Equal opportunity and visibility for women in the music industry continue to be a problem. Despite a few high-profile signs of progress, there continues to be discouraging data that shows a lot of work must be done to close the gender gap.
While women artists are increasing their presence as performers of popular music, they are not achieving representation in other areas of the industry, according to a January 2023 report from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Institute. The report, which analyzed credits for songs on the Billboard Hot 100 Year-End charts for eight years, found that in 2022, only 14% of the songwriters were women and only 3.4% of the producers were women. During the 8-year sample, of all women producers, only 26% were women of color.
In a report issued by music data provider Luminate on International Women’s Day called “Be the Change: Gender Equality in the Music Industry,” almost 60% of respondents believe that gender discrimination continues to be a major issue facing the music industry. This inequality in music must end. In New York City, it starts in the classroom.
In 2018, the City University of New York, the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment and a group of industry executives started Sound Thinking NYC, an innovative free program for New York City public high school students designed to tackle this issue head-on. The program works with diverse, highly motivated students over multiple years, supporting them as they enter music-industry-related programs in college. Approximately 75% of Sound Thinkers are women and non-binary, and all are mentored by industry executives, have access to paid internships and are eligible to take free for-credit music production college courses at CUNY.
The program, now in its sixth year, has served more than 800 students to date from 103 public high schools across all five city boroughs. Nearly 60% of our surveyed college-aged alumni are enrolled in a major related to the music industry, and 55% of surveyed participants said they intend to pursue a career in music.
Key to the program’s success are publicprivate partnerships. Sound Thinking NYC’s partners include business, educational and cultural organizations likeDowntown, Universal Music Publishing Group, the National Jazz Museum in Harlem and the Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema at CUNY’s Brooklyn College. Artists have also lent their perspective and expertise – the likes of Top Latina guitarist and singer-songwriter Cecilia Villar Eljuri, New York’s leading “Trumpet Lady” and Billboard Chart topper Syreeta Thompson, Dave Grohl, and David Byrne, along with the cast of “Utopia,” have helped provide programming.
With Sound Thinking NYC’s initial cohorts now in college, organizers are helping these students to solidify equitable pathways to jobs through new commitments from industry professionals, educators and our state and local government. At the same time, new cohorts are created every year, starting with a Summer Intensive for high school students. With the right support, this new generation of women producers, engineers, songwriters and music business leaders is poised to make a significant impact.
Sound Thinking NYC is an equity-focused career pathway program for youth that is poised to help diversify all aspects of the music industry, recognizing our youth is our greatest resource. MOME’s commitment to building pathways toward career success and economic security through public-private partnerships is part of a growing number of initiatives in New York City to support young adults to gain work experiences, add skills, and explore potential career interests to compete in the 21st-century job market.
The change starts here in New York. And with the city, our schools and industry leaders working together, we are addressing this issue head-on by giving our students real pathways to jobs in the music industry. Our community is growing opportunities for new generations of creativity and New York City is building the blueprint. Other music cities should follow.
Anne del Castillo
Commissioner of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment (MOME)
Co-Founder, Sound Thinking NYC
Executive Director, Creative Arts Team, Office of K16 Initiatives, City University of New York
Founder & Chairman, Downtown Music Holdings