What Does the Rise of Female-Led Record Labels Mean for the Music Industry?

James Brown recorded “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World” all the way back in 1966. Since then, the lyrics of this song have pretty much rang true throughout a variety of different industries. Women are still fighting for equal pay, sexual assault stories have become headline news, and there is still a lack of female representation in the male-dominated political world. 

That isn’t to say some serious changes haven’t been made. Progress is happening in front of our eyes, and it’s an exciting time to be a woman. In 2019 alone, women have dominated pop culture, with the female-led Captain Marvel breaking box office records and the U.S. Women’s Soccer Team recently winning the World Cup

There has also been a shift in power due to the rise of female-led record labels in the music industry. Women are using their voices in the music industry to make change, support artists, and finally see a difference in how the industry is handled. So, what exactly does that mean for music in the U.S.? 

Who Run the World? 

As I mentioned above, 2019 seems to be the year of the woman and that’s a “trend” that likely isn’t going anywhere any time soon. But women have been a minority in the music industry, and gender equality continues to be a problem with both performers and those working behind the scenes. Women make up just over 20% of performers in the industry and only 2.1% of producers. 

So, why is this? Should we just chalk it up to the fact that not as many women want to be artists or work behind the scenes? No, that isn’t the case. The problem goes back to James Brown’s song: the music industry remains a man’s world in many ways. 

The scary part about these statistics is that they take away the message of representation. Women are considered minorities in the music industry. Typically, kids and teenagers are the ones finding new music, playing it over & over and making it popular. If young women don’t feel represented by the music they listen to or the artists they see, it will be harder for them to break that cycle. Minority representation matters — not only today, but for the future of this industry. 

A Shift in the Music Business

The news isn’t all bad. Female record executives are on the rise and making their mark (we’ll touch on that later). One reason for this shift involves the #MeToo movement and allegations of sexual assault within the industry that have been brought to light. Most sexual harassment cases are between someone of power in the industry and an employee. This could be an artist, a producer, a songwriter, etc. 

Most recently, hit-maker L.A. Reid was forced to leave his CEO position at Epic Records due to allegations of unwanted sexual advances toward a female employee at the label. Popular artists like R. Kelly and Ryan Adams have also been called out recently for sexual harassment that has allegedly been going on for years. 

Exploitation of female artists has also made headlines in recent years, one of the biggest examples being between recording artist Ke$ha and her former producer Dr. Luke. Dr. Luke allegedly physically, emotionally, sexually, and verbally abused the singer and tried to take over every detail of her career. For a while, Ke$ha wasn’t even allowed to make music due to her contractual obligations with Dr. Luke. 

Thankfully, there’s a silver lining to these terrible stories: they have finally been brought out of the dark and are helping to shift the music industry. Women are making it very clear that they aren’t going to accept this kind of treatment anymore, paving the way for more female executives to lead the way and take the industry somewhere new. 

Top Ladies of the Industry and How They Are Finding Success

Women are finally starting to grab the reins of big business. Take Mary Barra for example. She’s the CEO of General Motors and the first female CEO in the auto industry. The music industry is one of the biggest fields in the world, so it’s important for more women to come forward and take charge. 

Most of the top record labels in the United States are still managed by men. This includes powerhouse labels like Universal Music Group and Sony Music. So, what are women doing to combat the titans of the industry? Many of them are starting their own smaller, independent labels. Artists like Little Boots and DJ Lauren Verge didn’t like the options they were being given from their record deals, so they started On Repeat Records in 2013. 

Never Normal Records was founded in 2014 by DJ Suzi Analogue. Universally Handsome Music is run by musician Lindsay Powell, and Etruscan Gold Records was founded by female-led punk band Wax Idols. Dirty Bird Records, run by Aundy Caldwell Crenshaw, is one of the top independent electronic music/dance labels in the industry right now. 

If the names of these labels don’t sound as familiar to you as Sony or Universal, it’s because they focus mostly on independent artists. But they all have similar missions: giving a voice to the voiceless. The women who run these labels have made it very clear that they’re tired of female artists not getting treated fairly. They’re creating environments to foster creativity in a safe space. 

When it comes to the more mainstream side of the industry, changes are also being made. Latrice Burnette became the Executive Vice President at Island Records in 2018 while Andrea Ganis is the Executive Vice President over at Atlantic Records. Republic Records, which manages artists like Ariana Grande, has an executive army made up of women, including their vice president, promotions team, marketing team, and brand partnership team. 


Does the music industry still have a long way to go when it comes to equality? Absolutely. But thanks to everything from major news headlines to women in the industry simply getting tired of the “status quo,” changes are finally starting to happen. Even as we see these positive changes in the music industry, there’s still a lot more that needs to be done. Women still face a variety of barriers when it comes to producing and releasing a record. But with the rise of female-led record labels, more women will have the chance to get their music out there in the world, without the worry of being discriminated against or harassed by men. Sexism in the music industry is nothing new and we still have a long way to go before women are equally respected and represented by record labels. Yet with more and more women starting their own labels, we’re certainly heading in the right direction.

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