#MeToo: Why does change in the music industry seem so distant?

The basis on which a young, female musician becomes successful is starkly different to that in any other industry. We’ve explored the facts, setbacks, and early signs of progress.
22 June 2023

It’s no secret that sexual abuse and exploitation are rife in music. Despite constant calls for change, it’s difficult to spot any positive developments or genuine progress.

With such stagnant and widespread issues, young talents are being driven out of the industry. Sexism, misogyny, and a culture that shuns victims rather than supporting them can make it impossible to stay in music – let alone thrive and make a living. 

The basis on which a young, female musician becomes successful is starkly different to that in any other industry. We’ve explored the facts, setbacks, and early signs of progress.

Reading between lines: Sexual assault still pervasive in the industry

According to a 2019 study by Musicians’ Union, at least 48% of musicians have experienced some form of sexual harassment at work. Alarmingly, most victims did not report the incident, making it harder to trace the perpetrators. 

With nearly two thirds of musicians feeling as though they’re at risk, official trade bodies have called to the government to address the issue of victimisation and harassment in the music industry. 

The issue is well-reported across the media, but it’s only within the last few years that influential musicians have started speaking out on a public and political level. Setting an example plays a critical role in encouraging other victims to do the same, and it’s becoming known that extensive legal support is available for musicians who make successful abuse claims.

Which setbacks are preventing change?

Unfortunately, there are several barriers faced by musicians who’ve experienced sexual harassment. These not only surround the capacity and resources available to musicians to facilitate the process, but they also concern victim confidentiality and support. 

  • Normalised sexism and misogyny

Workplace culture plays a significant role in preventing reports of sexual harassment from being taken seriously. Discrimination and sexual harassment have been coined an ‘endemic’ in a 2022 Guardian article – in which one anonymous musician admitted being told that she would only be able to advance her career if she was ‘prepared to give sexual favours.’ For many women, turning a blind eye to physical harassment is the norm in music.

  • Gatekeeping

And then there’s the industry gatekeeping, too. This specifically concerns a lack of diversity in certain genres like alternative rock, metal and punk, which have all been heavily criticised for glorifying predominantly white and male artists.

Bands that include female members – or all-female groups – find that they’re immediately sidelined, compared to the most famous groups, or judged before being listened to. Festival lineups often favour bands with a famous, white frontman. In 2023, even Glastonbury has been criticised for its mostly-male headliners

  • Power dynamics

It’s well known that men in positions of power within the music industry exploit not only female musicians but fans and colleagues too. For a young or perhaps inexperienced female artist to start making her way in music, doing things his way could be part of the deal. More support should be given to artists in the form of female-focussed support groups, organisations, and management. 

How can the music industry promote safer spaces?

Gradually, more survivors have been speaking up about their experiences and fighting for a right for safe spaces in music. From Lily Allen’s open accounts in her memoir My Thoughts Exactly to an appeal ahead of the 2023 Grammy Awards for perpetrators and the industry to be held accountable, the widespread issues are more challenges than ever before.

And organisations like the Musicians’ Union are championing progress on the matter. The trade union’s Deputy General Secretary, Naomi Pohl, commented:

“Now we ask for action: we need the Government to strengthen the law to prevent sexual harassment at work before it happens.

“Together, with survivors, and other trade bodies like UK Music who are committed to ensuring change happens, we want to create a movement to ensure the music industry is a safe place to work for everyone.”

Survivors are spreading awareness of an outdated, misogynistic system – experienced by musicians across genres – that not only enables sexual violence but protects those who commit it.