Back in October 2019 in LA, we attended an amazing talk about female composers in Hollywood, or to put it another way, the lack of female composers in Hollywood. This session, led by film composer Mirette Seireg, got us thinking. Seireg is on a mission in music composition to get to total gender parity, something she’s achieved with her own music library MPath. It’s not an easy thing to do with music libraries globally being dominated by male composers, but she’s determined to see this take affect across specially composed scores, trailer music and all the production music outfits in Hollywood. After the session I spent some time with Mirette and we talked about how this needs to be addressed globally, what can be done and how can we encourage women into music composition. What is it that is holding them back, why are women not getting the gigs?
But this isn’t an article about feminism in our industry or to discuss the politics of gender but a chance to re-evaluate why, for example, in 2020 we still have more male members of PRS than female members. According to recently released figures, only 18.4% of the composers registered with PRS in the UK identify as female. This is up from 13% in 2011 so the tide is slowly turning, but just not fast enough. To illustrate this point further, out of the top 20 highest earning songwriters and composers in the UK in 2019 only one was female, Adele. A commercial artist; yet the highest earning composers in the UK do include composers that have composed for Film and TV.
It is now more important that ever before to ensure that there is a female voice in media composition as women are finally building the confidence to see this career path as an option.
As a female MD of a production music company and a mother it seems important and valid for me to actively attempt to address this disparity. In the 20 years that I have been working in this industry, it is now more important that ever before to ensure that there is a female voice in media composition as women are finally building the confidence to see this career path as an option. Earlier this year, Joker composer Hildur Guðnadóttir became the fourth woman to win an Academy Award for a film score, setting an important precedent for women to finally be accepted on an equal footing in film/media music.
Talking to my team at JW Media Music in London, we came up with a plan to record a production music album that would be written, produced, and recorded by the best female composers we could find. We wanted to span as many genres as we could and bring together women from all ages and backgrounds. The end result after nearly 9 months was All Woman, an album featuring a multicultural collection of female composers from 18 to 55 with varying degrees of experience. This is as much an album about diversity as it is about female talent. We talked to composers on our books, we listened to demos, we trawled the internet.
What we found was female composers telling us they lacked the confidence to submit music to production libraries and for commissioned jobs due to their gender. Women are still perceived as not being as capable as men with regards to music composition, and there is the historical suggestion that men are better with the technology required to compose for film and TV. To put this into context, less than 5% of the audio engineers in both North America and the UK are women, according to The Guardian. Perhaps this is because there are so few role models for women in the industry. In 2019, The Center For the Study of Women in Television & Film reported that the previous year, 94% of box office films were scored by men. It’s no wonder that the next generation of female composers might struggle to find figures to inspire them.
We can see by looking outside our industry in another sector with historically defined gender roles that what our children are exposed to as the norm, becomes the norm. In nursing for example, the disparity is flipped and, according to recent data, only 9% are male. Is it this social conditioning that is stopping women from becoming media composers? If we encourage and support more women in the music for media sector and help to create more visibility for them, then naturally more young women will aspire to write for film and TV.
As an industry we can and should be doing more. In the last few years we have seen organisations being set up to offer help and support to women in the industry. The likes of shesaid.so, Women in Music, and The International Alliance of Women In Music are doing a fantastic job mentoring and teaching young women that a job in our industry is something they can aspire to and achieve. In LA, the Production Music Association now have an Inclusion Committee focusing on increasing the percentage of female composers in Hollywood. Working alongside the Geena Davies Institute, Mirette Seireg says that ‘Raising this percentage is not only the right thing to do but the smart thing to do because it’s been demonstrated time and again that when women achieve equal status everyone prospers.”
I think all production music companies in the UK have a responsibility to ensure that they have a diverse range of composers in their repertoire.
Personally, I think all production music companies in the UK have a responsibility to ensure that they have a diverse range of composers in their repertoire and to do this without compromising on quality, as they don’t need too, the talent is there already. If we make a conscious effort to publish music from under represented groups then we can ensure that there is a fairer representation in what we hear in soundtracks in TV and film.
On our All Woman album we have a track composed by UK TV composer Stephanie Taylor. Stephanie has an impressive repertoire of work, including scoring music for Grand Designs (C4) and Inside the Crown (ITV) I asked her about working on this project and her instant response was: ‘“I wrote my first JW Media album in 2016, and over the past 4 years I have been consistently impressed by their trail-blazing efforts to give a platform to well-deserving, talented, and hard working females in the industry”. As much as I am humbled by this statement, this isn’t self-promotion; a female composer should not be impressed. Our industry should be making sure that this is the normal.
We also worked with UK composer Nikki Nicola who stated that she was “immediately inspired. Such a great idea to promote women composers like this, as we are so under represented in the industry.” Nikki had left the industry having had children and found that after this break it was even harder to come back to composing for film and TV. For those that have children you will understand that returning after a career break can be even harder in a male dominated environment. But again attitudes on this are slowly changing and we can encourage women to get back in to their pre-motherhood composition roles, which nowadays can be done in a home studio and at times which work around being a parent. By doing this again we are showing the next generation that being a film composer or a mother is not a choice between the two.
It takes an industry as a collective to create true gender parity and whilst we’re making moves in the right direction, we still have a way to go.
To finish, where are the women composers in Film and TV right now? Well, they’re waiting in the wings and they’re ready for us publishers, broadcasters, film producers and editors to use their music. It takes an industry as a collective to create true gender parity and whilst we’re making moves in the right direction, we still have a way to go.
Jenny Oakes is a mother of two and the MD of JW Media Music Ltd, an independent music production company which alongside a repertoire of original copyrights represents 14 libraries from across the globe.