White male artists dominate Irish charts and radio, report finds

Why Not Her? collective says women and artists of colour ignored by music industry

Imelda May: ‘How can a female artist have her music heard if she’s not played? How can a female artist reach chart success if people aren’t even aware her music exists?’ Photograph: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

Imelda May: ‘How can a female artist have her music heard if she’s not played? How can a female artist reach chart success if people aren’t even aware her music exists?’ Photograph: Shirlaine Forrest/WireImage

 

Irish music charts and radio stations largely ignore female artists and people of colour, the latest report on women in the music industry from the Why Not Her? collective shows.

The report, 20 Years of the Irish Singles Charts, looks in depth at how female artists have fared in singles charts, which some years haven’t featured any women artists.

The collective’s previous radio reports showed white male artists dominating radio stations’ playlists, and this latest analysis traces a direct connection between the lack of radio play and the resulting small numbers of women in the top 20 charts.

The collective points out: “This equates to years of exclusion, lost income and shattered careers. Female musicians’ exclusion from radio playlists and the singles charts directly impacts on their ability to make a living as artists.”

In the analysis, during the four years 2015-2019, for example, only one female featured in the charts. An Irish woman hasn’t been lead artist in the top spot since 2009.

“The most-played male artists featured on radio went on to be some of the most charted male acts. That is not a mistake. There is an ecosystem at play,” says Linda Coogan Byrne of Why Not Her? “Radio play makes or breaks careers.”

Gender quotas

Why Not Her? urges gender quotas and legislative changes across radio to promote Irish talent across genres, genders, race and orientation.

Before Imelda May’s 11 Past the Hour topped the National Album Charts this month, the last time an Irish woman lead artist was in the top album spot was Lisa Hannigan in 2016.

“It was with no help from Irish radio that Imelda reached the top spot,” the report said.

Imelda May said the findings are alarming. “It puts outstanding artists at an immediate disadvantage merely for being female. How can a female artist have her music heard if she’s not played? How can a female artist reach chart success if people aren’t even aware her music exists?

“I’m well aware of the answers to these questions as I’ve had those struggles, and with immense workload and sheer determination I’ve overcome, with the knowledge I’m pushing ahead for all of us seeking equality in music. I wanted my success to prove a point that it can be done, but my God it should not be so difficult or biased.”

The report analyses how the charts have changed over two decades, and how streaming’s effect on their compilation has radically reduced Irish artists generally, and particularly women artists, in the charts.

“The ecosystem within the music industry is certain,” the report concludes.

“What is played and included in playlists on radio and streaming sites equates to high chart success, and those artists who chart high are given the main slots at festivals and across line-up bills. There is no coincidence that it is a homogenised male playing field. The data is there. The highest percentage of artists and bands are white and male.”

The low down: 20 Years of the Irish Singles Charts

The Why Not Her? analysis of singles 2000-2019 shows 594 musical acts achieved 1,233 Irish chart entries, averaging 1.2 new chart entries a week. There were:

138 female chart entries by 89 acts, spending 485 weeks on the chart.

966 male chart entries by 418 acts, spending 5,600 weeks on the chart.

78.3 per cent of hit singles in the past 20 years were by Irish male artists/bands.

11.2 per cent of hit singles in the past 20 years were by Irish female artists/bands.

94.2 per cent of charting singles were by white artists; 3.1 per cent by artists of colour/indigenous

Top five male and female/collaborative artists spending most weeks in the official Irish chart (singles): Hozier (421 weeks), Kodaline (355 weeks), The Script (303 weeks), Westlife (293 weeks), Picture This (270 weeks). Top five female acts: Samantha Mumba (79 weeks), The Corrs (45 weeks), Bellefire (40 weeks), Dance to Tipperary (38 weeks) and Six (37 weeks).