Women in Music: New initiative addresses gender disparity in India, as on-demand streaming goes big

Aarushi Agrawal

Sep 11, 2019 10:35:26 IST

The music industry in India is exploding in all its diversity, and according to a recent projection, the country's online music market is set to surpass $273 million by 2020. With a growing smartphone market — which is the device of choice for a majority of listeners — India constitutes the largest percentage of users in the world. 95 percent of Indian listeners turn to streaming services accessible on smartphones for their music, presenting a budding consumer-base for these companies. The big players in the field of on-demand music streaming have called India a ‘sleeping giant’ that they took too long to discover, and are now vigorously competing to gain market share in. Streaming services are aiming not just for business expansion, but also cultural exchange, introducing new music to Indian listeners.

It’s this oncoming explosion of the industry that the not-for-profit organisation, Women in Music (WIM), seems to have predicted and prepared for, when they decided to launch an India chapter, and invited lawyer Priyanka Khimani to be the founding Chair. “I think that one of the big reasons to try and bring this community here [is] that you have that sort of ecosystem ready [for women] when the industry explodes,” says Khimani. WIM, founded in New York in 1985, is an organisation that aims to champion the representation and presence of women in the music industry, and be a support system for everyone, from creative talent to technicians, business executives to stylists — essentially all women that are part of the community.

 Women in Music: New initiative addresses gender disparity in India, as on-demand streaming goes big

Women in Music champions the representation and presence of women in the music industry.

“I think we’re still a few steps away from seeing that truly balanced environment in terms of gender,” Khimani explains about the need for this initiative. Globally, the music industry still doesn’t have gender equality in terms of pay and representation, and as of 2018, male producers outnumbered female producers, 49 to one. Important enterprises are also in place to tackle this, like the Keychange Foundation, which aims for 50:50 gender representation ratio by 2022. In India specifically, female artistes are constantly underrepresented at music festivals, although active steps have been taken to change that. An India Music Summit panel earlier this year saw female artistes address concerns about objectification and the lack of playback singing opportunities in Bollywood. And although a fair number of indie artistes are women, it seems like 70 percent of them have #MeToo stories.

While issues about female artistes are often talked about, there’s no easily accessible, organised research that shows the basic male to female ratio across other, behind-the-scene roles. “If you take a look at the business side of music, today there’s not a single woman record label head in the country, and that’s saying something,” explains Khimani. Without research, without awareness, one cannot find the challenges these women face, let alone help them. She also attests to her own experience as a lawyer active in the entertainment industry: “I find it so difficult, because it is a big boy’s club at the end of the day”.

Priyanka Khimani and Jonita Gandhi and WIM India's inaugural event.

Priyanka Khimani and Jonita Gandhi at Women in Music India's inaugural event.

As Chair of WIM India, Khimani hopes the situation will change. One of her top priorities is to identify the barriers keeping women from entering the workforce, and reasons for eventually dropping out of it, and to create more awareness about these. Her other priority is to ensure “50-50 representation at anything that’s outward-facing,” including conferences, panels, and other events representative of the Indian music industry. Khimani also recognises the vast diversity of the Indian music market: “I don’t think it’s a one-(size)-fits-all kind of model anymore”. Her plan is to locate active music communities at the grassroots level all over the country, and appoint local ‘champions’ or leaders, incorporating them into the WIM community.

"As a community, we’ve set out to create this initiative, and I hope that there is one thing that will ring true in everything that we do, which is to champion and champion more," said Khimani at WIM's inaugural event on 26 August in Mumbai. She announced that membership for WIM is now available to everyone. Among those also present at the event were singers Neeti Mohan, Aditi Singh Sharma, Jonita Gandhi, Harshdeep Kaur, and representatives from the community at large, including Universal Music, Sony Music, Warner Music Group, Saavn and Red FM, among several others.

Updated Date: Sep 13, 2019 09:41:10 IST