Written evidence from Sally Anne Gross and Dr George Musgrave [MiM0003]




Sally Anne Gross, Reader, University of Westminster. Gross has worked in the music business for over thirty years and was the first women to work as an Artist and Repertoire manager at Mercury Records in 1993. She has been an artist manager and is currently the International Head of Business Affairs for a record label in Paris. She has been the course director of the MA Music Business Management since 2004 and is a Trustee of The Ivors Academy Trust.


Dr. George Musgrave, University of Westminster and Goldsmiths, University of London. Musgrave is an academic who researches the psychological experiences and working conditions of creative careers. He has published on topics including mental health and wellbeing amongst musicians, ethical decision-making by music managers, and the impact of streaming on consumers. He is also a musician who has signed major recording and publishing deals (EMI/Sony/ATV).


This submission of evidence draws on our research and broader academic contributions to offer empirical insights with reference specifically to the fourth question asked in the ‘Call for Evidence’ for inquiry, namely:


“What expectations are there on women working in the music industry compared to men?”



On the MA Music Business Management (University of Westminster), we have focused much of our work on the inequalities and working conditions of the music industries. This focus has allowed us to evidence a historical perspective and develop a research agenda on gender inequalities that highlights sexism and misogyny intersecting with issues of class and race. In doing so, our research has sought to provide an insight into the career progression of women music professionals from songwriters, performers, producers, and business professionals. Our Master’s is an exemplar of creative industry courses that aims to provide students with direct industry knowledge and networks as they ‘become’ cultural workers,[1] and as such offers valuable insights into the issues and challenges faced by women entering the music industry.

For women, access to career opportunities across the music supply chain continues to be problematic and has been identified as a key aspect in the discussion of equality and diversity in the music industries. These challenges can be seen in various spheres, including:

  1. Live music, where women performers, bands, artists, and DJ’s have been seen to be consistently under-represented on line-ups[2]
  2. Music production, which is consistently the space with the least women, with some evidencing suggesting this to be under 5%[3]. As an example of this, we refer to the experiences of two post-graduate courses at the University of Westminster: “The MA in Music Business Management has produced 289 female graduates and 226 male graduates since 2004. In comparison, the MA in Audio Production at the University of Westminster, which was launched in 1998, has produced only 78 female graduates alongside 394 male graduates.” [4] These divisions of labour reflect a centralising of masculine ideals of individuality and authorship/production[5] and in doing so create a culture in which women become side-lined secondary players (such as session musicians, vocalists, marketeers, and/or administrators) and not author/producers. The impact of this is that women lose out on acquiring valuable contracts and copyrights, as well as possibilities for career development.
  3. Songwriting and composing[6] – see above
  4. Music industry professional roles e.g. music administration, marketing, and PR roles which are recognised according to normative feminine coding[7], and by extension in senior management, board, and executive positions, which have been seen to feature a lack of women[8]. 

Summary of Evidence:


The ‘expectations’ on women differ across music industry supply chain, from women performers, artists, songwriters, and producers, to women working in management, administration, PR and marketing positions. It is important to understand the hierarchies that exist across the music industries when considering expectations on women; indeed, in some quarters of the music industry the expectation is that women are mainly absent. The gendering of roles is most clearly and dramatically observed when women’s musical ambition interfaces with audio technology: the more technical the role, particularly in recording or live production environments, the lower the numbers of women seen. Women working in professional roles within the music industries are mainly seen in what is understood to be ‘gender’ roles i.e. the expectation that these are supporting, administrative roles, rather than senior management or creative roles. In addition, women are seen to be leaving the music industries in their mid-30s and not returning, owing to challenges around access, career progression, and parenting[9]. Recent research such as that highlighted in this submission has consistently shown that these inequalities continue to exist.


Our own research, highlighted in this submission of evidence, offers additional insights into the impacts of these working conditions on women in comparison to men. Indeed, our research (and that of others) suggests that women internalise these struggles which also results in them experiencing higher levels of anxiety and mental ill-health.  In other words, our research into the mental wellbeing of music professionals indicates that the career challenges women face directly impacts their wellbeing and sense of self. In this submission we offer primary data collected over a number of years contextualised within wider academic and professional literature which demonstrates the particular challenges facing women working the music industries and the negative impacts of the internalisation of these expectations.


Evidence: Women in Music - Expectations, experiences and mental health


Our research highlights high incidences of mental health problems amongst musicians and music industry professionals. 2,211 respondents to our survey (the largest of its kind of this topic to date) demonstrated high levels of both self-reported anxiety (71%) and depression (68%)[10]. Evidence we have additionally collected suggests both strong links between self-reported anxiety/depression and clinical levels, as well as the key role that working in music, as opposed to being an inherent characteristic of music-making, plays in these figures[11] [12]. However, our subsequent analysis[13] suggests that female musicians face particular challenges, seen in Fig.1 below.Table

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Fig.1 Percentage of respondents reporting anxiety, depression and other mental health difficulties in relation to gender (non-binary, fluid not investigated in this analysis)[14]

As per above, a particularly large differential was noticed in incidences of anxiety. Our book ‘Can Music Make You Sick: Measuring the Price of Musical Ambition published in 2020 features a dedicated section which uncovers some of the reasons behind this startling statistic, drawing on interviews conducted with 14 female musicians (from a total sample of 28 interviewees). Findings are unpacked below and contextualised within wider literature and findings on women’s experiences in the music industries.


1.1.           Sexual abuse and misogyny

Research suggests that a professional career in music presents particular challenges and difficulties for women[15] , from issues of equality of opportunity and access, to gender discrimination and sexual harassment[16], as well as the persistent issues of equal pay in an area dominated by self-employment[17].

Our own research reflected this too. In the first instance, a number of the female musicians we spoke to suggested that some of their ‘professional’ relationships were, at times, abusive. One interviewee disclosed a shocking history of sexual abuse experienced as a musician when she was travelling abroad as a DJ. Indeed, these concerns have been echoed in the media over recent years with growing accounts about sexual abuse in music environments from female fans at gigs[18] and recording studios[19], or abuses of power in the operatic world[20]. A report by the Musicians’ Union on sexual harassment in the workplace found that in a poll of 725 musicians, 50% of women said they had experienced sexual harassment and 85% of the victims did not report the incidences[21]. Likewise, DJ Magazine ran an article in 2018 highlighting the problem within dance music in which five women from different areas of the industry told their stories, all of which are extremely harrowing[22].

It was clear from some of our interviews that abuses of power, from bullying to actual sexual abuse, were a feature of some of the women’s working lives. This manifests itself a number of ways, but one was how women felt they were seen by others – largely men. One of our interviewees spoke of having to be measured monthly by her record company and management so that she remained a size eight in order to fit into sample sizes of clothes. These disclosures were alarming. In an interview she told us: ‘They [the management company] had a personal trainer to make sure I wasn’t overweight and stayed the sample size, which was size eight... Like I know every inch of my arms, my waist. They measured every other week. I had meetings with [name redacted] and he’d be like “I’m not sure how focused you are. I’m not sure how serious you are. The girl said you couldn’t get into your clothes (Musician, London). The idea that the bodies of female artists are policed in this way, and that women artists have to be ‘produced’ is part of the systemic sexism which pervades this sector of the music industry.

1.2.           Self-perception

For the women we spoke to, their reflexivity appeared to address their insecurities in such a way as they named them; they spoke of their age, their bodies, and their looks. For example, one interviewee spoke of her struggles with an eating disorder and of starving herself before auditions. This, and the earlier example above of the musician being measured, are examples of how women working in the music industries are not only judged by their work but also by their bodies. How women look and the cost of making them look like this has recently been used to justify signing fewer women artists, predicated on the argument that they are more expensive to maintain[23]. Even though our interviewees were aware that distortions and misrepresentations of reality were ‘the game’ – this is what a musical career is about, this is what you have to do – it was still a site of anxiety and was often extremely upsetting. The stresses and pressures are not unlike those seen in other creative industries such as acting and fashion where this phenomenon has been much explored[24] [25].

1.3.           Women online

For many of the women we spoke to, the idea of being in a public-facing job was central to their anxiety too. For example, one interviewee told us: ‘I don’t find the internet helpful. It gives me anxiety in quite a lot of ways and I think that it does for a lot of people. And I think especially if you’re a performing artist, you know, this whole visual side of the music can cause you immense anxiety’ (Singer/songwriter, London). For female musicians, their injunction to be present online is central to a musical career. However, this was seen to encompass distinct forms of risk, as things such as their physical appearance became central to their source of anxiety. Our interviewees also perceived that they were being judged differently to men, and were acutely conscious of the double standards. As another interviewee told us: ‘Everybody wants visuals and it’s all to do with how people look, or how we’re perceived to look... So many people listen with their eyes now’ (Musician, Manchester).

Not only are incidents of abuse and harassment quantitatively higher for women, but they are experienced qualitatively differently too and likely to be felt much more deeply and painfully[26]. There is evidence that women experience abuse and harassment online in different ways to men. For example, the suggestion that ‘women aren’t welcome on the internet’[27] is reflected in much higher levels of online harassment. The Angus Reid Institute (2016) reported that women are twice as likely as men to say they’ve been stalked or sexually harassed and significantly more likely to self-censor’ online[28]. Whilst this was not necessarily common amongst our interviewees, one did tell us that she had received death threats online (Songwriter, London). There have been two recent high-profile cases of racist and sexist online abuse targeted at the recording artist FKA Twigs because of who she was dating[29], and against the lead singer of the band Chvrches – Lauren Mayberry – because of what she was wearing in a video[30]. Duggan (2014: 5) suggests that: “those whose lives are especially entwined with the internet report experiencing higher rates of harassment online. This includes those who have more information available about them online, those who promote themselves online for their job, and those who work in the digital technology industry”[31]. For female musicians, this is what they are told to do (to be present online), and there seems to be little or no protection for them.


This evidence offered herein is drawn from our work entitled ‘Can Music Make You Sick? Measuring the Price of Musical Ambition’ which examined the working conditions within the music industries from a psychosocial perspective. We asked musicians how they experienced their creative careers, and in doing so sought to understand the staggeringly high levels of both self-reported and clinical levels of anxiety and depression amongst this population. We have here highlighted findings and wider literature drawn from a specific chapter in this work (‘The Status of Relationships’) which explored the ways in which women working in the music industries came to internalise the expectations placed on them, and the often devastating consequences this had on their mental health and wellbeing. Our research highlights that women experience sexual assault, discrimination, bullying, abuse and more. This is evidence not only of misogyny and sexism in the music industries, but also demonstrates the ways in which this atmosphere impacts women’s mental health in the form of anxieties (over things including appearance, age, perception of competency and more) and even feelings of depression. These are all great causes for concern.


July 2022

[1] Ashton, D (2013) Cultural workers in the making, European Journal of Cultural Studies, 16(4), pp. 468-488

[2] Bain, V (n.d) The F List: https://thef-listmusic.uk/

[3] Women’s Audio Mission: https://womensaudiomission.org/about/

[4] Gross, S.A (2022) Women working in the music business: An alumni study, in, Abfalter, D & Reitsamer, R (eds.) Music as Labour: Inequalities and Activism in the Past and Present, Routledge, p.163

[5] Born, G & Devine, K (2015) Music Technology, Gender, and Class: Digitization, Educational and Social Change in Britain, Twentieth-Century Music, 12(2), pp. 135-172

[6] Bain, V (2019) Counting the Music Industry: The Gender Gap: https://www1.kug.ac.at/fileadmin/media/geschforsch_72/Dokumente/Counting_the_Music_Industry_The_Gender_G.pdf

[7] Bennett, T (2018) The Whole Feminist Taking-Your-Clothes-off-Thing: Negotiating the Critique of Gender Inequality in the UK Music Industries, IASPM Journal, 8(1), pp. 24-41

[8] Women in Ctrl (2021) Seat at the Table Report: https://www.womeninctrl.com/seatatthetable2021/

[9] Leonard, M (2014) Putting gender in the mix: employment, participation, and role expectations in the music industries, in, Carter, C, Steiner, L & McLaughlin, L (eds.) The Routledge Companion to Media and Gender, Routledge

[10] Gross, S & Musgrave, G (2016) Can Music Make You Sick? Music and Depression. A Study into the Incidence of Musicians’ Mental Health. Part 1 – Pilot Surey. Help Musicians UK/MusicTank

[11] Gross, S & Musgrave, G (2017) Can Music Make You Sick? Music and Depression. A Study into the Incidence of Musicians’ Mental Health. Part 2 – Qualitative Study and Recommendations. Help Musicians UK/MusicTank

[12] Loveday, C, Musgrave, G & Gross, S (2022) Predicting anxiety, depression and wellbeing in professional and nonprofessional musicians, Psychology of Music, Online advance access, doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/03057356221096506

[13] Gross, S & Musgrave, G (2020) Can Music Make You Sick? Measuring the Price of Musical Ambition, University of Westminster Press

[14] Chi-square statistical analysis shows that anxiety and other mental health problems (but not depression) are significantly associated with gender (p = 0.000 for both anxiety and other).


[15] Conor, B., Gill, R. and Taylor, S. (2015) Gender and Creative Labour. Chichester: Wiley.

[16] Savage, M. (2019) ‘Musicians “face high levels of sexual harassment”’, BBC News, 23 October. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/entertainment-arts-50128600

[17] Armstrong, V. (2013) ‘Women’s Musical Lives: Self-Managing a Freelance Career’, Women: A Cultural Review, Vol. 24(4): 298–314.

[18] de Gallier, T. (2015) Why have gigs become a dangerous place for women? Louder, 20 October. https://www.loudersound.com/features/why-have -gigs-become-a-dangerous-place-for-women

[19] Thump News (2016) The Music Industry Has A Problem With Sexual Assault. Vice, 20 January. https://thump.vice.com/en_au/article/the-music-industry -has-a-problem-with-sexual-assault-here-are-11-stories-you-can-read -about-it

[20] Mentzer, S. (2017) Classic(al) Sexual Harassment, HuffPost, 6 September. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/classical-sexual-harassme_b_12418352

[21] Musicians’ Union (2019) ‘Sexual Harassment Widespread Across the UK Music Industry’, Musicians Union. https://www.musiciansunion.org.uk/Home /News/2019/Oct/Sexual-Harassment-Widespread-Across-the-UK-Music-I

[22] DJ Magazine (2018) Sexual Harassment in Dance Music: Five Women Tell Their Story, DJ Mag, 2 February. https://djmag.com/content/sexual-harassment-dance-music-five-women-tell-their-story

[23] Jones, R. (2020) ‘Why are the BRITS so male?’ Music Industry Musings. https:// musobiz.wordpress.com/2020/01/20/why-are-the-brits-so-male

[24] Swami, V. and Szmigielska, E. (2013) ‘Body Image Concerns in Professional Fashion Models: Are They Really an At-Risk Group?’, Psychiatry Research, Vol. 207(1–2): 113–117.

[25] Record, K. L. and Austin, S. B. (2016) ‘“Paris Thin”: A Call to Regulate Life-threatening Starvation of Runway Models in the US Fashion Industry’, American Journal of Public Health, Vol. 106(2): 205–206.

[26] Fox, J., Cruz, C. and Lee, J. Y. (2015) ‘Perpetuating Online Sexism Offline: Anonymity, Interactivity and the Effects of Hashtags on Social Media’, Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 52: 436–442.

[27] Hess, A. (2014) Why Women aren’t Welcome on the Internet, Pacific Standard. https://psmag.com/social-justice/women-arent-welcome-internet-72170

[28] Angus Reid Institute (2016) ‘Trolls and Tribulations: One-in-four Canadians say they’re being harassed on social media’. http://angusreid.org/social-media

[29] Gorton, T. (2015) ‘FKA Twigs is Fighting Back Against “Awful” Online Abuse’, Dazed. https://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/24782/1/fka-twigs-is-fighting-back-against-awful-online-abuse

[30] BBC (2015) ‘Chvrches Singer Condemns Sexist Abuse from Online Trolls’, BBC Entertainment and Arts, 28 August 2015. https://www.bbc.co.uk/news /entertainment-arts-34083834

[31] Duggan, M. (2014) Online Harassment, Pew Research Centre. http://assets.pewresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/sites/14/2014/10/PI_OnlineHarass ment_72815.pdf