The EQL directory is an international database of women working behind the scenes in music, from engineers to stage technicians to producers.
From Ariana Grande to Beyoncé, Robyn to Rihanna, Cardi B to Lady Gaga, some of the world’s most famous and successful musicians are women. But behind the scenes of the music industry, a lack of female representation is an ongoing problem.
Research by SoundGirls, an international group for women in audio and music production, shows that women make up just 5% of UK sound engineers. Only 30% of senior executive roles in the British music industry are held by women, according to the UK Music diversity taskforce, while the Music Producers Guild – a UK collective of producers, mixers, recording engineers, remixers and programmers – estimates that just 6% of its members are female. Clearly, the high profiles of some female musicians is not translating to women’s success in the industry as a whole.
Now, Spotify has launched a new tool that it hopes will help raise the visibility of women who are killing it in the music industry. In collaboration with SoundGirls and other organisations, it has launched EQL, an online directory of women working in fields including production, tour management, stage tech, sound design and engineering.
The directory covers women working in cities around the world, from London and Newcastle to Mexico City and Melbourne, and includes trans women and non-binary folk. The hope is that it will make it easier for labels, production companies, managers and artists to find and hire women professionals.
The tool will also make it much more difficult for powerful people in the music industry to explain away the fact that they predominantly work with men. In any field that’s dominated by a certain group (usually men, white people, or – most often – white men), you often hear senior figures saying that they’d love to hire a more diverse staff, but they simply can’t find the talent. By presenting a comprehensive list of women working in music production and tech, the EQL directory will render this excuse obsolete.
“[We] face the myth that there are not very many women or non-conforming people working in audio, and because of this people don’t even bother to look,” said Karrie Keyes, co-founder of SoundGirls and a long-time sound engineer for legendary grunge band Pearl Jam. “The EQL directory proves that this is not true.”
This is not the first time that Spotify has taken steps to increase the visibility of women in the music industry. In June, the streaming service launched the Equalizer Project with superstar producer Max Martin, which involves networking dinners and camps for female producers. Two months later, it created three full-time residencies in its Secret Genius and Spotify studios to support the career development of female studio engineers.
Earlier this month, meanwhile, Spotify hosted the SoundUp Bootcamp in London, a week-long residential podcasting workshop for women of colour.
However, Spotify has also faced accusations of ingrained sexism. According to an investigation by pop culture and politics magazine The Baffler, the streaming platform’s featured playlists (such as ‘Today’s Top Hits’, ‘New Music Friday’ and ‘Rock This’) feature significantly more male artists than female musicians. And in September, the company was hit by a lawsuit from a former sales exec, who accused it of systemically discriminating against female employees.
Among other allegations, Hong Perez claimed that a male employee at Spotify was promoted after being accused of sexual harassment. She also alleged that the company’s head of US sales would take male members of staff to strip clubs and on prestigious business trips he referred to as “boys’ trips”. Spotify has described Perez’s claims as being “without merit”.
Spotify has put together an advisory board to lead the direction of the EQL directory, made up of prominent women already working in music production.
These include Ali Tamposi, who has written songs for pop stars including Kelly Clarkson, Beyoncé and Camila Cabello; Manchester-born songwriter Jin Jin, who has worked with Clean Bandit, Jess Glynne and Paloma Faith; and TRAKGIRL, a producer who has collaborated with artists including FKA Twigs and Bjork.
Last year, TRAKGIRL launched a clothing line called Pay Us Today, to raise awareness of the gender pay gap in the music industry. She is also the force behind The 7% project, which aims to create a platform for female music producers (the name comes from the statistic that women make up just 7% of music producers and engineers in the US).
The EQL directory “is a great tool to create more opportunities for women,” TRAKGIRL said. “We have to continue the work and create more inclusion and diversity in male-dominated spaces; we have a lot of work to do, but this is an awesome start.”
Stylist’s Visible Women campaign is raising awareness of women who are blazing a trail in male-dominated industries, and empowering future generations to follow their lead. See more from Visible Women here.
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