Gender parity in the Sad Bastard Music Club

You may or may not be aware of a thing I started doing a few years ago called the Sad Bastard Music Club. Many of my friends and people I follow on the internets periodically release mixtapes for people to download or listen to. Historically, I’ve done this as well and, being a DJ at heart, I enjoy sharing music with people. But, well, people don’t download things, and being able to share something regardless of where you are or what device you’re on is kind of cool, so the Sad Bastard Music Club is a series of Spotify playlists and if you sign up for the newsletter, you get notification of when they are going out.

The name comes from a sort of inside joke being that “I only listen to sad bastard music.” The logical conclusion if I only listen to “sad bastard music” is that any playlist I make would, by definition, be “sad bastard music”, presumably because I’m a sad bastard. And while typically I define “sad bastard music” as being anything sounding like Nick Cave or The Cure, I try to be a bit more diverse on the Sad Bastard Music Club playlists because, in reality, I listen to, and enjoy, a lot of different things.

I also enjoy listening to a diverse group of artists. It’s actually a bit of a point of pride that I try to make an effort to have diversity (be it gender, ethnic, or sexual identity) in the music I listen to and the music I share. And this was something I wanted to particularly include, from the beginning, when I started doing these Sad Bastard Music Club playlists on Spotify.

A few months ago, I actually went through all the various SBM playlists and ran some numbers. The result was that I still have work to do. It was a bit of a surprise as I was sort of patting myself on the back for how well I felt I was doing in making sure the playlists were pretty balanced.

Some notes on how I ranked the data:

Any group or artist where the primary (lead) member, or the lead vocalist, was female was ranked as female. Obviously this is a bad practice from the beginning — just because Blondie is led by Debbie Harry doesn’t change the fact that there are a bunch of dudes in her band. But, in the case of Blondie, Debbie Harry is very much the primary focus, as is the case much of the time with mixed groups. It’s a vanity metric, but you need to draw the line somewhere, so I drew it there.

Artists where a man and a woman got equal billing or representation (a good example is The B-52s) were classified as M/F. This also includes groups of mostly men with a female guest vocalist.

I added a “T” classification for artists or groups that identify as non-binary or gender fluid or include a member who identifies as such. Le Tigre and Against Me! would fall under this category, although in some cases I had to make assumptions because I was not sure how they identified publicly (as with the case of IAMX, which I listed as T because Chris Corner presents as gender fluid but I’m not sure what they would describe themselves as).

The result is, still, 51% of artists on Sad Bastard Music Club playlists are male, and that number is bumped to 58% if you include artists in which women get equal billing with their male counterparts.

I’m not going to diminish the win here — this is far better than the music industry’s representation as a whole — but I, personally, can and should do better. I hold myself to a higher standard than just what’s normalized.

My first reaction was “wow, I would need to do all-women SBM playlists just to right the ship” — and then I caught myself. So what? What’s wrong with that. With the music industry being male dominated for generations (and I’ve given presentations that mention precisely these numbers), what would be wrong with focusing on women for a few iterations? While there may be a lack of popular female artists in pop music, there’s no lack of actual female musicians and they can, generally speaking, benefit from any amount of publicity or exposure they can get.

Coincidentally, as I started thinking about these things, just a couple weeks ago Spotify tweaked one of my “Daily Mix” playlists to be predominantly women artists across a variety of genres which I have been really appreciating.

The next Sad Bastard Music Club playlist — which I plan on publishing this week — has a majority of amazing women artists and, moving forward, I want to continue to keep gender parity when I’m making these playlists.