, resulting in fewer of them being showcased in the industry.

A lack of role models

Nia Devetizis, a percussionist for the Calgary Philharmonic and a music teacher at the Mount Royal Conservatory, has noticed this shortage of featured women musicians.

She feels that because there are less females there are limited role models to look up to and the few that are present get lost amongst the men. Devetzis believes that not getting the opportunity to see women working in orchestras creates a lack of motivation among other women to stay or get involved in the industry.

“You can watch somebody on YouTube, but it’s not the same as living in the same city as someone who you can see perform often and have the opportunity to work with,” Devetizis says.

“A lot of women [are] working as soloists or freelance musicians… which perhaps speaks to the slow transformation of the orchestra from a very male-dominated organization and is maybe why women are hesitant to enter this area.”

It is Buckley’s belief that, “discrimination both now and in decades past could absolutely account for many women missing from the music industry.”

Playing to her strengths

One struggle that may also keep women away from the limelight on stage is their ability to create a large sound. Devetizis knows this challenge well because she herself struggles with it. In order to achieve the larger sound, the musician is required to be very strong.

Devetizis theorizes that, “Maybe orchestras want bigger sounds that women typically struggle to produce, and maybe this speaks to how composers write for percussion.”

Devetizis believes if more women were writing music, there would be more pieces that better lend themselves to how women play.

Playing her set upDevetizis intently working to perfect her new composition in Mount Royal University’s practice room.  Photo by Hailey Payne.

While some of these concerns seem daunting, Olver and Osgood know that if women had more access to affordable practice spaces they would not have to be as restricted by their personal lives.

These practice spaces will allow women with children the opportunity to write and rehearse music well past their child’s bedtime.

Olver and Osgood would also like to see more, “web support to set up business for performance or teaching and/or self-publish and sell pedagogical and music books.”

The additional web and business support would help them promote their musical skills and their brands.

According to Olver and Osgood this is an area where many women feel less knowledgeable and lack confidence.   Playing Marimba introDevetizis moves from one side to the other as she plays the marimba. Photo by Hailey Payne.

Devetizis also points out that although orchestras use what’s called a blind audition, where a screen blocks the judges’ view of the individual, females can still be discriminated against because of the sound of their heels on the floor.The phenomenon can be first seen in 1952 when the Boston Symphony noticed that despite the use of the blind audition process the new hires were still more likely to be male.

Some orchestras laid carpet down to disguise the sound of the applicant’s shoes and it resulted in more women being hired.

Jennifer MacDonald, director and artistic operations of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra, believes that the blind audition process “actively works to prevent gender and other biases.”

Devetizis has found that when she is able to meet up with musical role models it has always been meaningful to her. At times it has helped to renew her own inspiration.

Osgood adds, “As Frances McDormand said at the Oscars, ‘Inclusion rider.’ Those women who have made it and have leverage need to stand up and ensure more spaces are given to women.”

That said, Leonard states, “There is no single solution as we need to look to a range of approaches. Strategies range from opening up funding and career development opportunities for female creatives through to mentoring initiatives and networking events.”

Editor: Andrea Wong |

Report an Error or Typo

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *