The Alternative: Women in Music Deserve Equal Air-Time

Women in Alternative Music

Halsey took to Instagram early April to call out gender gap when it comes to which alternative songs get played on the radio. Having sworn off the radio myself, opting instead for streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify, I had no idea this was an issue. After looking at just a few Billboard charts and radio station playlists, it was clear there was an issue with representation when it comes to women in alternative music.

At the time of writing this, only 3 songs by women made Billboard’s alternative song top 20 list and a total of 9 female vocalists have a song in the top 40. This list was for the week of April 20, 2019.

Women in Alternative Music

Women in Alternative Music

The label alternative already does itself and any artist under it a disservice due to its vagueness. Traditionally alternative was a category under rock housing artists like Soundgarden, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam. Now the genre has split to encompass anything that doesn’t quite fit in with other genres like pop, R&B, etc. This is where heavy hitters like Lana Del Rey, Halsey, and Billie Eilish sit.

Alternative basically just means different.

When it comes to women in alternative music, different is badass. This label has given women the power to experiment with raw vocals. They aren’t nice all the time. They’re angry, emotional, and commanding. It’s given women a space to be weird and shed social stereotypes.

Look at the cover images Billie Eilish used on Spotify for all the songs on her album When we all fall asleep, where do we go? For When the Party’s over, there’s a video on loop of blood pouring out of her eyes. You should see me in a crown has a video of a spider coming out of her mouth. Weird to some but so cool.

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by BILLIE EILISH (@billieeilish) on

It’s this ‘weirdness’ that some radio executives may not fully understand or agree with. In an amazing article by Chris Payne for Billboard, he speaks to Risa Matsuki who works for Indie record label Beggars Group about her struggles trying to get more alternative music by women on the radio.

“We tried to take ‘California’ (by Grimes) to radio because it was her guitar song and there’s a hook, there’s a melody. It was met with such disdain. People were like, ‘Who is this? We have no idea who she is. She’s weird. What’s with these weird videos? Why is she dressed like that? What’s with the white eyes?’ There was so much to critique about her and nothing about the music.”

As someone who lives for alternative music I have a hard time believing that those who run an alternative radio station didn’t know who Grimes was. But say that they didn’t know who she was. What would her appearance have to do with anything? This is radio, not a music video or live performance and even if it was that should have no weight in deciding if it gets on the radio. The music deserves air time.

Outside of this possibility, there is another factor, more like excuse, as to why we may hear less women on the radio. Much of the younger population have flocked to streaming services where they have an unlimited amount of artists at their fingertips. Not to mention the ease of discovering a new artist.

This means that the population listening to the radio is older and have a soft spot for ‘legacy’ alternative music. Hence, why alt rock of the late 90s-early 2000’s dominate these stations. But even then, we’re hearing the same all-male bands being played on repeat. It’s as if Fiona Apple, Hayley Williams, and Alanis Morissette never existed.

The gatekeepers of radio have a duty to play diverse array of music. Yes, it’s a business and at the end of the day they have to make money. But the moment you start playing more artists that more people can relate to, your audience expands.

The music industry is very much an all-boys club. There are not enough women in decision making roles. Program Directors determines what content gets on air.

According to Forbes, only 12.2% of radio programmers were women in 2017.That is unacceptable. The more diversity we see in these gatekeeper roles, the more diverse artists get air-time.

Now you may be wondering why the heck radio matters when most of us are streaming music instead. Radio is still an avenue in which users can discover new artists. With the prevalence of satellite radio, there is an audience to cater to. Which is why it’s still considered when rating the top 40, etc.

Their listenership to alternative stations matter because in theory they’ll hear a song they like and add it to their library on their phone. They’ll continue to listen to it and share it with their friends. If we put more women vocalists on alternative radio stations, the more exposure they get, the larger the audience they have.

Women in alternative music deserve to have their voices heard. No matter how ‘weird’ or different they may be.

If it’s the audience numbers they’re worried about, they should have no hesitation putting a woman’s song on the radio. Halsey has 36.6 million Spotify listeners monthly. Billie Eilish has 43.7 million monthly. Elle King has 2 million.

They are getting attention on streaming platforms. If they played these and all the other amazing female alternative artists making music, people would tune in and listen.

At the end of the day representation matters. The next generation of female musicians deserve idols they can relate to. It’s the gatekeeper’s job to give it to them and our job to demand their follow through.

Image courtesy of AZ Central

Also published on Medium.